French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters
“The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations.

The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.

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

Like an addict, France does not know how to quit its state of emergency even though it has become clear that maintaining it erodes the rule of law and fosters human rights abuses while not keeping the country safer. The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose.

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) secure a street they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension. His fellow commission member, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, from the main opposition party Les Republicains, noted that “time that passes erodes the efficiency and nature of the state of emergency.” A French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks had already concluded back in July 2016 that  the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.”

Human Rights Watch’s own research has found repeated abuses against ordinary people during policing operations under emergency powers.

So why is France maintaining the state of emergency despite repeated warnings by its own oversight mechanisms?

It is mainly due to confusion by politicians about the purpose of a state of emergency. Many have said that it is justified by an ongoing terrorist risk. This was clearly displayed in December 2016 when Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux justified his request for a fifth extension by saying that “the terrorist threat was at its highest.” Under this reasoning, a state of emergency is needed as long as there is a high security risk.

This reasoning is dangerous on many levels. By suggesting that regular laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to counter threats, it weakens the premise of the rule of law and relegates it to a luxury for “normal” times. But it also sets the stage for the trap in which France finds itself. French leaders have implied that they will only lift the state of emergency when the security risk has subsided but since they can’t predict the risk of future terrorist attacks, they prefer to maintain it rather than pay a political price if a subsequent attack takes place.

So lifting the state of emergency becomes less dependent on security considerations and more on political calculations. This would explain why France’s latest extension was driven by the electoral calendar, punting the issue to the next president and legislature. Call it political procrastination, or perhaps more aptly, political cowardice.

This disconnect between its initial purpose and current raison d’être was captured nicely by Sébastien Pietrasanta, a parliamentarian and rapporteur for the commission investigating the state’s response to the November 2015 attacks, who recently noted that “the effect of the state of emergency is fading and yet we extend it…even though the link with terrorism is quite tenuous.”

I have seen this logic at play in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria, countries I have worked on for years, maintained their states of emergency for 31 and 48 years respectively. Every time the state of emergency was up for renewal, the country’s rulers argued that the risk was still there or that the timing was not right to lift it. France is not a tin-pot autocracy and its rulers are not despots, but there is a cautionary tale in these experiences.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk – an exogenous measure that cannot be controlled by political calculations. It should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment. It may have been justified for a few days immediately after the November 2015 attacks as the country’s security forces were caught unprepared. But it should have been lifted as soon as the institutions resumed their normal functioning – regardless of whether the underlying security threat has been addressed.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk, it should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment.

Nadim Houry

Director, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program

The French government’s own website on the fight against terrorism noted in August 2016 that the government has “completed its legal arsenal and put in place an unprecedented reinforcement of its means in the police, justice, army and intelligence services.” France already has a raft of laws under the non-emergency regime that permit the authorities to investigate, detain, and prosecute terrorism suspects. Judicial controls in no way impede their effectiveness.

France needs to adopt a clear path out of the state of emergency. The parliamentary commission monitoring the state of emergency suggested in December setting an upper limit on the extension of a state of emergency but parliament ignored it and voted a fifth extension with almost no debate. Candidates in the upcoming presidential election have largely avoided talking about the issue, perpetuating the procrastination strategy by the political class, and journalists have not pushed them on the issue.

It is no longer enough to wait and hope that the security threat will simply vanish or that the future president or legislature will finally decide to tackle the issue. The debate about lifting the state of emergency should become a priority topic in this presidential election. Like any addict hoping to recover, France needs to start by recognizing the problem and begin a serious conversation on how to quit.

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

As Co-Director of the US Program, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno guides Human Rights Watch’s work on criminal justice, drug policy, immigration, national security, and surveillance in the United States.

Previously, as Deputy Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno conducted advocacy before the US government on a wide array of global human rights issues, including matters related to the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab uprisings” of 2011. Earlier, she held the position of Senior Americas Researcher, covering Colombia's internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, forthcoming from Nation Books in February 2018. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and did most of her undergraduate studies in Lima, Peru, before completing her BA at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a native speaker of both Spanish and English.


"Your Reaction to NSA Curbs," on BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” (January 2014)

"Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia ," (February 2010)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

(New York) – Sri Lanka’s latest counterterrorism bill falls far short of the government’s pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council to end abusive detention without charge, Human Rights Watch said today. The Cabinet approved the third draft of the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) on May 3, 2017, but no parliamentary vote has been set.

While the bill improves upon the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it would still permit many of the abuses occurring under current law, and raises a number of new concerns. To meet its promises to the Human Rights Council, the government should reject any counterterrorism legislation that is not in accordance with international best practices.

“Sri Lanka’s counterterrorism bill buries its abusive intent under detailed procedures, but it still won’t protect people from wrongful detention,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “While some provisions could prevent abuses, the fundamental danger of prolonged detention without charge remains. This isn’t what UN member countries sought when they agreed that Sri Lanka would reform its security laws.”

UN member countries and the EU need to be pressing Colombo to fully abide by its pledges to the Human Rights Council.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Recent interviews by Human Rights Watch found that torture remains endemic throughout Sri Lanka, including through the use of the PTA. Those arrested under the PTA, including since the war ended in 2009, gave accounts of torture and mistreatment, forced confessions, and denial of basic rights such as access to lawyers or family members.

As part of its undertakings for security sector reform at the Human Rights Council in October 2015, the Sri Lankan government pledged to repeal and replace the PTA. Several provisions under the proposed counterterrorism law are improvements, such as greater detainee access to counsel, entry of magistrates and Human Rights Commission officers to detention facilities, and reporting requirements that could help prevent enforced disappearances.

However, a number of provisions are likely to facilitate human rights abuses. Of particular concern are the bill’s broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which include a wide array of illegal conduct. The suspect needs to have acted with a terrorist purpose, but this broadly includes “intimidat[ing] a population” and threatening “the unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty, national security or defence of Sri Lanka” – which could be found to include peaceful political activity or protest. While the draft law enumerates procedural safeguards, it is weak on demonstrating the manner in which they can be effectively implemented.

As with the PTA, under the proposed law police and military officers may make arrests without a warrant. Suspects may be detained without charge for 12 months, a reduction from the 18 months permitted under the PTA. Bail is only to be granted for exceptional reasons.

The bill also prohibits a range of conduct with “Proscribed Terrorist Organizations” that violate the right to freedom of association. If enacted, the law would prohibit ordinary dealings with many ethnic Tamil organizations, including those based abroad, that were declared illegal during the armed conflict and remain so, even if during or since the war they never engaged in any terrorist activity.

“The latest counterterrorism bill brings Sri Lanka no closer to having a law that will genuinely respect the rights of suspects,” Adams said. “UN member countries and the EU need to be pressing Colombo to fully abide by its pledges to the Human Rights Council.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s inspector general of police.

© 2017 Reuters

(Kuala Lumpur) – Malaysian authorities on May 2, 2017, detained without charge two Turkish nationals who are longtime Kuala Lumpur residents, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should provide the basis for holding the men – Turgay Karaman, the principal of Time International School in Ipoh, and Ihsan Aslan, a Kuala Lumpur-based businessman – and allow them full access to legal counsel and contact with their families.

On May 3, Malaysia’s inspector general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, tweeted that police were holding the men on suspicion of national security offenses under article 130 of Malaysia’s penal code, relating to harboring or assisting a “prisoner of State.” But at a news conference the next day, Khalid said the two were being held under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), an administrative detention law.

“Malaysian authorities should explain why they are holding two longtime residents of Malaysia without charge on security grounds,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Malaysia’s administrative detention laws open the doors to easy abuse, so it’s important for the government to provide the men’s location and to allow them immediate access to their families and legal counsel.”

SOSMA allows the police to detain people for up to 28 days without charge or judicial review to investigate “security offenses.”

Article 130 of the Malaysian penal code states:

Whoever knowingly aids or assists any prisoner of State or prisoner of war in escaping from lawful custody, or rescues or attempts to rescue any such prisoner, or harbours or conceals any such prisoner who has escaped from lawful custody, or offers or attempts to offer any resistance to the recapture of such prisoner, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Malaysia’s administrative detention laws open the doors to easy abuse.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Turkish media reports suggested that Karaman and Aslan have alleged links to Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. However, Malaysian authorities, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Khalid, alleged that the men were connected to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) but did not provide any evidence to substantiate that claim. Khalid denied that Malaysia had received any extradition or other request from Turkey for the two men.

On October 14, 2016, the Turkish foreign minister announced that the previous day the Malaysian authorities had extradited to Turkey three men with alleged Gülenist affiliations.

Two of the families of the three men said at the time that witnesses had seen them taken away by unidentified men on the day of their extradition to Turkey. Human Rights Watch does not have information about their treatment upon return to Turkey but is concerned that they were detained on suspicion of terrorism offenses without adequate due process.

Since the attempted coup, Turkish courts have placed over 47,000 people in pretrial detention. The majority face terrorism charges based on their alleged links to the Gülenist movement and many have been held in prolonged detention without due process or credible evidence of personal criminal wrongdoing. Others have been held because of alleged ties to Kurdish armed groups.

Among those detained in Turkey are military personnel, police officers, civil servants, teachers, academics, businessmen, judges, and prosecutors. Some of those held have alleged that they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment by the police and have excessive restrictions on visits by family members, receiving and sending letters, and having private communication with lawyers. Their detention conditions may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of international law.

“Malaysia’s kneejerk use of SOSMA highlights the dangers of allowing detention without judicial review, not just to foreign residents, but to all Malaysians,” Robertson said. “The authorities should release these men from custody if they haven’t charged them with a credible offense.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A detainee paces around a cell block while being held in Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Camp VI at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba March 22, 2016.

© 2017 Reuters

On January 11, 2002, the United States brought 20 prisoners to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the beginning of the long-term detention of hundreds of individuals apprehended in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labeled Guantanamo’s first detainees “unlawful combatants” who “do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.” By holding detainees outside of the US, the administration of President George W. Bush reportedly hoped to avoid US court jurisdiction, though ultimately the US Supreme Court rejected the administration’s attempts to deny Guantanamo detainees access to US courts.

As part of the detainees’ interrogation, the US military subjected them to torture and other ill-treatment, including placing them in painful stress positions and in extended solitary confinement; threatening them with torture, death, and military dogs; depriving them of sleep; and exposing them for prolonged periods to extreme heat, cold, and noise.

At least 780 people have been held at Guantanamo, the vast majority without charge or trial. Nine detainees have died there, six from suspected suicide. The US has transferred 731 to home or third countries, 533 during the Bush administration and 144 during the administration of President Barack Obama. On his second day in office Obama promised to close Guantanamo, but by the end of his term in office, 41 detainees remained, including five that his administration designated for release.

Donald Trump has said that as president he would keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open and add to the inmate population there.

Human Rights Watch has long called for the US government to charge Guantanamo detainees in US federal courts or release them to safe home or third countries.

The following questions and answers look at current issues regarding detentions at Guantanamo and those that may arise under the Trump administration.

What’s wrong with detaining people at Guantanamo?

Who has been held at Guantanamo?

Who is currently detained at Guantanamo?

What’s wrong with the Guantanamo military commissions?

Have released Guantanamo detainees engaged in terrorism?

Should future detainees be sent to Guantanamo?

How should US forces treat people apprehended in military operations abroad?

Should current Guantanamo detainees be transferred to the US?

What’s wrong with detaining people at Guantanamo?

The military detention facilities created at Guantanamo Bay were designed from the outset to be outside the regular US justice system. Nearly all of those detained at Guantanamo since its inception have, for one reason or another, been held in violation of applicable international humanitarian law or international human rights law. Detainees were held without regard for their legal status under the laws of war. Very few were charged with a criminal offense. Many were tortured or otherwise ill-treated, were held based on inaccurate evidence or analysis, or on misinformation, or were cases of mistaken identity, and were not provided with adequate means to challenge their detention. These violations have damaged the US human rights record and undermined the fight against extremist armed groups by feeding into terrorist propaganda and providing them a powerful recruitment tool.

