“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

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

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 

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

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

Popular Mobilization Force members on the frontline with the Islamic State in al-Fatha, northeast of Baiji, Iraq on October 18, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Baghdad) – As the grim scene played out on my computer screen in Baghdad on July 12, my stomach sank.

I was watching a video clip of men in Iraqi army uniforms throwing a detainee off a cliff onto the banks of a river and opening fire on him. As he fell and landed next to another motionless body, I couldn’t help but think that this footage could breathe new life into the self-proclaimed Islamic State or ISIS or whatever ISIS 2.0 will be called now that its Iraqi “capital” has fallen. Such unchecked abuse, I thought, as Baghdad celebrated the liberation of Mosul on the streets below, would likely drive more enraged men into the hands of these extremists.

I first came across the clip, one of many depicting Iraqi forces committing abuses such as torture and execution, the day before on Facebook. It stood out because it featured a particularly disturbing form of execution and took place in a location that was far too familiar to me.

Within five minutes of its release, my colleague at Human Rights Watch who specializes in satellite imagery analysis, had identified the exact building and cliff in west Mosul where this video was filmed. What he saw in the images, which were spaced out over several days leading up to the date the video was circulated online, was Iraqi army vehicles present around the place from which the man in the footage had been thrown. This strongly suggests that the video is real and recent. The government has yet to properly comment.

Satellite imagery from July 12 showing the building and Tigris riverbank seen in a video posted of soldiers throwing a detainee off a cliff in west Mosul as well as military vehicles in the vicinity. 

© 2017 DigitalGlobe

If it is authentic, it wouldn’t be the first video of its kind to be released. Other videos of the Emergency Response Division of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior surfaced a few months ago and up until that point were perhaps the most disturbing abuse videos to come out of the battle to reclaim the fallen Iraqi city. But seeing this July 11 video emerge just after the prime minister declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, made me feel especially pessimistic about the future of Iraq and the potential defeat of ISIS. It was as if in the final phase of their campaign, Iraqi and United States-led coalition forces, who had launched the offensive months earlier, were saying, “Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible,” and disregarding respect for and commitment to the laws of war. Such a pervasive attitude will surely not go unnoticed and will likely backfire to embolden the future version of ISIS by drawing in more recruits.

In fact, despite celebrations in Iraq and media reports to the contrary, the recent defeat of ISIS in Mosul does not mean the end of ISIS. It means the end of an ISIS that controls territory. This is a blow to the so-called caliphate, but it’s also the beginning of a new phase, one that could be just as, if not more, frightening.

In the last few months as it’s lost ground in Mosul and its “capital” of Raqqa in Syria, ISIS has also been morphing quickly back into a traditional insurgent group, carrying out bombings in Iraq and Syria. A key part of why it will continue to attract recruits is exactly because of videos like the one I saw earlier this month. Such footage, which seemingly hypocritically showcases Iraqi soldiers using this battle to not only continue to abuse the civilian population, but also stoop to ISIS’ level when doing so, only further inflames the tensions ISIS thrives in.

While the first months of the Mosul offensive were relatively clean, this horrible video marked yet another instance of the government’s cruelty. Evidence of abuse by Iraqi troops from Mosul and from previous operations against ISIS in Iraq have, as I mentioned earlier, been seen before. Human Rights Watch has documented summary executions of suspected ISIS fighters, detention in inhumane conditions and collective punishment against family members of ISIS fighters, including home demolitions and forced deportations to “rehabilitation camps” at the hands of Iraq’s government. We have also documented the arbitrary detention of over 1,000 Sunnis displaced from the fighting around Mosul. But even this striking footage on the heels of Mosul’s liberation was an unfortunate wake-up call at a critical time for the country.

Worse, this video serves as a reminder of exploitation by the Iraqi government in years prior to ISIS. Since 2003, Iraqi forces and mostly Shia non-state and government armed groups have carried out abuses against the civilian population with complete impunity, mainly targeting Sunni Arabs. They have executed campaigns of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killings and forcible displacement. These experiences no doubt pushed young Sunni Arab men to join extremist groups in Iraq in the past. Families of those who have joined ISIS have told me this, and there’s no reason why the government’s ramped up abuse now will not continue to serve as a recruitment tool as ISIS seeks to reassert itself after its loss in Mosul.

Every Iraqi and coalition representative I’ve spoken with agrees that the battle against ISIS is not simply a military one, but also a political one to stem the push factors that most likely have encouraged young Sunni Arab men to turn to extremist groups. Part of this fight, perhaps more challenging than the military one, is to end the reign of impunity, and for Baghdad authorities to show the Iraqi public that they are investigating and holding their own forces and commanders accountable even while fighting back against ISIS.

But so far Human Rights Watch has not seen a single example of such accountability since 2014, including after grotesque videos of Iraqi officers from the Interior Ministry’s elite Emergency Response Division torturing and executing alleged ISIS affiliates and their family members were published in May. We heard from an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on July 14 that the government would announce action against the officers involved, but not for some time, because it would “interfere with the current congratulatory victory messages.”

This suggests to me that Abadi does not fully appreciate how damaging these abuses continue to be. The battle for Mosul is meant to be the final battle in Iraq against ISIS, yet it has opened the floodgates to the very abuses that Baghdad has met with silence for years. Right now, Abadi should represent not only his constituency who desire a military blow to ISIS, but also the more than 1 million civilians who have lived under ISIS control for the past three years. He should demonstrate as quickly as possible that he also has their interests at heart, is taking steps to end the abuses that have marginalized them, and reintegrate them into an Iraq that aims to reconcile communities and rejects calls for retribution.

Abadi’s window is closing fast. Videos like the one on July 11 have eaten away at the feelings of optimism I had for where things are heading in Iraq ― not only in Mosul. It demonstrated that the country, even at the highest levels of government, is determined to sow more seeds of resentment rather than address grievances.

If Baghdad doesn’t act now, we will not only fail to see an end to extremist groups in Iraq anytime soon, but we will also see the cycle of marginalization continue and an ISIS 2.0 unleash itself on the world.

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

Update: Human Rights Watch received reports on July 17, 2017, that local authorities in Bartala facilitated the transfer of families out of the “rehabilitation camp” to regular  camps for displaced people in the area, and closed the camp. This was a positive move, and Iraqi authorities should protect the rights of displaced families to free movement and prohibit all forms of collective punishment.

(Beirut) – Iraqi Security Forces have forcibly relocated at least 170 families with alleged Islamic State members to a closed “rehabilitation camp” east of Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today. Local authorities are also demanding the eviction of families thought to have ties to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), many of whom have been the target of threats and attacks.

On June 19, Mosul’s district council issued a directive that so-called ISIS families should be sent to camps “to receive psychological and ideological rehabilitation, after which they will be reintegrated into society if they prove responsive to the rehabilitation program.” On July 9, authorities in Nineveh opened the first “rehabilitation camp” in Bartalla, 14 kilometers east of Mosul. Forced displacements and arbitrary detentions have been taking place in Anbar, Babil, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Nineveh governorates, altogether affecting hundreds of families. Iraqi security and military forces have done little to stop these abuses, and in some instances participated in them.

Bartalla Camp.

© 2017 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.”

On July 11, Human Rights Watch visited Bartalla camp, where 150 families, mostly women and children from areas of west Mosul, were being held. The camp received another 20 families by the next day. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 families, each with up to 18 members.

New residents said that Iraqi Security Forces had brought the families to the camp and that the police were holding them against their will because of accusations that they had relatives linked to ISIS. None said they had been accused of any wrongdoing themselves. They did not know when they would be allowed to leave.

The camp had a mobile medical clinic, but only very limited humanitarian services were being provided, with no education, training, or other programs. Medical workers at the camp said that at least 10 women and children had died traveling to or at the camp, most because of dehydration. The camp is managed by local authorities and draws funding and support from the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

Human Rights Watch witnessed ethnic Shabak fighters from an Iraqi government Popular Mobilization Forces unit manning a checkpoint outside the camp. A Mosul emergency police unit stood guard at the camp entrance. Despite the absence of adult men in many of the families, no female police officers were evident, raising concerns about vulnerability to gender-based violence. Camp officials said that at least 20 unaccompanied children were at the camp, all under 12, who had been settled into tents with larger families.

Nineveh officials told Human Rights Watch that the camp, intended as the first of many, was constructed for 2,800 families, and that officials were planning to bring in ISIS families from other camps and areas. Residents and Nineveh officials said a committee would screen people inside the camp and allow them to leave if the committee found they did not actually have relatives in ISIS. They said some families had been released during the first two days.

The families said they hoped the screening committee would clear them for release. All said that Iraqi Security Forces had forcibly brought them in military trucks from two army mustering points for displaced people fleeing the fighting in west Mosul. Six families said they had fled the fighting in areas in and around the Old City of west Mosul, eight from the Tel Afar area. Only two of the families included adult men. Many said their male relatives were killed during the fighting. Others said that the men fled their homes later and had tried to join them at the camp but were turned away by the police. One said her two sons had been ISIS fighters and were killed, and another said her husband and son had been detained by Iraqi Security Forces as they fled.

One young woman said that after she got divorced at an ISIS-run courthouse in Mosul last year, the judge took her to his house and held her as a sex slave. When fighting neared, he and his family fled but kept her locked in their home. Iraqi Security Forces who retook the area presumed she was an ISIS family member because she was found in a known ISIS resident’s home, and took her to the camp.

Human Rights Watch has previously reported on the forcible relocation of at least 125 so-called ISIS families from Salah al-Din to a de facto detention camp near Tikrit. Human Rights Watch has also reported on calls for evictions of so-called ISIS relatives in Anbar and Babil governorates.

Since May, local tribal and governorate authorities in Hammam al-Alil, Qayarrah, and Mosul have issued eviction calls against so-called ISIS families, in tandem with grenade and other attacks on the families, as well as threatening letters and demands to deny these families humanitarian assistance. As a result, many of these families have been forced to move to nearby camps housing families displaced by the fighting in Mosul.

In June, a circular was sent to alleged ISIS families in Mosul telling them to leave the city by July 15, 2017, or “you will be shot,” according to social media. In July, an international organization said that some so-called ISIS family homes were set on fire. In Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, a Popular Mobilization Forces fighter and a senior security officer said that a group of families who were ISIS victims, with the backing of local tribal leaders, drew up a list of 67 families whom they demanded should leave the city. A video posted on Facebook on June 17 but later taken down showed residents going door to door, threatening the so-called ISIS relatives that if they did not leave, their lives would be at risk. The security officer said that some people threatening the families had resorted to violence. He said he detained four of them, and that as a result of the threats and violence, at least 25 of the 67 families left for the nearby Jadah camp.

Aid workers said that in May and June 2017, so-called ISIS relatives from Mosul living in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, told them that the local tribal elder warned them that they might be killed if they did not leave. The aid workers also said that there had been numerous cases of vigilantes vandalizing homes of people believed to be relatives of ISIS members, leading a number of families to leave town.

A local police chief said that his forces had intervened to stop the attacks and evictions in mid-June. However, a Dutch journalist said that another local police chief told him that the police would not stop or arrest members of an armed group called the “Hamam al-Alil Revolutionaries” that had publicized on Facebook grenade attacks on homes of so-called ISIS families. The journalist also reported that a local lawyer collected signatures calling for evicting all ISIS families.

International law requires that punishment for crimes only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and amounts to a war crime.

Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except when displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military necessity, and then only for as long as needed. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order the unlawful displacement of civilians during a conflict, such as in Iraq. Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement of a civilian population imposed as a policy of the state or organized group can amount to a crime against humanity.

Local authorities should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s prime minister should issue a decree requiring local authorities to rescind the decrees and to cease the forced displacements. The government should order the security and armed forces not to participate in unlawful displacements and to take appropriate disciplinary action against those who do.

The authorities should immediately facilitate the return of families who want to return to areas not affected by ongoing military operations, allow families to stay in camps that allow for free movement and communications if they choose, or to relocate elsewhere. Where authorities cannot ensure the safety of families because of threat of revenge attacks, they should allow families to freely choose to relocate to camps or other areas where authorities can provide adequate protection.

