Pakistan: Garment Workers’ Rights at Risk

Pakistan’s government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses. 

(New York) – Pakistan’s government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 73-page report, “‘No Room to Bargain’: Unfair and Abusive Labor Practices in Pakistan,” documents a range of violations in Pakistan’s garment factories. They include a failure to pay minimum wages and pensions, suppression of independent labor unions, forced overtime, insufficient breaks, and disregarded regulations requiring paid maternity and medical leave. Human Rights Watch also identified problems in the government’s labor inspection system. Pakistan authorities should revamp labor inspections and systematically hold factories accountable for abuses. Domestic and international apparel brands should take more effective measures to prevent and correct labor rights abuses in the factories that produce clothing for them.

“Pakistan’s government has long neglected its obligations to protect the rights of the country’s garment workers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government should urgently enforce the labor laws and adopt new policies to protect workers from abuse.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 140 people for the report, including 118 garment workers from 24 factories in Pakistan, as well as union leaders, government representatives, and labor rights advocates. Human Rights Watch conducted most of the field research for this report in Pakistan from June 2017 to December 2018.

In recent years, Pakistani garment workers have expressed serious grievances through strikes and protests. In December 2018, garment workers protested at a training institute in Lahore run by a major Pakistani brand, which they said abused a government incentive program. Workers alleged that the training institute actually operated as a factory, extracting free labor from “trainees.” In May 2017, workers protested after Khaadi, a leading Pakistani apparel brand, fired 32 workers for demanding their rights under Pakistani law.

Garment workers making shirts at a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, February 2015. 

© 2015 Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

In September 2012, a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi killed at least 255 workers and injured more than 100. Investigations found a series of irregularities and an almost complete absence of fire and safety systems. Survivors reported that the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first.

Some of the larger factories in Pakistan, which are part of the organized sector of the industry, supply international apparel brands. But most garment factories in Pakistan cater to the domestic market, with the work carried out in small unregistered workshops in unmarked buildings that escape labor inspectors’ scrutiny.

The working conditions in these smaller factories are usually worse than those in larger ones that are more likely to be inspected, Human Rights Watch found. Owners often refuse to pay the statutory minimum wage and hire workers on short-term oral contracts. However, Human Rights Watch documented violations of labor rights including long working hours and extended temporary employment without job security or benefits even in large Pakistani factories, including some that supply garments to international retailers and brands.

Workers, many of them women, also said that they experienced verbal abuse, were pressured not to take toilet breaks, and were even denied clean drinking water. People demanding their rights could be threatened or fired. In two factories, Human Rights Watch documented beatings of workers by managers.

“I know that the payment is below the government minimum wage, but who will hear our complaint?” said a worker who earns about $90 a month after eight years. “If I protest to the manager, I will be fired in a heartbeat.”

Some garment factories producing for domestic brands use home-based workers for special orders or on a seasonal basis. Women working from home are often denied labor law protections. They are not able to join factory unions or unionize, and their work remains unregulated and vulnerable to middlemen, who often refuse to pay minimum wage.

Labor rights activists described union-busting by many large factories. Factory managers often keep workers on short-term contracts to discourage their participation in union activities. Workers also alleged that factory owners manipulate the labor law to create obstacles to register trade unions. Several factories register fake or “yellow” unions consisting of chosen or non-existent employees, making it close to impossible for workers to register real unions.

Pakistan should amend its labor law to comply with international standards including International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. In the interim, rigorous enforcement of the existing law would go a long way in protecting workers’ rights, Human Rights Watch said. Labor inspectors and other authorities are frequently overstretched, or complicit, and let abuses persist.

Factory owners also need to make a commitment to reform, Human Rights Watch said. The All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers & Exporters Association (PRGMEA) should ensure compliance with worker protection provisions, and sanction companies that abuse worker rights.

Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, domestic and international apparel brands and factories supplying them have responsibilities to prevent and mitigate human rights abuses in factories and should take remedial action if abuses occur. All businesses, regardless of their size or where they are based, should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur,” the guiding principles say.

“The Pakistani government should ensure that garment factories stop using union-busting and other strategies to prevent workers from organizing and collectively demanding their rights,” Adams said. “Domestic and international brands should recognize that respecting worker rights makes for more competitive businesses.”