Guantanamo detainees who were charged have faced military commissions – a judicial system created at Guantanamo that does not meet international fair trial standards.

Who has been held at Guantanamo?

Most of the 780 men sent to Guantanamo were turned over by Afghan militias or Pakistani forces to US forces after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Afghans made up the largest number of those captured, but many came from dozens of other countries, drawn to the region to support various forces fighting in Afghanistan’s civil war at the time, or for other reasons. A large but unknown number were turned over to the US for bounties; as one offer stated, the bounty would provide “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.”

A smaller number were apprehended far from Afghanistan, in places like Azerbaijan, Kenya, Thailand, and Turkey, and then transferred to US custody and sent to Guantanamo. According to Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, a former top military commander at Guantanamo, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, estimated that at least half of those held at Guantanamo were held by mistake. An academic study by Seton Hall University Law School concludes that according to US documentation, at least 55 percent of the detainees at Guantanamo never engaged in any hostile acts against the US and only 8 percent had any association with the militant group Al-Qaeda.

People held at Guantanamo include:

Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo in 2009. 

© 2009 International Committee of the Red Cross

Mohamedeou Ould Slahi, who was held for more than 14 years without charge or trial before his release in October 2016 and return to his native Mauritania. While still detained and after years of battling US government censors, he published a memoir about his time at Guantanamo. In Guantanamo Diary, Slahi details years of torture and abuse. The US intended to press charges against Slahi but a military prosecutor refused to do so after learning that Slahi’s most incriminating statements were obtained through torture.

Omar Khadr, a Canadian, who was 15 when he was apprehended by the US during a firefight in Afghanistan. US forces treated him abusively in Afghanistan and sent him to Guantanamo, where, he said, he was put in stress positions and threatened with rape, among other abuses. The US never treated him in accordance with its international obligations toward children used in armed conflict. Two years after pleading guilty to crimes before the fundamentally flawed US military commissions in 2010, he was transferred to a detention facility in Canada. He was released on bail in 2015, and is currently appealing his US military commission conviction.

Omar Khadr before being imprisoned at Guantanamo in 2002 at the age of 15, left, and photographed in 2009, right.

© 2009 CNS

Mustafa al Shamiri, a Yemeni detainee once deemed “too dangerous to release,” whose detention proved to be a case of mistaken identity. Shamiri, who was 16 or 17 at the time of his detention, spent more than 14 years imprisoned at Guantanamo before a US inter-agency review board found that the original intelligence about him being a trainer at an Al-Qaeda camp was wrong.

Only 16 of those held at Guantanamo were ever charged with criminal offenses. Ten of them remain at Guantanamo, along with 31 others being held without charge. Seven, including five men accused in the September 11, 2001 attacks, currently face charges before the military commissions, and three others were convicted after trial or plea bargain. The US has maintained that it could continue to hold detainees who still pose a security risk even after they finished serving their sentences.

Five of the 16 who were convicted, including Khadr, have since been released. One of the 16, Ahmed Ghailani, was transferred to US federal court in New York, where he was convicted of conspiracy in 2010 and later sentenced to life in prison. He is the only Guantanamo detainee transferred to federal court for prosecution. At least three of the military commission convictions were thrown out and others partially overturned after a US appellate court found that material support for terrorism and solicitation were not war crimes and, therefore, could not be charged in the military commissions.

Numerous current and former national security policymakers have called for closing Guantanamo. The UN Committee against Torture and other UN rights officials and many government leaders in other countries have called on the US to end detention at Guantanamo and close the facility.

Who is currently detained at Guantanamo?

Most of the 41 men held in Guantanamo as of May 2, 2017, have been detained by the US for nearly 15 years without charge or trial. They fit within three broad categories:

Five were cleared for release during the Obama administration but were not transferred to home or third countries by the end of Obama’s term. It is not yet clear if the Trump administration will act on Obama’s decision.

There are 26 detainees whom the US asserts it can detain indefinitely for security reasons. The government made these determinations about these men after reviews largely conducted in secret and without adequate process. In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their detention in federal habeas corpus proceedings. However, not all detainees obtained these hearings and when they did, the courts ultimately sided with the government, ruling that the US can hold them even with very little evidence, weighed in the government’s favor, of connection to terrorist groups until the end of hostilities. The courts have not determined what constitutes the “end of hostilities,” so those held are effectively detained indefinitely.

Seven of the 41 face charges, and three more remain imprisoned after trial or accepting plea agreements with Guantanamo’s military commissions.

Human Rights Watch has said that all Guantanamo detainees should either be charged in a court that meets international fair trial standards – such as US federal courts – or released to safe home or third countries.

What’s wrong with the Guantanamo military commissions?

The military commissions at Guantanamo do not meet international fair trial standards and should be disbanded. The military commissions are, among other things, mired in excessive secrecy, fail to adequately protect attorney-client privileged communications, and permit the introduction of coerced evidence.

Current cases in the commissions are plagued by procedural problems and questions over the applicable law. The case against the five suspects in the September 11, 2001 attacks is headed into its fifth year of pretrial hearings, with a trial date still years away. That is bad for the defendants, for the families of the victims, and for justice generally. The slow progress is the result of government secrecy about the defendants’ torture in CIA custody, the novel nature of the commission’s untested rules and procedures, and logistical difficulties associated with holding hearings on an island several hundred miles from the United States.

During the last hearing, the military judge in the case, Col. James Pohl, refused to set a trial date because the prosecution remains behind in turning over classified evidence to the defense, and court facilities are inadequate. Meanwhile federal courts, though not without their flaws, have, since 9/11, prosecuted several hundred terrorism cases much more effectively and with respect for due process.

Only eight verdicts have been obtained in the military commissions. Three of them have been completely overturned by US court decisions, and others partially. They were overturned on the grounds that the charges did not amount to recognized laws of war violations that Congress authorized to be tried in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. As a result of these cases, charges of material support for terrorism and solicitation were ruled outside the commissions’ jurisdiction, and charges of conspiracy are in question.

Have released Guantanamo detainees engaged in terrorism?

US government reporting on alleged terrorism by former Guantanamo detainees has been controversial. While some former detainees are reported to have engaged in, or been associated with, violent acts, the vast majority of the more than 731 detainees released from Guantanamo are not reported to have been involved in any such activity.

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has reported that about 118, or 17 percent, of former detainees have become involved in terrorism since their release. These figures are based on a definition of terrorism that broadly includes “insurgent attack[s]” not necessarily against US forces but rather “coalition or host-nation forces.” Moreover, the DNI uses a preponderance of the evidence standard for “confirmed” acts of terrorism, meaning it believes it is “more likely than not” the individual has engaged in the reported acts, rather than a more reliable standard.

The overwhelming majority of these reported cases of violence predate 2009, when many detainees were released without very effective post-release monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place. Since 2009, when these mechanisms improved, the DNI reports that only seven former detainees are “confirmed” to have engaged in what it defines as terrorism.

The credibility of the DNI figures has been contested based on publicly available information about terrorist attacks. The DNI has released inadequate information about former detainees allegedly involved in attacks, and about the attacks themselves.

The government has used its claims of connections to violence by former Guantanamo detainees to deny release to current detainees, particularly those from the same country. But decisions to release detainees should be based on individualized assessments about whether they can be prosecuted for a criminal offense, not on the actions of former detainees released years before. Detaining someone because of the actions of others amounts to collective punishment and denies detainees due process.

Should future detainees be sent to Guantanamo?

Sending new detainees to Guantanamo would compound the detention facility’s history of injustice, and might repeat past violations of international law. Doing so would also be counterproductive to US counterterrorism efforts by providing fuel to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and other Islamist armed groups that are seeking to discredit the US.

Such armed groups have routinely used the situation at Guantanamo in their propaganda materials to recruit fighters globally. For instance, many non-Iraqis who took up arms against the US in Iraq did so because of US abuses at Guantanamo as well as at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib.

Sending future detainees to Guantanamo is also unnecessary – the US has other options for holding those apprehended and accused of alleged crimes committed abroad.

How should US forces treat people apprehended in military operations abroad?

US forces abroad that apprehend people suspected of war crimes and other crimes under US law should promptly transfer the suspects to the United States for prosecution in US federal courts. Otherwise, the US should, wherever possible, transfer captured combatants and civilians posing a serious security threat to national authorities in the country of capture for possible prosecution. In circumstances in which such transfers cannot lawfully be made, such as if the detainee would face likely torture or if the US is acting without the permission of the national authorities, such as in Syria, continued detention must meet basic due process standards.

Anyone being transferred out of a country by US forces, including someone turned over by non-state armed groups, should be able to contest the transfer in that country’s courts. This would not be required during a so-called international armed conflict between governments, such as between the US government and the Syrian government. Every detainee must be treated humanely at all times. Places of detention should not be near combat zones though to the extent possible they should be close to detainees’ homes. Visits from family members must be allowed if practicable. Children being detained must be held separately from adults, unless they are detained with their family.

People taken into custody during an armed conflict are entitled to basic protections. These include being promptly brought before an independent authority, such as a judge. The detainee must be provided specific reasons for their detention and have the ability to contest the detention. Where feasible the detainee should have access to a lawyer or other counsel. Individuals who are not being prosecuted for a criminal offense may only be held for exceptional reasons of security and must be released as soon as the reasons for their deprivation of their liberty cease to exist. Detention under such circumstances should be reviewed at least every six months.

Regular soldiers and civilians captured in fighting between two government forces would be protected under the rules for prisoners-of-war and security detainees under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.

Should current Guantanamo detainees be transferred to the US?

Human Rights Watch supports closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but not by detaining individuals currently held there in US prisons without charge or trial. Moving them to the US would not end the rights violation of detention without trial, just transfer people whose rights are being violated to a new location.

However, those who can be charged with a criminal offense should be, and should be brought to the US and prosecuted in US federal courts. Those who cannot be charged should be released to a safe home country or third country.

Currently, US law bars the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the US for continued detention or trial. Any revision of the law should not permit the transfer to super-maximum security (“supermax”) prisons in the US, which are designed for convicted prisoners deemed extremely dangerous. The use of extremely harsh supermax prisons raises grave human rights concerns generally. They should not be used to hold people who have not been convicted of an offense, such as those being held without trial at Guantanamo.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Egyptian military forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula executed at least two and as many as eight unarmed detainees and covered up the killings to make it appear that the victims were armed “terrorists” shot to death in a raid, Human Rights Watch said today. Video of the killings, aired by a television channel aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and based in Turkey on April 20, 2017, appears to show a man in a camouflage uniform executing the two detainees, one after the other, with an assault rifle.

Two Sinai sources identified the executioner as a well-known member of a local militia that works at the behest of the Egyptian military. The video also appears to show a member of Egypt’s military intelligence service observing and directing the first execution and that the soldiers used Humvee vehicles supplied by the United States to transport the detainees. Other videos and photographs Human Rights Watch reviewed corroborate the incident.

“These outrageous killings confirm that Egypt’s counterterrorism campaign in the Sinai is out of control,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt’s allies cannot claim ignorance about these deadly abuses.”

Countries that provide weapons, materiel, or training to the Egyptian military should suspend all such assistance as long as the Egyptian armed forces remain responsible for widespread and serious violation of human rights, Human Rights Watch said. International law obliges Egypt to apprehend and prosecute the men responsible for the killings.

Sinai News 24, an independent Facebook page that tracks events in the Sinai Peninsula, reported that the two victims were brothers from the Rumailat clan – Daoud Sabri al-Awabdah, 16, and Abd al-Hadi Sabri al-Awabdah, 19 – whom the army had arrested in the town of Rafah and forcibly disappeared on July 18, 2016. In the execution video, the militia member is shown briefly interrogating the second victim about his family and confirming that he is a member of the Rumailat before he and another soldier execute him.

