When it was announced that the government of Fiji would chair this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, expectations were high. As a small island, Fiji sees climate change as an existential threat.

Indigenous peoples demand their rights at climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 2016,

© 2016 Katharina Rall / Human Rights Watch

The talks wrapped up on Friday, and during the last two weeks, advocates for gender equality and indigenous peoples made their voices heard and won hard-fought battles to better respect their rights. Notably, governments agreed to create a platform to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations climate responses, and adopted a Gender Action Plan that aims to better integrate gender equality in climate change policies.

There was also increased attention given to environmental rights defenders and indigenous people who have been killed, attacked, and threatened for their activism. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that governments often fail to conduct serious and timely investigations.

Just when the talks were nearing their end, human rights were pushed to the fore when Fijian prime minister and president of the climate talks, Frank Bainimarama, convened a high-level event about the importance of rights in climate negotiations. Why was this such a big deal? Because never before has any government presiding over the talks hosted an official event on human rights.

Bainimarama has also long been among those who have been silent on human rights issues. But on Thursday, he announced that integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement was an important element of Fiji’s presidency, which will continue through the coming year. Costa Rica’s environment minister, Edgar Gutiérrez-Espelata, also proposed concrete ways to integrate rights into the current negotiations about the so-called Paris Rulebook. For example, governments could reference human rights obligations in climate change action plans and climate negotiators could agree to build capacity among states on promoting human rights in climate action.

Of course, such commitments are worth little unless governments are willing to turn rhetoric into reality. If they are serious about fighting climate change, governments should also do more to integrate the protection of human rights in climate policies, while defending the rights of people working to protect the environment.

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

Discarded pesticide containers in Brazil.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
Last month I visited a small rural community in northern Brazil to see how pesticides affect people in the countryside. Brazil, an agricultural powerhouse of industrial farming, is one of the world’s largest users of pesticides. Crops like soy, corn, cotton, and sugar cane are farmed using enormous quantities of pesticides: close to 400,000 tons a year. Of the 10 most widely used pesticides in Brazil, 4 are banned in Europe, indicating how hazardous several are considered by some standards.

Residents I met were gripped with fear about the harm the pesticides might be doing and about retaliation if they speak out. People asked me not to publish the community’s name –  they said the farmer who owned the surrounding plantation had threatened a community member for organizing a petition to reduce his pesticide spraying. The farmer’s plantation extends up to people’s houses, their small gardens, and a small football field. The farmer’s fields end only 5 meters from the well the community uses for drinking water.

The man responsible for maintaining the well told me he was worried that pesticides sprayed in the soy fields could be affecting the community water supply. He can’t say definitively if his concern is well-founded because the government hasn’t tested the water since the well was installed three years ago. “We are concerned about the pesticide spraying but we are also concerned about being threatened, so we need not talk about it too much,” he said with an awkward laugh. “That’s what we face here.” 

Today is World Water Day. Safe drinking water is a human right, including people’s right to know what’s in their drinking water. We know that pesticide residues can leach with rainwater into surface and groundwaters that are often the source of drinking water.

Some countries regularly test drinking water supplies for pesticides and make those results available to the public. In Brazil, in practice, that does not happen. We made a freedom of information request for national test results on pesticide residues in drinking water for 2014 to 2017. We found that despite legal requirements, drinking water supplies are rarely tested for pesticides.

By law, water suppliers -- whether government or private companies or municipal governments -- are responsible for testing for 27 designated pesticides every six months in the water systems they manage and reporting those results to the federal government. But each year, an average of 67 per cent of municipalities across the county do not submit any information to the Federal government – and this in one of the largest pesticide consumers in the world. The Federal government has no idea how tainted drinking water in Brazil might be or about the harm it could be doing to its people.

Even in municipalities that submit data, most test results are incomplete. Of the test results submitted in 2014, only 18 per cent were full tests for all 27 pesticides conducted twice a year as required by the law.

Put simply, Brazil’s drinking water surveillance system is shamefully inadequate in monitoring the threat of hazardous pesticides.

Even with this woefully incomplete system, Brazilian authorities manage to identify some municipalities where drinking water has pesticide residues above the legal limits. Indeed, 15 percent of the small number of municipalities that submitted test results during this four-year period reported at least one substance above the legal limit.