Selected Quotes

Absence of Written Contracts

“There is no written contract and the only proof of employment is a card. The factory management marks the attendance of the workers themselves and signs everybody out after nine hours so that if the record is ever inspected, it would appear that the management is complying with the law. In truth, we work longer hours and there is not even sick leave. Salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman who becomes visibly pregnant is told to leave.”

–Shabana (pseudonym), who has been working for more than eight years at a Lahore garment factory with about 500 workers.

Forced Overtime

“I was fired last Sunday for not working overtime. I have not received a termination letter. On Monday, when I went to work, my name was listed with the security guard at the gate and he told me that I had been ‘gate stopped.’ Gate stopped is the most fearful term in the garment industry since it means that you have been fired and are no longer allowed to enter the factory.”

–Akbar (pseudonym), worker at a factory manufacturing for a domestic brand in Karachi.

Denying Wages and Benefits

“I have been working at this factory for the past eight years. My salary is around 9,000 Pakistani rupees [US$90] per month. I know that the payment is below the government minimum wage, but who will hear our complaint? If I protest to the manager, I will be fired in a heartbeat.”

–Rehana (pseudonym), worker at a factory supplying domestic and international brands in Karachi.

Lack of Breaks

“We are allowed a lunch break for half an hour and two short bathroom breaks. If anyone asks for an additional bathroom break, the managers verbally abuse him and mock him for having a weak bladder. The only way to cope is to not drink water except during lunch.”

–Raza (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Hafizabad district, Punjab province.

Unsanitary Conditions

“There are 300 to 400 workers in the factory crammed in a small space. The factory is filthy, and the cleaning is done rarely. There is no clean drinking water in the factory. If any worker complains about feeling ill or nauseous, the managers give us a painkiller, deduct the cost of the medicine from our salary and tell us to get on with the work.”

–Kamran (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Lahore.

Maternity Leave and Child Care

“There is no maternity leave. Pregnant women are ‘left’ [an industry term for termination] and now whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired.”

–Fehmida (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Karachi.

Home-Based Women Workers

“The work is given to us by a contractor who is our only point of contact. The contractor does not tell us if the garments are being made for an [international] brand or not. The payment varies from 2 to 4 rupees per piece [2 to 4 US cents]. At times, the contractor does not tell us the rate before production saying, ‘We will discuss the rate once you have finished the order.’ We can’t bargain because if we do then the contractor will not give us the order the next time.”

–Zahida (pseudonym), home-based garment worker based in Karachi.

Intimidation and Harassment of Independent Unions

“Union leaders have been harassed and intimidated multiple times. The management has used the local police to have fake [criminal] cases registered against union members and workers. I have been arrested, kept in a police lock-up, and tortured for calling a strike. Now any worker who is seen talking to a union leader is fired.”

–Ghulam Abbas, trade union leader based in Hafizabad district, Punjab.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 24, 2019, 2:08 am

Surachai Danwattananusorn, prominent Thai anti-monarchist, and two close aides were reportedly abducted in Vientiane in December 2018. 

© 2018 Private

(New York) – The Lao government should urgently investigate the disappearance of three Thai political activists who were last seen in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. On January 22, 2019, Thai authorities told Human Rights Watch that DNA samples from the bodies found in the Mekong River matched two of the missing activists, Phu Chana and Kasalong.

Prominent Thai anti-monarchist Surachai Danwattananusorn, 78, and two close aides, known as Phu Chana, 54, and Kasalong, 47, were last seen in Vientiane on December 11, 2018. Their colleagues promptly reported the disappearances to Lao authorities.

The identification of Phu Chana and Kasalong’s bodies, found on December 26 and 27 respectively, raised grave concerns for Surachai, Human Rights Watch said. The two bodies’ hands and feet were bound and their faces smashed beyond recognition. They also both had been disemboweled and stuffed with concrete.

“The Lao government seems intent on sweeping the abduction and gruesome murder of Thai activists under the rug,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Lao authorities need to credibly investigate and prosecute this heinous case, which has raised alarms for Thai activists in exile in Laos.”