A member of a military-backed militia prepares to execute the second detainee.

© 2017 Mekameleen

Human Rights Watch was not able to immediately confirm the location or date of the killings, but the video appeared to be authentic.

Human Rights Watch reviewed an original version of the execution video and a separate video, posted on a pro-government Facebook page on November 20, 2016, that appears to show the same eight bodies seen in the execution video lined up next to a building that also appears in the execution video. In the second video, six soldiers stand next to the line of bodies. “This is the revenge for those who died,” one says.

In a photograph of the same scene obtained by Human Rights Watch, one of the soldiers can be seen lifting the head of one of the bodies by the hair as he looks at the camera. In a third video of the scene, also posted on the same pro-government Facebook page, a man can be heard saying, “Should I change the position of the gun?” The man who is filming the body replies, “Finish, finish.”

In addition, two bodies that appear in the execution video were also shown in official media releases published by the Egyptian armed forces on November 5 and December 6, 2016. In the December release, the armed forces spokesman described the operation that led to the victims’ death as “law enforcement forces” continuing to “tighten their security grip in the areas of countering terrorist activities in North Sinai, where they managed to eliminate eight armed terrorist elements.”

A representative for Mekameleen, the channel that obtained the execution video, told Human Rights Watch that according to their information, the incident took place sometime in October or November in al-Tuma, a village south of Sheikh Zuweid, a town where Egyptian forces have repeatedly fought elements of the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Residents of al-Tuma had previously abandoned the village due to the fighting, North Sinai residents told Human Rights Watch.

Two North Sinai sources told Human Rights Watch that the man seen executing both victims is a member of a local militia, colloquially called Group 103, which was formed by the Egyptian military in 2015 to assist in Sinai operations and which the military arms and oversees. The second source knew the man’s identity because they previously lived near each other in Sheikh Zuweid. Three other sources – the Mekameleen representative, an expert on Sinai affairs in Egypt, and an independent Sinai group – all independently identified the same man to Human Rights Watch.

In the execution video, the militia member appears to be wearing an Egyptian army infantry patch on his shoulder. A second man in the video appears to be wearing a patch of the armed forces’ Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance Department. During the first execution, the intelligence officer stands mostly off screen to the right of the camera holding a mobile phone, and a voice can be heard directing the militia member: “Not just the head. Not just the head. Enough.” Soldiers can be seen placing and removing their assault rifles next to at least two of the eight bodies, apparently so that the bodies could be falsely photographed with weapons.

Since the military removed former President Mohamed Morsy in July 2013, violence has significantly increased in North Sinai, an underdeveloped and long-marginalized governorate that borders Israel and Gaza. The extremist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which pledged allegiance to ISIS and renamed itself Sinai Province in November 2014, has established a stronghold in the area and waged a series of attacks on Egyptian police and armed forces there, in addition to targeting Christians and suspected collaborators. Since 2013, North Sinai has experienced at least 1,500 armed attacks, which have killed dozens of civilians and hundreds of members of the security forces, according to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

These outrageous killings confirm that Egypt’s counterterrorism campaign in the Sinai is out of control.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Human Rights Watch

In response, Egypt has deployed more forces to the Sinai than at any time since the country’s 1973 war with Israel. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as defense minister orchestrated Morsy’s ouster, has repeatedly stated that Egypt is in a “state of war” and compared recent operations to the previous conflicts with Israel, in 1973 and 1967.

The counterterrorism campaign in North Sinai has been rife with abuses. Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities destroyed around half of the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza Strip, evicting thousands of families and demolishing at least 3,255 buildings. Dozens of families Human Rights Watch interviewed in 2016 and 2017 reported numerous arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings by Egyptian military and Interior Ministry forces.

In January 2017, Interior Ministry counterterrorism troops most likely executed at least four and as many as 10 North Sinai men whom they had previously arrested. The Interior Ministry then apparently staged a fake raid to cover up the incident.

The killings shown in the video that surfaced on April 20 fit a pattern described by several North Sinai residents. At least two detainees formerly held by the army told Human Rights Watch that their guards would come at dawn, summon certain detainees, and take them away without telling them where they were going. These detainees did not return, said the former prisoners, who said they believed the men had been executed.

In one of two such cases in November 2014 that Human Rights Watch documented, the detainee discovered after his release that one of the men taken away by guards had been killed the same day. The man’s family found his body later in a deserted area.

Egypt’s allies cannot claim ignorance about these deadly abuses.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Human Rights Watch

Several North Sinai residents have told Human Rights Watch that when the army conducts regular arrest sweeps in villages, troops are usually accompanied by one or more militia members, sometimes referred to as “collaborators,” who play a leading role in identifying and arresting suspects. Other residents said that these individuals have threatened them or had their relatives arrested due to personal or business disputes.

Residents said that military “collaborators” have falsely identified numerous individuals as “terrorists,” leading army troops to arrest them. One former resident of Sheikh Zuweid said that members of these militias live in or next to the Zohor army barracks in Sheikh Zuweid. The army forcibly evicted residents of many buildings surrounding the base and allowed militia members to occupy them, this person said.

If the fighting in North Sinai has risen to the level of an “armed conflict” under international law, the conduct of both sides would be regulated by international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war. The willful killing of a civilian or prisoner of war constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which would be a further obligation on Egypt to arrest and prosecute those responsible.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – The suicide bombings at two Egyptian churches on April 9, 2017, that killed at least 45 people are a terrifying reminder of the escalating threats facing Egypt’s Christian minority, Human Rights Watch said today. Two parishioners and a pastor at one of the churches told Human Rights Watch that police protection at the church gate was inadequate and may have allowed the bomber to enter.

The attacks during Palm Sunday services in Tanta and Alexandria, claimed by the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), were the worst day of violence targeting Christians in Egypt’s modern history. In response, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a nationwide state of emergency, the first since security forces violently dispersed anti-government protests in 2013, killing hundreds.

Relatives of victims grieve next to coffins arriving to the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

“These church bombings were the savage work of extremists who have no regard for the sanctity of life,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The deep-rooted sectarianism in many places in Egypt provides the climate where this hateful ideology can fester, but states of emergency have been the path to more abuses, not greater protection for Christian lives.”

In Tanta, a city in the Nile Delta 95 kilometers north of Cairo, a man wearing concealed explosives managed to pass through a security check outside St. George’s Church and detonate himself near the front pews, killing at least 28 people and wounding 77, according to media reports. In Alexandria, church security camera footage showed another bomber trying to enter St. Mark’s Church through an open gate and being directed toward a metal detector guarded by police officers. When an officer stopped the man, he detonated his explosives, killing at least 17 people and wounding 48.

Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was inside St. Mark’s Church but was not harmed, according to the Interior Ministry.

Two members of St. George’s Church and one of the church’s pastors told Human Rights Watch that police had not taken serious steps to secure the church for Palm Sunday, though they had defused an explosive device in the street next to the church just 11 days earlier. One church member said that the police should have taken the explosive device as a sign of an impending attack.

Coptic Christians in Egypt have faced escalating threats since a December 11, 2016, ISIS suicide bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, which killed at least 25 people and wounded 49. At least seven Coptic Christians in North Sinai, the stronghold of Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, were killed in the following months, prompting the majority of Coptic residents in al-Arish, the area’s biggest town, to flee to mainland Egypt. On February 19, 2017, in a video claiming responsibility for the Cairo cathedral bombing, ISIS threatened further attacks on Christians, accusing them of being “the spearhead of the crusader project to fight God’s religion in Egypt.”

Coptic Christians, an estimated 10 percent of the Egyptian population, face widespread legal and social discrimination and are routinely denied high-level government and security services jobs. They have been the victims of increasing sectarian attacks since the 2011 uprising, particularly since July 2013, when the military removed Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president. On a number of occasions, Human Rights Watch has documented how Interior Ministry officials and prosecutors fail to conduct proper investigations or prosecutions into sectarian attacks on Coptic Christians.

In an April 10 statement, ISIS identified the two bombers as Egyptians, using the pseudonyms Abu al-Bara al-Masri and Abu Ishaq al-Masri. The group threatened further violence, describing Christians as “crusaders” and “apostates” and declaring that “the bill between us and them is very large, and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, with God’s permission.”

Hours after the attacks, Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar replaced two police generals responsible for security in Gharbia governorate, which includes Tanta, moving them to new assignments. The following day, al-Sisi formally decreed a three-month state of emergency, giving the armed forces responsibility for preserving security throughout the country and protecting private and public property.

On April 11, parliament voted unanimously to approve al-Sisi’s decree. Under the constitution, a majority is needed for approval, and a two-thirds majority to approve any renewal.

Egypt’s emergency law, which dates to 1958, gives the authorities sweeping powers to arrest, detain, try, and sentence suspects with almost no judicial review. A state of emergency was in place continuously between October 1981, after extremists assassinated President Anwar al-Sadat, and June 2012, when the government allowed it to expire more than a year after a nationwide uprising ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

The aftermath of an explosion that took place at a Coptic church on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Though al-Sisi’s administration has taken numerous steps to recreate the powers Mubarak had during the state of emergency – including a broad counterterrorism law passed in 2015 – the emergency law goes further. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly criticized Egypt for resorting to states of emergency and urged the government to use the penal code and regular courts instead.

A state of emergency allows for trials before Emergency State Security Courts, whose composition is determined by the president and whose verdicts cannot be appealed. It allows the authorities to arrest and search suspects without warrants, conduct surveillance on and censor any publication, seize property, forcibly evacuate areas, restrict public meetings, and set opening and closing times for businesses. People detained under the emergency law can only challenge their detention, before the Supreme State Security Court, if they are not released within six months, and the president must approve a court release order, allowing for indefinite detention.

In June 2013, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the emergency law’s warrantless arrest and search powers violated the constitution. In the absence of a lower house of parliament – which the court had dissolved a year earlier for violating elections law – the emergency law remained unchanged, and the military removed President Morsy’s administration from power one month later.

On April 11, a parliamentary committee proposed amendments to the emergency law to bring it in line with the court’s 2013 ruling. The amendments would allow police to arrest anyone suspected of a crime and allow prosecutors to seek permission from an Emergency State Security Court to hold detainees for indefinitely renewable one-month periods.

After al-Sisi declared the state of emergency, Ali Abdel Aal, the speaker of parliament, said that social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube would fall under its surveillance and censorship provisions, the newspaper Al Masry al Youm reported. The day before the state of emergency, authorities confiscated editions of Al Bawaba, a pro-government newspaper, which criticized the authorities for failing to protect the churches.

In practice, Egyptian authorities have exercised de facto emergency powers since the military removed President Morsy. The government has effectively banned opposition protests, and police and Interior Ministry National Security officers have arbitrarily arrested thousands of suspects, used torture routinely to elicit confessions, and forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time. Courts and prosecutors have issued mass death sentences and held hundreds of other detainees in preventive detention for more than two years, exceeding the amount of time allowed by law. Judges have regularly acted as rubber stamps for National Security officers, only a handful of whom have received sentences for abusing detainees in custody, and all of which remain on appeal.

Under international law, governments may declare a state of emergency when there is a “public emergency that threatens the life of the nation,” but the emergency restrictions must be proportionate and limited to the greatest extent possible in both time and area. Some rights, including the absolute ban on torture, the right to judicial review of detention, and the right to a fair trial, cannot be limited even during emergencies.

Mina Nagy, a member of St. George’s Church who was on his way to attend the service when the explosion took place, told Human Rights Watch that the church had opened only one gate that day, but that the metal detector there did not work. Police stationed at the gate performed only cursory inspections of those who entered, he said.

“This is a man who’s entering, so what should you search for?” Nagy said. “In this security situation, I should check your identity if you’ve got a strange look like you’re not from here. Try to find out your character, your identity, who are you, kind of like what happened in Alexandria. The man refused to let him go through the main door so he went to the metal detector.”