“The camps for so-called ISIS families have nothing to do with rehabilitation and are instead de facto detention centers for adults and children who have not been accused of any wrongdoing,” Fakih said. “These families should be freely permitted to go where they can live safely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Counterterrorism police stand guard near evidence confiscated in raids on suspected militants at police headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 30, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

(Jakarta) – Indonesia’s parliament should scrap proposed revisions to its counterterrorism law that are overbroad, vague, and would unjustifiably restrict basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposed amendments to Law No. 15/2003 on the Eradication of Terrorism would allow Indonesians to be stripped of their citizenship if suspected of traveling abroad to “join wars overseas in order to commit terrorism crimes,” and permit criminal penalties for any “speech, thought, behavior or writings” that could lead to “actions which adversely impact other people/communities.”

The open-ended language of the proposed revisions to the counterterrorism law will facilitate violations of the rights to free expression and nationality.

“The Indonesian government has legitimate concerns about terrorism, but disregarding basic rights will only undermine efforts to address the threat,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher. “The government has an obligation to ensure that measures to protect public safety meet international standards.”

The Indonesian government initiated efforts to revise its counterterrorism law in 2016 as part of a government response to the January 14, 2016 bomb and gun attacks in central Jakarta that killed seven people, including five attackers allegedly linked to the armed extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said in early July 2017 that he would seek quick approval of the draft counterterrorism law in the wake of the fighting between Philippine security forces and Islamist militants in Marawi City in the Philippines. An unspecified number of Indonesian nationals are among the foreign fighters who have bolstered the militants’ ranks in Marawi. Indonesia shares a porous sea border with the Philippines that security forces in both Indonesia and the Philippines fear may enable an influx of armed Islamists to Indonesia once the fighting in Marawi ends.

Article 12B of the draft law permits the government to annul the citizenship of Indonesian citizens convicted of terrorist acts. It also contains ambiguous phrasing that could grant the security forces extremely broad power to detain and prosecute individuals for terrorism offenses. Article 13A provides for up to 12 years in prison for individuals whose “speeches, thoughts, behaviors or writings” inspire others to “commit violence, anarchy and other actions which adversely impact other people/communities,” without providing any clarification of those terms.

Article 6B criminalizes violence or threats of violence against “the environment” without providing any definition or clarification as to the meaning of “the environment.”

Article 43A permits police investigators or prosecutors to detain terrorism suspects in “certain locations” for a maximum period of six months. Members of the 18-member parliamentary working group responsible for the revisions have nicknamed that article “Pasal Guantanamo,” or the “Guantanamo Article,” in reference to the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US government has arbitrarily detained hundreds of people since 2002, virtually all without charge. The draft is unclear as to whether those “certain locations” will be secret or extremely isolated detention facilities – secret detention facilities greatly increase the risk of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

Indonesian government concerns about a spillover from the fighting in the Philippines don’t justify overbroad laws that excessively restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.

Andreas Harsono

Senior Indonesia Researcher

The revisions would also allow for longer detention periods for terrorism suspects. The pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects would be extended to 21 days from the one day allowed for suspects accused of non-terrorism offenses under Indonesia’s Criminal Procedure Law. The total length of permissible detention of terrorism suspects from arrest through trial to final appeal would nearly double from the current maximum of 401 days to 781 days.

International law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in article 15 provides that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR,) which Indonesia has ratified, states in article 12: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the ICCPR, stated that “the scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.

Since 2006, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are integral to its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and recognized that violations of human rights and erosion of rule of law are conditions “conducive” to terrorism.

“Indonesia has a responsibility to protect its population from terrorist attacks, but the government needs to act in accordance with its international legal obligations,” Harsono said. “Indonesian government concerns about a spillover from the fighting in the Philippines don’t justify overbroad laws that excessively restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

French army paratroopers patrol near the Eiffel tower in Paris, France, March 30, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

(Paris) – The French government’s new counterterrorism bill would move some overly broad emergency powers into normal criminal and administrative law without adequate judicial safeguards Human Rights Watch said today.

The Draft Law to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism, presented to the Council of Ministers on June 22, 2017, would undermine the rule of law. The government, which has a majority in parliament, also wants to extend the state of emergency until November, when the new powers would take effect.

“Instead of truly ending France’s 19-month temporary state of emergency, the government is making some of its far-reaching powers permanent but with little effective court oversight,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If France’s new government is serious about defending core values while fighting terrorism, it should amend this law to restore the rule of law to counterterrorism efforts.”

France already has some of the continent’s most expansive laws to deal with terrorism, sweeping surveillance laws, and abusive counterterrorism practices, which Human Rights Watch has documented. The government’s own web page on the fight against terrorism noted in May that it had “completed its legal arsenal.”

The bill would grant increased powers to prefects, the interior minister’s local representatives, to designate public spaces as security zones, limiting who could enter and leave them; to limit the movement of people considered a national security threat; to close mosques and other places of worship; and to search private property.

The courts would have no role in approving the use of the first three powers, although there would be a limited right of appeal for orders limiting where a person has to live and for closing places of worship. A judge will have limited oversight of search powers. The lack of time limits and the bill’s vague definitions of terrorism and threats to national security exacerbates the concerns.

The Council of State, the governmental body that provides nonbinding legal advice to the executive about proposed laws to check their compliance with existing laws and obligations, issued its recommendations on the draft bill to the government on June 15. This advice sought to blunt the sharpest corners of the law, but in effect gave it a green light. Although the version presented to the Council of Ministers made some minor concessions and cosmetic changes, it ignored significant Council of State recommendations for time limits or for reducing the proposed time limits for the exercise of specific powers.

The powers as used in the state of emergency have drawn widespread criticism from members of parliament who oversee their use, UN experts, and the Defender of Rights – the national human rights oversight body, for leading to abuses while having limited impact on terrorism threats. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented how assigned residence powers and the exercise of search powers have led to human rights abuses against ordinary people in France.

The draft bill also introduces changes to surveillance legislation, border controls, and processes for retaining the data of passengers arriving by sea or airplane.

The proposed law has received scathing criticism already from some of France’s leading constitutional law scholars and its Defender of Rights, who has characterized the replacement of exceptional measures with permanent ones as “a poisoned pill.”

The draft bill would grant a prefect the power to designate a zone as a “perimeter of protection” increasing police powers to conduct searches of people, bags, and vehicles, and to refuse entry. This power, envisioned for use where there is “a risk of an act of terrorism” to a public event or in a public space, is very vaguely worded, and lacks a requirement for judicial authorization. It also lacks any explicit requirement for the prefect to justify why the threat is imminent and severe enough to merit such a measure.

Given Human Rights Watch and others’ longstanding concerns about discrimination in identity checks and a significant reported spike in orders since July 2016 from prefects to carry out stop-and-search procedures, these new powers risk exacerbating ethnic profiling.

The law replaces the system of “assigned residence orders” in the current state of emergency with “individualized surveillance measures.” The law allows the executive to order a person to reside in a specific town (commune), report once a day to the police station, accept electronic surveillance using a bracelet, inform the authorities of any change of residence, and provide details of their electronic communications to law enforcement authorities. These are slightly less restrictive than assigned residence orders under the state of emergency which can, for example, require reporting to a police station up to three times a day and remaining at home for 10 to 12 hours overnight.

The orders could be issued “where there are serious reasons to believe that a person presents a risk to public order and security, given regular association with people or organizations that incite, facilitate or participate in acts of terrorism, or that support or follow theories that call for the commission of acts of terrorism in France or abroad, or that make apology for such acts.” Such orders would not require prior judicial authorization but a prefect would have to notify a prosecutor in advance.

Despite the Council of State’s recommendation for a six-month limit for the geographic restriction and to 12 months for all other measures, the government has proposed that the geographic restriction can be renewed indefinitely, every three months, based on a vague test of “new or additional information.” Violating the terms of such a measure could lead to up to three years in prison or a fine of €45,000. These restrictions on the right to liberty and freedom of movement also risk violating the rights to private and family life and freedom of association.

The draft law uses similarly vague language to repackage much-criticized powers of search without warrant during the state of emergency by relabelling searches of houses and business premises as “visits and seizures.” A prefect could also issue such an order, but, unlike the others, would need prior authorization of a liberty and detention judge, who would oversee its conduct and decide on what data and equipment could be seized.

Under the current wording, the government could conduct searches – except if the premises is covered by legal or journalistic privilege – where there are serious reasons for thinking that a person who presents a vaguely worded “threat to national security” frequents it. Human Rights Watch has previously expressed concerns about the extent to which a liberty and detention judge can provide the promised effective safeguard, especially in terrorism cases.

The bill also increases prefects’ authority to close places of worship with the specific aim of “preventing acts of terrorism,” on extremely broad grounds without requiring any direct link with the actual commission of an act of terror. Although the government has accepted the Council of State’s recommendation to narrow its initial definition, the reasoning still remains alarmingly vague. As the text stands, it could, for instance, be used arbitrarily to prohibit any meeting at which ideas or theological concepts associated with conservative interpretations of Islam, such as Salafism, are expressed regardless of whether there is any demonstrable connection to criminal activity.

The six-month closure would not require prior judicial authorization, although legal appeals would be possible. Violating such an order would carry a prison sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to €7,500.

The measures risk restricting the rights to freedom of belief and religion, to freedom of expression and freedom of association. If, as is expected, the powers are used primarily against Muslims with conservative interpretations of their faith, they may also be discriminatory. Poorly worded laws that are likely to lead to closing solely Muslim places of worship may also help feed anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice prevalent in wider society.

Human Rights Watch has called on the French government, in coalition with human rights organizations and other nongovernmental groups in France, to end the current state of emergency and to avoid normalizing emergency security measures.

“As a country that prides itself on a tradition of liberties and rights, France needs to find a way to end its state of emergency without normalizing abusive practices,” Raj said “As the law makes its way through the Assembly, representatives of all parties should ask tough questions about whether this law is necessary, and at what cost for liberty and the rule of law in France.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content


June 22, 2017

Chairman John Thune
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

CC: All Other Senators

We write to express our serious concerns regarding the nomination of Steven G. Bradbury for general counsel of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Bradbury’s role in justifying torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of individuals held in U.S. custody marked him as an architect of the torture program. Not only should the Senate be concerned about confirming a nominee who had a central role in the criminal violation of human rights, but his work during that period calls into question his ability to provide the kind of rigorous, independent legal analysis that is required of any top government lawyer.

Mr. Bradbury was acting head of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2005 to 2009. During that time, Mr. Bradbury wrote several legal memoranda that authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As such, he is most prominently—and correctly—known as one of the authors of the “torture memos.”[1] His analysis directly contradicted relevant domestic and international law regarding the treatment of prisoners, and helped establish an official policy of torture and detainee abuse that has caused incalculable damage to both the United States and the prisoners it has held.[2]

Mr. Bradbury’s role in the torture program, even then, was notorious—so much so that the Senate refused to confirm him as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration. The Senate now knows even more about Mr. Bradbury’s record, and the harm caused by his opinions, based on oversight by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) use of torture and abuse.