Two days before the Thai military staged a coup and took power on May 22, 2014, Surachai fled to Laos to escape charges brought against him for lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) and accusations by the Thai military junta regarding his involvement with anti-government militia groups. While in Laos, Surachai, along with the other missing activists, operated online radio programs that strongly criticized military rule in Thailand and the Thai monarchy. The Thai government repeatedly demanded that Laos hand over Surachai and all other Thai anti-monarchists, most recently when Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha visited Vientiane on December 13.

The Lao government has not conducted serious investigations into previous disappearances of Thai anti-monarchists living in Vientiane, including Itthipol Sukpaen, missing since June 2016, and Wuthipong Kachathamakul, missing since July 2017, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not operate an office in Laos, which could offer protection to refugees. The Lao government also does not permit the regional UNHCR office based in Bangkok to provide protection for Thais who to flee to Laos to escape political persecution.

“The Lao government has an obligation to find out what happened to Surachai and all other Thai activists who have gone missing in Laos,” Adams said. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Lao government to take serious steps to investigate these cases and prosecute whomever is responsible.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 23, 2019, 1:30 am

Huang Qi. 

Prominent Chinese human rights activist Huang Qi went on trial last week on dubious charges of “leaking state secrets,” but the proceedings before a court in Sichuan province remained a mystery hours after the trial ended. Why? Because one of Huang’s lawyers was disbarred a few days before the trial and the other, who was in the courtroom, was threatened by authorities not to speak about it.

In China, lawyers who represent detained activists often serve a vital role as messengers to clients’ families, who are not permitted visits until after conviction. The late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s soul-stirring essay “I Have No Enemies” was written when he was in detention and made public by his lawyer. Human rights lawyer Xie Yang’s harrowing account of the torture he endured in custody was made known to the world because his lawyer took meticulous notes while visiting him.

Chinese authorities started weaponizing disbarment of human rights lawyers about a decade ago. The tactic has intensified since August 2017, two years after the “709” crackdown in which police rounded up more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists across the country. Now lawyers risk disbarment for merely defending activists in court or for reporting on prosecutions. In Huang’s case, Sui Muqing, the lawyer Huang’s family first hired, was disbarred in February 2018. Liu Zhengqing, the lawyer hired to replace Sui, was disbarred less than a year later.

While local justice bureaus block the work of many outspoken lawyers, they also assign lawyers whom, either out of fear or as a result of official instructions, conceal critical information from the defendant’s family, such as their physical and mental condition, and even trial dates. During the trial of rights lawyer Li Heping, his government-assigned lawyer not only failed to inform Li’s family of the trial date, but also did not attend the trial himself.

Recently, the Chinese government has sought to fend off criticism of its politically motivated detention of two Canadian nationals by repeatedly claiming that it respects the rule of law. If China’s leaders really want their words to be taken seriously, they could start by reinstating the licenses of disbarred rights lawyers. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 23, 2019, 1:01 am

People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a green light for the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender military service to take effect.

When the ban was announced, it met with opposition not only from the public and some military leaders, but from senators on both sides of the aisle. Senators Joni Ernst, Richard Shelby, and John McCain, among others, spoke out against the discriminatory ban, with McCain cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to end it.

Despite this initial backlash, nobody has introduced legislation into the new Congress to allow transgender people to continue to enlist.

President Donald Trump first announced the ban in July 2017 in a series of tweets saying that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

The ban was instantly challenged in a series of lawsuits, and federal judges originally stopped the policy from taking effect as those lawsuits proceeded. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, lifts two of the injunctions that prevented the ban from taking effect. The remaining injunction will likely be lifted in the wake of the Court’s action, allowing the ban to take effect.

In February 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis drew up a policy that prohibits transgender people with a history of gender dysphoria – a medical condition of discomfort with one’s sex assigned at birth – from serving in the US military. The policy allows those who are currently serving to continue to do so, but adds that those who “require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.”

As the ban is volleyed through the federal courts, the lives and careers of transgender service members hang in the balance. It’s well past time for Congress to turn words into actions and put a stop to this discriminatory farce of a policy. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2019, 10:14 pm

Detainees sit next to an anti-drug mural of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte inside the Manila City Jail, October 16, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Philippine government is one step closer to prosecuting young children as adults, a key plank in President Rodrigo Duterte’s abuse-ridden anti-crime campaign.