A second church member who knew many of those who survived the bombing and asked not to be identified also said that the church’s metal detector rarely worked and that the police guards rarely inspected the bags or clothing of people entering the church. He said that police should have set up checkpoints down the street from the church gate, given the holiday crowds.

“The whole problem is about the protection of the church,” he said.

A pastor who was inside the church at the time of the explosion, which killed his son, told Human Rights Watch that security camera footage from inside the church showed a man wearing a cap and sunglasses and holding a jacket entering the church and moving quickly toward the area where priests were standing before detonating his explosives.

“There’s one door, where only one person can pass through the metal detector, which in principle is the responsibility of the Interior Ministry,” the pastor said. “How he ran through the gate no one knows.”

Security at the church was “decoration,” the pastor said. “There’s scenery. Just scenery.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Nairobi) – Armed groups have carried out a wave of killings in central Mali since January 2017. The killings, by Islamist armed groups, self-defense militias, and, to a lesser extent, government soldiers, have resulted in at least 52 deaths, led to the displacement of over 10,000 people, and dramatically elevated ethnic tensions. Malian authorities should investigate and prosecute all those responsible.

Islamist armed groups have over the past two years progressively increased their presence in central Mali, where they have executed civilians and government officials and committed other abuses. Their presence, and recruitment of local residents, has inflamed and exploited tensions among the Peuhl, Bambara, and Dogon ethnic groups, spawning the growth of often-abusive self-defense militias.
“Violence since January fueled by explosive ethnic tensions has swept across central Mali, leaving dozens dead,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Malian government should ramp up efforts to stop this violence by vigorously prosecuting the killings and stepping up patrols to protect vulnerable populations.”
During a 10-day research mission to Mali in February, and by phone in late February and March, Human Rights Watch interviewed 57 victims and witnesses to killings and other abuses in central Mali. Human Rights Watch also interviewed members of the ethnic Peuhl and Bambara communities; former detainees; local government, security and justice officials; and foreign diplomats.
On February 11, alleged Peuhl Islamist fighters killed a Bambara shopkeeper near the town of Ke-Macina in Ségou region, 320 kilometers from the capital, Bamako. This sparked retaliatory killings against Peuhl villagers by a Bambara self-defense militia known as the Dozos, leaving at least 21 people dead, including children.
On February 18, armed Islamists executed nine Bozo and Bambara traders returning home from a local market for their perceived support of the Dozos. Since then, at least 16 people – both civilians and armed group members – have been killed in an escalating series of tit-for-tat attacks. Both Peuhl and Bambara villagers told Human Rights Watch that villagers were terrified as large groups of armed men have been seen driving around on motorcycles and vehicles in their villages in central Mali.
Additionally, since January, three local government representatives in Mopti region have been assassinated, allegedly by armed Islamists.
While the Malian security forces have generally acted to quell the ethnic violence, witnesses reported that in response to the growing presence of armed Islamists in central Mali, some soldiers executed at least eight suspected Islamists and forcibly disappeared several others since late December 2016.
Bambara and Peuhl community leaders lamented the violence that has gripped central Mali for the past two years. Villagers, local officials, and elders from both ethnicities said that poverty, public sector corruption, inadequate security, and the lack of investigations and justice for communal violence and criminality were fueling recruitment by armed groups.
A Peuhl youth leader, addressing the lack of justice for the many killings since early 2015, said: “In central Mali, we, the Peuhl, were the jihadists’ first victims… we’ve also lost imams, mayors, and chiefs at the hands of the jihadists, but no one talks about that.” Another said, “So many Peuhl have been tortured, disappeared or killed by the soldiers and by the Dozos, but there is never justice for these terrible crimes.”
A Bambara leader said: “Since 2015, so many of our people have been gunned down in their farms, at home, or on their way to market. We have reported this to local and Bamako authorities, but what we hear are excuses for why they don’t investigate – the rain, the danger, insufficient vehicles. But in the end, there is no justice and the killings keep happening.”
A Peuhl villager said, “To end all this, everyone must be treated with dignity; every killing must be investigated. If not, if the state doesn’t pay attention, people will continue to join the jihadists and their numbers and force will continue to grow.”
The government should investigate and hold to account those responsible for serious abuses committed in central Mali by armed groups, civil defense militias, and state security forces. It should also report on the progress made into its investigation into the May 2016 deadly communal violence near the town of Dioura, in Mopti region.

To end all this, everyone must be treated with dignity; every killing must be investigated. If not, if the state doesn’t pay attention, people will continue to join the jihadists and their numbers and force will continue to grow.

Villager, central Mali

On March 2, the government announced the establishment of a 45-day commission of inquiry to investigate the violence in Ke-Macina. The commission, consisting of nine magistrates and 22 gendarmes, was given 45 days to submit a report, the government said. If it carries out its mandate credibly and impartially, the commission will be a meaningful step in seeking justice for the victims and their families.

Human Rights Watch recommended the implementation of a longer-term commission, preferably initiated by the Malian parliament, in order to address a broader range of issues. Such a longer-term commission should:
  • Investigate sources of weapons for both armed Islamist groups and self-defense groups, including the Dozos;
  • Investigate the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in central Mali, including government corruption, resolution of farmer-herder tensions, and the crucial need for civilian protection from – and justice for – rampant banditry; and
  • Develop clear recommendations for accountability, reparations, and prevention of further abuses.

“The worsening violence in central Mali thrusts members of all ethnic groups into the dangerous cycle of violence and impunity,” Dufka said. “The Malian government and its allies need to confront this insecurity head on before more blood is shed. The Ke-Macina investigation is a very good place to start.”

The Seeds of Violence
In 2012, Mali’s northern regions fell to separatist ethnic Tuareg and Al-Qaeda-linked armed groups. Military operations by French and Malian forces since 2013, along with a 2015 peace accord, sought to eliminate the presence of Islamist armed groups, disarm Tuareg and other fighters, and re-establish state control over the north. However, insecurity and violence in Mali’s previously stable central and southern regions has increased.

Since early 2015, an Islamist armed group referred to as the Macina Liberation Front, or Katiba Macina, under the command of an Islamic preacher, Hamadoun Koufa Diallo, has attacked army bases and police and gendarme posts. The group has executed numerous alleged army informants and officials, including mayors and local administrators.

Armed Islamist groups have closed schools, warned people not to collaborate with the government, increasingly imposed harsh restrictions based on their interpretation of Islam, prohibited traditional celebrations including marriages and baptisms, and imposed Sharia (Islamic law) in some villages. The insecurity has led to displacement of thousands of civilians.

While the group’s new area of operation is largely inhabited by the Peuhl, Bambara, and Dogon ethnic groups, Islamist groups have concentrated their recruitment efforts on the Peuhl. Since 2015, Peuhl community leaders have expressed concern about the Islamists’ recruitment. They attributed this success to the Islamists’ exploitation of community frustrations with poverty, government corruption, generational disputes within Peuhl clan leadership, the lack of justice for common crime, abusive conduct by the Malian security services, and the government’s failure to protect civilians from rampant banditry.

The sparse presence of Malian security forces in the area has also led to the formation of ethnically aligned self-defense groups, notably by the Bambara and the Dogon, near the Burkina Faso border. Several Bambara leaders said they took security into their own hands because Malian security forces had failed to protect their villages and property. They said the Islamist armed group killings of numerous Bambara farmers, herders, and local leaders had not been investigated, nor had any of those responsible been brought to account.

The sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities have long had disputes and misunderstandings over access to water and land. However, since the proliferation of Islamist armed groups and the growth and militarization of the Dozo, such disputes have become increasingly deadly.

Communal Violence in Ke-Macina
The deadly communal violence on February 11 and 12 between members of the Peuhl and Bambara communities around the town of Ke-Macina was sparked by the February 11 killing of a Bambara shopkeeper, Chiaka Traoré, by an alleged Islamist fighter in the village of Diawaribougou, four kilometers away. The Malian Security Ministry said that 20 people had been killed and 18 wounded. However, Peuhl community leaders told Human Rights Watch the death toll could be over 30.

A witness to the killing of the shopkeeper said, “He was killed at about 8 p.m. by two men on a motorcycle who pretended to buy gas at his little shop. They whipped out a gun and shot him several times before speeding off.”

A friend of the victim told Human Rights Watch:

Chiaka told me a few weeks before he died that he had gotten death threats from the Peuhl bandits – usually they warn you two times. He said the jihadists told him if he didn’t stop talking about [Hamadoun] Kouffa and talking to the FAMA [Malian army], that they would come for him. He said he had complained to the mayor and gendarmes, but they couldn’t protect him.

Human Rights Watch has documented about 40 such targeted killings of suspected informants by Islamist armed groups in central Mali since early 2015.

Witnesses said that after burying the shopkeeper on February 12, a group of about 100 Dozos, some living in villages around Ke-Macina and others from neighboring administrative areas, attacked seven largely Peuhl hamlets, killing residents and setting fire to numerous houses. The hamlets attacked were Wuro Hadji Samba, Wuro Botamkobé, Wuro Brahima Hadji, Wuro Nona, Wuro Thaté, Wuro Direbé, and Sampey. Witnesses said the Dozos were armed with hunting rifles and some with military assault weapons. An elderly resident who was shot in the arm during the attack on his village said:

We were saddened to learn of the assassination of the shopkeeper, and I went to his burial, but unfortunately, the authorities and Dozos said we should leave. Thirty minutes after returning home, I saw several young people in traditional Dozo attire and armed with hunting rifles and Kalashnikov [assault rifles] coming toward us. I recognized seven of them – they were from my very village.

Without talking, they started firing. I was hit in the arm and saw my brother and another relative fall dead. His 4-year-old son was also shot. In my village they killed six people and wounded three… then they attacked the next village. We have lived together for a very long time – how could they have done this?

A wounded man from a village three kilometers away gave a similar description, saying a woman and two children from his village were killed in the attack. A herder described the burials of 21 victims, including two who had been burned beyond recognition:

Most of the dead were buried on Sunday and Monday, but on Tuesday we found and buried four more bodies, including a man and women who burned to death inside their house. Eleven are buried in a common grave Ke-Macina, another six in a hamlet, and the four I helped bury. Some were shot at close range, others at a distance… others burned.

Other Retaliatory Killings
At least 24 other people have been killed during communal violence since January 2017. The victims include members of Peuhl, Bambara, and Bozo ethnic groups. The attackers are allegedly members of Islamist armed groups and Dozo traditional hunters.

Witnesses and elders from both the Bambara and Peuhl communities said that some of these killings were retaliation for the Ke-Macina violence, while others appeared to be a response for the large-scale theft of livestock.

On February 18, armed Islamists allegedly stopped and killed nine traders – most from the Bozo ethnic group – on their way back from the Saturday market in Niono in Ségou region. Three people with detailed knowledge of the incident said that more than 20 heavily armed Islamists, who had been driving around the area in a beige Toyota pickup and several motorcycles, stopped the traders and their donkey carts 25 kilometers from Niono, at about 4 p.m. The armed men accused the traders of complicity in the Ke-Macina killings, demanded to know if they had any relationship with the Dozo, then took them off the main road, tied their hands behind their backs, and shot each one in the head.

At least 15 other people were killed in fighting between the Bambara and Peuhl over livestock theft. Members of both communities said while these disputes have grown increasingly common as competition over grazing and farmland has increased, they have become much more lethal since the appearance of armed Islamist groups in 2015 and the resulting proliferation of firearms. They said the Islamists have on several occasions intervened in the disputes on behalf of the Peuhl, especially after Peuhl herders had been murdered.