In Mr. Bradbury’s time as acting head of the OLC, he demonstrated an unwavering willingness to defer to the authority and wishes of the president and his team instead of providing objective and independent counsel. During congressional testimony in 2007, Mr. Bradbury responded to questions about the president’s interpretation of the law of war by declaring, “The President is always right”—a statement that is as outrageous as it is inaccurate.[3] The DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) reviewed Mr. Bradbury’s “torture memos” and determined that they raised questions about the objectivity and reasonableness of Mr. Bradbury’s analyses; that Mr. Bradbury relied on uncritical acceptance of executive branch assertions; and that in some cases Mr. Bradbury’s legal conclusions were inconsistent with the plain meaning and commonly held understandings of the law.[4] Senior government officials from the Bush Administration who worked with Mr. Bradbury have said that they had “grave reservations” about conclusions drawn in the Bradbury torture memos and have described Mr. Bradbury’s analysis as flawed, saying the memos could be “considered a work of advocacy to achieve a desired outcome.”[5]

Moreover, Mr. Bradbury’s 2007 torture memo was written with the purpose of evading congressional intent and duly enacted federal law. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), legislation that passed the Senate with a vote of 90-9, stated, “No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” However, Mr. Bradbury’s memo explicitly allowed the continuation of many of the abusive interrogation techniques that Congress intended to prohibit in the DTA.[6]

Perhaps most concerning from a congressional oversight perspective, Mr. Bradbury affirmatively misrepresented the views of members of Congress to support his legal conclusions. Specifically, in his 2007 memo he relied on a false claim that when the CIA briefed “the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain… none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.”[7] In fact, Senator McCain had characterized the CIA’s practice of sleep deprivation as torture both publicly and privately, and at least four other senators raised objections to the program.[8]

As a senior government lawyer, Mr. Bradbury authorized torture and cruel treatment of detainees in violation of U.S. and international law. Mr. Bradbury demonstrated either an inability or an unwillingness to display objectivity and reasonableness in evaluating the president’s policy proposals. We ask that in reviewing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination for general counsel of the Department of Transportation, another profoundly important position of public trust, you take these serious and disturbing factors into consideration.


American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Defending Rights & Dissent
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Religious Campaign Against TortureOpen Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights
Win Without War

[1] See “The Torture Documents,” The Rendition Project, available at: https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/documents/torture-docs.html.

[2] See Torture Act 18 U.S.C. § 2340 (1994); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. Res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, art. 7, The US ratified Convention against Torture in 1994. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 2. The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992.

[3] Amanda Terkel, “Justice Department Lawyer to Congress: ‘The President is Always Right,’” Think Progress, July 12, 2006, available at: https://thinkprogress.org/justice-department-lawyer-to-congress-the-pres....

[4] “Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel’s Memoranda Concerning Issues Relating to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ on Suspected Terrorists,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility, July 29, 2009, available at: https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/natsec/opr20100219/20090729_OPR_Final_Re....

[5] Id.

[6] Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (New York: Doubleday, 2008): 321-322.

[7] Steven Bradbury, “Memorandum for John A. Rizzo Acting General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, July 20, 2007, available at: https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/886296/download

[8] “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, December 13, 2012, 435-436, available at: https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4...

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Europe’s residents have genuine reason to be wary of the risk of terrorism in the streets, stadiums, markets and concert-halls.

But how President Macron and the Philippe Cabinet respond to that risk is crucial to hard-won liberties and rights not just in France, but across the rest of the continent. Will they respond fearfully, paying lip-service to human rights and the rule of law while normalizing exceptional powers that have led to abuses? Or will they respond with courage by ending emergency measures, restoring rights and liberties, and empowering the judiciary in the tough work it faces prosecuting terrorism cases?

Today, the government is due to present a draft counterterrorism law to the Council of Ministers, along with legislation to extend the existing state of emergency, already in effect for a year and a half,until November. The Council of State has examined this new draft law and delivered its opinion, not yet officially published, giving the government a green light.

A leaked draft version of that law published on June 8 in Le Monde, has already set alarm bells ringing within domestic civil society; the government’s proposal would end the state of emergency in name only, and would just move many of the exceptional powers into the normal administrative or criminal codes.

Rather than rely on a regular criminal justice system with effective procedural safeguards to prosecute people fairly for crimes they have committed, the draft law risks creating a parallel and impoverished system where administrative measures are routinely used as a preemptive proxy for punishment.

Given reported concessions expressed by Interior Minister Gérard Collomb on an earlier draft version which appeared to sideline the judiciary entirely, it is crucial that the new draft bill does not reduce the role of a judge (in this instance a Judge of Liberty and Detention, JLD) to a mere rubberstamp.

The first question to ask is whether France even needs a new counterterrorism law. The country has some of the continent’s most expansive laws to deal with terrorism.  The government’s own webpage on the fight against terrorism noted, as of last month, that it had “completed its legal arsenal and put in place an unprecedented reinforcement of its means in the police, justice, army and intelligence services.”

Now, consider the new proposed powers in the leaked 7 June text. The leaked early draft contains vaguely worded proposals that would empower Prefects to establish “perimeters of protection”, to which entry is limited. No judicial authorization is required nor is there a clear requirement to show evidence of an imminent threat. The law would also allow a Prefect to order the closure of a mosque or other place of worship without a court order if “the ideas and theories disseminated there, or the activities which take place there, give rise to discrimination, to hatred, to violence or to the commission of acts of terrorism in France or abroad, or make an apology for such acts.” People who fail to comply with such an order could be prosecuted. In its June 15 opinion, the Council of State strongly recommended limiting these vague grounds.

It would make more routine the practice of limiting the freedom of movement of people deemed a threat to national security under “assigned residence orders”, limiting them to one town [commune], subjecting them to electronic monitoring, and prohibiting them from contacting other named individuals. Once subject to such an order, the “assignee” can appeal the obligations to an administrative court, which then has two months to rule on the case after a hearing. Expanded powers to search homes and businesses and seize computers and data– although, unlike the other planned powers, these require prior approval from a judge (JLD) – are also part of the legislative package.

The state of emergency already grants powers to assign residence and conduct searches without judicial warrant but these have led to well documented abuses. And a French commission of inquiry concluded last July that it had only “limited impact” on improving security.

The political calculus is simple. It is easy to maintain the state of emergency or continue it through other means. It gives an appearance of strength and safety. By contrast, it is more challenging and takes significant courage and leadership to exit a state of emergency and wean the state off exceptional powers.

Yet, that kind of leadership is precisely what is required, and the new Macron government, bolstered by a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, will never have a better opportunity to show that leadership. This means more than just paying lip service to liberties.

The fresh start under a new Presidency with a newly composed legislature also provides an opportunity to improve coordination and resources for law enforcement. The Defence and National Security Council, which reports directly to President Macron, announced the creation at its June 7 meeting of a new taskforce, the CNCT, to ensure better national coordination of counterterrorism operations with the former chief of domestic intelligence at its helm. This is a welcome step.

At this stage, it seems fanciful politically speaking to imagine that anyone can put the brakes on the extension of the state of emergency until November by the National Assembly. But legislators need to ask tough questions about the necessity of the new proposed law. They should be able to rely on published assessments by the new counterterrorism taskforce and give a greater role to the Defender of Rights’ assessments of the human rights impact of these measures. Sunset clauses should be a part of any new terrorism legislation and they should demand regular reporting on its costs, benefits and operations to Parliament. And to protect the rule of law and French values, the fullest possible judicial safeguards should be restored to the exercise of all security powers.

There is a narrow opportunity to return France to a state in which the rule of law and human rights are held in the highest regard. But that will take courage across the board.

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

(Beirut) – The UAE supports Yemeni forces that have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of people during security operations, Human Rights Watch said today. The UAE finances, arms, and trains these forces, which ostensibly are going after Yemeni branches of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The UAE also runs at least two informal detention facilities, and its officials appear to have ordered the continued detention of people despite release orders, and forcibly disappeared people, including reportedly moving high-profile detainees outside the country.

Hadrami elite forces guard Mukalla from Al-Qaeda by creating check-points. 

© 2016 Getty Images

Human Rights Watch has documented the cases of 49 people, including four children, who have been arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in the Aden and Hadramawt governates of Yemen over the last year. At least 38 appear to have been arrested or detained by UAE-backed security forces. Multiple sources, including Yemeni government officials, have reported the existence of numerous informal detention facilities and secret prisons in Aden and Hadramawt, including at least two run by the UAE and others run by UAE-backed Yemeni security forces. Human Rights Watch documented people held at 11 such sites in the two governorates.

“You don’t effectively fight extremist groups like Al-Qaeda or ISIS by disappearing dozens of young men and constantly adding to the number of families with ‘missing’ loved ones in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE and its partners should place protecting detainee rights at the center of their security campaigns if they care about Yemen’s long-term stability.”

Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of states, including the UAE, has conducted an aerial and ground campaign in support of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi against Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who took over the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. The US has provided military support to the coalition.

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed family members and friends of detainees, former detainees, lawyers, activists, and government officials. Human Rights Watch also reviewed documents, videos, and pictures provided by lawyers and activists, as well as letters sent by lawyers or family members to various Yemeni and coalition authorities.

During the conflict, Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) seized weapons, territory, and revenue by looting the central bank in Mukalla, the capital of the Hadramawt governate, and running the city’s port for about a year, Reuters reported. AQAP has carried out numerous attacks, primarily on military and security targets in Yemen’s southern and eastern governorates, killing dozens of people. The local ISIS affiliate in Yemen (IS-Y) has also claimed responsibility for similar attacks over the last two years.

The UAE has led counterterror efforts against AQAP and ISIS’s local affiliate (IS-Y), including by supporting Yemeni forces carrying out security campaigns in southern and eastern parts of the country. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses by some of these forces – including forces known as the “Security Belt” that operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, and other southern governorates and the “Hadrami Elite Forces” that operate in Hadramawt.

An Emirati and South Yemen flag painted in Yemen’s port city of Aden. By 2017, Emirati and South Yemen flags flew in many parts of Aden, which President Hadi declared the temporary capital of Yemen after Houthi-Saleh forces took over Sanaa in 2014. 

© 2017 Kristine Beckerle/Human Rights Watch

The Security Belt and Hadrami Elite forces have used excessive force during arrests and raids, detained family members of wanted suspects to pressure them to “voluntarily” turn themselves in, arbitrarily arrested and detained men and boys, detained children with adults, and forcibly disappeared dozens. As one former detainee said he was told by another detainee in one of Aden’s many informal detention facilities: “This is a no-return prison.”

The UAE is reported to run some of these detention facilities and to have moved high-profile detainees outside the country, including to a base it has in Eritrea.

Former detainees and family members also told Human Rights Watch that some detainees had been abused or tortured inside detention facilities, most often through heavy beatings with officers using their fists, their guns or other metal objects. Others mentioned electric shocks, forced nudity, threats to the detainees or their family members, and caning on the feet.

One man, who was able to visit a detained relative, a child, in Aden, said the boy “looked insane” when he emerged from a crowded cell. He later disappeared from the detention center.

Houthi-Saleh forces have also arbitrarily detained and disappeared scores of people in northern Yemen. Human Rights Watch has separately documented abuse in Houthi-Saleh run detention facilities.

All parties carrying out detentions in Yemen should immediately stop forcibly disappearing, arbitrarily detaining, or torturing detainees, Human Rights Watch said. They should release anyone arbitrarily detained or detained for involvement in peaceful political activities, including especially vulnerable people such as children. They should immediately provide a list of all detention sites and of everyone currently in detention or who have died in custody.

People taken into custody during a civil war are entitled to the fundamental protections that all detainees should have, including being promptly brought before an independent authority, like a judge, provided specific reasons for their detention, and given the ability to contest the detention. Anyone not being prosecuted for a criminal offense may only be held for exceptional reasons of security, set out clearly in domestic law, and must be released as soon as the reasons for the deprivation of their liberty cease to exist. All such detainees should be brought promptly before a judge. Detention under such circumstances should be reviewed at least every six months.

Every detainee must be treated humanely at all times. Visits from family members must be allowed if practicable. Under applicable human rights law, children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In all cases, children should be held separately from adults, unless they are detained with their family.

The ban against torture and other ill-treatment is one of the most fundamental prohibitions in international human rights and humanitarian law. No exceptional circumstances may justify torture, and states are required to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture.

Yemen is obliged to ensure that the Security Belt and Hadrami Elite Forces, as well as any other forces operating with the Yemeni government’s consent, comply with relevant legal requirements and procedural safeguards, including taking active steps to prevent disappearances, such as through regularizing the procedure of registering detainees and notifying family members of their whereabouts. The UAE has similar obligations, given its role in detentions.

The US works closely with the UAE in its efforts against AQAP, and members of the US government have repeatedly praised the UAE. In 2016, the US deployed a small number of special operations forces to Yemen to assist UAE efforts against the armed group. The US has also reportedly conducted joint raids with the UAE against AQAP in central and eastern Yemen, according to the New York Times and the Intercept. Human Rights Watch investigated a January raid in al-Bayda governorate that killed at least 14 civilians, including nine children.

