(Seoul) – China should immediately release five North Korean refugees held in Chinese detention and agree not to return them to North Korea, where they would face grave danger, Human Rights Watch said today. China should protect the five refugees and let them travel to safety in a third country, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated after fleeing their country face a real risk of torture, sexual violence and abuse, incarceration in forced labor camps, and public executions, making them refugees in need of urgent protection under international law. 

“China should not force these five refugees back to North Korea, where the government is known to severely violate the rights of those sent back using methods such as torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and long-term incarceration in North Korea’s brutal prison camp system,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Beijing should fulfill its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by releasing these five refugees and permitting them to go to a third country where they can be safely protected.” 

Late last week, Chinese government officials detained the group traveling to the city of Shenyang, Liaoning province, in northeastern China. Three of the five refugees are relatives of “Lim,” a North Korean now living in South Korea and using a pseudonym. On June 16, Lim received a call from her brother, who was using a smuggled Chinese phone in North Korea. He told Lim that he had crossed the Yalu river, on the border between North Korea and China, with their mother and a cousin. He had been carrying their mother, who was too weak to walk, and needed help because the group had gotten lost on the mountain. Lim’s relatives had no food and her brother eventually lost consciousness from exhaustion and hunger. 

Lim was eventually able to contact someone who could help guide the group and provide them with food and basic assistance. Lim told Human Rights Watch that she spoke to her family a few days later, when the person trying to help them reached the group before departing by car. She has not been able to contact them since then. 

On June 21, Lim learned from her local contacts that the group, including her three relatives, was detained by the Chinese military near Yanji city, Jilin Province. On June 22, she heard that authorities were about to move her family to Helong, 70 kilometers southwest of Yanji. 

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal "economic migrants" and forcibly repatriates them to North Korea based on a 1986 bilateral border protocol. However, regardless of why North Koreans decide to flee the country, they are virtually guaranteed to face extremely abusive treatment if forced to return. For this reason, international law considers them all to be refugees sur place, or refugees because of circumstances after their departure.

China, as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1984 Convention against Torture, is specifically obligated not to return refugees when that may put them at risk of persecution or torture. The same obligations bind China as a matter of customary international law. Forcing North Koreans back to North Korea amounts to refoulement, or the sending of persons back to territory where they face serious human rights violations. Such a practice forbidden by international treaties to which China is a party.

According to interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch with North Koreans who have previously been apprehended in China and returned to North Korea, the North Korean government harshly punishes all those who leave the country without permission.

In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013, or who maintain contacts inside the country, have told Human Rights Watch that people repatriated by China face severe penalties. Those caught while trying to go to South Korea can face 7 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso – re-education correctional facilities), incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), or even execution. 

North Koreans may be sentenced to more than two years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps for living illegally in China. A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu) who worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials torture every returnee to find out where they went in China, who they contacted, and what they had done.

Lim remains especially concerned about her family’s treatment because police detained and forcibly disappeared her father in 2010. When detainees vanish without information on whereabouts, trial dates or result, the community assumes the person has been sent to political prison camps (kwanliso). Lim fears that because of their father’s status, her family will be lost in the kwanliso system. 

Political prison camps in North Korea are characterized by systematic abuses and often deadly conditions, including meager rations that lead to near starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions. Death rates in these camps are reported by former North Korean prisoners and guards to be extremely high. Detainees in ordinary prison camps also face forced labor, food and medicine shortages, and regular mistreatment by guards.

The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that those fleeing the country are targeted as part of a “systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK… to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.” It also found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China. 

Human Rights Watch calls on China to stop repatriating North Koreans, and to allow the UN refugee agency to exercise its mandate and protect people. China should provide asylum to North Korean refugees, let them seek resettlement in a third country, or allow them to pass through Chinese territory without fear of arrest or forced returns.

In December 2016, the UN Security Council again discussed for a third year in a row the human rights situation in North Korea as a threat to international peace and security. In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute pervasive human rights crimes by the North Korean government.

“There is no way to sugarcoat this: if these people are forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” said Robertson. “The world is watching to see whether Beijing fulfills its duty to protect these five refugees or again becomes complicit with North Korea’s abuses.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 25, 2017, 1:36 am

Imprisoned Uzbek labor activists Nuraddin Jumaniyozov (right), who died in prison on December 31, 2016, and Fahriddin Tillayev.

© 2014 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

(Bishkek) – The Uzbek government should immediately allow an independent investigation into the enforced disappearance and death in prison of a human rights and opposition activist, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 16, 2017, Nuraddin Jumaniyazov’s wife, Gulnora Rahmonova, reported that her husband had died in prison on December 31, 2016, from tuberculosis and diabetes-related complications.

Jumaniyazov was unlawfully imprisoned in 2014 on politically motivated charges. Uzbek authorities had refused to reveal his whereabouts or allow him any contact with his family or attorney since 2015, despite numerous calls by Human Rights Watch and other organizations to seek information about his situation. The refusal to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of a person deprived of their liberty constitutes an enforced disappearance, a crime under international law, and is prohibited in all circumstances.

“Nuraddin Jumaniyazov, who should have never been imprisoned, died in prison, hidden from his loved ones and the world,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The tragic death of this human rights defender in Uzbekistan casts serious doubt on the government’s claims that the country is undergoing meaningful reforms.”

Jumaniyazov, a rights activist and member of the opposition Erk (Freedom) party, was sentenced in March 2014 to eight years and three months in prison on human trafficking charges along with his fellow activist, Fakhriddin Tillaev, following a trial that did not meet international human rights standards. Jumaniyazov had also been a member of the Mazlum (The Oppressed) Human Rights Center since 2003. Jumaniyazov and Tillaev began advocating workers’ rights in 2005. In 2012, the two founded the Union of Independent Trade Unions, which protects the rights of migrant workers. Jumaniyazov headed its Tashkent chapter.

On December 28, 2013, Tashkent police interrogated Jumaniyazov after two Uzbek citizens, Farhod Pardaev and Erkin Erdanov, alleged that he and Tillaev arranged their employment in Kazakhstan, where they said they had been mistreated.

Jumaniyazov’s lawyer, Polina Braunerg, a well-known human rights attorney who had been denied permission to leave Uzbekistan to obtain medical treatment abroad for at least three years, died after suffering a stroke in May 2017. She earlier told Human Rights Watch that the investigation against Jumaniyazov and Tillaev was marred by serious procedural violations.

Police arrested them on January 2, 2014, and took them to a Tashkent prison, but falsified materials to indicate January 4 as the date of arrest. Investigators did not provide Tillaev’s or Jumaniyazov’s lawyers sufficient time to review the evidence in the case, conducting all interrogations, including of the defendants, in a single day before advancing the case to trial. The court completed the trial in just two hours, basing the conviction solely on the testimony of two witnesses who admitted that they had never seen the defendants nor had any relationship with them.

Braunerg said that police tortured both Jumaniyazov and Tillaev in pretrial custody. The police allegedly stuck needles between Tillaev’s fingers and toes, and forced him to stand for hours under a dripping faucet, causing a severe headache. No judicial or prison authorities meaningfully investigated the torture allegations.

Jumaniyazov was last seen in public at his appellate hearing in April 2014, during which he asked his lawyer to help him obtain medicine to treat his tuberculosis and diabetes. Both Jumaniyazov and Tillaev were sent to a prison in Navoi, southwestern Uzbekistan, to serve out their sentences, where Tillaev is currently being held.