What sort of substances are found? The most common pesticides don’t have easily recognizable names -- aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane and endrin -- but they are all dangerous to human health. These broad-spectrum insecticides were banned in Brazil in the 1990s but are so persistent in the environment that they are turning up in drinking water decades later.

Those worried about what’s in their water have few options. Without a comprehensive testing system, the best information comes from academic studies. In 2016, researchers published Brazil’s first nationwide survey of emerging contaminants in drinking water. After caffeine -- a chemical marker indicating untreated sewage, because caffeine is excreted in urine -- the second most commonly found contaminant in drinking water was the herbicide atrazine, found in a whopping 75 per cent of samples from across the country.

Atrazine is legally permitted in Brazil. Residual levels in water were well below the legal threshold, but recent animal studies show that even at low doses over long periods, atrazine may be an endocrine disrupting chemical, interfering with reproductive, developmental, neural and immune functions.

Researchers detected atrazine above the permissible limit in drinking water in two rural municipalities in Mato Grosso state-- Lucas do Rio Verde and Campo Verde. And carbofuran, another chemical dangerous to human health was found above the permitted levels in samples from drinking water wells in Quitéria, a rural area near Rio Grande, a southern city.

What does all this add up to? Brazil uses large amounts of pesticides that compromise its citizens’ environment, and authorities are failing to ensure that drinking water supplies are not tainted by harmful levels of those pesticides. That’s a dangerous place to be. Brazil needs to enforce an effective monitoring system for its drinking water to ensure that water supplies are properly tested for pesticides and that results are made available to the public.

Richard Pearshouse is associate environment and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. João Guilherme Bieber is a consultant at Human Rights Watch.

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

Widows in Zimbabwe are routinely evicted from their homes and land, and their property is stolen by in-laws when their husbands die.

Deborah, a 58-year-old widow in Zimbabwe, said that after her husband died, her in-laws harassed and threatened her. They wanted her home and the land she had cultivated for four decades.

Deborah said her brother-in-law had “taken all of my fields and even tilled my yard [to plant crops] up to my doorstep. Now, he says that I cannot walk on ‘his’ fields. He says that I do not belong there. I reported this to the village headman, but he just tells us to live in peace.”

Land is a vital asset to individuals and communities around the world. But in many countries, laws and social norms put women and girls at a disadvantage when it comes to land inheritance, ownership, and control.

Men— male relatives, village heads, government officials, and others—hold most of the power over land. 

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is examining issues affecting rural women and girls, including land rights and inheritance.

One of the draft meeting documents tells governments and others to take action. It urges reforms “to protect and promote the right of rural women and girls to land and land tenure security and ensure their equal access to and control over productive resources and assets, other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources and financial services and technology.” Such reforms are clearly needed. 

Some countries’ laws directly condone discrimination against women and girls when it comes to land and property rights. In other cases, the problem isn’t the law, but rather practices and customs that favor men’s rights over women’s.

Women may have rights to use land, but in many contexts, these rights hinge on their relationship to a man: a husband, father, brother, or other male relative. If that man dies or becomes estranged, women may be forced off their land and out of their homes, with little or no recourse.

This was the case for the dozens of widows, including Deborah, whom Human Rights Watch interviewed for a report on Zimbabwe.

Widows said their in-laws threatened, physically intimidated, and insulted them. Some were forced out of their homes immediately after their husbands died.  In other cases, in-laws turned up years after their husbands’ deaths demanding land and other property. In-laws commandeered widows’ productive assets like fields, livestock, and gardens, taking away their livelihoods.

Many widows told us that they lost everything. 

Officials who should enforce laws meant to protect women’s property rights often fail to do their jobs. Several widows in Zimbabwe who fought back against property-grabbing told us that the courts sent all correspondence about hearings solely to male in-laws. In some cases, these men withheld the court notices to sabotage the proceedings.  

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

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, answers a question during the Concordia Summit in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Yesterday, while the world watched as US President Donald Trump fired his Secretary of State and reshuffled people in two top posts, 28 US senators made an important move that might not make headlines: They protested US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposals to weaken pesticide protections for children.