“Wives, mothers, and daughters in the north and south of Yemen want to know whether their husbands, sons, and brothers are all right, if they are even alive,” Whitson said. “Yemen, the UAE, Houthi-Saleh forces, and any other party disappearing people should immediately inform families of where their loved ones are and release those held arbitrarily.”

Because of the danger of reprisals against those who spoke with Human Rights Watch or against their families, pseudonyms are used below and identifying details have been removed. All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview, the ways in which the data would be used, and given assurances of anonymity. The UAE leads coalition efforts in southern and eastern Yemen, including its counterterror operations. People interviewed by Human Rights Watch used “UAE” and “coalition” interchangeably to describe the UAE and its role in the detention campaigns.

A Web of Secret Detention Sites

Yemeni human rights groups and lawyers have documented hundreds of cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in areas of Yemen formally under the control of the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. Other security forces – beyond those that are UAE-backed – have also been implicated in abuses. The southern port city of Aden, for example, is currently home to multiple, often competing, security forces and militias. While technically under the Interior Ministry, these forces operate with separate command and control structures, with units aligned to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. These forces are arresting and detaining people, and operating unofficial detention sites, local activists, journalists, and lawyers say.

One man described to Human Rights Watch a recent protest calling on the UAE and Hadrami Elite Forces to reveal the whereabouts of the disappeared: “There were small kids saying release our dads. We were writing on the posters that we are against terrorism, but terrorism is also taking people in this way.”

There are multiple informal and secret detention facilities in Aden, Hadramawt, and the areas of the country under Houthi-Saleh control to which independent monitors, lawyers and families of detainees have not been granted access. All parties running detention facilities in Yemen should provide immediate access to detention facilities, official and unofficial, for monitors of detention conditions, lawyers, medics, human rights monitors, and families, Human Rights Watch said.

Under international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when the authorities take someone into custody and deny holding them or fail to disclose their fate or whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities, such as police jails and prisons.

Possible Transfers Outside Yemen

Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these claims, but according to lawyers and activists, as well as relatives of men who had been disappeared, the UAE was transferring high-level detainees outside of Yemen. According to one of the activists, about 15 people accused of being members of AQAP or IS-Y had been transferred to the base the UAE has been developing in Eritrea’s port city, Assab, over the past two years. A man whose relatives had been disappeared said at least five officials told him the UAE transferred the men outside of Yemen, including three who said the men were being held in Eritrea.

In 2016, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported on “the rapid construction of what appears to be a military base with permanent structures” at Assab. According to security analysts, the base includes its own port, airbase, and a military training facility, where the UAE has trained Yemeni forces, including the Security Belt and Hadrami Elite Forces, according to the Middle East Institute. The UN Monitoring Group also reported that the base has “expanded to encompass not only personnel from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but also Yemeni troops and other troops in transit.”

Yemen is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to protect the well-being of anyone they transfer to the UAE or other governments or groups. Anyone being transferred out of a country should be able to contest the transfer in that country’s courts. Transfers cannot be made if the person would likely face torture or other major human rights abuses.

The UAE-Backed Security Belt in Aden

In Aden, many of those arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared were arrested by the Security Belt, a force created in spring 2016. It is officially under the Interior Ministry but is funded, trained, and directed by the UAE, said several activists, lawyers, and government officials. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen and a Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) report found that the Security Belt operated largely outside the Yemeni government’s control.



This map depicts formal and informal detention facilities in which Human Rights Watch documented cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared since 2016, and where Human Rights Watch was able to secure GPS. It does not depict all locations currently being used as detention centers in Aden, Aden governorate.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

In dozens of interviews, people detained by the Security Belt or detainees’ family members said Security Belt officers claimed they were following UAE orders in detaining terrorism suspects and that they lacked the authority to release detainees without specific UAE authorization. A former detainee said a high-ranking Security Belt Commander told him he had initially trusted the UAE was detaining suspects based on strong intelligence but he had increasingly come to believe not everyone they arrested was in fact linked to extremist groups.

A man whose brother was arrested in July 2016 said a Security Belt officer told him the UAE has given the Security Belt orders, including a list of names of people to arrest, and that after their arrest the UAE would decide what to do with them. The UAE did not provide the Security Belt with the charges or accusations against the men, he said.

The Security Belt has arbitrarily arrested and abused dozens of people. Several families reported that the security forces, including the Security Belt, had used excessive force when carrying out arrests, including beating men with their guns and forcing entry into homes. The Security Belt has also arrested suspects’ family members when unable to find the person they hoped to arrest to pressure the actual suspect to turn himself in.

Muneer and Kareem: One night in the autumn of 2016, Security Belt officers came at 2 a.m. to the family home of “Kareem” and “Muneer,” both in their twenties, intending to arrest Muneer. Muneer was not home, so the Security Belt officers blindfolded Kareem, took him to a nearby camp and interrogated him. After a few hours, the men dumped a still blindfolded Kareem in a location he could not immediately identify. When he discovered where he was, he walked home. A family member said he “was very scared” when he arrived. The next day, Muneer surrendered at the Central Prison. Prison officials told Muneer’s father his son’s file was “with the coalition.” The general prosecutor issued a release order for Muneer. The prosecutor’s office told the family they could not secure his release, as the authorities did not respect their orders.

Laith and Hamid: One night in the autumn of 2016 at about 2:30 a.m., Security Belt forces came to the home of “Hamid” looking to arrest his son, “Laith.” When they could not find him, they kicked and beat Hamid. An officer also hit Hamid’s wife with his rifle. They blindfolded Hamid, kicked him again when he tried to loosen the blindfold, then detained him, beating him again and released him, telling him to bring his son. He told Human Rights Watch: “Yes, I promised to take my son to them and I did the following day. I’m really very sorry for my son because if I knew he would be detained for this long I would never have taken him to them.” Laith remains in detention.

Secret Prisons, Mistreatment of Detainees in Aden

Aden has two official detention facilities, the Central Prison and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). In February 2017, the CID was holding about 220 people and the Central Prison about 231 terrorism detainees and 480 criminal detainees, according to the prosecutor’s office.

While the court system in Aden is largely not functioning, the prosecutor’s office is continuing to issue release orders for people if there is insufficient evidence to detain them. The prosecution’s orders are often not respected, particularly concerning terrorism cases, which is “where the power of the prosecutor stops,” a prosecutor said. Families, lawyers, and government officials repeatedly said that people arrested by the Security Belt whose case files were “with the coalition” were most likely to remain detained despite a prosecutorial release order even in the official sites.

The Central Prison is divided into criminal cases, controlled by a prison director, and terrorism cases, overseen by a Security Belt officer who was appointed by and reports to UAE officers in Aden, said analysts, activists, and lawyers in Aden. One man previously detained in the Central Prison said that at least four people in the prison ward with him had release orders, but they remained detained because, they were told, “the coalition” refused to let them out. He, and two other men detained with him, said that prison officials said that the Security Belt ran the prison and they reported to the UAE.

In late 2016, the general prosecutor’s office issued release orders for 27 people who had been arrested by the Security Belt and detained on suspicion of terrorism. By February 2017, 10 had been released. The Security Belt officers in the prison told the office the remaining 17 could not be released without an order from the coalition, as they had been arrested by the Security Belt and thus fell under coalition control. Soon after, the prosecutor’s office identified 35 additional detainees, all also accused of terrorism, for release. Three lawyers said that the prison director told them in a meeting he could not release certain people, even if they had release orders, as the decision rested with the coalition.

Omar and Mustafa: One night in August, at about 1:30 a.m., Security Belt officers broke down the door of a house, shouting they were there to arrest “Mustafa,” a 17-year-old high school student. Mustafa was accompanying an elderly relative on a trip, so the men took his older brother “Omar” with them instead. A week later, Mustafa turned himself in, and Security Belt personnel released Omar. While Mustafa’s family eventually secured a release order for him, Central Prison officials, including the de facto head of the prison, claimed his file was “with the coalition and there was nothing they could do about it.” A family member said, “And you can’t go to the coalition. They will shoot you if you try and go to the coalition.” A relative who had visited Mustafa said, “He is in a very bad way… he is a student, this shouldn’t have happened to him.”

Human Rights Watch has documented multiple allegations that various security forces in police stations and in official and secret detention facilities are mistreating detainees. One man detained in the Central Prison said that he and a few other detainees were blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken to a separate room in the prison. He said he was given multiple electrical shocks. He said he also heard the other three men with him being beaten and given electrical shocks. One of them fell over him, and he could hear the man screaming in pain.

In late August, in a separate case, a man who was out of Aden visiting relatives said his wife went to visit their two sons in the Central Prison, where they had just been transferred after being forcibly disappeared. After the visit, his wife told him that one of their son’s vision was impaired, he was only semi-conscious, his head had been visibly wounded, and he had handcuff marks on his wrist. The young man told his mother he had been beaten with a metal object and given electrical shocks. The other son looked psychologically shaken, but not physically abused, their mother said. About two weeks later, the two men “disappeared completely.” A government official later told the family the men were “with the coalition.”

In another case, a family member visited a relative in an informal detention facility. His relative told him he had been detained at the UAE base for months before his transfer to the current detention facility. He said he had been interrogated and beaten daily in the base, once until he lost consciousness and after which he remained bed-ridden.

One lawyer said that when they visited the Central Prison in late 2016 they heard four complaints of mistreatment, but the detainees were afraid to raise the cases or act as witnesses due to fears of retaliation. Journalists and human rights activists also told Human Rights Watch they had documented abuse in Aden’s prisons. Vice Interior Minister Ali Nasser told Human Rights Watch that the Interior Ministry is working on improving the conditions in prisons, but that the ministry requires funding to properly equip the buildings and train staff.

Human Rights Watch documented four cases of children arbitrarily arrested or forcibly disappeared in Aden who were held with adults in the Central Prison and Camp Tariq, a military camp controlled by Aden’s Security Administration. In addition, a former Central Prison detainee said that seven or eight children were in the ward with him, boys about 15 or 16 years old, when he was there in 2016. He said these boys would come back to the ward crying after interrogations, later telling the prisoners they had been blindfolded and beaten and that officers had threatened to take off their clothes. The father of a 17-year-old who had been detained for more than a year said:

He is young; in the days of the war [when Houthi-Saleh forces entered Aden in 2015] he would shake because of the war. … My son is struggling from psychological problems. He is a student. He doesn’t want to be in prison.

Lawyers, activists, family members, and former detainees described at least six informal or secret detention facilities in Aden. One person who had collected more than 150 names of those detained by security forces cross-checked their lists with the lists of those detained in the Central Prison and CID, and found that about 50 of them were in neither detention facility. Sources, including government officials, said that lawyers, activists, judges, prosecutors, and international organizations did not have access to the informal detention facilities or secret prisons in Aden. In February, Vice Interior Minister Nasser denied there were any informal detention facilities or secret prisons in Aden.

Many people who have been forcibly disappeared were initially arrested by the Security Belt, and were later told by various government officials that they had been transferred to detention facilities under UAE control and that Yemeni officials and Security Belt officers no longer had the power to intervene.

Multiple sources, including government officials, confirmed that the UAE ran at least one detention facility for terrorism suspects they deemed to be high-value or sensitive cases in Aden. An individual following these cases said they knew of 10 detainees by name who had been transferred to the Central Prison after being missing for three to seven months, and who later reported they were detained by UAE forces. Three men told Human Rights Watch that while they were detained in Central Prison a few men were transferred into the prison who told them they had been detained by the UAE.

Former detainees said that, while they were being transported to another detention facility, the truck carrying them stopped outside the UAE’s headquarters in Buraika, a neighborhood in Aden, and deposited there some of the other men who had been arrested. A Yemeni nongovernmental group monitoring detentions said that the Security Belt transferred more than 50 detainees from the Central Prison to the UAE headquarters in Buraika in 2017.