Beginning in October 2014, Braunerg sought permission to visit with Jumaniyazov, but was repeatedly denied access by prison officials.

During a July 2015 review of Uzbekistan’s compliance with its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Human Rights Committee questioned members of the Uzbek government delegation about Jumaniyazov’s whereabouts and health condition, asking Tashkent to provide the information within two weeks. Uzbek authorities ignored the committee’s requests.

Prison officials again blocked Braunerg’s attempts to locate and meet with Jumaniyazov following the UN review, stating misleadingly that a meeting could only be granted if Jumaniyazov made a written request, in violation of article 10 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Procedure Code.

In February 2017, two months after Jumaniyazov’s death in a Tashkent prison hospital, prison officials apparently agreed to Braunerg’s request to visit with her client in a prison hospital in the city of Qarshi, where she had been told Jumaniyazov was then being held. But when Braunerg arrived, officials told her he had been moved back to a prison in Navoi. However, officials at the Navoi prison denied holding a prisoner by that name.

The United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provides that medical care and treatment shall be provided to detainees whenever necessary and free of charge. The Body of Principles also provide that a detainee “shall be entitled to communicate and consult with his legal counsel.” Whenever a person dies in detention, “an inquiry into the cause of death … shall be held by a judicial or other authority.” In addition, “[t]he findings of such inquiry … shall be made available upon request.”

“The cruel cat and mouse game Uzbek authorities played with Jumaniyazov’s lawyer and UN rights experts to hide his whereabouts and condition illustrates a shocking and callous disregard for the health and basic rights of detainees,” Swerdlow said. “The Uzbek government should get serious about implementing reforms, beginning with releasing wrongfully held activists and meaningfully investigating Jumaniyazov’s death.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 24, 2017, 1:00 am

Indonesia’s besieged Ahmadiyah religious community is fighting back.

The Ahmadiyah mosque in Depok, West Java ordered sealed by local police to "protect" Ahmadiyah from attacks by militant Islamists, June 2017.

© 2017 Phelim Kine/Human Rights Watch

Earlier this week, representatives of the religious minority from Manislor district in West Java’s Kuningan regency filed a formal complaint against a local government requirement that they renounce their faith to obtain national identification cards, critical to accessing a range of government services. They said lack of IDs meant Ahmadiyah community members were not able to register marriages or get treatment at a local hospital. An ombudsman office representative has criticized the ID requirement as “maladministration.”

The Ahmadiyah community in Manislor are victims of routine bureaucratic discrimination. Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law permits only six officially protected religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. All Indonesian citizens must obtain a national ID card at age 17 and they are essential to apply for official documents including birth, marriage, and death certificates. Indonesian law requires ID cards to state the holder’s religion. That requirement bars Ahmadiyah and other officially unrecognized religious minorities from receiving national ID cards.

Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah have been under threat since 2008 when the government of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.” Following the decree, militant Islamists launched several violent attacks against Ahmadiyah including an attack in Cikeusik in February 2011 that killed three Ahmadiyah men.

During Yudhoyono’s decade in power, militant Islamists with the complicity of local police and government officials forced the closure of more than 30 Ahmadiyah mosques, while other religious minorities, including the Shia and some Christian groups, were also targets of harassment, intimidation, and violence.

The frequency and severity of violent attacks on religious minorities have decreased since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in 2014, and he has pledged to protect religious minorities and fight religious intolerance. But Kandali Lubis, an Ahmadiyah spokesman, told Human Rights Watch that at least seven Ahmadiyah mosques remained closed in Indonesia under the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree. They include an Ahmadiyah mosque in Depok, West Java that the local government sealed on the basis of “protecting” the Ahmadis from attack by militant Islamists.

Until Jokowi abolishes regulations that discriminate against the country’s religious minorities, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Indonesia can expect more demands from aggrieved communities such as the Ahmadiyah of Manislor village that the government respect, rather than deny their rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 23, 2017, 10:00 pm

Participants take part in the equality march in Kiev, June 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(New York, June 23, 2017) – Human Rights Watch has published during Pride Month a compilation of the records of 63 countries in recognizing and protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The country profiles include research on LGBT rights from the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report and other sources to provide a single reference for information about LGBT rights protections in individual countries and global trends.

“We join the Pride March in New York this Sunday with the recognition that the path toward global equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities remains long and arduous,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT program director at Human Rights Watch. “While the US and some other countries are backsliding, we are buoyed by the progress that indefatigable activists have made all around the world.”

Examples of such progress include Belize, Nauru, and the Seychelles, all of which decriminalized same-sex sexual conduct in 2016.

Several countries have affirmed the right to marriage for same-sex couples, including Colombia and most recently Taiwan. Tunisia took steps toward banning forced anal examinations of people suspected of homosexuality. And Bolivia passed a bill that allows people to revise the gender noted on their identification documents without prior judicial approval.

The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, a development that will allow the UN system to address human rights abuses directed against LGBT people in a more comprehensive and systematic way.

While notable progress was made during the past year in some countries, the conditions facing LGBT people remained harsh and even deteriorated in others, often as a result of pressure from conservative religious groups. In the US, state legislatures introduced a record number of bills seeking to restrict the rights of LGBT people, based on religious exemptions. Two men in the Indonesian province of Aceh were publicly flogged in May for allegedly having same-sex relations in private, as the social and political environment in Indonesia became increasingly hostile toward LGBT people. In Russia, law enforcement and security officials in the Chechen Republic carried out an unprecedented anti-gay purge, detaining and torturing dozens of gay men, some of whom were forcibly disappeared.

“In the midst of Pride Month, the progress made in the past year is certainly cause for celebration,” Reid said. “But many LGBT people still lack the ability to come out and live openly for fear of discrimination and violence by the state, private actors, or even their own families. While celebrating, we must remember that the stakes are high, and recommit ourselves to the struggle for equal rights for all.”


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 23, 2017, 7:00 pm

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution on June 23, 2017, directing the UN high commissioner for human rights to send a team of international experts to investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses in the central Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese government has agreed to cooperate, including by facilitating access. The final resolution incorporates language from proposals prepared by the African and European groups at the Council.

Still from a video posted on the internet on February 17, 2017 showing men in Congolese army uniforms fatally shooting at least 13 alleged militia members.

“The Human Rights Council-mandated international investigation brings hope of uncovering the truth about the horrific violence in the Kasai region since August, a step toward justice for thousands of victims,” said Laila Matar, UN advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The UN, the Human Rights Council, and above all the Congolese authorities now need to ensure unhindered access and all the support the team needs to independently produce a robust and credible report.”

Since large-scale violence broke out in the central Kasai region in August 2016, more than 3,300 people have been killed, according to a report by the Catholic Church. More than 1.3 million people have been displaced, and more than 600 schools have been attacked or destroyed. Two UN experts were murdered in March while investigating human rights abuses in the region.

The high commissioner is to update the Human Rights Council in March 2018 with the team’s participation and will submit a final report with the team’s findings next June.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over Congo, should consider investigating the crimes committed in the Kasai region and, evidence permitting, take steps to hold those most responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. In March, the prosecutor said she was “deeply concerned” about violence in the Kasais and that her office was carefully monitoring the situation. The High Commissioner told the Council on June 20 that he will “remain in touch” with the ICC regarding the situation in the Kasai region.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 23, 2017, 10:07 am

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes part in a European People Party (EPP) summit in St Julian's, Malta, March 30, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Manfred Weber, the chair of the European People’s Party (EPP), took part in a live Facebook Q&A session earlier this week.