Around February 20, Peuhl leaders said, a group of Dozos killed three Peuhl herders tending their cows. A Dozo leader told Human Rights Watch that on February 21, “About 20 kilometers from Diabaly, 10 of our people were killed and 13 wounded when we were ambushed by jihadists while trying to get back our cattle… It was a heavy ambush – they were really well armed.” He added: “Killing has become an almost daily thing… just yesterday [March 27], Bambaras taking a sick relative to the hospital were attacked. Two of our people died.” Leaders from both communities lamented the lack of justice for the many killings.

Assassinations of Local Government Representatives
Three local government and village leaders in Mopti region have been assassinated so far in 2017. In all three cases, the perpetrators arrived on motorcycles and quickly fled after killing their victims, two of whom were of Dogon ethnicity. While no Islamist group has claimed responsibility, all three cases resemble previous targeted killings of suspected collaborators by armed Islamists.

The mayor of Boni, Hamadoun Dicko, was shot and killed after leaving a mosque on January 18. The mayor of Mondoro, Souleymane Ongoiba, was fatally shot in front of his home in Douentza on January 28. Adry Ongoiba, the 72-year-old chief of the Dogon section of the village of Yirma, 35 kilometers from Boni, was assassinated on March 26 at his home. A witness to Adry’s killing said:

Around 2:20 a.m., I heard gunshots, and immediately ran outside… I saw two men running away and moments later heard the sound of a motorcycle as it sped away. I found the chief lying on his back with two bullets in his head and chest… There was panic, the women were wailing. People were saying the assailants were speaking Pulaar, and said, “It is you we are looking for.” He was killed with an automatic weapon… the bullets we found there were not from local hunting rifles, that’s for sure.

The Malian Security Forces
Peuhl and Bambara villagers reported that the Malian security forces, who are responsible for protecting all Malians, have both protected vulnerable Peuhl villagers and seemingly turned a blind eye to the violence. Several Peuhl leaders said they believed the government was arming the Dozo militia.

Several residents said that after incidents of communal violence, the army tried to calm tensions by patrolling, crediting the soldiers with saving their lives. Two Peuhl elders told Human Rights Watch they believed many more Peuhl would have died if the army had not deployed in the days after February 12 to dissuade further killing. One official said, “Yes, the army was patrolling, but they cannot be everywhere, and some villages were attacked either just before or after the army had passed through.”

A few Peuhl villagers felt both protected and victimized by the army. A man from a village close to Ke-Macina said:

On Sunday night, we were on alert; we had heard of the burned hamlets and people killed. The army arrived, asking if we were okay. We said we were okay for the moment and they continued on their way. But just an hour later, the Dozos arrived on motorcycles and started firing, killing three youth and wounding two more. We tried to defend ourselves from the Dozo with our local-made weapons, but then the army returned and started shooting at us. But later they evacuated the wounded to Ke-Macina.

Other residents questioned why the security forces did not intervene more aggressively to stop the killing on February 12, which they said went on for several hours. “The army was only a few kilometers away when all this going on… and the sound of gunfire really carries in the bush,” a witness said. One Peuhl man said that he had warned the security forces and local government “of the tense situation at the cemetery.” He added, “As soon as I left I told the authorities, ‘The situation is hot; there are over 100 Dozos there and more coming, they are armed and talking of revenge… the FAMA must go or there will be a serious problem’… but they didn’t act as aggressively as they should have. The killing went on from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.!”

Several Peuhl villagers and leaders questioned why Dozo members, include several Dozo leaders, had not been detained for questioning in the days after the violence. “The armed Dozos who took part in the killing were there, on the day the government delegation visited the area to assess the damage and try to calm things down,” a witness said. “They were armed. Some of those who killed our people were hanging around… but no one was arrested.”

The armed Dozos who took part in the killing were there, on the day the government delegation visited the area to assess the damage and try to calm things down. They were armed. Some of those who killed our people were hanging around… but no one was arrested.

Witness to February 11-12 communal violence in Ke-Macina, Mali

Peuhl leaders also questioned why a ban on using motorcycles for transportation between villages in the Ségou region, announced in mid-February by Chef d’Etat-major Didier Dacko, as a security measure, did not always appear to apply to Dozo.

Gendarmes, army officials, and Dozo leaders interviewed said that the ban applied to everyone. However, several Peuhl said they have on several occasions witnessed large groups of armed men, including Dozo, circulating in Ségou region on motorcycles. One Peuhl youth noted, “In some cases, Dozo even stop villagers, ask for IDs, search hamlets and do the job of soldiers.”

Several Peuhl leaders said the use by some Dozo of automatic weapons suggests that Malian security services are supporting them, a charge members of the army categorically denied to Human Rights Watch.

Several villagers expressed concern about the proliferation of arms and said that civilians could easily buy them from traders, including those going back and forth to Mauritania. One Bambara villager said:

The state doesn’t give the Dozo anything, except rice and help with medical bills, but they also help Peuhl villagers at times. No, both the Dozos and even the Peuhl buy their Kalashnikovs. The state is not present so we are all are doing this. Usually we get them from Mauritania – there is no control at the border, or customs… we know how to go about purchasing them and who we have to ask.

A Peuhl youth leader said, similarly:

The price of a nice cow, that’s how much a Kalashnikov costs – about 500,000 CFA (US$800). People buy them from shop owners who go to Mauritania and Algeria all the time – for some reason, the army doesn’t always search their cars. When you need a gun, whatever [ethnicity] you are, you put in your order, they tell you to wait several days, and your merchandise is delivered.

Malian Security Force Violations
Since early 2017, Human Rights Watch has documented several abuses allegedly committed by members of the Malian security forces, including the summary executions of three men, the enforced disappearance of six men, and the mistreatment in detention of several detainees. The alleged violations occurred during counterterrorism operations in Ségou and Mopti regions.

As compared with previous years, allegations of abuse by the security forces have steadily declined. However, the military and civilian justice systems have made little effort to investigate and hold to account soldiers implicated in violations against detainees.

Three witnesses said that about 6:30 a.m. on January 21, soldiers conducting an operation in the village of Yirma, in Mopti region, detained and later executed three members of the same extended family: Hamadoun Isss Diallo, 65; Amadou Hamadou Diallo, 27; and Hamadoun Boucari Diallo, 25.

“From my house I saw three army vehicles with mounted machine guns and full of soldiers take the men away,” one said. Another witness said: “the soldiers bound their eyes and drove off in the same direction from which they had come, [toward] Mondoro [26 kilometers away].” Less than 30 minutes later, the witnesses said, they heard gunshots in the distance. They later found the men after disinterring them from a shallow grave near Bamguel village, 18 kilometers away. One witness described following vehicle tracks to the site, where he saw “a grave, newly dug covered with branches of trees and many spent casings… I returned to our village to deliver the bad news.”

The executions near Yirma occurred just kilometers away from a very similar incident a month earlier, on December 19, when soldiers detained and executed five men from Issèye village. One of two witnesses interviewed said:

At about 11 a.m., 10 FAMA vehicles full of heavily armed soldiers stormed the village. They didn’t stay long. They detained the village chief first, then the others. Around 4 p.m., we heard gunfire, and the next morning we found the shallow grave just a few kilometers away. We uncovered the bodies… the chief was on top… each had several gunshot wounds. There was blood, and many bullet casings.

The witnesses said they had informed the gendarmerie in Boni of the killings, but one witness said, “We’re aware of no investigation… no one has contacted us since that day – no one is trying to find those who murdered our people. Imagine, in 2015, the chief himself was detained and tortured by the jihadists, and now he has been killed by the authorities.”

Human Rights Watch also documented the enforced disappearance of six men. Witnesses said that Malian security forces detained the men during operations in January and February. The witnesses had unsuccessfully looked for the men in several detention centers in Mopti and Ségou regions, and even in Bamako.

Two witnesses said that Ibrahim Barry, 35, was detained in Mopti on February 3, during a meeting organized by a local nongovernmental organization. One witness said: “At about 10:30 a.m., two uniformed people came into the room with a list, saying they were looking for a particular person, who wasn’t in our meeting. Later, at around 1:30 p.m., we broke for lunch. As Ibrahim headed out the door, he was forced into a white pickup by men in uniform. No one has seen him since that day.”

Two witnesses said Boura Alou Diallo, 32, was detained near the village of Kokoli around January 23, and held for two days in the Mondoro army camp. “He was seen tied to a tree near the camp for two days,” said one witness. “I was informed by our people that they heard gunfire inside the camp. We have looked everywhere, but haven’t seen a trace of him since that day.”

Around January 17, four members of the same family were arrested during an army operation in the village of Tomoyi, near the town of Ténenkou. A witness said, “The soldiers surrounded the village, did house to house searches, then took away four men from the same family. Before leaving, an officer said, ‘Don’t be afraid…we’ll do our investigation and return them.’” Their names and approximate ages are: Hassan Sidibe, 53; Boubacar Sidibe, 49; Boubacar Sidibe, 30; and Yonousa Sidibe, 30.

Malian authorities should impartially investigate these cases, as well as the March 30 killing, allegedly by gendarmes, of Amadou Diallo and Amadou Dicko in Konna village, 70 kilometers from Mopti. Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted an army spokesman as saying the security forces recovered arms from the men after they attempted to attack a gendarme post at 2 a.m.

However, local residents including the mayor said the men were not armed at the time. One resident told Human Rights Watch that the two men were arrested shortly after returning to Konna at about 11 p,m. “They had gone to the Boni market to sell about a dozen cows,” the resident said. “We saw them being arrested after buying bread at a local store. We know them… They are traders, not rebels.”

Sékou Touré, president of the Konna Youth Association and a member of the village’s security brigade, was quoted by AFP as saying, “We all know these two young people. They are not terrorists, it’s just a military blunder.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Erbil) – Procedural changes for authorizing airstrikes in Iraq raise concerns about the protection of civilians, especially following airstrikes in Mosul on March 17, 2017, that allegedly caused dozens of civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said today. The United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq should make public the detailed findings of its investigations into the attack. The coalition should ensure that serious violations of the laws of war are appropriately referred for criminal prosecution and that civilian victims or their families receive adequate redress. Previous coalition investigations have not released detailed information on their process, findings, or any disciplinary or compensatory measures taken.

On March 25, international media outlets reported that coalition airstrikes on the New Mosul neighborhood of west Mosul killed up to 200 people. The press desk of the US-led coalition, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed that the coalition had “struck ISIS fighters and equipment,” in the area on March 17 and said that it had opened a formal investigation. However, on March 26 the Iraqi army denied that the coalition was responsible for the civilian casualties, claiming that they resulted from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by ISIS. It did not release any footage or imagery from the site.

Relatives carry the bodies of civilians killed in an attack in New Mosul neighborhood of west Mosul on March 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

“The coalition should thoroughly and transparently investigate the dozens of civilian deaths, and in the case of wrongdoing, hold those responsible to account,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The high number of civilian deaths in recent fighting, as well as recent announcements about changed procedures for vetting airstrikes, raise concerns about the way the battle for west Mosul is being fought.”

In December 2016, the US-led coalition spokesperson, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, confirmed to the media that a US directive that month had reduced the number of steps required for some coalition troops to authorize and clear coalition airstrikes. He stated that the principal change removed the requirement for the coalition’s “strike cell” in Baghdad to clear individual strikes.

Human Rights Watch interviewed three civilians who had been in the vicinity of the March 17 attack at the time, two of whom were wounded in the attack. A person who was in the attacked homes until two days before the attack said by phone that on March 9, ISIS fighters told him and at least 45 families living in a four-block area in New Mosul to leave the area without providing a reason. His and his brother’s families moved to a very large, three-story home of a friend, about 200 meters away. By March 15, about 140 people had arrived at the house, he said, with many families staying in the basement’s two rooms, each about 4 by 5 meters.

Because the home was overcrowded, he moved his family that day, to another friend’s house in the neighborhood. Up until that point, he had not seen anything to suggest that ISIS had booby-trapped the large home, but he saw that ISIS fighters had broken holes between the walls of this and neighboring homes and were using them to move between buildings.