On Monday, a congressional committee approved a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9. If the Senate makes good on its promise to pass this version, and it’s signed into law by the president, this would no doubt worsen the plight of Filipino children caught up in the justice system.

Proponents of the bill argue that children would be better protected from criminals who are trying to exploit them. But the law’s impact would be punitive: children from 14 to 9 who commit serious crimes such as murder, illegal detention, or “carnapping,” or violate the country’s draconian drug laws can be sentenced to “mandatory confinement” of up to 12 years.

The national Commission on Human Rights denounced the bill, saying that “punishing children for the crime and abuse of syndicates and other people is against the state’s responsibility to look after the interests and welfare of children.” The Philippines representative of the United Nations children’s organization, Unicef, cited neuroscientific research that shows that the brain is still developing into the mid-20s, including the ability to inhibit impulses, weigh consequences of decisions, prioritize, and strategize.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Philippines has ratified, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should only be used as a last resort, and rehabilitation is a priority. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors government compliance with the convention, states in its draft general comment on juvenile justice that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 years, and should under no circumstances be reduced below that.

Children in the Philippines have already been subjected to the extreme violence of Duterte’s “drug war,” with the police and government agents killing dozens during anti-drug operations as suspected drug users or for being pawns of drug dealers. The proposed law will not only stigmatize children even more – it turns them into scapegoats in the government’s abusive anti-crime campaign.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2019, 4:40 pm

In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

© 2018 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

(Washington, DC) – More than three in every five people responding to a new poll in 26 countries oppose the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.

The survey by the market research company Ipsos was commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which Human Rights Watch coordinates, and conducted in December 2018. Sixty one percent of respondents said they oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons, while 22 percent support such use and 17 percent said they were not sure. In a near-identical survey in 23 countries by the same company in January 2017, 56 percent were opposed, 24 percent not opposed, and 19 percent unsure.

“Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Bold political leadership is needed for a new treaty to preemptively ban these weapons systems.”

The annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva decided in November 2018 to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots with no clear objective or timetable for negotiating a treaty, showing why a new avenue is urgently needed to prohibit these weapons before they become operational, Human Rights Watch said. In November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called lethal autonomous weapons systems “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant” and urged states to prohibit them.

The 2018 Ipsos survey used respondent pools of 500 – 1,000 people in each country. The strongest opposition was in Turkey (78%), South Korea (74%), and Hungary (74%).

Opposition was strong for both women (62%) and men (60%) although men are more likely to favor these weapons (26%) compared to women (18%). Opposition increased with age: those most opposed were ages 50 to 64 (68%).

The 2018 Ipsos poll also asked those opposed to killer robots what concerned them the most. Two-thirds (66%) answered that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.” More than half (54%) said the weapons would be “unaccountable.”

At the November meeting, governments agreed to continue diplomatic talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2019. But the decision did not reflect the view of the majority of nations at the meeting that countries should begin formal negotiations of a legally binding treaty. The meeting rules, which permit a single country to thwart any action by the majority of countries, allowed Russia to block the start of negotiations and to reduce the amount of time devoted to the talks this year.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the United States indicated at the meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty. These nations and China are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, prompting fears of widespread proliferation and arms races.

Since 2013, 28 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. El Salvador and Morocco added their names to the list during the November meeting. Austria, Brazil, and Chile formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Past failures by the Convention on Conventional Weapons to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. Those treaties were the result of partnerships between like-minded countries, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and dedicated coalitions of nongovernmental organizations. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

Countries and other responsible entities should not hesitate to endorse and work for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said. For example, in June, Google issued a set of ethical principles, including a commitment not to “design or deploy” artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Human Rights Watch is co-founder, is a rapidly growing coalition of 88 nongovernmental organizations in 50 countries coordinated by Human Rights Watch that is working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. The campaign has opened a new website to replace the one used since its inception in 2013.

“The Ipsos poll shows that public expectations are rising for governments to take the threat of fully autonomous weapons seriously and be willing to take strong action to retain human control over the use of force,” Wareham said. “The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots.”