I took the chance to ask Weber what the EPP, the biggest group in the parliament, plans to do about their member Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungary.

Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Fidesz government has repeatedly undermined the rule of law, as well as checks and balances of the executive through the courts, media, and civil society. This year those attacks have intensified, with a law aimed at shutting down a reputable academic institution, the Central European University, another to curb the work of foreign-funded nongovernmental groups inspired by Russia’s foreign agents law, and a third that doubles down on the country’s abusive border regime for asylum seekers.

Yet Fidesz’ membership of the EPP has helped shield Hungary from meaningful European Union action by blocking resolutions in the parliament aiming to address serious rule of law and human rights concerns, despite the fact that the government’s actions breach not only European values, but those of the EPP itself. Those values include respect for rule of law and human rights and encouraging a vibrant civil society.

Weber’s response to me was troubling. While acknowledging my concerns, he argued that Hungary’s government has taken into account recommendations by the European Commission on certain laws that have been identified as problematic, including changes to the constitution.

This is at best a half truth and at worst deliberate obfuscation. In reality, Fidesz has created the illusion that they are addressing concerns while in fact only making cosmetic changes that don’t tackle the fundamental issues. For example, when the EU pressed Hungary over its decision to lower the retirement age for judges, and sack all those older than the new limit, the government reversed the decision - but only after it had appointed new, more loyal, judges to key positions.

While Weber was reluctant to criticise Fidesz, he was happy to point the finger at Poland’s ruling party, decrying the supposed lack of communication between the EU and the Polish government. But that’s hardly surprising, given Poland’s ruling PiS party is not an EPP member.

Weber’s deflection also ignores the fact that the troubling negative human rights developments in Poland are in part a consequence of the EU’s failure to take robust action on Hungary.

By letting Fidesz take the country down an authoritarian path without any tangible consequences, the EU has signalled that other EU states can do the same.

If Weber really wants to bring about positive changes both in Hungary and Poland he should urge EPP to reassess Fidesz’s membership in EPP, and consider expelling the party.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 23, 2017, 4:00 am

Residents who want to evacuate from their homes gather while waiting for a vehicle after Islamist militants, who had holed up in a primary school, retreated after a gunbattle with troops but were holding some civilians hostage, in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, Philippines June 21, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Marconi Navales
On June 21, dozens of armed Islamist rebels stormed and occupied a school on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the latest in a slew of attacks that highlight the continued risks children face seeking an education in the volatile region.

The rebels, reported by the police to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, attacked the school in Pigcawayan town, North Cotabato province and allegedly held several students hostage. The rebels later withdrew and no injuries were reported.

In recent years the various conflicts in Mindanao have placed students and teachers at particular risk. Both Islamist rebels and government security forces with state-backed militias have attacked schools, or have used them as barracks and outposts. This not only puts students and teachers in danger, but also undermines their right to education.

In one particularly egregious case, in September 2015 paramilitary groups identified with the military attacked a tribal school in Surigao del Sur province, killing the school administrator and two tribal leaders on campus.

More recently, fighting in Marawi City between Islamist militants and the military has destroyed several schools, and dozens of teachers and educators remain unaccounted for. There is no evidence to suggest the Pigcawayan attack was directly linked to ongoing fighting in Marawi City.

The Philippine government’s response to the Pigcawayan attack should not place students and school administrators at unnecessary risk. The government should also sign the Safe Schools Declaration, which seeks to protect schools and universities from military use by all sides during armed conflict.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 10:00 pm

Statue of "Lady Justice" outside Bangladesh's Supreme Court building. 

© Public

During a recent visit to Bangladesh to revisit my years there as a student, a colleague suggested I meet Sultana Kamal, much admired for decades of work on justice as a human rights defender.

But Kamal was not making many public appearances, because of threats from militants.

The story that emerged is a tale of authorities who, while attempting to appease some hardline religious groups, ended up compromising basic human rights principles.

In May, prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, which has long claimed a commitment to secularism, caved to the extremist group Hefazat-e Islami’s demands to remove a statue representing “Lady Justice” in front of the Supreme Court in Dhaka because it was deemed to be an un-Islamic religious object.

On May 28, Kamal argued during a television debate that by this logic no mosques should be permitted on the court premises. That prompted the Hefazat spokesman to call for Kamal’s arrest, and threaten that if she came out on the streets they “would break every bone in her body.” Kamal has said that after the threat was made, abusive postings appeared on Facebook, including doctored images of her being lynched.

While Kamal has since received police protection, the government has yet to publicly condemn the threats. On June 18, a lawyer served legal notice seeking her arrest “for hurting religious sentiments of the Muslim majority in the country;” however, Kamal has not been arrested.

These threats and claims of hurt sentiments are not new. They follow several lethal attacks by extremist groups on bloggers and activists for promoting secularism. Rather than condemn the attacks and arrest those responsible, officials responded by warning that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime.”

All this is happening against a background of increasing attacks on free speech by the state. Over the past two years, the government has cracked down on media and civil society.

The authorities restored “Lady Justice” to another part of the Supreme Court complex. But Bangladesh is on a dangerous course. The government needs to do much more to protect rights activists like Kamal and promote an environment where they can carry out their work free from threats and attacks. Appeasing religious extremists and silencing dissent will only lead to more violence.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 10:00 pm

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 Associated Press reported today that US forces were involved in the interrogation of detainees held in secret prisons in Yemen where torture is widespread. The centers are run by United Arab Emirati (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.

The details are grotesque: Prisoners in these centers were “crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks,” beaten, and trussed up on a “grill” – a spit like a roast to which the victim is tied and spun in a circle of fire, the article says. Prisoners were also sexually assaulted, among other forms of abuse. The article also alleges that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations.

It’s a grim reminder that, not long ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency and US military were directly involved in equally depraved torture programs.

In this case, the US is trying to wash its hands of responsibility.

The US has officially denied knowledge of the torture and ill-treatment in the Yemeni centers. But that claim doesn’t fly, as the article says several US Defense Department officials confirmed that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Those officials, however, worked to minimize US responsibility, saying military leaders looked into the allegations and were satisfied there had been no abuse “when US forces [were] present.”

Again, no pass. If US forces are interrogating individuals when there is a credible belief they may have been tortured, they risk complicity in the abuse.

Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other groups have extensively documented torture and enforced disappearances in detention facilities run by the UAE and local forces. Today, we released a report on our investigation of the detention and forced disappearance of 49 people – including four children – in Yemen.

The alleged US involvement would violate international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, both of which the US has ratified. If there is one thing the US should have learned from its post 9/11 history, it’s that engaging in torture, or cooperating with forces that torture, is counterproductive, helps militant group recruitment, and fosters instability and abuse. Information derived from torture is also inherently unreliable, generating false leads and wasted resources.

By ignoring these lessons, the Trump administration is also putting its military personnel at risk of future prosecution for complicity in torture. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 9:25 pm

(New York) – Pakistani authorities need to ensure a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into a barrage of assaults and threats against lawyers in the premises of the Lahore High Court, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International said today. The Government needs to defend the rule of law and prosecute those responsible for any criminal conduct.