One case involved “Saleheddine,” who was detained in 2016. A relative of his said contacts in Aden told the family he had been transferred to the UAE’s headquarters in Buraika. Multiple high-level officials told the family they did not have power to intervene in the case, as the matter was with the UAE. Months later, guards at the UAE headquarters said there were plans to transfer dozens of detainees to another location. Soon after, Saleheddine called. He confirmed he had been held with the coalition and had been transferred to an informal Security Belt detention facility.

Multiple people in Aden also alleged that the Security Administration, which falls under the Interior Ministry but whose top official is UAE-supported, also ran informal detention facilities and secret prisons, including in Tawahi, an Aden district where the Security Chief lives, and at Camp Tariq in Khormaksar. Human Rights Watch spoke to two former detainees who said they had been detained in an unknown location in Tawahi, and the relative of another detainee who visited his family member in Camp Tariq.

In 2016, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old were arrested, first taken to a police station, but then disappeared a few days later, family members said. A government official told a family member the 17-year-old had had been transferred to an informal detention facility run by the Security Administration. The family member who was able to visit, described the prison as having about seven or eight large metal hangars filled with people. The 17-year-old was in one of them and, when he came out, “he looked insane.” He later disappeared from the camp.

Nadim and Yusuf: “Nadim” and “Yusuf” were arrested one night in early 2017, at about midnight. Yusuf said that one of the officers shoved his face to the ground and accused him of working with ISIS. The officers hit them with the butts of their guns and handcuffed them. Nadim resisted arrest. The officers blindfolded the men, put them in military trucks, and took them to an informal detention facilities. The men were taken to a smaller room. Seven other men were inside, including one who had been shot in the leg – he said by the security forces – and whose wound was infested with worms. A man in the cell said: “This is a no return prison.” One man had been detained for eight months. The men told them they were only allowed to wash every two weeks and that when their drinking water ran out, detainees had turned to drinking their own urine. Both men were released after friends and family members intervened, although three of the men arrested with them remained detained. The two men contacted the family of the man who had been shot. His mother was “very happy,” as she had thought her son had died.

Local activists in other areas under the Yemeni government’s control, for example in Taizz, Lahj, Abyan, and Marib, described similar abuses by government-affiliated security forces.

The UAE and Hadrami Elite Forces

In April 2016, the coalition retook Mukalla, which AQAP had controlled for months. Extremist groups continued to carry out attacks on military installations, killing and wounding dozens of military forces.



This map depicts formal and informal detention facilities in which Human Rights Watch documented cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared since 2016, and where Human Rights Watch was able to secure GPS. It does not depict all locations currently being used as detention centers in Mukalla, Hadramawt governorate.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The UAE has continued to support and direct Yemen forces carrying out counterterror and other security campaigns in Hadramawt, primarily the Hadrami Elite Forces. The Hadrami Elite Forces are formally a part of the Yemen Army, specifically the Second Military Zone, which covers parts of Hadramawt governorate. But activists, lawyers, and family members of detainees said that the UAE provides salaries, training, weapons, and direction to the Elite Forces. The UAE informed the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen it had provided “military, financial, and training assistance” and “intelligence, logistic information and aerial intervention,” but that the forces were under the control of the Yemeni Armed Forces. The UN Panel concluded that: “While nominally under the command of the legitimate Government, they are effectively under the operational control of the United Arab Emirates, which oversees ground operations in Mukalla.” A 2016 CIVIC report concluded the same.

The US deployed a small number of special forces to offer intelligence and logistical support to UAE-led efforts in Mukalla in April, indefinitely extending the deployment in June. According to VICE News, the US special forces in Mukalla are indirectly backing the UAE-trained forces by advising the UAE on how to carry out the campaign against AQAP. Reuters, however, reported that the UAE is “working with” the US “to train, manage and equip Yemeni fighters in that effort [against AQAP].” A former Yemeni government official also alleged that the Hadrami Elite Forces had received US tactical and technical anti-terrorism support.

The Hadrami Elite Forces have arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared dozens of people. Human Rights Watch met members of a committee representing family members of the disappeared who collected the names of 87 people disappeared in Hadramawt’s coastal area. Yemeni rights monitors shared a list of 142 people who they said had been arbitrarily arrested or forcibly disappeared in Hadramawt since May 2016, the vast majority by the Hadrami Elite Forces. A family member of a man disappeared in May 2016 said that about 25 men from his town had been disappeared since the UAE entered Mukalla.

The UAE runs unofficial detention facilities in Mukalla, with the principal detention facility at al-Riyan airport, Mukalla’s main airport, said family members of detainees, former detainees, and local lawyers and activists. A man whose son was detained by the Hadrami Elite Forces said recently released prisoners and guards working at the prison had confirmed the airport held dozens of prisoners. Families said the forces detained men in the Presidential Palace in Mukalla and at various checkpoints, often before transferring them to al-Riyan.

Lawyers, activists, and independent monitors do not have access to either detention facility. Individuals in Hadramawt said they had spoken by phone with Emirati officers who admitted holding their family members, allowed the families to talk to their missing relatives over the phone, and told them not to protest or speak to the media. Emirati officers use noms-de-guerre. As one woman said, “We never know their names. Never.” The UAE officials’ refusal to provide real names was reminiscent of the Houthis and AQAP, family members said.

Remi: In the spring of 2016, during the first large-scale security campaign after the coalition pushed AQAP out of Mukalla, men in a military truck arrested “Remi.” Remi was later released. He had been imprisoned in al-Riyan airport and interrogated by Abu Ahmed, the nom-de-guerre for a UAE officer who multiple families said was in charge of detention facilities. Soon after his release, Remi was again arrested and taken to al-Riyan, on UAE orders, local officials said. In the course of about a year, the family received only one phone call from Remi. He said he was “okay” and he was calling from a UAE officer’s phone.

Family members said they had heard that men in the detention facility were being beaten and abused. One of the detention committee members said Yemeni and Emirati officers interrogated detainees and that there had been reports of torture, beating and “a lot of things I can’t say, that I am embarrassed to say.” A prisoner who had been detained said he had been beaten by seven Hadrami Elite Forces officers, punched in the face and hit with wires while being interrogated at a military checkpoint before being transferred to al-Riyan airport.

Human Rights Watch examined written statements by two men who had been detained at the Security Intelligence headquarters, Presidential Palace, and al-Riyan airport. The statements described abuse including beating, exposure to cold temperatures, insults, death threats, and sexual abuse, including forced nudity and threats of rape. Human Rights Watch confirmed that the men had been detained by speaking with friends and family members.

A father whose two sons had been arrested said he was worried about them, as some of the men who had been released from al-Riyan had told him they had been tortured. A Hadramawt local government official told the family the men had been transferred to al-Riyan. He said he could not do anything about the case, as the airport is under Emirati control. Abu Ahmed, the Emirati officer, told the family the men were being held at the airport. One of his sons called after close to a year in detention. His father said his voice seemed weak, that he was crying, and that he said he was suffering. He still did not know what he had been accused of. He said he was kept handcuffed and blindfolded at all times except when eating and using the bathroom. He did not know if his brother was in the same prison.

People in Hadramawt have organized multiple protests and written numerous letters, often addressed to the Hadi government, the Hadramawt governor, and the coalition, asking the authorities to reveal the fate of their family members, allow them to visit the prisons, and refer any cases where there is evidence against an individual to courts.

A former detainee told one man’s family he had been detained with their relative in al-Riyan. “Abdulkader” had been arrested a year earlier. While the governor and regional military commander told the family they did not have the authority to release him, a UAE officer promised the family he would be released soon. He remains detained. His mother, discussing the impact of the disappearances on families, in particular mothers, said: “We just want to see our sons.”

On February 12, the governor of Hadramawt issued a circular addressed to the coalition, the head of the Second Military Zone, the General Prosecutor, the General Security Director and the police, stating that no forces should arrest anyone without an order from the prosecutor. The same day, Abubakr Hussein Salem, the governor of Abyan, issued a similar circular, a Yemeni outlet reported. However, people in Hadramawt said the Hadrami Elite Forces continued to raid homes and arbitrarily detain and disappear men in Mukalla after the circular was issued.

In May, just before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, about 18 men were released from al-Riyan, family members said. Dozens remained detained. The UAE, Yemen, and others should immediately release all those held arbitrarily, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters on their way to Raqqa, Syria June 6, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Beirut) – The United States-led coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and other local armed groups should make protecting civilians and respect for human rights a priority in the offensive to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. The offensive was announced on June 6, 2017.

Key human rights priorities for anti-ISIS forces should include: taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigating alleged unlawful strikes; ensuring that no child soldiers participate in the military operation; respecting detainee rights; providing safe passage to fleeing civilians and providing sufficient support to displaced people; and increasing efforts to survey and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war.

“The battle for Raqqa is not just about defeating ISIS, but also about protecting and assisting the civilians who have suffered under ISIS rule for three and a half years,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Coalition members and local forces should demonstrate concretely that the lives and rights of the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Raqqa are a parallel priority in the offensive.

On December 23, 2016, Human Rights Watch shared recommended human rights priorities with the US Defense Department, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the local Kurdish police, known as the Asayish, all of which are expected to be involved in the offensive and related security operations. On February 16, Human Rights Watch shared the same recommendations with the new US defense secretary.

Up to 400,000 civilians are estimated to remain in Raqqa governorate, and 160,000-200,000 in the city of Raqqa, which ISIS captured in January 2014. Human Rights Watch staff last visited the city in April 2013.

Avoid Civilian Casualties; Investigate Unlawful Strikes

Human Rights Watch has documented several missile and aerial attacks that caused civilian casualties and were carried out by US-led coalition forces in Syria since they began operations there in September 2014. Rising civilian casualties from US-led coalition strikes have heightened concerns about whether adequate precautions are in place.

On June 2, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) published its monthly civilian casualty report covering Syria and Iraq. The report found that: “To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses that, it is more likely than not, at least 484 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

During the same period, Airwars, a United Kingdom-based nongovernmental organization that monitors airstrikes, estimated that the minimum number of civilian casualties from US-led coalition strikes in Syria and Iraq was more than 3,800, approximately eight times the number reported by the coalition. Despite having the authority and funds, the US has done very little to compensate those injured by strikes or the families of those killed. US military officials have said that non-US coalition members are responsible for at least 80 of the 484 fatalities, but none of the other coalition members have publicly admitted responsibility. As a result, as of May, the US stopped confirming its own responsibility for specific civilian casualties.

Coalition members should take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects during military operations. This includes maintaining international standards and procedures designed to prevent civilian casualties, and robustly and transparently reporting airstrikes and enemy and civilian casualties. This also requires promptly, impartially, and, thoroughly investigating instances in which civilian casualties may have occurred as a result of those operations; and providing compensation for wrongful civilian deaths and injuries and appropriate “condolence” or ex gratia payments for civilian harm.