Further Analysis of the Ipsos Surveys on Killer Robots


Overall Opposition to Killer Robots in 2018

The 2018 Ipsos poll was conducted in 26 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and United States. The 2017 Ipsos poll was conducted in 23 of these countries, but not in Colombia, Israel, or the Netherlands.

The 2018 poll slightly revises the question from the previous poll and states:

The United Nations is reviewing the strategic, legal and moral implications of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These weapons systems would be capable of independently selecting targets and attacking those targets without human intervention. They are thus different than current day “drones” where humans select and attack targets. How do you feel about the use of such lethal autonomous weapons systems in war?

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, while 22 percent were not opposed, and 17 percent were unsure or undecided.

Of those who expressed a view, nearly three times as many respondents said they opposed killer robots as those who were not opposed.

A majority of respondents in 20 countries opposed killer robots. In 15 of those countries, 60 percent or more were opposed: Turkey (78% opposed), South Korea (74%), Hungary (74%); Colombia (73%); Germany (72%); Sweden (71%), Netherlands (68%), Spain (65%), Peru (65%), Argentina (64%), Mexico (64%), Belgium (63%), Poland (62%), Canada (60%), and China (60%).

Notably, a majority also opposed killer robots in Russia (59%); the UK (54%); and the US (52%). These nations are often identified as most in favor of fully autonomous weapons and have worked against a prohibition on such weapons.

The only countries where a majority of respondents did not oppose killer robots were India (37%), Israel (41%), Brazil (46%); and Japan (48%).


Changes in Opposition to Killer Robots from January 2017 to December 2018

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, compared with 56 percent of 23 of the same countries in 2017.

Of the 23 countries surveyed in both 2017 and 2018, opposition to killer robots increased in 14, though some of the increases are within the margin of error.

The biggest increases in opposition were in: China (up 24 percentage points); Turkey (up 21 percentage points), France, Poland, Hungary (all up 13 percentage points), and South Korea (up 12 percentage points).

Increases also occurred in Sweden (up 9%); US (up 7%); Germany (up 7%); India, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Belgium all also saw increases, though the increases were within the margin of error.

Of the nine countries where opposition decreased, the change was just 1 percent or 2 percent in five of the countries. The only substantial decreases in opposition were in Russia (10%) and Brazil (6%). South Africa and Japan had decreases that were within the margin of error.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2019, 5:00 am

Ascensión Mendieta enters the cemetery where her father’s remains have are buried in a mass grave.

© 2019 Modesto Aranda
Human rights are featured prominently in this year’s Oscar shortlists. Five of the 15 shortlisted films for Best Documentary (out of 166 eligible titles) are part of the 2018 and 2019 Human Rights Watch Film Festival. We’re rooting for one to win the Oscar statuette on February 24th, and look forward to the final nominee list to be announced tomorrow.

Here’s a quick guide to the five HRWFF title that made the short list. 

Charm City

Working with local journalists and spending more than three years with communities in Baltimore, Maryland, has made for one of the most unassuming films we have seen on policing and racism in the U.S. This brilliant film was directed by Marilyn Ness (who produced E-Teama film featuring Human Rights Watch researchers working in crisis situations). 

The Distant Barking of Dogs

A hauntingly beautiful film, The Distant Barking of Dogsby Simon Lereng Wilmont embeds the viewer into the lives of two young boys growing up in eastern Ukraine on the conflict’s frontline. The film captures the boys’ diminishing innocence in the midst of war, while bringing to the fore the most basic human rights of life, liberty, and security. 

Minding the Gap

Filmmaker Bing Liu shares a coming-of-age story shot over 12 years in Rockford, Illinois, where he captured footage of himself and two friends, young men bound by a love of skateboarding and the desire to escape volatile family life. The film grapples with the cycles of shame and abuse in a town with some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the U.S. While navigating a relationship between his camera, his friends, and his past, Liu weaves a rich and epic story while remaining intimate and immersive. 

Nadia Murad, featured in On Her Shoulders by Alexandria Bombach.