He said he heard heavy explosions from March 15 to 22 and did not go outside. He remembers hearing a particularly large explosion at about 8:30 a.m. on March 17, as well as aircraft overhead. On March 23, he went to the large home to check on his brother’s family, and found the home had been completely destroyed. Neighbors who said they witnessed the strike told him that a munition had destroyed it on the morning of March 17. Another house next door had been destroyed, and a third had been damaged.

For the next five days, he helped rescue workers pull bodies from the rubble of the large house, and on March 25, found his brother’s body. He said that he and rescue workers pulled at least 100 bodies from the rubble, and that relatives had come to the area looking for another 37 people whom they had not yet found. He said they had pulled out only one survivor, a local resident who was being treated in Erbil.

Human Rights Watch interviewed the survivor in Erbil on March 28. He said that on March 17, at approximately 8:15 a.m., he saw one ISIS fighter passing through the building, and that the building was then struck, he believed from the air. The owner of a smaller home damaged in the attack told Human Rights Watch that at about 9 p.m. on March 16, an ISIS fighter told him and the owner of the big home next door that everyone should evacuate the building and go deeper into ISIS territory before morning. The people inside the home were preparing to evacuate in the morning when, he said, there was a big explosion, wounding him and killing four family members.

Coalition investigators had not contacted any of these individuals at the time Human Rights Watch spoke to them.

Relatives carry the bodies of civilians killed in an attack in New Mosul neighborhood of west Mosul on March 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

A commander with the Iraq Counter Terrorism Service told Human Rights Watch on March 26 that he had inspected the site where “the massacre took place.” He said there were signs of TNT and other explosives at the site, and that the damage was not consistent with an airstrike, but instead an internal explosion.

Human Rights Watch attempted to visit New Mosul to investigate the allegations on March 26 but Counter Terrorism Service personnel denied access to the area, saying they were under orders from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to grant access to journalists or nongovernmental organizations. Several journalists gained access to the site earlier that day, but told Human Rights Watch that armed forces told them to leave within 30 minutes and prevented them from filming. One municipal councilwoman told Human Rights Watch on March 27 that she was also denied access to the area.

In the case of US strikes, US forces, including those under US Central Command, routinely investigate civilian casualties caused by US forces following a credibility assessment under US Army Regulation (AR) 15-6. Central Command oversees the US-led coalition.

The coalition should ensure that it makes public the findings of its investigations into attacks causing civilian casualties and, if it finds serious violations of the laws of war, should refer those responsible for appropriate criminal prosecution. The findings should include information on accountability measures taken, with explanations, and the redress provided to victims or their families. In the past, Central Command investigations under AR 15-6 into civilian casualties have not provided this information, nor has recent coalition reporting on investigations. The investigation should not rely solely on internal, assessments from air forces involved, which may underreport civilian casualties, but seek direct testimony from survivors, Human Rights Watch said.

The Armed Service, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence Committees of the US Congress should request regular and timely briefings into strikes by coalition forces and any investigation under way to obtain greater clarity into the manner in which the coalition conducts strikes and the process through which it investigates casualties.

ISIS has continued to carry out atrocities that amount to war crimes in Mosul. The laws of war apply to all sides in the fighting in Iraq, including ISIS, and require the parties to the conflict to take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects. ISIS should cease putting civilians at risk by forcing them to accompany fighters, including into areas of active combat. Using civilians as human shields is a war crime.

World Report 2017: Iraq

World Report 2017: Iraq

In Iraq, clashes with ISIS intensified in 2016, operations to retake Mosul displaced more than 45,000 Iraqis, and credible allegations emerged of summary executions, beatings of men in custody, and enforced disappearances.

“Making it easier to call in airstrikes will almost necessarily afford civilians fewer protections from being injured or killed, increasing the danger to the very people these operations are supposedly meant to protect,” said Fakih.

Changes in the Authorization Process

According to the US military, the coalition “strike cell” located in Baghdad, provides information about the target areas to coalition aircraft, confirms enemy presence at targets, and provides targeting recommendations. The current directive allows some coalition members, potentially including Iraqi forces, to request the coalition to carry out airstrikes without an additional layer of authorization and review from the coalition “strike cell” in Baghdad.

The US Defense Department spokesperson, Capt. Jeff Davis, told the New York Times on March 24: “There’s been no loosening of the rules of engagement.” He did not address these other changes that could place civilians at greater risk, Human Rights Watch said.

Whether coalition members consider these to be changes in the rules of engagement or merely procedural changes, the net effect appears to be that coalition aircraft are now able to conduct strikes in densely populated areas with less information and time to ascertain the number of civilians who may be injured or killed, fewer measures to verify the target, and fewer recommendations about the appropriate ordnance to use. This increases the likelihood of civilian casualties in an attack.

The coalition should thoroughly and transparently investigate the dozens of civilian deaths, and in the case of wrongdoing, hold those responsible to account.

Lama Fakih

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Human Rights Watch

It is also unclear how the coalition vets and verifies information received from various coalition partners that are requesting strikes before authorizing a strike, and how the new directives may have changed this procedure. Trained terminal attack controllers maintain the authority to clear strikes and release ordnance, but reliance on erroneous information may contribute to civilian deaths.

In addition, since the operation to retake west Mosul began, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces’ use of inherently indiscriminate improvised rocket-assisted munitions and heavy artillery in civilian-populated areas. The willingness to use such weapons in civilian-populated areas suggests that the Iraqi government is also taking fewer precautions to protect civilian life.

Beyond outright violations of the laws of war, an easing of the rules of engagement, or equipment malfunction, higher civilian casualties could also stem from the increased tempo of the battle against ISIS, and the high civilian population density of the areas where the battle is being fought, Human Rights Watch said. These concerns are particularly acute when fighting occurs in urban areas where the location of civilians is not easily known without exhaustive surveillance. Even then, civilians may not be seen. The risk of this is heightened given that ISIS is known to use civilians as human shields.

Steps to Reduce Civilian Casualties

Coalition and Iraqi commanders can immediately take several steps to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. All armed forces are prohibited from conducting indiscriminate attacks and should not use explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Commanders should, where possible, limit the use of indirect fires (mortars, artillery, and rockets) not using precision-guided munitions, and select weapons and specific ordnance to minimize civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible. Terminal attack controllers should be required to maintain the highest level of direct control over each strike, including both visually acquiring the target and attacking aircraft.

The high number of civilian deaths in recent fighting, as well as recent announcements about changed procedures for vetting airstrikes, raise concerns about the way the battle for west Mosul is being fought.

Lama Fakih

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Human Rights Watch

Commanders should closely review all requests for air and artillery strikes to ensure that all targets are legitimate military objectives and that the strikes would not cause disproportionate civilian harm compared with the expected military gain. Information regarding the target, the target area, and the presence of civilians or civilian objects should be verified using all available means, including by visual confirmation and the use of various intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.

Commanders should ensure that objects that are protected under the laws of war, such as hospitals, houses of worship, and historical artifacts, are not attacked, unless they lose their protected status. To this end, commanders should ensure that no-strike lists are developed, widely disseminated to all coalition forces, constantly updated, and are adhered to.

Possible Rules Changes in Syria, Yemen

In recent weeks, there have also been reports about aerial attacks by US or other coalition forces in Syria resulting in possibly significant civilian casualties. On March 16, US forces struck a mosque near al-Jinah in Syria’s Aleppo governorate, killing dozens of people. While US authorities said that the attack targeted and killed members of Al-Qaeda, residents told Human Rights Watch that the attack killed civilians. On March 21, an airstrike hit a school near Raqqa killing dozens of civilians who had sought shelter in the school, according to local activists and monitoring groups. The US-led coalition has said that it conducted attacks against ISIS near Raqqa on March 21.

According to the New York Times, in January the Trump administration stated that it loosened the rules of engagement in at least three governorates in Yemen, declaring parts of them “areas of active hostilities” and rapidly scaled-up US operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the ensuing weeks. The Trump administration is also considering scaling-up or lifting restrictions on US support to the Saudi-led coalition in its military campaign against the Houthi armed group in Yemen, according to the Washington Post.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the bodies of those killed, including bodies of members of Iraqi security forces, were thrown into a naturally occurring sinkhole at a site known as Khafsa, about eight kilometers south of western Mosul. Local residents said that before pulling out of the area in mid-February, ISIS laid improvised landmines at the site, which are sometimes referred to as improvised explosive devices or booby traps.

“This mass grave is a grotesque symbol of ISIS’s cruel and depraved conduct – a crime of a monumental scale,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Laying landmines in the mass grave is clearly an attempt by ISIS to hide evidence of its crimes.”

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

(Washington, DC) – Members of the Global Coalition against Daesh (another name for the Islamic State) meeting in Washington, DC, on March 22 should make protecting civilians and justice for victims priorities in their ongoing battle against the group, Human Rights Watch said today in a memorandum to the participants. Based on violations documented, Human Rights Watch highlighted five key areas that coalition members need to improve in their conduct of operations.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host the foreign ministers of the Global Coalition working to defeat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). It will be the first meeting of the full coalition, now at 68 members, since December 2014. The aim of the meeting, according to a coalition press release, is “to accelerate international efforts to defeat Daesh in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria and maximize pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks.” ISIS has carried out war crimes and atrocities amounting to crimes against humanity, including systematic rape.

“In fighting ISIS, coalition members should not lose sight of the fact that their aim should not just be to retake territory but to make sure they take all precautions to protect the people still living in these areas,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “A victory against ISIS that does not address the security needs of civilians and leaves them at the mercy of revenge attacks will ring hollow.”

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to make the following commitments:

  1. Take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigate potentially unlawful strikes: Given the discrepancy in reporting of the various coalition members, the coalition should establish baseline public reporting and investigation standards for all coalition members.
  1. Cease support for any abusive groups: Human Rights Watch has documented widespread violations by ground forces battling ISIS. These violations include summary executions, beatings, and torture of men in custody, as well as arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, destruction of civilian objects, use of child soldiers, and mutilation of corpses. Despite these reports, the coalition has yet to develop procedures for robust vetting and investigations of allegations of abuse by local partners.
  1. Provide safe passage to fleeing civilians and provide sufficient support to displaced people: Aid agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks from western parts of Mosul during the Iraq operation. People fleeing have reported grave dangers in trying to escape. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq has reported that aid agencies are operating “at their limit.” Aid workers have expressed similar concerns regarding any future offensive on Raqqa in Syria. Coalition members should ensure that there is a clear and coordinated plan for civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to get the aid they need once they have reached safety.
  1. Clear commitment to justice for victims: There has been considerable media attention surrounding the grave crimes committed by ISIS in violation of international law, but few concrete plans to provide justice for these crimes. Many ISIS victims are left without any access to justice or assistance. Coalition members should make justice a key pillar in its fight against ISIS by adopting concrete measures to assist victims, collect and preserve evidence, and support efforts to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Beyond the crimes that ISIS has committed, other actors who have committed grave crimes should also be held to account.
  1. Increase efforts to survey and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war: Improvised mines laid by ISIS have killed and injured hundreds of civilians returning to their homes, including children. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) officials have estimated that it could cost $50 million to remove mines, which are often referred to as victim-activated improvised explosive devices or booby traps, from in and around the Iraqi city of Mosul. In Syria, UNMAS estimates that more than 6.3 million people including 2 million children live in contaminated areas after nearly six years of war. Mine clearance efforts should be a priority to ensure the safe return of civilians.

“What happens after ISIS is defeated is in many ways as important as the actual defeat of ISIS,” Houry said. “The coalition will not be able to say, ‘Mission Accomplished’ without addressing justice, governance, and displacement.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Five Guidelines to Promote Respect for International Law in Combatting ISIS

On March 22, 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host the foreign ministers of the Global Coalition combating the Islamic State, known as ISIS. This meeting will be the first meeting of the full coalition, now at 68 members, since December 2014.