Based on its experience monitoring the Mosul air campaign in Iraq as well as other coalition airstrikes in Syria, Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:


  • Maintain measures to require the maximum levels of target verification and authorization prior to all air and ground-launched strikes. A central decision-making node, such as the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve’s “Strike Cell” in Baghdad, should evaluate and approve each strike and provide additional targeting information and recommendations as necessary. Taking this step where practicable is one way to ensure that targeting officers are equipped with more information about the target and the potential risks to civilians before a strike is approved. Additionally, multi-level approval systems that incorporate and synthesize large amounts of information from the battlefield can help minimize civilian casualties;
  • When operating in densely populated areas where civilians and combatants are comingled, commanders should take all feasible steps to minimize the harm to civilians and civilian objects. The use of munitions with large payloads of high explosives in populated areas should be limited. These munitions can have a wide-area destructive effect, and it is not possible when using them to distinguish adequately between civilians and combatants, almost inevitably resulting in civilian casualties. Where feasible, commanders should require terminal attack controllers, who have the authority to approve the release of weapons to maintain the highest level of direct control over each strike, including both seeing the target and the attacking aircraft. Commanders should also limit the use of indirect-fire weapons – mortars, artillery, and rockets – and using unguided munitions – meaning that the firing unit does not see the target, but relies on spotters to provide targeting information. In all cases, commanders and targeting officers should select weapons and specific munitions to minimize civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible;
  • When conducting airstrikes, use all available means to verify the presence and location of combatants, as well as the presence of civilians in the immediate vicinity. Anti-ISIS forces should also take into account the increasing use of civilians as human shields by ISIS. Any estimates of potential civilian casualties before a strike should take into account that many civilians remain trapped in ISIS-held territory and may not be readily observable from the air or by using advanced targeting equipment. Because of this, to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance assets under the control of members of the US-led coalition should, where possible, be dedicated to conducting pattern-of-life analyses and locating and tracking civilians moving in and out of potential and future target areas in advance of operations;
  • Prior to conducting strikes, carefully and rigorously verify information received from partner forces, including other members of the US-led coalition, using all available sources of information – aerial observations, information collected by personnel and military hardware, etc. This step is critical to avoiding acting upon erroneous targeting information;
  • Coalition members should individually, robustly, and transparently investigate credible reports of civilian casualties and make public detailed findings of all of their investigations. These investigations should use a full range of tools, including interviews with victims and their families, consultation with human rights groups, surveillance and targeting videos, and forensic analyses. The public findings of investigations should include an explanation of the accountability measures coalition members used, the redress provided to victims or their families, and the process through which coalition members determined whether accountability or redress measures were necessary;
  • Redress should include compensation for wrongful civilian deaths and injuries and for harm to civilians. The coalition should develop effective systems for civilians to file claims for condolence or ex gratia payments and to evaluate the claims. If the investigation finds that serious violations of the laws of war occurred, it should refer those responsible for appropriate criminal prosecution.


Ensure that No Child Soldier Takes Part in the Campaign

In doing research in northern Syria in February 2014, Human Rights Watch found that, despite promises in 2013 from the Asayish and the YPG to stop using children for military purposes, the problem persisted in both forces. The internal regulations of both the Asayish and YPG forbid the use of children under age 18. International law sets 18 as the minimum age for participation in direct hostilities, which includes using children as scouts, couriers, and at checkpoints.

In a positive development, on June 5, 2014, the YPG admitted that the problem continued and pledged to demobilize all fighters under 18 within one month. In July 2015, however, Human Rights Watch released further evidence that the YPG and its female branch failed to adhere to obligations not to use child soldiers. The YPG sent Human Rights Watch a response on July 22, 2015, pledging to “follow up” on the cases cited.

In November 2015, when Geneva Call, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting respect by non-state armed groups for international humanitarian norms, was in Syria, the official YPG spokesperson acknowledged that child recruitment was a persistent problem, but that the YPG was working to remedy the situation. In October 2016, when Human Rights Watch was in northern Syria, the spokesman said that child recruitment had gone down “to a minimum” and that children were not fighting on the front lines. Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to:


  • Vet armed groups before assisting them, and monitor their compliance with international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on the use of child soldiers, and investigate any credible allegations of abuses;
  • Make clear to the Syrian Democratic Forces and other forces that recruiting children as soldiers is unlawful even if they are not serving a military function; discipline officers who allow children to serve under them; and encourage the forces to provide former child soldiers all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration; and
  • Commit publicly to ceasing coordination with or assistance to armed groups that recruit and fail to demobilize child soldiers.


Respect Detainee Rights

During field investigations in Syria in February 2014, Human Rights Watch documented that the Asayish arbitrarily detained people in areas under their control and mistreated detainees, including those accused of terrorism-related offenses. Human Rights Watch found in October 2016 that the SDF had seemingly arbitrarily detained medical personnel for providing assistance to ISIS.

Arresting authorities should not presume that someone is affiliated with ISIS or otherwise suspected of criminal activity based simply on gender, age, religious sect, or tribal name. Suspects should only be detained if there is individualized suspicion that they committed a crime. SDF forces and local authorities should stress to commanders and soldiers that it is not permissible to detain medical personnel who provide medical treatment to enemy combatants. The forces and local authorities should investigate credible allegations of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture of detainees and hold those responsible accountable.

Any screening of displaced people by the SDF or other security forces should last only a matter of hours, in a way that is nondiscriminatory and ensures civilian protection in accordance with the laws of war and human rights law. Anyone held longer should be treated as a detainee, meaning that their detention should have a clear legal basis, and they should be in an authorized place of detention. Authorities working at the screening centers should have basic technical training for their tasks, and the authorities should provide them with the adequate resources to screen people as quickly and safely as possible. The forces should transparently inform humanitarian groups about capacity and procedures at the screening centers. Other recommendations relating to screening include:


  • The authorities should promptly notify the families of detainees of the whereabouts of their relatives and publish overall numbers of detainees;
  • Authorities should make medical care, including first aid, promptly available to everyone at screening sites;
  • Authorities running the screening centers surrounding Raqqa should locate them as far from hostilities as possible;
  • Authorities should promptly identify vulnerable people and give them first priority for screening, including people needing immediate medical assistance, and provide them with any assistance needed. Unaccompanied children should be treated in an age-appropriate manner, and female staff should screen women and girls;
  • Authorities should make every effort to keep any child held for screening with a parent, and should only question children in the presence of a parent. If authorities screen children and suspect that they were child soldiers, treatment should focus on rehabilitation and social reintegration, not detention or prosecution. Under international norms, officials should seek at all times to release, protect, and reintegrate children unlawfully recruited or used, without condition, and children should be rapidly separated from adult fighters and handed over to “an appropriate, mandated, independent civilian process.” In all cases, children should be detained or imprisoned only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period, separately from adults;
  • The authorities should allow independent protection monitors at all screening centers; and
  • Authorities should ensure that people being screened are treated respectfully and that conditions in the centers meet international standards.


Provide Safe Passage to Fleeing Civilians, Sufficient Support to Displaced People

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the Raqqa operation, and up to 160,000-200,000 are estimated to remain in the city, including 40,000 children.

The laws of war require all parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to evacuate civilians from areas of fighting or where fighters are deployed and not block or impede the evacuation of those wishing to leave. Human Rights Watch has previously documented that ISIS uses civilians to protect its forces from attack. Deliberately using the presence of civilians to protect military forces from attack is the war crime of “human shielding.”

The presence of ISIS fighters among civilian does not absolve anti-ISIS forces from the obligation to target only military objectives, however. The creation of humanitarian corridors and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population do not relieve attacking forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians. Corridors and warnings do not permit forces to treat civilians who remain as combatants subject to attack.

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 health care, especially sexual and reproductive health for women and girls, food assistance, and potable water. Aid groups anticipate finding 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 most likely a shortage of medical professionals in the city. Raqqa is seen as a high-risk area for cholera.

People displaced by the fighting in Raqqa are sheltering in other parts of the governorate, as well as in Aleppo, Idlib, and to a lesser extent Hama, Homs, and Deir al-Zour governorates. Many are in camps for displaced people.

In its May 23 Raqqa situation report, OCHA said that in mid-May reports emerged that local authorities prevented internally displaced people from Raqqa governorate from leaving Ein Issa camp by confiscating their ID cards and travel documents. Camp authorities have since indicated that these rules will not be enforced and that displaced people will be able to leave the camps if they find sponsors.

OCHA also said that for security reasons, displaced people had been allowed to relocate to rural areas but not towns such as Tell Abyad, Ayn Arous, and Kobane and that their identity documents had been confiscated at checkpoints if they tried to go to the towns. It said:


Restrictions on freedom of movement, as shown by the situation in Mabrouka and Ein Issa, continue to be of concern. Some 3,500 families had reportedly been using their cars as shelter outside Ein Issa camp waiting for the authorities to return their identity documents. Communication devices are confiscated upon entry to Mabrouka camp.


SDF and other forces should ensure that civilians are able to flee areas of fighting for safety and to get aid, including in areas controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led autonomous administration in northern Syria. They should ensure the safety and security of humanitarian relief personnel at all times.

Local authorities should allow freedom of movement for all displaced people in areas under their control, including those who want to live or travel outside of the 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,” as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Increase Efforts to Survey and Clear Landmines, Explosive Remnants of War

Improvised mines, other types of explosive devices, and remnants of war pose a significant threat to civilians and hinder recovery in places that were under ISIS control. ISIS-planted improvised explosive devices will likely pose a major threat to civilians in the battle to retake Raqqa from ISIS.

During a five-day investigation in the city of Manbij from October 4 to 9, 2016, Human Rights Watch collected the names of 69 civilians, including 19 children, killed by improvised mines planted by ISIS in schools, homes, and on roads during and after the fighting over control for the city. The total is most likely much higher because Human Rights Watch was not able to collect information from all neighborhoods and villages. Hospital staff said that they had treated hundreds of people injured by improvised mines. Nearly all the incidents documented appear to have been caused by victim-activated improvised explosive devices.

Local military and civilian authorities should raise awareness among the displaced about the threat of improvised mines and develop capacity to rapidly clear homes and residential areas of mines and remnants of war to facilitate the return of the civilian population.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Souhaib Sa’ad in a still from a video released by the Defense Ministry several weeks after his disappearance. His brother told Human Rights Watch that Sa'ad was forced to repeat dictated confessions after being tortured for 3 days.

(Beirut) – The case of eight men who could face imminent execution following a military trial shows why Egyptian authorities should place a moratorium on the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today.

The eight civilians, six of whom are in custody, were sentenced to death on May 29, 2016, after a trial on terrorism charges that denied them basic due process rights and relied on confessions that the defendants said were obtained under torture. If the Supreme Military Court for Appeals denies the defendants’ appeal, the six men in custody could be executed as soon as Defense Minister Sedky Sobhi and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratify their death sentences.

“Egyptian authorities have been using military trials to dodge the already threadbare due process protections in regular courts, and we fear these trials may become rubber stamps for the death penalty,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Military courts should never be used against civilians, and they should certainly not be allowed to condemn civilians to death.”

Sobhi should cancel the death sentences and order military prosecutors to drop the case, and if there is evidence against the men or their co-defendants, Egypt’s prosecutor general should charge them in a regular court, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2013, military courts have sentenced at least 60 defendants to death in at least 10 cases. Six of these sentences have been approved and carried out. While military courts have handed down far fewer death sentences than the hundreds issued by regular courts since 2013, they do not provide even the limited due process protections available in those courts. Egyptian authorities have tried more than 7,400 civilians in military courts since al-Sisi decreed a law in October 2014 that vastly expanded military court jurisdiction.

The eight men were among 28 tried together on terrorism charges. Only one of the 28 was a member of the military. The court sentenced 12 to life in prison, six to 15 years, and acquitted two.

Military prosecutors alleged that the men had supported or belonged to a group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood that obtained explosives and weapons and plotted to carry out surveillance and attacks on government and security officials.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the military prosecution’s 20-page indictment, a 149-page defense memo, and the 37-page military court verdict. Human Rights Watch also interviewed two defense lawyers, one defendant who was sentenced to death but lives outside Egypt, and relatives of five other defendants.

The relatives said that the authorities arrested the five men between May 28 and June 2, 2015, and did not provide information about their whereabouts for weeks. The families inquired in local police stations and sent telegrams to various government offices but received no response. Some learned of their relatives’ whereabouts weeks later, when they received calls from people who saw the men in detention. The authorities did not officially acknowledge that the men were being accused of crimes until July 10, 2015, when some of the men appeared in a video released by the Defense Ministry that accused them of belonging to “the biggest terrorist cell threatening national security.”

Five of the men told their relatives that interrogators had tortured them, including with beatings, electric shocks, and hanging in painful stress positions. Three said they were then forced to read confessions written for them. Two told their relatives that the Defense Ministry’s Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance Department had held them in Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood, in a facility that Human Rights Watch independently confirmed belonged to military intelligence. None of the men were allowed access to lawyers during their detention, interrogation, or initial questioning by military prosecutors.

The men’s trial, known as Case 174 of 2015, began on September 17, 2015. Military prosecutors charged the defendants with manufacturing explosives, acquiring defense secrets, possessing firearms, and violating article 86 of the penal code – Egypt’s primary anti-terrorism statute. The law provides for life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone who helps lead a group that uses terrorism to “disrupt the provisions of the constitution or laws, prevent state institutions or public authorities from carrying out their work, assault citizens’ personal freedoms or general rights, or harm national unity or social peace.” Under article 86, anyone who supplies such a group with money, weapons, or explosives can also receive the death penalty.