On June 20, 2017, during proceedings of a case involving the alleged abduction and subsequent “disappearance” of a 26-year old woman and her two-year old son, supporters of the accused, a prominent lawyer, physically assaulted the complainant’s counsel, Shabbir Hussain and Usama Malik, and made abusive remarks and threats against another member of the complainant’s legal team, Noor Ejaz Chaudhry. The attackers were mostly lawyers and members of the local bar association.

Asma Jahangir speaks during a news conference in Islamabad.

© 2007 Reuters

The attackers also made abusive and threatening remarks against Asma Jahangir, a notable human rights lawyer, Honorary Commissioner of the ICJ, and former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Asma Jahangir was not present in the court but was represented by her legal team comprising of Shabbir Hussain, Usama Malik, Mian Liaquat Ali, and Noor Ejaz Chaudhry.

“The legal profession is one of the pillars of the administration of justice. It is deeply worrying that instead of discharging their responsibility to uphold the rule of law, certain lawyers would resort to threats and violence in a clear attempt to obstruct justice,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

Under international standards, including the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Pakistan has an obligation to ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference. Where lawyers are threatened as a result of discharging their functions, authorities must ensure they are adequately safeguarded.

“Lawyers must be able to go to court without fearing violent assaults and abuse,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said. “That such assaults take place with increasing frequency in Pakistan and without accountability represents a serious failure of the Pakistani authorities to ensure rule of law.”

It is the responsibility of the bar councils and associations to ensure that allegations of professional misconduct against their members are promptly, independently, and impartially investigated, and if lawyers are found in breach of their codes of conduct after a fair hearing, disciplinary action is taken against them. Any disciplinary action must be subject to an independent judicial review.

“Threatening and assaulting opposing counsel is not just against the law, but also in breach of lawyers’ professional code of ethics,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Senior Adviser on South Asia. “The respective Bar Councils must take notice of the allegations, and use this condemnable incident as an opportunity to tackle the culture of impunity which impacts even the legal profession in Pakistan.”


In May 2017, Bilquis Zareena filed a habeas corpus petition in the Lahore High Court for the recovery of her daughter, Ayesha, and grandson, Alyan Ali, who have allegedly been missing since November 2016.

According to Bilquis Zareena, her daughter had secretly been married to Maqsood Buttar, a prominent lawyer and member of the Pakistan Bar Council, the highest regulatory body for lawyers in the country. Bilquis Zareena claims her daughter and grandson’s lives could be in danger as Maqsood Buttar had previously threatened and even attempted to kill Ayesha.

The next hearing in the case is on Friday, June 23, 2017.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 12:00 pm

When looking for solutions to the global refugee crisis, Japan is often identified as a country that could do more. It contributes generously to the United Nations refugee agency but does very little in terms of recognizing asylum seekers in Japan or in resettling refugees stranded, often in terrible conditions, in Thailand, Lebanon, Kenya, Pakistan and elsewhere.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center) speaks to media at his official residence in Tokyo on April 12, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters

On a recent visit to Tokyo I raised this issue in meetings with members of both houses of parliament from the ruling coalition. We discussed resettlement. In each meeting, the most awkward moment came when I presented the politician with a list of countries that have resettled refugees, and how many they have accepted. The politician scanned the list, saw that other advanced economies had resettled many thousands of refugees, and noted that Japan’s total was less than 20 per year.

The current government, like its predecessors, repeats the stance that Japan is not an “immigration country.”  But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a country of asylum, as it has ratified the United Nations Refugee Convention.

Recently, there have been signs of change. The current, tiny resettlement program was only launched in 2010 and got renewed in 2014. All the refugees so far have been from Burma, resettled from neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. During Japan’s G7 chairmanship last year, under pressure from other economic powers, Japan created a new program to allow Syrian students to come to the country. The program, which is also tiny – just 30 students and their immediate family members every year - benefits the fortunate few who qualify for admission to Japanese academic institutions, but falls short of a resettlement program to protect the most vulnerable refugees or to provide them a permanent home.

Japan should continue on this positive path. Currently, Japan demands that refugees be self-sufficient in a short space of time, yet given the tiny numbers involved, the government could choose to accept more vulnerable refugees such as those with disabilities whose needs Japan is especially well-suited to meet.

Longer term, Japan needs to decide which nationalities other than Burmese it will resettle, and how many it will admit. The politicians I spoke with support more resettlement and think over 100 refugees a year may be possible. This modest immediate step towards a more ambitious goal, if realized, combined with a focus on more vulnerable refugees, would send a signal that progress is possible.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 9:18 am

Andrei is featured in a “Washington Blade” series about Russian LGBT asylum seekers in the United States, September 2014.

©2014 Andrei Nasonov
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long defended the county’s gay “propaganda” ban as a bulwark of “traditional values” against the “so-called tolerance” of the West. He has maintained the law protects children and does not discriminate.

Not so, says the European Court of Human Rights, which in a 6-to-1 decision ruled this week that the propaganda law reinforces stigma, encourages homophobia, and discriminates against a vulnerable minority – harming children in the process.

The court ordered Russia to pay the three plaintiffs a total of €43,000 (US$48,000) in damages.

Andrei staged a one-man demonstration in central Voronezh four days after the first reading of a draft law to ban “propaganda of homosexuality” in the St. Petersburg city legislature, November 2011. His poster says, “They are banning me, who is next?”

©2011 Private

The Russian government argued in the case that the ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” represents the majority view. The court dismissed this argument, saying the law is contrary to the values of equality, pluralism, and tolerance in a democratic society. And it goes against articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Russia in 1998, on freedom of expression and prohibition of discrimination.

Human Rights Watch investigated the impact of the propaganda law, which was passed in 2013 on the eve of the Sochi Winter Olympics. We found an increase in discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and activists. The law sends a message that LGBT people are second-class citizens posing a threat to children and public morality. The recent violent attacks on gay men in Chechnya organized by local authorities is an extreme version of a view that places LGBT people outside of society and culture and portrays them as an affront to “tradition.”

The Russian activists for the rights of LGBT people who brought the case against the propaganda law publicly conveyed simple messages of social equivalence, such as “homosexuality is natural and normal” and “I am proud of my homosexuality.” They had been charged under local ordinances, precursors to the federal propaganda law.

This is not the first time that the European Court has ruled against Russian attempts to push LGBT people out of the public sphere. In 2010, Russia’s argument in a case challenging its ban on Pride marches was rejected by the court on freedom of expression grounds.

Andrei with his husband, Igor, after their marriage ceremony in front of the White House in Washington, DC.

©2014 Michael Knaapen

Russia’s propaganda law has international resonance. Several countries in the region and beyond have introduced or attempted to introduce similar legislation designed to outlaw public expressions of LGBT identities.

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is obligated to respect and fully implement European Court rulings. This week’s ruling should put to rest the notion that the propaganda law does not discriminate. It should promptly be repealed.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 4:00 am
(Beirut) – Newly appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should use his authority to end longstanding abuses against Saudi dissidents and rights activists and to make a public commitment for rights reforms, Human Rights Watch said today. The succession move follows a royal decree issued on June 17, 2017, that removed the country’s notorious prosecution service from the Interior Ministry and turned it into an independent agency.