Human Rights Watch has in the past raised concerns with US, Iraqi, and other local forces regarding alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during military operations against ISIS. The below memorandum highlights five areas of concern related to the upcoming operations against ISIS, and offers some recommendations to coalition members in light of alleged violations we have documented so far.

1. Take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties; investigate alleged unlawful strikes

Human Rights Watch has documented several missile and aerial attacks carried out by US-led coalition forces which caused civilian casualties. In the Syrian city of Manbij, Human Rights Watch documented six possible US-led coalition airstrikes that killed at least 24 civilians, including 15 children. In one coalition airstrike on the Syrian village of Tokhar, Human Rights Watch collected the names of 97 civilians, including 62 children, who died. No information regarding the investigation into these attacks has been made public yet.

According to official coalition statistics, its strikes have killed at least 220 civilians since the start of the anti-ISIS campaign, known as Operation Inherent Resolve. However, the true casualty figures for civilians are likely higher. Airwars, an organization that tracks allegations of civilian deaths in detail, reports that at least 2,590 civilians were likely killed in coalition strikes. Amnesty International examined 11 coalition airstrikes in Syria that they estimated killed some 300 civilians in ISIS-controlled areas.

Underreporting of civilian casualties by military official sources are due to various reasons. Coalition members do not have the same policies when it comes to reporting strikes and investigating allegations of civilian casualties. For example, many coalition partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, do not report in any detail the dates and locations of their airstrikes, making any investigation impossible. For countries that do report their airstrikes, such as the US, the process of investigating allegations of civilian casualties tends to be dominated by internal, air-only assessments – processes which tend to dismiss or sideline ground reports of non-military origin. This discrepancy was clear in a Washington Post investigation that found that at least eleven civilians died in a May 2015 strike in Iraq – mostly women and children – in an attack the US claimed had only killed four. The discrepancy was due to the way the US had conducted its initial assessment by solely relying on what was visible from the air.

International law requires compensation for civilian victims in the event of violations of international law. Warring parties have also instituted programs, such as in Afghanistan, to provide payments for loss of civilian life and property without a showing that a violation has occurred, – often known as condolence payments. In Iraq and Syria there is no clear mechanism for civilian victims or surviving relatives to obtain any form of compensation. In 2015, the US government agreed to set aside $5 million for the Defense Department to use in Iraq if the US military harms a civilian or destroys their property. However, it was not made clear how victims can lodge a complaint or seek compensation and this fund did not seem to extend to victims in Syria. To date, it is not known if any Iraqi or Syrian victim has been able to obtain any compensation for strikes conducted under Operation Inherent Resolve.

The need for more robust mechanisms to protect civilians is made more urgent by the intensification of the fight against ISIS and a push by the new US administration to potentially loosen rules of engagement. On January 28, President Trump signed a national security memorandum directing the military to give him a plan to defeat ISIS. It said the plan should include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force.” The push for looser rules is taking place at the same time as US Marines have deployed to Syria reportedly to operate artillery units in support of the battle for Raqqa.

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:

  • Take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting attacks;
  • Establish baseline public reporting and investigation standards for all members of the coalition;
  • Publicly disclose information about civilian casualty figures;
  • Promptly and thoroughly investigate credible allegations of civilian casualties from military operations and report on findings. Investigations into casualties should include engagement with external independent casualty monitors.

2. Don’t support abusive groups

Coalition forces support local forces on the ground and in turn rely on them for targeting information. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread violations committed by ground forces battling ISIS. These violations include summary executions, beatings, and torture of men in custody, as well as arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, destruction of civilian objects, use of child soldiers, and mutilation of corpses by government forces.

Of particular concern are screening procedures and detention of men and boys fleeing ISIS areas. Groups within the military are screening and subsequently sometimes detaining men fleeing Mosul, including in unidentified locations where they are cut off from contact with the outside world.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi) are apparently screening the men for suspected involvement with ISIS. Given these groups’ lack of training in screening, the irregular nature of these screenings and detentions, and the detainees’ lack of contact with the outside world, the detained men are at heightened risk of abuse, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

There are also concerns about revenge attacks against alleged families of ISIS members. Sunni tribal groups in Iraq (known as the Hashad al-`Asha'ri) within the PMF, and Iraqi soldiers recently forced at least 125 families who were accused of having some familial ties to ISIS out of their homes. Human Rights Watch also previously documented security forces from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government unlawfully destroying large numbers of Sunni Arab homes, and sometimes entire villages, in areas retaken from the ISIS.

Some of the local allies of coalition forces have been guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers, including two Iraqi government-backed tribal militias (Hashad al-Asha`ri) as well as Kurdish groups participating in the fight against ISIS.

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:

  • Cease coordination with or assistance to armed groups or parties that commit widespread or systematic abuses, including those who recruit and fail to demobilize child soldiers;
  • Develop mechanisms to investigate allegations of abuse by local armed groups;
  • Implement vetting procedures to curtail abuses by local armed groups;
  • Work to ensure that only bodies with a screening mandate can screen people and ensure that anyone detained is detained under clear provision of Iraqi law, held in a recognized detention center accessible to independent monitors, and granted all due process rights enshrined in Iraqi and international law, including being brought promptly before a judge. The authorities should also promptly notify the families of detainees of the whereabouts of their relatives and publish overall numbers of detainees.

3. Provide safe passage to fleeing civilians, provide sufficient support to displaced

The government of Iraq has reported that 180,000 civilians have fled western Mosul since mid-February, when military operations to retake the western districts of the city began. Humanitarian agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks. People fleeing have reported grave dangers in trying to escape. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq has reported that humanitarian agencies are operating “at their limit.”

Humanitarian workers have expressed similar concerns with regards to any future offensive on Raqqa. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as a result of a Raqqa offensive, more than 360,000 people will be in need of humanitarian assistance in Raqqa district, including more than 160,000 displaced persons. Staff from humanitarian organizations working to meet the needs of those affected by fighting in Raqqa have told Human Rights Watch that civilians there will require access to healthcare, especially sexual and reproductive health for women and girls, food assistance, and access to potable water. They anticipate that health facilities and water pumping stations may have been severely damaged due to airstrikes and will need to be repaired or alternatives found, and that there is likely a shortage of medical professionals in the city.

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to work with local forces to:

  • Ensure there is a clear and coordinated plan for civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to access humanitarian aid;
  • Protect civilians fleeing and in camps from attacks or any form of revenge;
  • Allow freedom of movement for all displaced persons in areas under their control, including those displaced persons who wish to reside or travel outside of formal camps. Movement restrictions should only be imposed if “provided by law…and necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others,” and where the restrictions are proportionate in terms of time, extent, and impact on people’s lives, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

4. Commit to justice for victims

There has been considerable media attention to the grave crimes in violation of international law committed by ISIS, but little by way of concrete plans on how to provide justice for these crimes. Victims of ISIS are often left with little assistance or support, and in some cases are even perceived suspiciously by fellow Iraqis or Syrians given that they were in the custody of or lived under the control of ISIS.

In March 2015, Iraq’s Council of Ministers declared ISIS crimes against Yezidis to be genocide, but Iraq has no provisions in its domestic law for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. A “Genocide Committee” in Dohuk, a major city in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which was established by the Kurdish government, is attempting to document these crimes but so far it appears that there have been no judicial investigations against captured ISIS members for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The primary exception to lack of trials has been patently unfair trials, in July 2015 and February 2016, each lasting all of two hours, that convicted at least 36 men for the mass killing a year earlier of up to 1,700 Shia military cadets.

Investigating and prosecuting grave abuses presents real challenges. But this can be overcome by developing a concrete and comprehensive plan that would support victims, provide expertise to collect and preserve evidence, assist in local and international investigations, and push political leaders to prioritize justice.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged that the International Criminal Court (ICC) be given jurisdiction over the situations in Iraq and Syria, either through the Iraqi government becoming a member of the ICC or through a Security Council referral in the case of Syria. This would allow for possible prosecution of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity by all parties to the conflicts. A move by the Iraqi authorities to join the court would be a powerful signal of their commitment to justice for grave abuses – no matter the perpetrator. International involvement can also help in establishing a credible system that could independently and impartially investigate grave abuses. Beyond the atrocities that ISIS has committed, other actors who have also committed grave abuses in both countries will need to be held to account.

Overall, coalition partners fighting ISIS should place comprehensive and meaningful justice for victims at the center of their strategies. Ensuring fair and transparent proceedings will be essential to the stability of the region in the future.

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:

  • Publicly commit to making justice a key pillar in their fight against ISIS;
  • Support local and international efforts to investigate grave crimes, including through the collection, preservation, and analysis of potential evidence;
  • Press Iraqi authorities to commit to relevant legislative reforms, including by incorporating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide into its domestic law;
  • Provide support, including medical and psychological support, to victims of grave abuses.

5. Increase efforts to survey and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW)

Explosive ordnance used by ISIS forces and the ERW created during the conflict pose a significant danger to civilians and hinder recovery efforts in areas that were under ISIS control. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) officials have estimated that it could cost $50 million to remove mines, which are often referred to as victim-activated improvised explosive devices or booby traps, from in and around the Iraqi city of Mosul. In Syria, UNMAS estimates that more than 6.3 million people including 2 million children live in mine and ERW contaminated areas after nearly six years of war.

Improvised mines laid by ISIS have killed and injured hundreds of civilians returning to their homes, including children. For example, Human Rights Watch collected the names of 69 civilians, including 19 children, killed by improvised mines in schools, homes, and on roads during and after the fighting over control for the city of Manbij. Local hospital staff said that they had treated hundreds of people injured by improvised mines in that town alone.

Mine clearance efforts should be prioritized to ensure the safe return of civilians.

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:

  • Support efforts to raise awareness and conduct mine risk education among those returning to territory formerly controlled by ISIS;
  • Develop capacity to survey and rapidly clear mines and ERW from homes and residential areas to facilitate the return of the civilian population;
  • Countries bordering Syria should facilitate access for humanitarian demining organizations and for assistance to survivors.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) ­– The Chinese authorities’ failure to release details about terrorism convictions heightens concerns that the country’s counterterrorism law is being used to prosecute nonviolent activity, Human Rights Watch said today. The 2017 Supreme People’s Court (SPC) report, presented on March 12, 2017, departs from past practice by excluding details on 2016 terrorism cases, such as the number of individuals convicted. China’s new Counterterrorism Law took effect in January 2016.

Human Rights Watch said that China’s terrorism prosecutions, primarily in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, are subject to politically motivated abuse because of the expansive definition of terrorism, lack of transparency, and violations of fair trial rights.

Zhou Qiang, president of China’s Supreme People’s Court, gives a speech during the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

“The Chinese government claims it’s combating terrorism threats, particularly in Xinjiang, but gives scarce details about these incidents while strictly controlling access of journalists and other independent monitors,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “By refusing to provide information on terrorism cases, Beijing can easily suppress rights to peaceful criticism and religious identity.”

The 2016 SPC’s annual report to the National People’s Congress stated that in 2015, Chinese courts convicted 1,419 people for threatening state security, inciting “splittism,” and taking part in terrorism – nearly double the numbers of the previous year’s report. But the court’s 2015 and 2016 reports did not disclose a breakdown of these numbers, so it is unclear how many people were convicted for terrorism and precisely for which offense.

Human Rights Watch examined available data from China Court Net, a general news site run by the SPC, and the Peking University Law Database for information on terrorism-related cases in 2016. Only four court verdicts related to terrorism prosecutions from 2016 are publicly available. These two sources may only contain a small percentage of terrorism-related verdicts in 2016. The SPC decision that required court verdicts be posted online provides exemptions for cases that involve state secrets or personal privacy, and cases that are otherwise “not suitable for making public,” which gives the courts wide latitude to withhold information.