The indictment Human Rights Watch reviewed relied entirely on the testimony of Major Hani Soltan, an officer with military intelligence Group 77. Soltan testified that on May 24, 2015, during a routine inspection of troops returning from leave, military personnel discovered a concealed camera pen in the possession of a conscript assigned to the Defense Ministry’s general secretariat. After interrogating the man, Soltan testified, he was able to uncover the plot and identify the members of the “terrorist cell.”

Prosecutors did not charge any of the 28 defendants with an act of violence but said the men were preparing for attacks by stockpiling weapons and conducting surveillance on security officials, including Gen. Medhat al-Menshawy, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Central Security Forces, who commanded the brutal 2013 dispersal of a mass sit-in in Cairo that left at least 817 protesters dead in one day.

In March and April 2017, Human Rights Watch sent letters to six Egyptian institutions including the presidency and Defense Ministry, expressing serious concerns about death sentences handed down in military courts and urging al-Sisi and Sobhi not to approve the death sentences in this case or another case in which seven men were sentenced to death by a military court in connection with a deadly explosion at a stadium in Kafr al-Sheikh. Human Rights Watch also said that Egyptian authorities should place a moratorium on the death penalty in all regular and military courts in view of the sharp rise in the number of death sentences, turbulent political upheaval, and failure to pass a comprehensive transitional justice law in Egypt since the military removed the country’s first freely elected president in July 2013.

In 2015, six men were executed following an unfair military trial in which they were accused of participating in attacks on security forces, including a gunfight that killed army officers. In that case, Human Rights Watch determined that three of the men could not have participated in the attacks because authorities had arrested them months earlier and they were in detention at the time. Nevertheless, they were sentenced to death and executed by hanging after Sobhi and al-Sisi ratified their sentences.

The men said they were held and tortured inside military intelligence headquarters in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood, where they were forced to confess.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a punishment that is not only unique in its cruelty and finality, but also inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

Egypt’s military courts violate several key elements of due process, including the defendants’ right to be informed of the charges against them, to access a lawyer, to have a lawyer present during interrogations, and to be brought promptly before a judge. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command, without the independence to ignore instructions by superiors.

The use of military courts to try civilians violates international law. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, has stated that civilians should be tried by military courts only under exceptional circumstances and only under conditions that genuinely afford full due process. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which interprets the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by Egypt in 1984, has stated that civilians should never face military trial and that military courts should not have the power to impose the death penalty. The African Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance, adopted in 2003, prohibit military trial of civilians under all circumstances.

The Case Against the 28 Men

According to the indictment in Case 174 of 2015, the investigation began when guards found a concealed camera pen and flash memory in the possession of Ahmed Magdi Nagi, a conscript assigned to the Defense Ministry general secretariat, during an inspection on May 24, 2015.

Major Soltan, the military intelligence officer, interrogated Nagi and said that Nagi told him a man named Khaled Ahmed al-Sagheer had recruited Nagi into a terrorist cell tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Sagheer met Nagi through Nagi’s neighbor, Mohamed Hamdi, on May 19, and the two met again four days later, when al-Sagheer gave Nagi the camera pen and instructions for conducting surveillance on military officers and facilities.

Soltan testified that after arresting Nagi, he made Nagi contact al-Sagheer and arrange a meeting near the Qobba Bridge Hospital in Cairo’s Nasr City district, where he promised to give al-Sagheer the camera pen containing photos of his surveillance. After obtaining permission from prosecutors, Soltan testified, he arrested al-Sagheer following the meeting and found him in possession of the pen and a second camera concealed in a watch.

Afterward, Soltan said, al-Sagheer confessed to leading a group within the cell responsible for surveillance, and identified a man named Ahmed Amin Ghazali as the cell’s leader. Soltan instructed al-Sagheer to arrange a similar meeting with Ghazali in the nearby Qobba Gardens neighborhood and arrested Ghazali as well.

Through these arrests, Soltan testified, he was able identify 25 other people who had either been members of the cell’s three groups – for surveillance, weapons manufacturing, and carrying out operations – or who had assisted the cell. Soltan testified that the cell had plotted to target General al-Shennawy, the Central Security Forces commander; army Gen. Mohamed al-Assar, the minister of military production; and Cairo University President Gaber Nassar.

According to military intelligence Group 77 inspection reports marked “secret” but included in the court files, intelligence officers seized two concealed camera pens, two flash memory drives, and a concealed camera watch. One camera pen contained “unimportant” photos and videos, while the other had three photos meant to “study and observe the objectives” and four videos “filmed in the streets possibly to observe the road to the target.”

An inspection report prepared by crime scene investigators with the Interior Ministry’s Public Security Agency, also included in the files, documented the seizure of numerous weapons from the home of one of the defendants, Abd al-Basir Abd al-Raouf, including one FAL and one Kalashnikov assault rifle, two types of shotguns, and three pistols. The report also stated that the authorities had seized a Kalashnikov assault rifle from Ghazali’s home.

A military engineers’ report included in the court files documented the controlled destruction of what the authorities alleged were homemade explosive devices and other equipment seized from some of the defendants. Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that military prosecutors did not present any of the seized weapons at trial, but that they also had not asked them to do so.

Soltan testified that two men living outside Egypt, Ahmed Abd al-Basit, a former Cairo University doctoral student, and Abdullah Nour al-Din, had founded and funded the cell. He also said that the group was involved in vandalizing police cars and electricity and telecommunications towers but gave no details about these operations or where, when, and how they were carried out. In May 2016, the military court sentenced Abd al-Basit, Nour al-Din, and Ghazali to death and sentenced Nagi and al-Sagheer to life in prison.

Military courts should never be used against civilians, and they should certainly not be allowed to condemn civilians to death.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch

The relatives who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that only two of the defendants, Souhaib Sa’ad and Omar Ali, had known each other before the case. Military prosecutors did not charge Hamdi, the neighbor who allegedly introduced al-Sagheer to Nagi, and the presiding judge rejected the defense team’s request to call Hamdi as a witness.

All five families said they had received no response to their telegrams to the prosecutor general inquiring about their relatives’ whereabouts. Human Rights Watch examined several of the telegrams. In court, defense lawyers requested that the prosecution present official documents stating where the defendants had been held after they disappeared, but prosecutors refused. The presiding judge “was just like a silent watcher,” said one relative, who was allowed to attend three court sessions because he is a lawyer. Military judges also did not respond to requests from defense lawyers to investigate the defendants’ allegations of enforced disappearance and torture, nor did the judges allow the defendants to be examined by the Justice Ministry’s Forensic Medical Authority, the lawyer said.

The families said they never received warrants from the police authorizing their relatives’ arrests, either during the arrest or afterward.

Abd al-Basit, one of the cell’s two alleged founders, is mentioned only once in the indictment, in a section that summarizes the confession of Ghazali, the cell’s purported leader, and states that Ghazali admitted to receiving an unidentified amount of money from Abd al-Basit. The prosecution’s file contains no evidence of this money transfer. Defense lawyers stated in court that all the defendants renounced their confessions and said they had been obtained under torture. Abd al-Basit, who was expelled from Cairo University in 2015 for organizing peaceful protests against the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsy and human rights abuses by the security forces, and who lives abroad, told Human Rights Watch that he believed Ghazali had mentioned his name under torture because they knew each other from the university.


Ghazali, 27, disappeared on the night of May 28, 2015, his brother Ammar said. He said that a woman saw a group of men pull Ghazali into a car near the Maadi metro station in Cairo. When Ghazali resisted, his mobile phone fell under a car parked in the street. The woman picked up the phone after they left, called the last number dialed and reached Ghazali’s family. She told them what she saw and that she was going to get rid of the phone because she did not want to get in trouble, Ghazali’s brother said.

The next day, security forces in uniform and others wearing civilian clothes came to their home with Ghazali, who was blindfolded and handcuffed behind his back, said his brother, whose family was there at the time. The uniformed men broke into the apartment and searched it, saying they said they were looking for guns, but found nothing. They left and did not tell the family where they were taking Ghazali.

His brother said that the family visited every police station in the Maadi neighborhood, as well as other Interior Ministry facilities in Cairo, but none admitted to having any information about Ghazali. The family sent a telegram to the prosecutor general on May 30, but received no response. After seeing the Defense Ministry video on July 10, Ammar Ghazali visited military prosecutors, who told him to look for his brother in Cairo’s Tora Prison compound. When Ammar went there, he discovered that the authorities were holding Ghazali in the “Scorpion” Maximum Security Prison inside the Tora compound.

Security forces arrested Mohamed Fawzy Abd al-Gawwad, 24, an electrical engineer who had recently graduated from Cairo University, on May 29, 2015, at his apartment in the Helwan neighborhood of Cairo, his father said. Several neighbors witnessed the arrest and called Abd al-Gawwad’s father, who was traveling with his wife to visit family in another city.

The father said that when they returned hours later, they found that security forces had broken into their building, destroying the metal door downstairs and their apartment door. They had confiscated their son’s laptop, mobile phone, and tablet, which the family received later during the trial. The father began inquiring about Abd al-Gawwad in local police stations, where officers denied knowing anything about him. The next day, the family sent a telegram inquiring about his whereabouts, a copy of which Human Rights Watch reviewed, to the prosecutor general, who did not respond.

On June 17, the father received a phone call from an unknown person who said that he had seen Abd al-Gawwad in Istikbal Prison inside Tora. When the father went to Tora, officers told him he could visit his son in 15 days.

Mahmoud al-Sherif Mahmoud, 30, a mechanical engineer, disappeared on June 1, 2015, his father said. Though the father did not witness the arrest, Mahmoud told his father later that a group of men had taken him from the street close to Cairo’s Helwan metro station. His father said that security forces – including police, Central Security Forces, and a man whom he believed was an intelligence officer in civilian clothes – came to search their home the day after Mahmoud’s disappearance, without a warrant. The intelligence officer told his group to search the house without destroying any property.

“He was more polite than others,” the father said.

The next day, the family sent a telegram inquiring about Mahmoud’s whereabouts, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, to the prosecutor general but did not receive a response.

Like Abd al-Gawwad’s family, Mahmoud’s family received a call on June 17 from an unknown person who said he had seen Mahmoud in the Tora prisons compound.

On June 2, 2015, the day after Mahmoud’s disappearance, police arrested Abd al-Basir Abd al-Raouf, 20, then a first-year student at the Maritime Academy, on the street near a department store in Helwan, his mother said. She said that he was studying for final exams at the time and had been going to a friend’s house so they could study together. When his mother tried to call him several times the next day, his phone was off. Later that day, he called back and said he had finished the exam but would stay with his friend for a few days. There was no need to worry, he told her.

On June 7, after Abd al-Raouf did not call or return home, his mother sent a telegram to the prosecutor general saying that her son had disappeared, but she received no response. On June 15, a woman called the family and said that she had seen Abd al-Raouf while visiting her husband in Istikbal Prison inside Tora and that he wanted them to bring him clean white clothes instead of the prison’s standard white uniform. Later, Abd al-Raouf told his mother that when he had called her on June 3 and claimed to be with his friend, he was actually in the custody of security officers, who allowed him to make only that call.

Abd al-Raouf told his mother that two men in civilian clothes had carried him into a civilian car and taken him to Helwan Police Station where they held him for a night before moving him to a place he could not identify. His mother said that a few days after her son’s arrest, someone came and searched their home while the family was gone. When her other son went home to retrieve some belongings, he found that the door was broken and the apartment appeared to have been searched.

Notes made by the military prosecutor in the file reviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that prosecutors had ordered Abd al-Raouf arrested and detained pending investigation on June 3, but his father obtained a document from the Interior Ministry’s Prison Administration Authority, which Human Rights Watch also reviewed, stating that Abd al-Raouf had not been in any of its prisons before June 13, the day when he and other defendants said they saw military prosecutors for the first time. The authorities were unable to account for the 10 days in between, the period of Abd al-Raouf’s forced disappearance.