Then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony at King Faisal Air College in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

On June 21, King Salman removed Mohammed bin Nayef as interior minister and crown prince, and appointed his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as the new crown prince. Under Mohammed Bin Nayef, who oversaw Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism response after 2003, the Interior Ministry waged a campaign of repression against peaceful Saudi dissidents and continued to impose burdensome travel restrictions on Saudi women. The new interior minister is Mohammed bin Nayef’s 33-year-old nephew, Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef.

“Saudi Arabia should go beyond portfolio shuffling and ensure that leadership changes bring meaningful steps to end the repression so many Saudi men and women have suffered over the years,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If the new crown prince wants to achieve his vision for economic progress, he should take immediate and concrete steps to improve human rights protections.”

The new crown prince, who has been deputy crown prince since April 2015 and defense minister since January 2015, has not made a commitment to carry out rights reforms. His ambitious 2016 plan, Vision 2030, to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, failed to incorporate important human rights reforms, like strengthening women’s ability to participate in the labor market.

As defense minister, he initiated and is responsible for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. The coalition of eight countries taking part in the campaign has carried out scores of apparently unlawful attacks, including potential war crimes, and repeatedly hit schools, markets, homes, and hospitals. The war has also contributed to a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where seven million people are on the brink of famine and thousands are suffering from cholera. In his new role as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman should ensure that Saudi forces in Yemen comply with the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

The country’s new interior minister will take the helm of a ministry that for years has taken the lead in violating basic rights in Saudi Arabia, like free expression, association, and assembly. The ministry is also responsible for imposing certain aspects of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, under which every woman must have a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – who has the authority to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. Interior Ministry regulations require a woman to obtain her male guardian’s approval to get a passport or travel outside the country, and Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving is based on an Interior Ministry decree.

The new interior minister will lack the power to directly prosecute government critics, though. On June 17, King Salman ordered the removal of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) from Interior Ministry jurisdiction and renamed the newly independent agency the Public Prosecution. The royal decree stated that the change was “in [accordance] with the rules and principles of many countries of the world,” and based on “the necessity of separation between executive authority in the state and the bureau and its work since it is part of the judicial authority.”

The new interior minister would apparently maintain his wide counterterrorism powers under the country’s 2013 counterterrorism law. The law authorizes the minister to order arrests of terrorism suspects without going through the prosecutors, as well as to gain access to a suspect’s private banking and communications information, all without judicial oversight.

Since 2011, the BIP has initiated criminal cases against at least 20 prominent activists and dissidents. Courts sentenced them to prison terms as long as 10 or 15 years on broad, catch-all charges that do not constitute recognizable crimes such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “participating in protests.” Prosecutors have also jailed and investigated women for driving and calling for an end to the male guardianship system.

Saudi authorities have arrested and prosecuted nearly all activists associated with the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), which a Saudi court formally dissolved and banned in March 2013. The members faced similar vague charges.

Saudi activists and dissidents currently serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism include Waleed Abu al-Khair, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Fadhil al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Abdulkareem al-Khodr, Fowzan al-Harbi, Saleh al-Ashwan, Abdulrahman al-Hamid, Zuhair Kutbi, Nadhir al-Majid, and Alaa Brinji. Issa al-Nukheifi, arrested in December 2016, is currently on trial. Essam Koshak was detained in January and may face trial. Others, including Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid, are free while appealing long sentences handed down by the Specialized Criminal Court in 2016. Mohammed al-Oteibi and Abdullah Attawi are on trial for forming a human rights organization in 2013.

Saudi Arabia’s reshuffled prosecution service should immediately end prosecutions of human rights activists such as Koshak and al-Oteibi, and release those serving long jail terms, Human Rights Watch said.

“Saudi leaders should realize that they can’t transform the country’s economy and society without granting women rights on par with men and allowing Saudis to openly criticize government policies and call for human rights,” Whitson said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 4:00 am

Moroccan activist Nasser Zefzafi gives a speech during a demonstration against injustice and corruption in the northern town of al-Hoceima, Morocco, May 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(Tunis) – Police arrested and severely beat the de facto leader of ongoing social protests in Morocco’s Rif region, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today, based on an account the protest leader gave his lawyer. Authorities are investigating Nasser Zefzafi, the protest leader, on grave charges, including one that carries the death penalty and some that appear political in nature.

Zefzafi, 38, is the best-known of at least 127 protesters and activists jailed during a police crackdown on the mostly peaceful demonstrations in northern Morocco that began in late May, 2017. Zefzafi requested a medical exam to document the abuse when he appeared before a prosecutor on June 5. But the request has yet to be fulfilled, said Abdelaziz Nouaydi, one of Zefzafi’s lawyers, raising concerns about the court’s compliance with its duty to investigate allegations of police violence.

“Moroccan authorities should investigate the credible allegations of police violence against Zefzafi and refrain from filing any charges that stem from peaceful speech or protest,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “At this stage, the case looks like it’s more about throwing the book at a protest leader than punishing criminal behavior.”

Police arrested Zefzafi on May 29 in the village of Douar Lahrech, about 50 kilometers from al-Hoceima, the Rif’s main city. His arrest came three days after he had interrupted the Friday sermon at a mosque in al-Hoceima to defend the Rif protest movement after the imam, a state employee, had criticized it in his sermon.

At about 6:30 a.m. on May 29, a dozen police from the National Brigade of the Judiciary Police (BNPJ) broke down the door of the house where Zefzafi and two other activists, Fahim Ghattas and Mohamed Haki, were staying, Zefzafi told Nouaydi, on June 12 in Casablanca’s Oukacha prison. The police broke furniture and windows, and assaulted the three men even though they offered no resistance, Zefzafi said. He said he had a 1.5-centimeter cut on his scalp, another one below his left eye, and bruises on his back.

Protesters hold signs reading "We are all Zefzafi" during a demonstration in the northern town of al-Hoceima against official abuses and corruption in Morocco on May 30, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The police insulted the three men in vulgar terms, pressing them to shout “Long live the king!” and calling them “separatists,” the account said. The police transported them to al-Hoceima and then flew them, hooded, and handcuffed, to Casablanca. There, the police took Zefzafi for medical care, including stitches to his scalp, and gave him clean clothes to replace his blood-stained ones.

Nouaydi told Human Rights Watch that he conducted a separate interview on June 12 with Ghattas, whose account of the arrest corroborated Zefzafi’s.

Zefzafi remained in pre-charge detention from May 29 until June 5, when he and the others were taken before the crown prosecutor of the Casablanca Court of Appeals. The Code of Penal Procedure allows pretrial detention to be extended to a maximum of eight days in cases involving state security offenses. Nouaydi, who was among the lawyers representing the defendants at the hearing, said Zefzafi detailed to the prosecutor the police conduct during the arrest operation and demanded a medical examination.

Morocco’s code of penal procedure obliges the prosecutor and the investigating judge, with narrow exceptions, to order a medical examination of a defendant who requests one, or if the prosecutor or judge observe signs of violence on the defendant.

The evening of the hearing, the crown prosecutor referred the defendants to the investigating judge. According to the prosecutor’s written referral, dated June 14 and published on the news website badil.info, the charges he asked the judge to investigate include one that carries the death penalty: “participation in harming internal state security by carrying out an attack the goal of which is to cause destruction and killing and theft in more than one region.”