The lawmakers wrote to Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, after the EPA announced it was considering rolling back two Obama-era safeguards that prohibit children under 18 from handling pesticides on farms and in other workplaces. The Senators, led by Tom Udall (D-NM), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), added their voices to a coalition of farmworkers, advocates, labor unions, and nongovernmental organizations begging the EPA not to roll back crucially important protections for the health of children.

Children younger than 18, who are in a critical stage of growth and development, are especially susceptible to toxic pesticides. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said there’s a clear link between childhood exposure to pesticides and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

The United States government and tobacco companies are failing to protect teenage children from hazardous work in tobacco farming.

One of the safeguards under threat bans child workers from handling pesticides on farms and other agricultural workplaces, and from entering fields where pesticides have recently been sprayed. The other safeguard prohibits children from using high-risk pesticides – known as restricted use pesticides, or RUPs – in, on, or around schools, homes, farms, or workplaces like golf courses. The EPA could also eliminate a worker’s right to designate a representative to get information about chemicals they are exposed to at work and a requirement for people spraying pesticides to stop if they see an unprotected person enter their surroundings.

Both rules exempt a farmer’s or business owner’s or operator’s immediate family members. So farmers or pesticide applicators who want their own children to have the opportunity to handle pesticides have every right to do so.

Pruitt should listen to the 28 Senators and make pesticide safeguards for kids non-negotiable.

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

Laila Matar delivers a statement on behalf of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Earthjustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on March 05, 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

It has been a year since Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao, a rights activist in Colombia, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen. She was an outspoken community leader that worked with Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups on land reform in the western department of Chocó.

Ruth Alicia López Guisao.

© Congreso de los Pueblos

Her family had lived for years in fear of paramilitaries, mafia-like armed groups that portrayed themselves as “self-defense” forces fighting left-wing guerrillas, but who were among the country’s biggest drug traffickers. This terror continued after her death as, according to press reports, her mother and sister received death threats warning not to attend her funeral.

Many people have not heard of Guisao, as her death was not widely reported in international news. Guisao was just one of 16 female activists killed in Colombia last year, according to Somos Defensores, one of Colombia’s leading groups reporting abuses against activists.  

On International Women's Day, Colombian authorities should spotlight female activists like Guisao, who are being threatened and killed, and honor their contributions to human rights.  

Despite Colombia’s programs to protect activists, the number of murdered human rights activists has increased after the signing of the 2016 peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Dozens of local activists have been killed by armed groups, including paramilitary successors and guerrillas. Many of these cases seem to indicate that other armed groups are rushing to gain control of areas previously held by FARC.

According to Somos Defensores, out of the 560 defenders attacked in Colombia in 2017, more than 25 percent were women. Somos Defensores reported four cases of “extreme violence” against women—including torture, brutality, and sexual violence.Women human rights defenders face the same risks as their male counterparts, but are  particularly vulnerable to gender-based threats and violence. In armed conflicts, threats of rape and threats against their families create an acute sense of terror for women activists.

In the face of increasing violence against activists, Colombia’s government should redouble its efforts to protect them—including in areas formerly controlled by the FARC—and prioritize investigations into their deaths. Women activists play a vital role. By protecting them, the government can do more to create lasting peace in the country.

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

Laila Matar delivers a statement on behalf of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Earthjustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on March 05, 2018.

We are pleased to deliver this statement on behalf of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Earthjustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

We wish to congratulate Professor John Knox for the prolific work carried out during his mandate, including his new report on child rights and the environment.  The rigor of his legal analysis has clarified many of the linkages between human rights and the environment.

Building on Professor Knox’s reports, the Council has adopted resolutions by consensus that reflect incremental steps in the field.  We are concerned, however, that the Council’s steps thus far are inadequate to fully address what is needed for the protection of human rights.

There is an urgent need to bridge the wide gap between international bodies, including the Council, and the reality of our planet and its people.  We therefore welcome the Special Rapporteur’s framework principles as a baseline synthesis of human rights obligations that can begin to bridge this gap. 