Ahmed Mustafa Ahmed, 42, the owner of a small workshop who lived in Cairo’s Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood with his wife and four children, disappeared around the end of May 2015, his brother, Walid, told Human Rights Watch. Walid Mustafa said that the family did not know his brother’s whereabouts for several weeks, and that he sent telegrams to the prosecutor general and the Interior Ministry inquiring about his brother but did not receive a response.

Later, Ahmed Mustafa told his brother that security forces had taken him from his home, put him in his car, and made him drive to work. The building guard told Walid that the security forces had beaten his brother severely during the arrest. Police searched his workshop and destroyed many items, Walid Ahmed said. He said that the police had confiscated a large amount of money that Mustafa Ahmed had saved for his business and did not take anything else from the home or the workplace, except Mustafa Ahmed’s car, which they did not return to the family.

Several weeks later, Walid Ahmed said, he was “surprised one day when an unknown man called me and said that my brother was in Tora Prison and that the first visit would be in 11 days.”

In June 2015, Human Rights Watch documented the enforced disappearance of Ali and Sa’ad, whom security forces arrested on June 1, 2015, along with a third friend, Esraa al-Taweel, outside a restaurant in the Maadi neighborhood. Interior Ministry officials repeatedly denied arresting them, but more than two weeks later, relatives found Sa’ad and Ali in Tora Prison and al-Taweel in al-Qanater Women’s Prison. Prosecutors held al-Taweel in pretrial detention on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, but after widespread public pressure, a court ordered her release six months later on medical grounds. Al-Taweel was not charged in case 174, but military prosecutors alleged that Sa’ad and Ali belonged to the cell’s surveillance group.

Most of the relatives who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that security forces kept the men blindfolded and stripped to their underwear during their entire time in custody, leaving them unable to identify their detention site. But relatives of Abd al-Raouf and Mahmoud said the men claimed they had been held in the Nasr City military intelligence headquarters. Human Rights Watch has independently confirmed that military intelligence Group 77, to which Major Soltan belonged, is located there.


The five families who spoke with Human Rights Watch alleged that security forces tortured their relatives while they were forcibly disappeared to make them sign dictated confessions and read them out loud while being videotaped. The Interior Ministry does not allow human rights groups to interview prisoners, and the military judges presiding over the case denied the defense team’s request for the defendants to receive medical examinations, so Human Rights Watch was unable to independently confirm these accounts.

Abd al-Raouf’s mother said that when she first saw her son, it was a “big shock,” and that he appeared exhausted.

“I was crying and holding him and saying, ‘What happened to you, what did they do to you, my son,’” she said. Abd al-Raouf pointed at Ali, she said, whose mother was visiting him, and indicated that Ali’s wrist was almost broken. Abd al-Raouf told his mother “not to worry.” During another visit, he told her that his interrogators beat him severely while he was blindfolded for 12 days and once kept him hanging from his wrists for three days.

Abd al-Raouf’s father said that his son told him his interrogators shocked him with electricity and tortured him psychologically by driving him into the desert on one occasion and threatening to kill him. Abd al-Raouf’s mother said he told her that his only desire during his detention was for the torture to stop. He told her that his interrogators eventually took him, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a man he was told was a military prosecutor.

The man asked Abd al-Raouf questions but wrote down fabricated answers without waiting for Abd al-Raouf to respond. He then asked Abd al-Raouf to sign a document. Abd al-Raouf’s mother said he told her that at one point, when he denied the prosecutor’s accusations that he had possessed weapons, someone hit him in the back with a gun and told him that nobody knew where he was and that they could make him “another Islam Atito.” The man was referring to a student who disappeared from Ain Shams University in May 2015 and was later said by the Interior Ministry to have died in a shootout with security forces.

Abd al-Raouf’s mother said that when he arrived at Istikbal Prison, the prison doctor, inspecting him and other detainees, refused to admit them without hospital reports documenting their injuries, but that the prison warden pressured him not to insist on this.

Ghazali’s brother Ammar said that when the family saw him for the first time in prison, “he still didn’t understand what was happening to him.”

“He was tortured in many different ways: Hanging from hands and tying weights to his legs. When he was [let down] he got immense pain. [They hit him] with a piece of cloth soaked in a flammable liquid, and when he tried to sleep later he couldn’t, because his back was so inflamed,” his brother said.

The day before recording the confession video, the interrogators brought a paper to Ghazali and told him: “You will read what is written on it [in] order to get out of here, or you will stay with us,” Ammar Ghazali said.

Abd al-Gawwad was held completely naked, his father said. “Anything you can think of happened to him. When he fainted, they used to wake him up and torture him again,” he said. “He was beaten and humiliated verbally in all ways. When I saw him, he had dark skin on his hands and wounds from ties and hanging.”

The father said that his son was forced to read his confession from a piece of paper while the interrogators videotaped him. He said that they recorded the confession about 10 times, until they obtained a recording that made it seem as if Abd al-Gawwad were speaking naturally and not reading. He said Abd al-Gawwad told him that he was so badly tortured he could not raise his arms or legs to put clothes on and that the interrogators had to dress him in a shirt and pants to be filmed.

Walid Ahmed, the brother of Mustafa Ahmed, said his brother told him that interrogators hanged him from his wrists, gave him electric shocks on his genitals, deprived him of sleep, and held him naked while pouring water on him. When Walid saw his brother for the first time, he seemed to have lost weight and have torture marks on his hands.

“He wasn’t the brother I knew,” Walid Ahmed said of his appearance. He said that when his brother tried to carry his six-month-old daughter in one of the prison visits, his hands were shaking so severely that he nearly dropped her. He told his family that his interrogators beat him severely when he asked to remove his blindfold to identify a man his interrogators said was a prosecutor. The interrogators filmed his pre-written confession between 10 and 15 times because his eyes kept dropping down to read the confession paper, his brother said.

“I asked him how can you sign such confessions,” Walid Ahmed said.

His brother responded: “I was dying … I was going to die.”

He also told his brother that the interrogators threatened to bring his wife and other family members and rape them if he did not confess.

Mahmoud’s father said that Mahmoud told him that the worst torture was the threat to arrest his family. But Mahmoud also told his father the interrogators had dragged him on the floor, handcuffed his hands behind him and hanged him painfully from a door, beat him with hoses, and shocked him with electricity repeatedly. After Mahmoud’s arrest, intelligence forces arrested two of his younger brothers separately, without charges, the father said.

He said that the older of the two arrested brothers, Moataz, disappeared for more than four months after the military unit in which he served as an unenlisted civilian laborer called him back from leave. The family only discovered his whereabouts after they submitted a special request to the commander of the air force. The father said that authorities took Moataz to a military intelligence office for a month and half and that intelligence officers brought him to see Mahmoud while both were in custody.

“When he saw Mahmoud, he was shocked, he thought he was burned, his face looked like it was burned,” the father said. He said that officers tortured both brothers, including with beatings and cigarette burns. They then sent Moataz back to his unit, where he spent two and half months in custody and was later released after he was discharged without any compensation, his father said.

Several days after Mahmoud’s disappearance, security forces raided their home for the second time, at about 11 p.m., breaking the door and taking away Mahmoud’s youngest brother, who had secondary school exams at that time.

“They threatened [Mahmoud] that they wouldn’t allow his brother to take exams,” his father said. Around dawn the next day, they released the brother. The father said that a man from the local police station called him on the phone and told him to come take his son, saying, “We don’t need him anymore.” A few days later, they received a phone call from an unknown individual informing them that Mahmoud was being held in Tora Prison.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

June 7, 2017

The Honorable Charles Grassley, Chairman
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein:

The undersigned organizations write to express our concern regarding Steven Engel’s nomination to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), particularly Mr. Engel’s troubling and incomplete answers regarding his role in OLC’s July 2007 torture memo.[1] The executive branch’s recent decision to return agency copies of the Senate torture report to the Intelligence Committee—including the only remaining copy in the Justice Department’s possession—greatly exacerbates our concern.

We urge the Judiciary Committee not to vote on Mr. Engel’s nomination unless and until it receives and reviews additional information (described below) relating to his involvement with the 2007 OLC memo, as well as a firm commitment from Mr. Engel to review at least the portions of the full torture report relevant to OLC.

In response to questions from Senators during the confirmation process, Mr. Engel acknowledged having reviewed and provided comments on a 2007 memo which found that six of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques”—including sleep deprivation by means of shackling diapered detainees in a standing position for days at a time—complied with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. He declined to answer any substantive follow-up questions on the memo, on grounds that “my role…was not to agree or disagree with [the memo’s] conclusions, but to provide comment” and that Congress hadrecently passed further restrictions on coercive interrogations.

This evasion is not acceptable. Before voting on Mr. Engel’s nomination, the Judiciary Committee should request from the Department of Justice his comments and correspondence on the 2007 memo, as well as any other documents that he produced during his previous tenure at OLC relating to the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program.

The Geneva Conventions protect captured U.S. servicemembers as well as their adversaries, and Common Article 3 is one of the crucial legal standards governing the United States’ struggle with ISIS and Al Qaeda. If OLC again adopted the 2007 memo’s approach, it would cease to be a meaningful constraint—and other crucial legal protections might be similarly interpreted away.

The State Department Legal Advisor warned OLC in 2007 that its interpretation of Common Article 3 to allow depriving detainees of sleep for 96 hours or more, using a particularly painful and degrading method similar to the abuses documented in the Abu Ghraib photographs, would be seen as “a work of advocacy to achieve a desired outcome.”[2] The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concluded that the 2007 memo was “inconsistent with the plain meaning and commonly-held understandings of the language of Common Article 3.”[3]

OPR also criticized the memo’s “uncritical acceptance” of the CIA’s inaccurate factual claims about the black site program.[4] While the full extent of the CIA’s inaccuracies was not known at the time, the 2007 memo disregarded readily available evidence that directly contradicted them. The misrepresentations that the 2007 memo cited included:

  • A number of false claims about intelligence obtained and terrorist attacks prevented through the use of “enhanced interrogation”—including basic chronological errors that would have been uncovered with even minimal due diligence.
  • The assertion that the CIA forced detainees undergoing sleep deprivation to wear diapers “[b]ecause releasing a detainee from the shackles to use toilet facilities would present a significant security risk and would interfere with the effectiveness of the technique,” and that the purpose was “not to humiliate the detainee.” This was both facially implausible and contradicted by CIA documents that described the use of diapers “in order to humiliate.”
  • A series of false claims about steps the CIA took to protect detainees from severe pain and suffering during “enhanced interrogation” sessions, which were contradicted by detailed accounts that former CIA black site detainees had given to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The 2007 memo deliberately omitted any reference to the ICRC report.
  • A false claim that when the CIA briefed “the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain, none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.” In fact, Senator McCain had characterized the CIA’s practice of sleep deprivation as “torture” both publicly and privately, and at least four other Senators raised objections to the program.

When asked whether he accepted the OPR’s criticism of the Bradbury memos, Mr. Engel would only reply that “I am not familiar with the basis for the OPR report’s critiques.”

Mr. Engel also would not commit to obtaining access to and reviewing the classified version of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s study of the detention and interrogation program, the most complete account of the extent to which the legal authorization of the torture program relied on false factual claims. According to press reports, the Justice Department has returned one copy of the study to Congress and placed the other in a court vault, in violation of commitments Attorney General Sessions made during his confirmation hearing.[5]

OLC has a crucial role in ensuring that the President faithfully executes the laws. The best indication of how Mr. Engel would lead the office is his prior tenure there. The Senate should not vote on his nomination with crucial questions unanswered, and without a firm commitment by Mr. Engel to obtain and review the full Senate study on detention and interrogation.


American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Defending Rights and Dissent
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Open Society Policy Center

Cc: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In response to media reports that the Trump administration is planning to begin returning copies of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program back to Congress, Laura Pitter, US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, issued the following statement:

The Senate Intelligence Committee report contains groundbreaking information about the CIA torture program but also important lessons to ensure such horrors never happen again. The Trump administration and all US officials should be reading and learning from the report, not burying it, to ensure the US government doesn’t ever again use torture, which is both illegal and ineffective.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am