The prosecutor also recommended charges of “participating in violence against state security forces that led to blood-letting;” “forming a plot to harm internal security;” “harming internal state security by receiving financial sums […] to finance activities and propaganda of a nature to harm the unity and sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco and shake the faith of citizens in the Moroccan state and the institutions of the Moroccan people;” “organizing unauthorized demonstrations and holding public gatherings without permission and participating in an armed gathering;” “insulting state institutions and the public security agents;” and “publicly inciting against the Kingdom’s territorial integrity.”

While the recommended charges that include acts of violence are recognizably criminal, many of the other charges either violate by their very nature basic rights (such as “insulting state institutions”) or are so broad and vague that authorities can easily use them to punish opponents for speaking or protesting peacefully. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Morocco ratified in 1979, and Morocco’s 2011 constitution, guarantee the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The investigating judge sent Zefzafi, to pretrial detention. The evidence against him is not yet available. The government did not respond to requests from Human Rights Watch for information on the case.

The Rif has been rocked by protests since October 2016, after Mohsen Fikri, a fishmonger, was crushed to death in a garbage truck in which he had climbed to retrieve a valuable haul of swordfish that the authorities had confiscated from him on the grounds that it had been fished illegally. Zefzafi, an unemployed man, earned renown in the Rif for his fiery speeches about social justice, which were viewable on social media. He eventually became the main leader of street protests against the state’s perceived marginalization of the Rif, and in favor of more jobs and better social services in the region.

Though the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, there were incidents in which people described by the police as protesters threw rocks and set police housing and vehicles afire. Police began arresting activists on May 26. Since then, at least 83 were prosecuted in al-Hoceima, of whom 32 were sentenced to prison for between 2 and 18 months. Another group of at least 45, including Zefzafi, was transferred to Casablanca and currently await trial, said Driss Ouaali of Rabat, another defense lawyer for the group. A few were released pending trial, while the others remain in custody.

Defense lawyers said that Zefzafi is to appear before an investigative judge for further questioning on July 10.

Nouaydi, the defense lawyer, is a member of the advisory committee of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa division.

“Besides Zefzafi and Ghattas, many other Rif protesters and activists have reported police brutality following arrest,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director for Amnesty International. “To combat impunity and ensure fair trials, the courts in Casablanca and al- Hoceima should ensure prompt medical examinations of defendants and preserve all pertinent physical evidence.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 4:00 am

A girl covers anti-LGBT messages in rainbow handprints during a Pride rally in Manila on June 27, 2015.

© 2015 Bullit Marquez/AP Photo

(Manila, June 22, 2017) – Students across the Philippines experience bullying and discrimination in school because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. While Philippine law provides protections against discrimination and exclusion in schools, lawmakers and school administrators need to take steps to ensure they are fully implemented.

The 68-page report, “‘Just Let Us Be’: Discrimination Against LGBT Students in the Philippines,” documents the range of abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in secondary school. It details widespread bullying and harassment, discriminatory policies and practices, and an absence of supportive resources that undermine the right to education under international law and put LGBT youth at risk.

Students across the Philippines experience bullying and discrimination in school because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“LGBT students in the Philippines are often the targets of ridicule and even violence,” said Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “And in many instances, teachers and administrators are participating in this mistreatment instead of speaking out against discrimination and creating classrooms where everybody can learn.”

Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews and discussions with 98 students and 46 parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, service providers, and experts on education in 10 cities in Luzon and the Visayas. LGBT students said that existing protections are irregularly or incompletely implemented, and that secondary school policies and practices often facilitate discrimination and fail to provide LGBT students with information and support.

Lawmakers in the Philippines have recognized that bullying in secondary schools is a problem and have taken important steps to address it, Human Rights Watch said. In 2013, the Philippine Congress passed an anti-bullying law and the Department of Education issued regulations prohibiting bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. During the 2016 presidential campaign, too, Rodrigo Duterte vocally condemned bullying and discrimination against LGBT people.
“President Duterte has spoken out against bullying and discrimination against LGBT people in the past, and he should do so now,” Thoreson said.

Yet Human Rights Watch’s research shows that LGBT students still encounter physical bullying, verbal harassment, sexual assault, and cyberbullying in schools. Many students were not aware of anti-bullying policies or did not know where to seek help if they were persistently bullied.
“When I was in high school, they’d push me, punch me,” said Carlos M., a 19-year-old gay student from Olongapo City. “When I’d get out of school, they’d follow me [and] push me, call me ‘gay,’ ‘faggot,’ things like that.” (Names of students quoted in the report were changed for their protection.)
The hostility students face in school is often exacerbated by discriminatory policies and practices, Human Rights Watch said. Schools in the Philippines impose gendered uniform and hair-length requirements without exceptions for students who do not identify as their sex assigned at birth. These inflexible requirements cause many LGBT students to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at school, be turned away by school guards, or skip class or drop out.
“The failure to pass an anti-discrimination bill puts LGBT kids at risk of discrimination and violence,” said Meggan Evangelista of LAGABLAB Network. “If lawmakers are serious about making schools safe for all students, they should stop delaying and pass anti-discrimination protections as soon as possible.”
Harassed students seeking help are hindered by the lack of information and resources pertaining to LGBT youth at the secondary school level. LGBT issues are rarely discussed in school curricula – and when they do arise, teachers often make negative or dismissive comments about LGBT students, including instructing their students that being LGBT is sinful or unnatural.
Bullied as a Child, Gay Filipino Comes Into His Own

Bullied as a Child, Gay Filipino Comes Into His Own

Marching in the Philippines Pride Parade helped Patrick to accept his sexuality and come out. 

“They say that gays are the main focus of HIV,” said Jonas E., a 17-year-old gay boy in high school in Mandaue City. “I’m a bit ashamed of that, because I was once in section where I’m the only gay, and they kept pointing at me.” Virtually none of the students interviewed had received LGBT-inclusive sexuality education, leaving them ill-equipped to navigate relationships and keep themselves safe.
Very few students have access to teachers or counselors who are trained to provide support for LGBT students as they grow and develop. While LGBT student groups have been highly successful at providing peer education and support at the university level, few exist in secondary schools.
Authorities at every level of government should take steps to promote student safety, equality, and access to education in schools, Human Rights Watch said. Congress should pass anti-discrimination legislation that protects LGBT students in schools. The Department of Education should survey schools to ensure anti-bullying protections are being fully implemented, train teachers to be responsive to the needs of LGBT students, incorporate LGBT issues into curricular modules, and promulgate model policies prohibiting discrimination in schools. At the school level, administrators should strengthen anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to ensure LGBT youth are safe and respected.
“Prohibiting bullying against LGBT youth was an important first step,” Thoreson said. “Now lawmakers and school administrators should take concrete steps to make those protections meaningful and promote respect for LGBT youth throughout the Philippines’ school system.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 22, 2017, 2:00 am

From L-R, (top) Ngo Hao, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, (bottom) Nguyen Cong Chinh, Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (also known as Nguyen Ngoc Gia), Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam). All are currently serving prison terms for expressing political dissent.  

© Private

(New York) – Vietnam should immediately repeal a provision in its revised penal code that would hold lawyers criminally responsible for not reporting clients to the authorities for a number of crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised code also contains a number of changes heightening criminal penalties against criticism of the government or Vietnam’s one-party state.

“Requiring lawyers to violate lawyer-client confidentiality will mean that lawyers become agents of the state and clients won’t have any reason to trust their lawyers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam considers any criticism or opposition to the government or Communist Party to be a ‘national security’ matter – this will undermine any possibility of real legal defense in such cases.”