We are encouraged by Professor Knox’s recommendations regarding the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.  Global recognition of this right is overdue.  At a time when environmental human rights defenders are killed every week, when millions of people are denied clean air and clean water, when deforestation, climate change and biodiversity loss are unabated, the Council has the responsibility to act with determination to protect fundamental rights.  And the time to act is now.

The human right to a healthy and sustainable environment protects the core elements of the natural environment that enable a life of dignity. Clean water, air, and soils, and diverse ecosystems are indispensable for people to lead healthy lives. More generally, the right also protects the civic space needed for individuals to engage in dialogue on environmental policy.

Recognizing and implementing the right to a healthy and sustainable environment will empower individuals and communities to defend their environment by invoking the right in their struggle for accountability.

For these reasons, Mr. President, we believe the Council should act on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation and move toward recognition of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

To conclude, we wish to ask Professor Knox:  in today’s context, what concrete steps could the Council take to make progress toward recognition of this right?

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Susan Kath, Co-Chair

Daniel Magraw, Co-Chair

Marcel Brenninkmeijer

Ellen Dorsey

Stephanie Farrior

Vicki Riskin

John Steed

Catherine Zennström

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Illegal logging seized by IBAMA, Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. Amazon, Brazil.

© 2016 Jose Caldas/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images
Isidro Baldenegro López, a 50-year-old subsistence farmer and leader of the Tarahumara indigenous people in Mexico’s northern Sierra Madre mountain region, had dedicated his life to defending the Sierra Tarahumara forest and the land that his people had inhabited for centuries—land that illegal loggers, supported by corrupt officials and landowners, had long targeted. Over the years, this pressure had forced the Tarahumara into progressively smaller, more isolated areas. In January 2017, unidentified assailants shot him dead.

Several months earlier, in March 2016, armed intruders battered down the door of the house where Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, 44, was staying and killed her. By then, Cáceres, co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, had spent years receiving death threats for activities that included waging a successful grass-roots campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam project, a vast complex slated to be built by the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro on land inhabited by the Lenca people.

These are not isolated cases. People the world over are mobilizing to protect the environment against deepening ecological crisis, from rampant toxic pollution and climate change to deforestation, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and freshwater shortages. As the world’s natural resources face ever-greater strain and exploitation, those who defend them against harmful mining, dams, logging, and agribusiness are suffering direct violations of their civil and political rights.

An increasing number are dying for their efforts. According to Global Witness, 2016 was the deadliest year on record, with at least 200 killings of environmental and land-rights activists documented in 24 countries, mostly in South America. Nearly 40 percent of those murdered were indigenous. Activists believe that companies or state forces are behind many of the assailants; few are ever arrested or even identified.

Baldenegro, Cáceres, and many others around the world have fought publicly and forcefully to protect their environments amid a deepening ecological crisis. Their deaths have thrown into sharp relief the need for accountability and redress for those who suffer most as a result of environmental harm: women, the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and the young. They also have underlined the need to establish global recognition for the right to a healthy environment. Doing so could empower individuals and communities to defend their environments, providing a framework for holding offenders accountable and finding new legal arguments and recourse.

The human right to a healthy environment brings together the environmental dimensions of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights, and protects the core elements of the natural environment that enable a life of dignity. Diverse ecosystems and clean water, air, and soils are indispensable for human health and security. The right also protects the civic space for individuals to engage in dialogue on environmental policy. Without it, government policies often cater to the commercial interests of the powerful, not the public, and certainly not the politically disenfranchised.

Legal recognition has been expanding for decades at the national and regional levels. Since the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, more than 100 countries have incorporated the right to a healthy environment into their national constitutions, in varying formulations.

Certain regional human rights instruments also articulate the right to a healthy environment. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, for example, recognizes the right of peoples to “a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.” The Ogoni people in Nigeria’s Niger Delta have rallied around this right in their national and international advocacy against the harmful impact of oil exploitation on their lands and the abuses by the Nigerian military. The Ogoni’s efforts brought international attention to their cause—and their achievement suggests that a global movement to end impunity for the killings of local activists, such as Baldenegro López and Cáceres, could find success.

A globally recognized right to a healthy environment should, of course, not be necessary to effectively protect individual environmental activists. Assaults against them violate a range of universally recognized human rights, including freedom of association and expression.