The four cases involved seven people – all but one ethnic Uyghurs from Xinjiang. Five received prison sentences from eight months to three years, while one was given a suspended sentence and one was exempted from criminal penalties.

In all four cases, the individuals were convicted of possessing, accessing, and distributing terrorism-related videos or audios. Three of the verdicts gave details about these materials:

  • Yu was convicted for clicking on weblinks that contained images of flags of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and of jihad, masked men with guns, and masked women, as well as essays “that encouraged people to join jihad.” Yu forwarded some of these materials to a relative.
  • Duo was convicted for distributing to a WeChat public group of 62 people a short video of a beheading by two masked men.
  • Abdusemet Halik (阿卜杜塞麦提•哈力克), one of a group of four convicted, possessed over 100 e-books, 100 audio clips, and 346 videos, most of them produced by ETIM and focusing on waging jihad in China, including on how to make bombs. Memet Rishit (麦麦提•热西提) possessed 11 news videos about Rebiya Kadeer, leader of exiled Uyghurs; 3 videos by ETIM promoting a holy war against “the blood-sucking atheist Communists” who “have occupied the East Turkestan and call it Xinjiang”; and 53 e-books on “religious extremism.” Yunus (玉奴斯) had 16 videos and audio recordings produced by ETIM on “religious extremism.” In addition to possessing and distributing these videos to their classmates, the three – plus the fourth defendant, Rizwangul Halik (热孜宛古丽•哈力克) – were also convicted of organizing others and participating in “physical training in imitation of the violent videos” in a park in Changchun City, Jilin Province, and of attempting to travel via Hong Kong to join Al-Qaeda, according to the verdict. During the trial, three of the four defendants told the court that they were tortured to confess.

In addition to these cases, Human Rights Watch learned about a dozen other individuals who were punished with days of detention and fines under administrative laws for watching, downloading, or storing audio, videos, and pictures related to extremism and terrorism during this period, but which were not severe enough to constitute criminal acts.

State media reports about the implementation of the new Counterterrorism Law, in effect since January 1, 2016, show a similar focus of the authorities to punish, through fines or days of administrative detention, possession or distribution of materials that the authorities consider as “terrorist” or “extremist” in nature, as well as distributing “fake terrorism information.” The Counterterrorism Law gives expansive definitions of “terrorism” and “extremism,” and does not clearly articulate what constitutes “fake terrorism information.”

Governments may prosecute speech that incites criminal acts – speech that directly encourages the commission of a crime, is intended to result in criminal action, or is likely to result in criminal action – whether or not criminal action does, in fact, result. But laws that impose criminal punishment for what has been called “indirect incitement” – for example, justifying or glorifying terrorism – encroach on expression protected under international human rights law.

The implementation of China’s Counterterrorism Law has also focused on punishing hotels and courier services for failure to comply with the government’s “real name registration” requirements, in which individuals staying in hotels or sending courier posts must use their identification cards.

None of the publicly available information about the people who received administrative or criminal punishments on terrorism-related charges in 2016 indicates they perpetrated or were linked to violent acts. The last two state reports about violence in Xinjiang, for example, suggested that those who committed violent acts were killed at the scene by security forces.

China’s terrorism convictions will generate disbelief as long as the criminal process remains opaque and so little information reaches the public.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

Xinjiang, home to 10 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, is a site of pervasive discrimination, repression, and restriction on fundamental human rights including freedom of religion. Opposition to central and local policies has been expressed in peaceful protests, but also through bombings and other acts of violence.

A 2015 report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project documented more than 600 casualties in violent incidents in Xinjiang between 2013 and 2014, which included people killed by criminal offenders and state security forces.

The Chinese government has often blamed attacks on “foreign” forces including ETIM, an alleged separatist organization founded by Uyghurs which has been on the United Nations list of terrorist organizations since 2002, though the group’s existence has been debated. The government has not offered invitations to independent monitors to investigate such incidents, including the UN special rapporteur on torture and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“China’s terrorism convictions will generate disbelief as long as the criminal process remains opaque and so little information reaches the public,” Richardson said. “The government needs to open up the system to independent monitors from China and abroad, including the UN.”

Abuses of Individuals Suspected of Terrorism, Extremism

China’s laws on terrorism and extremism open the door to abusive treatment of suspects accused of such crimes.

Under the Counterterrorism Law, police are empowered to impose far-reaching restrictions on individuals they merely suspect of being involved in terrorism, even if they have little or no evidence (articles 39, 53). If police “receive a report of suspected terrorist activity, or discover suspected terrorist activity,” they can “order” the suspects to comply with “one or more of these restrictive measures” (article 53).

The restrictions include bans on traveling outside the suspect’s area of residence or the country without police approval, bans on taking public transportation or entering specified venues without police approval, as well as ID and passport confiscation.

The decision to impose these restrictions is an entirely internal procedure within the police system. Because there are no clear criteria in the Counterterrorism Law on imposing or withdrawing any of the restrictions, they can be imposed arbitrarily and, for some of the restrictions, indefinitely. Moreover, these restrictions apply prior to the stage of a police investigation, effectively giving police the power of preventive detention before a decision is made whether to file a case (ch: li’an). This means that the legal guarantee of the right to legal counsel, or any procedural rights stipulated in China’s Criminal Procedure Law, do not apply throughout this process.

Some of the suspects subjected to this preventive detention will proceed to pretrial proceedings under the Criminal Procedure Law, but pretrial proceedings in terrorism cases are opaque: the Criminal Procedure Law denies terrorism suspects basic defense protections, including access to family members and lawyers, and allows suspects to be held for months in undisclosed locations. The Counterterrorism Law states that terrorism suspects and prisoners “may be” subjected to solitary confinement (article 29); the Xinjiang Implementing Measures state those who are “major ringleaders” will always be subjected to solitary confinement because of their crime (article 40). The same applies to those who commit or incite others to commit crimes while in confinement, or refuse to be “re-educated” and show “violent tendencies.” The Implementing Measures do not outline any review mechanisms for imposing solitary confinement, or conditions for lifting it. This is contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules), which prohibit the use of indefinite solitary confinement as it amounts to torture. China is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified in 1988.

Under the Counterterrorism Law, prior to release, prisons or detention centers are empowered to conduct an assessment of the “danger … posed to society” by these individuals when they complete their sentences (article 30). The assessment is sent to the intermediate people’s court of the region where the sentence was served.

If the court finds that the convict is a “danger to society,” it should “order” the person to receive an “educational placement” (ch: jiaoyu anzhi), a measure undertaken by provincial governments, even after a sentence is completed. Yet there are no clear criteria for such an assessment, or clear explanation whether this “educational placement” involves deprivation of liberty. The Counterterrorism Law also does not provide a time limit for this “educational placement” measure. The Implementing Measures state that it is the “education placement” institutions that can make a recommendation to the local court to remove such measures, but do not explain how the individual being subjected to the measure can apply to have it removed.

These provisions mean that even after someone has served a full sentence they can remain effectively indefinitely detained, with little or no recourse.

Vague, Overbroad Definitions of Terrorism in Chinese Law

Since 2014, the Chinese government has revised or drafted new legislation to combat terrorism. Taken together, these laws criminalize a wide range of activities. They restrict participating, abetting, organizing, or funding terrorism, as well as possessing, publishing, printing, or distributing content that contains terrorism, including digital content. They encourage “the masses” to report on terrorists and terrorism activities, and they set out penalties for those who withhold such information.

Xinjiang is the only region in China that has a set of Implementing Measures on the Counterterrorism Law (Xinjiang Implementing Measures), which have been in effect since August 1, 2016. Two recently revised regional regulations – one on religious affairs and one on prevention of juvenile crimes – also mention prohibitions against terrorism. The National People’s Congress is also drafting a new Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Anti-Religious Extremism Law, according to state media.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised human rights concerns in China’s approach to terrorism and extremism. Chinese laws define terrorism in an overly broad and vague manner, and do not necessarily require actual action or violence to prompt prosecution, deprivation of liberty, or other restrictions:

  • Article 3 of the Counterterrorism Law includes in the definition of “terrorism,” “advocacy” (ch: zhuzhang) or “behavior” (ch: xingwei) that “elicit panic in society, endanger public security, infringe upon personal and property rights, or threaten state agencies or international organizations through violence, destruction, intimidation, or other means to achieve its political aims.” The term “advocacy” could apply to proposed policy changes or criticism of government policy, or conduct that is within the boundaries of freedom of expression as set out under international human rights law. This article also notes that mere possession of “terror publicity materials” is considered a “behavior” that constitutes “terrorism,” yet there is no clear definition of “materials that promote terrorism.” This article also defines “terrorist incident” (ch: kongbu shijian) as an episode that is “in the process of occurring or which has already occurred and which has caused or may cause significant harm to society.” The open-ended nature of the last clause provides authorities with a legal basis to abuse their power on occasions they deem as constituting a “terrorist incident.” The Chinese government has, in the past, labeled the Dalai Lama’s prayers for self-immolations as “terrorism in disguise,” and Tibetans who self-immolate in protests against Chinese government rule as “terrorists.”
  • Article 4 of the Counterterrorism Law defines “extremism” as “the ideological basis of terrorism,” and elaborates by saying that “the state opposes all forms of extremism, such as inciting hatred, discrimination, or agitating violence through distorting religious doctrines or other means.” This vague and overly broad definition provides the authorities with a legal basis to violate freedom of religion; allegations of “religious extremism” have been routinely employed to limit and often prosecute religious activities that merely take place outside state-controlled religious institutions.

Under these expansive definitions of terrorism and extremism, a large range of activity relevant to ethnic and religious expression and custom are punishable and are being prohibited, including:

  • “Exploiting religious teaching, sermons, exegesis, study, weddings, funerals, gathering and cultural or recreational activities and so forth to advocate terrorism or extremism” (article 50(1), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Making, downloading, storing, reproducing, reviewing, or copying audio, video, images or print materials or network links with terrorist, extremist or other such contents” (article 50(2), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Illegally possessing printed or electronic products with terrorist, extremist or other such content” (article 50(3), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Designing, making, distributing, mailing, selling, or displaying clothing, symbols, flags, badges, utensils, souvenirs and so forth that have terrorist or extremist content (article 50(4), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Using clothing, symbols, and so forth to advocate terrorism or extremism in a public place or compelling others to wear or don terrorist or extremist clothing or symbols (article 50(5), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Organizing, forcing, instigating, encouraging or enticing a minor to participate in religious activities” (article 51(2), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Exploiting religion to obstruct or interfere with others’ activities such as weddings and funerals or inheritances” (article 51(3), Xinjiang Implementing Measures)
  • “Distorting the concept of ‘halal,’ or generalizing the concept of ‘halal,’ expanding and mutating it into social life and other areas” (article 51(4), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Intimidating or inducing others to boycott national policy measures, or destroy state documents prescribed for by law, such as resident identity cards, household registration books, and marriage certificates, or currency” (article 51(5), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Deliberately sensationalizing, fabricating or distorting socially sensitive cases (incidents), or intentionally starting rumors or spreading false information, undermining the implementation of social management” (article 51(6), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Using extremism to incite or coerce the masses to undermine the implementation of legally established systems such as for marriage, justice, education or social management” (article 120(4), Chinese Criminal Law); and
  • “Where methods such as violence or coercion are used to compel others to wear or adorn themselves with apparel or emblems promoting terrorism or extremism” (article 120(5), Chinese Criminal Law).
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Egyptian internal security forces waging a campaign in the Sinai Peninsula against an affiliate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) may have extrajudicially executed at least four and perhaps as many as 10 men in January 2017. The security forces may have arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared the men and then staged a counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.

A Human Rights Watch investigation relying on multiple sources of evidence including documents, interviews with relatives, and an edited video of the purported raid made public by the authorities, suggests that police arrested at least some of the men months before the alleged gunfight at a house in North Sinai and that the raid itself was staged.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am