Vietnam considers any criticism or opposition to the government or Communist Party to be a ‘national security’ matter – this will undermine any possibility of real legal defense in such cases.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On June 20, 2017, the Vietnamese National Assembly passed a revised penal code that will come into effect on January 1, 2018. Article 19, section 3 of the revised penal code states that, “[When] the person who does not report [on people] is a defender, he/she is not held criminally accountable in accordance with clause 1 of this article, except for not reporting on national security crimes or other especially serious crimes which the person he/she is defending is preparing to carry out, is carrying out, or has carried out and the defender clearly knows about it while carrying out his/her defense duty.”

Many Vietnamese lawyers publicly voiced their concerns about this new requirement. On June 12, the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association submitted a letter to the National Assembly urging it to drop the clause. According to the letter, the new clause conflicts with the revised Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Lawyers, which requires legal defenders to keep information about their cases confidential. The letter states that this new clause is “a step back from the 1999 Penal Code.”

“Vietnam’s foreign investors and trading partners should be very concerned about laws that would require their lawyers to pass on confidential information to the authorities to avoid getting into trouble,” Adams said.

Of particular concern is that article 19 targets people accused of vaguely defined national security crimes, including “activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration” (article 79), “undermining national unity policy” (article 87), “conducting propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (article 88) and “disrupting security” (article 89). Instead of repealing such laws that are often used to punish the exercise of freedom of association, assembly and speech, the government has now added even harsher punishments for bloggers and rights activists.

Among these are new clauses in article 109 (previously article 79), and article 117 (previously article 88) to the effect that whoever “takes actions in preparation of committing this crime shall be subject to between one and five years of imprisonment.” This means that one can be imprisoned up to five years for preparing to criticize the state or preparing to join an independent political group disapproved by the government. A number of vaguely-worded articles related to national security crimes are often used to prosecute people for exercising basic rights, and now they can be (mis)used in even more circumstances. Vietnam ought to have repealed and reformed these laws, not made them of wider application.

Vietnamese bloggers and rights activists are being beaten, threatened and intimidated with impunity. 

In most politically-motivated arrests and convictions in Vietnam, the authorities use article 79 to punish people for being affiliated with a particular group or organization disapproved by the ruling communist party. Article 87 is often used to punish people for participating in religious groups not sanctioned by the state. Article 88 is a tool to gag dissidents and bloggers critical of the party or the government. Article 89 is used to punish independent labor activists who help organize wildcat strikes.

“The revised penal code illustrates Vietnam’s lack of commitment to improve its abysmal human rights record,” said Adams. “If Vietnam sincerely wants to promote the rule of law, it should facilitate the work of lawyers instead of introducing new laws to make it impossible to do their jobs.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2017, 9:56 pm

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) and Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni attend the opening of the National Dialogue committee in Juba, South Sudan May 22, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

On a drizzly morning in early April, South Sudanese soldiers entered the town of Pajok, a trading hub southeast of Juba and opened fire, killing at least a dozen people on the spot. One of them was James, a 25-year-old man with a mental disability.

“The soldiers surrounded the compound and my son refused to move, so they killed him,” Rose, James’ mother, told me when I met her in Palabek, the newest South Sudanese refugee settlement in Uganda.

A UN team later found at least 66 civilians had been killed in the government’s attack.

Attacks like these are the reason Uganda now hosts nearly a million refugees from South Sudan, including a staggering 600,000 who have arrived in the past year alone.

This week, Uganda will host a two-day donor conference in Kampala, where President Museveni is seeking US$8 billion to support refugees in Uganda over the next four years. Unlike some of its neighbors, Uganda has kept the country open to refugees in need, and international donors should certainly support the government’s efforts. But these leaders should also speak out about the reasons so many South Sudanese refugees have been forced to flee in the first place. Since the civil war started in December 2013, both sides have committed horrific abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, often along ethnic lines.

Like Rose, most of the recent arrivals come from the Equatorias, the fertile region that borders Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, untouched by South Sudan’s civil war until late 2015, when government forces began fighting rebel groups and conducting heavy-handed, abusive operations against civilians. As the war spread, so did abuses – to Wau in the west, to Yambio and Yei in the south, and to small villages all over the Equatorias – with government soldiers targeting communities, often based on their ethnicity, for killings, detention, and disappearances.

It isn’t the first time many South Sudanese sought refuge in Uganda. During Sudan’s long civil war, hundreds of thousands fled to Uganda, returning only after the 2005 peace that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence. Now back in Uganda again, many seemed to have given up hope of building their country. And with the international community pinning its hopes on The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body made up of neighbouring states with their own interests at play, the timeline for addressing the conflict seems to stretch indefinitely.

Museveni and the donors should do more than secure funds – they need to pressure South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to end the abusive tactics and recommit to holding those who have committed atrocities to account. These abuses are not just forcing people seek help in Uganda – they are ruining the foundations for a nation and condemning South Sudan to repeat its past. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2017, 5:52 pm

A woman writes on a wall covered with tributes to and pictures of the victims of the Grenfell apartment tower fire in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 18, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

A week ago I could smell smoke in the air. Sirens blared. At my child’s school, people rushed to gather clothing, sleeping bags, and cash to help those affected by the fire. People were in shock.

One week on, my neighborhood in London remains deeply affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster. Seventy-nine people are dead or missing. That number is expected to rise. Hundreds of others were lucky to escape with their lives, but are now homeless.

In interviews with Grenfell Tower survivors and victims’ families, one word comes up again and again: justice. Human rights can help make justice possible.

The UK’s Human Rights Act puts a duty on public authorities – local and central government – to ensure that they safeguard people’s rights including, crucially, the right to life. The UK’s duty under international law to secure the right to housing is also relevant since it requires the “physical safety of occupants” to be guaranteed.

What does this duty under the Human Rights Act mean in practice?

First, the government must take reasonable steps to protect the lives of people at similar risk of deadly fire. That means urgent safety inspections of all high-rise blocks in the UK, especially public housing, and acting on the recommendations of an coroner’s inquest in 2013 into a deadly fire in London in 2009, including retrofitting sprinklers to high rise blocks.

Second, the government must ensure effective independent investigations into the causes of the deaths in the fire, with appropriate remedies, including criminal accountability, compensation for victims, and necessary changes to laws and policies.

The government has announced a public inquiry into the fire, and promised that the Grenfell Tower residents will be given legal aid funding to participate. That commitment is important.

Yet legal aid cuts have severely curbed the ability of people living in poverty to secure their rights in the civil courts. The Grenfell Tower tenants’ action group claims that the cuts left them unable to pursue their previous concerns about fire safety in the block through the courts. The public inquiry should look specifically at whether an absence of legal remedies for Grenfell Tower residents contributed to the failure to address those complaints.

Christos Fairbairn told journalists he tripped over bodies as he escaped the building, saying: “I will never forget what happened.”

Human rights can play an important role in making sure that public authorities are not allowed to forget either.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2017, 4:01 pm

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks at a summit on crime reduction in Bethesda, Maryland, June 20, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Washington) – US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ May 12, 2017, memorandum outlining new charging and sentencing policies will result in disproportionately severe sentences and drive up the number of people needlessly incarcerated, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed question-and-answer document released today.

The document includes analysis of the impact of earlier Justice Department guidance for prosecutors on incarceration rates, as well as information about the likely impact of Sessions’ policy guidance on incarceration and drug use in the United States.