On Her Shoulders

This film by Alexandria Bombach accompanies Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi community who escaped sexual slavery under ISIS, as she bears the weight of her community’s trauma in the pursuit of international action. A departure from traditional biopics, the camera turns on us as bystanders, journalists, news consumers - challenging us to question our demand for more stories without helping solve the problems. 

The Silence of Others

Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s film has won awards around the world, shedding light on a dark era of Spain’s history that haunts it to this day. Under General Francisco Franco’s rule, it is estimated that 100,000 people were disappeared and murdered. With its “Amnesty Law,” Spain prohibited legal recourse by survivors and families. The film follows brave people, assisted by others navigating international criminal processes in Chile and Guatemala, as they break the silence and seek justice. 

In the last few years, the Academy Awards nominees for Best Documentary have diversified, as the Academy expanded the number of its members able to vote for documentaries, and increased the number of women and people of color who are members.  We hope this will open up additional opportunities and support for people to tell their stories and share their perspectives, 


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 21, 2019, 6:25 pm


Libya: Nightmarish Detention for Migrants, Asylum Seekers

European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya. 

(Brussels) – European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya.

The 70-page report, “‘No Escape from Hell’: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya,” documents severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of adequate health care. Human Rights Watch found violent abuse by guards in four official detention centers in western Libya, including beatings and whippings. Human Rights Watch witnessed large numbers of children, including newborns, detained in grossly unsuitable conditions in three out of the four detention centers. Almost 20 percent of those who reached Europe by sea from Libya in 2018 were children.

“Migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya, including children, are trapped in a nightmare, and what EU governments are doing perpetuates detention instead of getting people out of these abusive conditions,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe director at Human Rights Watch. “Fig-leaf efforts to improve conditions and get some people out of detention do not absolve the EU of responsibility for enabling the barbaric detention system in the first place.”

In a letter to Human Rights Watch as the report went to print, the European Commission indicated that its dialogue with Libyan authorities has focused on respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees, that the EU’s engagement in Libya is of a humanitarian nature, and that concrete improvements have been achieved though challenges remain.

Kemi, a Nigerian woman who was seven-months’ pregnant at the time, said a guard at al-Karareem detention center beat her with a hose.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch visited the Ain Zara and Tajoura detention centers in Tripoli, the al-Karareem detention center in Misrata, and the Zuwara detention center in the city of the same name in July 2018. All are under the nominal control of the Directorate to Counter Illegal Migration (DCIM) of the Government of National Accord (GNA), one of two competing authorities in Libya. Human Rights Watch spoke with over 100 detained migrants and asylum seekers, including 8 unaccompanied children, and each center’s director and senior staff. Researchers also met with the head of DCIM; senior officials of Libya’s Coast Guard, which is aligned with the GNA; and representatives of international organizations and diplomats.

Abdul, an 18-year-old from Darfur, was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard in May 2018, when he attempted to reach Europe to apply for asylum. He was subsequently detained in abysmal, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions in the al-Karareem center. He said that guards beat him on the bottom of his feet with a hose to make him confess to helping three men escape. Abdul’s experience encapsulates the struggle, dashed hopes, and suffering of so many migrants and asylum seekers in Libya today, Human Rights Watch said.

Senior officials in EU institutions and member countries are aware of the situation. In November 2017, EU migration commissioner, Dimitri Avramopoulos, said: “We are all conscious of the appalling and degrading conditions in which some migrants are held in Libya.”  Yet since 2016, the EU and particular member states have poured millions of euros into programs to beef up the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity to intercept boats leaving Libya, fully aware that everyone is then automatically detained in indefinite, arbitrary detention without judicial review.

Detainees said guards at al-Karareem detention center beat them on the soles of their feet. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Italy – the EU country where the majority of migrants departing Libya have arrived – has taken the lead in providing material and technical assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard forces and abdicated virtually all responsibility for coordinating rescue operations at sea, to limit the number of people arriving on its shores. The increase in interceptions in international waters by the Libyan Coast Guard, combined with obstruction by Italy and Malta of rescue vessels operated by nongovernmental organizations, has contributed to overcrowding and deteriorating conditions in Libyan detention centers.