But introducing this right could also anchor the work of environmental defenders—too often stigmatized as anti-development—squarely in the human rights framework. The legitimacy it confers could protect those persecuted for their activism. Baldenegro López, for example, had known he was a marked man and had finally been forced to move his family away from his community. He was killed when he returned to visit a relative.

Windows of opportunity are opening for achieving recognition. As his term ends in 2018, John Knox, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, is preparing a synthesis of human rights obligations with respect to a healthy and sustainable environment. This work sets the stage for a fresh debate on the formal proclamation of the right to a healthy environment by the U.N. Human Rights Council or the General Assembly.

Another window of opportunity is the Global Pact for the Environment, launched at the General Assembly by the French government. With the support of like-minded states cutting through East-West and North-South divides, President Emmanuel Macron encouraged the world to build on the success of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and, with the Global Pact, hold states accountable for flouting the environmental rights of a group or individual. Much as the two international human rights covenants from 1966 codified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Global Pact is an attempt to codify the environmental rights and principles laid out in the seminal 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

The continued ecological viability of our planet has been called into question by scientists worldwide. Civil society organizations have consistently voiced the need to preserve the earth’s capability to sustain life, restore degraded ecosystems, and foster a balanced interaction between humans and nature. A fresh debate on the right to a healthy environment would increase awareness of how humans are not isolated from, but depend on, the natural world.

Cáceres knew the importance of protecting both the environment and those who fight for it. Four of her colleagues opposing the dam project had been killed before she was, and no one had been prosecuted for those crimes.

Accepting an environmental prize for her work in 2015, she described what she and her fellow activists endured daily: “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me. They threaten my family. This is what we face.”

The right to a healthy environment brings together all that humanity has learned about how human rights and the environment interact. It encompasses the environmental dimensions of the rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, property, private life, culture, and non-discrimination, among others. It will give those exposed to mercury in artisanal gold mines in the Philippines, those poisoned by soot in Piquiá de Baixo in northeastern Brazil, those contaminated by lead in Kosovo, and activists attacked for protecting their environment and lands the tools and political leverage they need to defend their rights.

As our generation faces serious environmental and social crisis, the potential of the right to a healthy environment for progressive development and accountability cannot be understated. Its global recognition is long overdue.


Marcos A. Orellana is director of the Environment and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

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

San Andres island.

© 2015 Marcos Orellana

“A clean environment is a fundamental right for the existence of humanity,” proclaimed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights last week, the first time the court explicitly outlined some of the key components of the right to a healthy environment.

The court affirmed that the American Convention on Human Rights, a regional treaty obliging states parties to respect rights, protects the right to a healthy environment.

Colombia had requested this opinion from the court in 2016, expressing concerns about the threat posed by large-scale infrastructure projects in the Caribbean to the human rights of the islanders of the archipelago of San Andrés, located opposite Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea. In 2013, Nicaragua announced plans for a “grand canal” connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, though construction has not yet started. Serious questions have been raised about the potential environmental impact of the project.

Colombia and Nicaragua had sparred over dominion over the San Andrés archipelago. In 2012 the International Court of Justice settled their territorial and maritime dispute, granting Colombia title over the archipelago and leaving Nicaragua with a larger share of the continental shelf. That raised concerns in Colombia about the potential impact of oil and gas extraction by Nicaragua on the archipelago of San Andrés.

One key question the court grappled with was this: Since environmental harm often crosses state boundaries, does the American Convention protect persons affected by environmental harm coming from another country? The answer is yes: The court explicitly said that states’ obligations under the convention extend to harms caused to people outside of their borders.

This could be good news to Islanders of San Andrés, who now know that they could approach the court to hold Nicaragua accountable for any violation of their right to a healthy environment.  

The court’s ruling is a big step forward for the right to a healthy environment and will help empower people and communities to defend it.

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

Environmental activists chain themselves to a logging machine during an action in the defence of one of the last primeval forests in Europe, Bialowieza forest, Poland May 24, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

In mid-January, the Polish parliament passed a government-sponsored bill which, will hamper the rights of environmental activists to protest at UN climate talks in December and subject them to government surveillance. President Andrzej Duda signed the law on January 29.