“At a time of growing bipartisan consensus in favor of sentencing reform, Attorney General Sessions is stubbornly clinging to the same old drug war policies of the 1980s and 90s,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, US program co-director at Human Rights Watch. “Seeking the harshest possible sentences will do nothing to further health or public safety, and will instead further fuel over-incarceration and erode the legitimacy of the justice system.”

The Sessions memo limits the discretion of federal prosecutors, instructing them to pursue the most serious charge, defined as the one that carries the most severe punishment, available to them. It turns back the clock on recent Justice Department efforts to reduce excessive sentencing, and runs contrary to national bipartisan movements in favor of sentencing and drug policy reform.

Sessions has justified his new policy as necessary to combat drug trafficking and what he portrays as rising violent crime in the US. In fact, violent crime has dropped steadily and significantly since the 1990s, as reflected in the data Human Rights Watch analyzed – Sessions’ claims about increases are hyperbolic. The Q&A also notes that harsh sentencing policies have failed to meaningfully reduce problematic drug use or supply. Instead, their primary impact has been to inflict serious damage on the people affected, many of whom are sentenced to long prison terms for non-violent, relatively minor crimes, as well as to their families and communities. Those affected are disproportionately Black and Latino, even though people of different races use drugs at the same rates.

At a time of growing bipartisan consensus in favor of sentencing reform, Attorney General Sessions is stubbornly clinging to the same old drug war policies of the 1980s and 90s.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno

Co-Director of US Program

Additional data in the Q&A shows dramatic increases in federal drug control spending – over US$343 billion since 2004 – even as drug use remained stable, or increased slightly. Meanwhile, the government’s policies have worsened insecurity by fueling the vast illicit market in drugs, to the benefit of organized criminal groups that victimize vulnerable communities and undermine human rights and the rule of law in many countries.

The new guidelines come at a time when federal prosecutors have been filing fewer drug cases with mandatory minimums and offenders have been receiving lower average sentences, resulting in a slight reduction in federal prison populations in 2015, as documented in the Q&A.

“Sessions’ misguided approach to drugs and sentencing will have devastating effects at a time when progress was just beginning in earnest,” said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. “It’s now up to Congress and the states to ensure the US continues on a path toward ending over-incarceration and approaching drugs as a health, rather than a criminal justice, matter.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2017, 2:47 pm

(Beirut) – Lebanese military personnel who beat and kicked protesters demonstrating against a third extension of parliament’s term on June 16, 2017, should be held to account, Human Rights Watch said today. The military should make the results of their investigation public.

A still from a Facebook video showing Lebanese military personnel beating protesters who were demonstrating against extending parliament's term, June 16, 2017.

© 2017 Lucien Bourjeily

Protesters said the beatings occurred after some of them threw eggs and tomatoes at cars they believed to be carrying members of parliament. Human Rights Watch spoke with six protesters, including five who said that army personnel hit them with batons, punched them in the face, and kicked them, next to the Beirut municipality building near parliament. Several videos taken at the protest appeared to corroborate their accounts. The military confirmed to Human Rights Watch that it has opened an investigation.

“Military authorities have an opportunity to show they are willing to hold their personnel accountable for the unlawful use of force,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The military prosecutor should make public the results of its investigation and hold anyone responsible for unlawful force accountable, and security services should make serious changes to the way their personnel respond to protests.”

The small protest in downtown Beirut was over the Lebanese cabinet’s agreement on June 14 to extend the parliament’s term for a third time, in order to put a new electoral law into effect. Lebanon has not held parliamentary elections since 2009.

The protesters interviewed said that prior to the attack, an officer wearing an army uniform with three stars, positioned behind a security barrier blocking one of the roads near parliament, told them to leave the area, claiming that it was a military zone. They said that more than 10 soldiers then attacked the protesters. Video of the incident shows an army officer raising the security barrier without apparent provocation and army personnel moving forward and beating protesters.

A second video shows a group of soldiers repeatedly kicking and hitting two protesters with batons as they lay on the ground. In another video, army personnel can be seen kicking a different protester as he lay on the ground. Human Rights Watch spoke with the protesters in these videos and also reviewed a medical report documenting heavy bruising on one of the protesters.

A group of military personnel repeatedly kicking and hitting two protesters with batons as they lay on the ground, Beirut, Lebanon.

The National News Agency reported a June 16 statement by Parliament Police that said, “After some demonstrators attempted to break into the security barrier and assault protection guards... and after they [demonstrators] forcibly stripped one of the servicemen from his arms and shoved him on the ground, the Parliament's guards had to intervene to free their comrade from the demonstrators’ grip.”

Protesters asserted that they did not physically confront any security force members and that they were all unarmed. Human Rights Watch has not seen any credible reports that security or army personnel were injured. Protesters denied that they had tried to cross the barrier or used violence against security forces, and no videos published from the protest corroborated the Parliament Police statement.

In an earlier incident the same day in nearby Riad Al Solh, protesters told Human Rights Watch, private security guards beat them when they attempted to stop a convoy they suspected was carrying a member of parliament from passing.

Protesters expressed outrage at the level of violence used against them. “You could sense how much they wanted to do us harm,” one protester told Human Rights Watch. “This is the most horrible part of what happened.”

“They are teaching us not to protest and call for our rights,” another protester said.

In a media interview, the Defense Minister Yaqub al-Sarraf said that the security forces were army personnel assigned to protect parliament, and that any guilty party would be held responsible.

In response to an inquiry from Human Rights Watch, the army wrote that, “These members follow the command of the Parliament Police and their relation to the Army is only administrative. His Excellency the Minister of National Defense Mr. Yaqub al-Sarraf has mandated Judge Saqr Saqr, the Government Commissioner to the Military Court, to investigate the issue. Judge Saqr has referred the case to the Military Police to conduct necessary investigations and take appropriate measures against whomever the investigation reveals as responsible for what has happened.” Judge Saqr, the military prosecutor, told Human Rights Watch that his office had opened an investigation.

On June 17, the Beirut Bar Association announced that it had formed a committee of volunteer lawyers to seek accountability for the violence. You Stink, the group that organized the protest, held a news conference on June 17 condemning the attacks and calling for the release of security footage of the incident.

The Lebanese constitution and international law protect freedom of assembly. However, Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented the unlawful use of force by security agencies against protesters in Lebanon. On August 22 and 23, 2015, Lebanese security personnel used rubber bullets, teargas canisters, water cannons, rifle butts, and batons at a protest in downtown Beirut over a waste management crisis and corruption.

Impunity for violence by security forces is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into previous incidents of excessive, and in some cases, lethal violence against protesters, the investigations have often not been concluded or made public. All publicly available information indicates that Lebanon has previously failed to adequately investigate incidents in which security forces, including the army, used force against protesters, such as the violent dispersal of Palestinian protesters in Northern Lebanon on June 29, 2007, which left two Palestinians dead and at least 28 injured; and the violent dispersal of protesters in Hay al-Sellom, a poor neighborhood in Beirut, on May 27, 2004, which killed five protesters and wounded dozens.

“This is unfortunately only the latest incident in which protests in Lebanon have been met with violence,” Fakih said. “If protestors threw eggs or tomatoes, security services could have detained them peacefully, but beating people as they lie helplessly on the ground is clearly unacceptable.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2017, 7:50 am