Enabling the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people in international waters and return them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in Libya can constitute aiding or assisting in the commission of serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. EU and member state support for programs for humanitarian assistance to detained migrants and asylum seekers and for evacuation and repatriation schemes have done little to address the systemic problems with immigration detention in Libya, and serve to cover up the injustice of the EU containment policy.

Elijah said guards forced detainees to sit on the ground and stare at the sun.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Libyan authorities should end arbitrary immigration detention and institute alternatives to detention, improve conditions in detention centers, and ensure accountability for state and non-state actors who violate the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. The authorities should also sign a memorandum of understanding with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, to allow it to register anyone in need of international protection, regardless of nationality, in full respect of its mandate.

EU institutions and member states should impose clear benchmarks for improvements in the treatment of migrants and conditions in detention centers in Libya and be prepared to suspend cooperation if benchmarks are not met. The EU should also ensure and enable robust search-and-rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, including by nongovernmental groups, and significantly increase resettlement of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants out of Libya.

“EU leaders know how bad things are in Libya, but continue to provide political and material support to prop up a rotten system,” Sunderland said. “To avoid complicity in gross human rights abuses, Italy and its EU partners should rethink their strategy to truly press for fundamental reforms and ending automatic detention.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 21, 2019, 5:01 am

(New York) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces killed two Buddhist monks in an unlawful assault on a temple, Human Rights Watch said today. The deliberate attack on civilians and a place of worship is a war crime.

Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s Narathiwat province attacked Wat Rattanaphab temple on January 18, 2019, and killed two Buddhist monks, including the temple’s abbot Phra Khru Prachote Rattanarak, and wounded two others. 

© 2018 Private

On January 18, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., a group of apparent ethnic Malay insurgents attacked Wat Rattananupab temple in Su Ngai Padi district of Narathiwat province, killing two Buddhist monks and wounding two others. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch they saw armed men arrive on motorcycles, open fire with assault rifles at the temple, and then storm inside and shoot the monks at point-blank range. Among those killed was the temple’s abbot, Phra Khru Prachote Rattananurak (real name, Sawang Vethmaha).

“The ghastly attack on Buddhist monks by insurgents in Thailand’s deep south is morally reprehensible and a war crime, and those responsible should be held to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The insurgents’ 15-year campaign of deliberately attacking Buddhist and Muslim civilians can’t be justified.”

The attack followed a pattern consistent with other insurgent attacks, and heightened fears in Su Ngai Padi district and other parts of the four southern border provinces. Thai authorities have instructed all Buddhist monks in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla provinces to stay inside temples and cease their daily morning routine of collecting alms.

Since the outbreak of armed insurgency in January 2004, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) insurgents have targeted Buddhist temples and monks, which they consider emblematic of the Thai Buddhist state’s occupation of ethnic Malay Muslim territory. At least 23 monks have been killed and more than 20 wounded. The insurgents have also targeted security personnel assigned to provide monks safe passage to and from the temples.

The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, prohibit attacks on civilians and civilian objects, including houses of worship, or attacks that fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians. The laws of war provide no justification for insurgent claims that attacks on civilians are lawful because those targeted are part of the Thai Buddhist state or that Islamic law, as they interpret it, permits such attacks.

The laws of war also explicitly prohibit tactics frequently used by BRN insurgents, including reprisals and summary executions against civilians and captured combatants, mutilation or other mistreatment of the dead, and attacks directed at civilian facilities. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned such laws-of-war violations by the insurgents.

Despite a peace dialogue between the Thai government and separatist groups under the umbrella of Majlis Syura Patani (Mara Patani), BRN insurgents have not ceased attacks on civilian targets.

Thai government security forces and militias have also committed numerous violations of the laws of war and international human rights law against Malay Muslim civilians and suspected BRN members. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture cannot be justified as reprisals for insurgent attacks.

The situation has been exacerbated by an entrenched culture of impunity for abuses by officials in the southern border provinces. The government has not successfully prosecuted any officials for crimes against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency. Human rights defenders and lawyers have faced intimidation, threats, and criminal libel charges after alleging abuses by Thai security forces.