The summit, known as the COP24, taking place in the southern city of Katowice, brings together states parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and thousands of experts, journalists, businesses, and nongovernmental groups.

Environmental activists and indigenous peoples who work to protect the environment are likely to be less welcome. The new law explicitly forbids spontaneous demonstrations in Katowice during the talks, which will make it difficult for groups to respond to developments at the climate negotiations.

The law also allows the police to obtain, collect, and analyze personal data about registered conference participants or people associated with its organization, without judicial oversight or their knowledge and consent. Activists fear that the measures could be used to spy on them.

It won’t be the first time the Polish authorities have restricted the right to protest and the rights of nongovernmental groups. As a recent Human Rights Watch report showed, the government has previously changed the law to support demonstrations it approves of and ban related counter-protests. The government has also given the state security agency extraordinary surveillance powers without effective judicial review.

The new law not only threatens civic space in Poland, but could also limit the success of the climate summit. Activists play an important role in the global climate debate by providing relevant information to policymakers and the media. And nongovernmental groups and indigenous peoples can only carry out their important work where they can effectively exercise their right to freedom of assembly.

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

Residents walk past a leaking communal tap in Khayelitsha township, near Cape Town, South Africa, December 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
Cape Town, South Africa has been plunged into a water crisis, and in about two months – a date known as Day Zero – the city will run out of water, and supplies to most suburbs will be cut off. Rationing will begin at 200 places across the city with each person limited to 25 liters of water a day.

A public debate is raging, but it’s focused on where blame lies. There is little talk on how to protect South Africans’ rights to water, sanitation, and health, guaranteed by the constitution and human rights law.

Causes of the crisis are numerous and predictable, including a population increase of the greater Cape Town area to about 4.3 million from about 2.4 million in 1995, outstripping water storage capacity of the six dams that supply the city. Heavy water consumption during the three-year drought, exacerbated by climate change; poor water management by the municipality; and poor coordination of responses between the municipality, the provincial, and the national government, are other contributing factors.

The government’s response must keep respect for and fulfillment of fundamental rights at the core of a sustainable resolution, and ensure that allocation of water is prioritized according to vital needs.

To their credit, the South African Human Rights Commission is monitoring the situation, but more needs to be done. All levels of government need to work together to develop a transparent and participatory approach to allocation of water resources, identifying specific rights and needs related to water and sanitation, such as drinking and cooking and access to sanitation and personal hygiene, especially for women and girls many of whom living in Cape Town’s informal settlements already struggle for access. Authorities should assess whom the crisis will hit hardest and ensure marginalized communities are not left out either in the development of a rationing scheme or a long-term solution.

In meeting its obligation to protect human rights, South Africa’s national government should assist Cape Town’s municipality to develop strategies for lasting solutions to the crisis. This should involve city residents, paying particular attention to groups at increased risk from poor water and sanitation conditions, such as women, people with disabilities, older people, and those living in poverty.

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

Nguyen Van Oai

© Private

(New York) – Vietnam should drop charges of violating probation against the veteran human rights activist Nguyen Van Oai and allow him to go home, Human Rights Watch said today. The People’s Court of Nghe An province will hear his appeal on January 15, 2018.

Nguyen Van Oai was sentenced in September 2017 to five years in prison for violating the terms of his probation, under article 304 of the penal code, and resisting a person on public duty, under article 257 of the penal code. His probation, which required him to report to a People’s Committee regularly and restricted his movements, was based on an improper prosecution and conviction for his association with a disfavored political organization, in violation of his rights to freedom of association and expression.

Nguyen Van Oai, who maintains that his underlying conviction was unlawful, refused on release from prison to report on his activities and thoughts to a People’s Committee and participated in protests during this time. When plain-clothes officers, who did not produce credentials, approached his house to discuss his alleged probation violation, Nguyen Van Oai chased them away with a gardening stake.

“The government’s pursuit of Nguyen Van Oai is vindictive and unwarranted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “He never should have been sentenced in the first place, and the terms of his probation amount to a direct effort to control his thoughts and freedom to criticize and protest. This is the latest extension of the government’s unrestrained crackdown against dissidents.”

International donors and trade partners should pressure Vietnam to end its long abusive rights record.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Nguyen Van Oai, 36, has long participated in anti-China protests and protests against the imprisonment of other activists. He was also involved in mobilizing support for the prominent lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu at the time of his 2011 trial. Nguyen Van Oai also participated in labor rights activities in Binh Duong province.

Police arrested him in August 2011 at Tan Son Nhat airport after a trip abroad for affiliation with the outlawed political party Viet Tan. The police charged him with “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the penal code. In January 2013, the People’s Court of Nghe An put him and 13 other Catholic and Protestant activists on trial, sentencing Nguyen Van Oai to four years in prison.

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In Vietnam, more than 100 political prisoners are currently locked up simply for exercising their basic rights. Rights bloggers and activists face police harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and interrogation on a daily basis. Activists face long stints of pre-trial detention, without access to lawyers or family in a one-party police state that brooks no dissent.

In August 2015, Nguyen Van Oai completed his prison sentence. Upon release, he told BBC Vietnamese that he planned to “work with organizations that care about human rights in Vietnam so that the country will soon have a real democracy.” He participated in multiple protests against the Taiwanese steel company Formosa, which had caused a massive marine disaster by dumping toxic waste along the central coast of Vietnam in April 2016.

More than 100 activists are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Vietnam should unconditionally release them and repeal all laws that criminalize peaceful expression.

“Nguyen Van Oai and many other brave Vietnamese risk their personal safety and freedom to advocate for democracy and human rights,” Adams said. “International donors and trade partners should pressure Vietnam to end its long abusive rights record.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesian prosecutors are seeking a seven-year prison sentence for an environmental activist for allegedly raising pro-communist banners while peacefully protesting pollution linked to a local gold mine.

An illegal miner leaves a cave after mining for gold in the mountain of Tumpang Pitu in Banyuwangi, East Java on November 21, 2009. © 2009 Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters

Prosecutors in Banyuwangi, East Java, argued in court on Monday that Heri Budiawan, a leader of the grassroots environmental organization Banyuwangi People’s Forum, displayed eight banners bearing the communist hammer-and-sickle symbol during an April 4, 2017 protest against the Tampung Pitu gold mine. Under Indonesia’s draconian anti-communism laws, anyone convicted of publicly supporting communism can be imprisoned for up to 12 years.

Budiawan’s prosecution is just the latest effort by local authorities to effectively criminalize protests against the mine. In 2016, after facing nearly a decade of protests, the Indonesian government declared the mine to be a “strategic national project,” making it harder to oppose.

At the trial the prosecutors failed to present evidence of any protest banners that bore the hammer-and-sickle symbol. Budiawan denies the allegations

Beyond this one case is the lingering peril posed by dangerously ambiguous laws, Dutch colonial legacies appropriated during the three-decade Suharto dictatorship, which give prosecutors wide latitude to prosecute public expressions of support for communism and display of communist symbols.

Budiawan’s prosecution for alleged communist sympathies coincides with a recent surge in efforts by elements of the Indonesian security forces to stoke “anti-communist” paranoia. This is a response to calls for accountability for the 1965-66 massacres, in which between 500,000 to one million people were killed by the military, paramilitary groups, and Muslim militias. Those targeted were suspected members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists.

This past September, paramilitaries and Islamist groups led a violent “anti-communist” demonstration in Jakarta. Days later, the Indonesian military launched a propaganda offensive aimed at reinforcing the official narrative that the killings were a justified response to an attempted communist coup.

Budiawan’s prosecution is an ominous signal that environmental activists are now vulnerable to prosecution as “communists” if they dare challenge corporations implicated in pollution. As long as laws that facilitate such prosecutions stay on the books, the rights of peaceful protesters – including those seeking to defend the right to a healthy environment – will remain in doubt.


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

Lives At Risk: Open Burning of Waste in Lebanon

People living near open burning said they were unable to spend time outside, had difficulty sleeping because of air pollution, or had to vacate their homes when burning was taking place. 

Where Garbage is being Burned

Dumps where garbage is being burned in Lebanon or located disproportionately in poorer areas of the country.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am