“Both Muslims and Buddhists in southern Thailand are caught in the cycle of abuses and reprisals by insurgents and Thai security forces,” Adams said. “The Thai government needs to prosecute the atrocities by its own forces as well as those by the insurgents if this horrific violence is to stop.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 20, 2019, 2:18 am

Protesters from Unchained at Last speak in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to end child marriage in Massachusetts, May 2017. 

© 2017 Unchained at Last/Facebook

Today, I’ll join the Women’s March in Boston to demand an end to child marriage in Massachusetts. 

My two grandmothers were both child brides in Trinidad and Tobago. Their lives illustrate how child marriage robs children – especially girls – of their childhood and rights.

My grandmothers (“Nanny” and “Mama”) were forced by their families around age 13 to marry adult men they had never met. Both dropped out of school, had early pregnancies, gave birth to 7 and 8 children respectively, and experienced the loss of a child shortly after birth. They assumed heavy household duties. No one asked whether this was what they wanted. Returning to their families was not an option.

Mama, now age 94, still has flashbacks of her husband’s abuse, leaving her fearful her life is in danger, even though my grandfather passed away long ago.

Millions of women and girls around the world – and hundreds of thousands in the US – share my grandmothers’ experience. In Massachusetts, more than 1,200 children married between 2000 and 2016, primarily girls marrying adult men.

Child marriage is deeply harmful. It deprives girls of education, exposes them to serious health risks, deepens poverty, and puts these girls at greater risk of domestic violence.

One of the reasons child marriage is still an issue in the US is that many states allow it.

In 48 US states, child marriage is permitted legally under certain circumstances. Massachusetts is one of those states, with a minimum marriage age of 18, but allowing children to wed with parental “consent” and judicial approval. There is no statutory minimum age for those exceptions.

This has to change. New Jersey and Delaware recently paved the way by fully banning child marriages, no exceptions. Massachusetts should be next.

As I march today to end child marriage, my grandmothers will be with me in spirit, every step of the way.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 19, 2019, 5:01 am

A Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas.

© 2018 John Moore/Getty Images

Trump administration officials were discussing deliberately targeting migrant families by late 2017, a draft policy document leaked to NBC News confirms. A government report also published this week found that thousands more children were forcibly separated from their parents, and beginning much earlier, than the administration had previously acknowledged.

The separations uncovered by the Office of Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) date to summer 2017, well before the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy became public in April 2018 and images of children in cages hit the news in the following months.

A court case brought by the ACLU compelled the government to disclose how many children were separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy. Authorities struggled to provide this information, eventually telling the court that 2,737 children had been forcibly separated from their parents.

But the court order only covered children who were in HHS custody on the date it was issued in June 2018. The count didn’t include many of the children split from their families in 2017 and early 2018, a number that the inspector general concluded was “unknown” but in the thousands. Because of inadequate recordkeeping, authorities also can’t say where all these children went and don’t know how many children have not yet been reunited with their parents.

Rather than reunification, the real priorities were deterrence and punishment of these families. Those priorities were obvious last summer, and they’re confirmed by the leaked policy memo.

The memo discussed targeting parents in migrant families for prosecution, with their children treated as unaccompanied and transferred to HHS custody. This approach “would have a substantial deterrent effect,” the document stated.

One official also suggested ways to deny separated children their right to seek asylum before an immigration judge, a process the official said “can be slow.”

The trauma of tearing families apart is never acknowledged in the memo. Nowhere do its drafters pause to consider how young some of the affected children would be – more than 100 were under age five, and some children were newborns.
These documents tell us the Trump administration wasn’t simply careless about the well-being of children in its care. Forcible family separation, piloted for months before it was rolled out across the border, was a deliberate strategy to inflict harm on children and their families to send the message that asylum seekers were unwelcome.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2019, 6:42 pm

Screenshot from an episode of the online show “1 Dîner 2 Cons”, recorded in Casablanca, Morocco. 

© 2018 1D2C / YouTube

(Tunis) – Moroccan authorities should immediately abandon attempts to dissolve the cultural group Racines, over critical comments made by guests on an online talk show it hosted, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.  

Racines, a Casablanca-based association, was targeted because its office was used as a venue to record an episode of the talk show ‘1 Dîner 2 Cons’ (One Dinner, Two Fools) on August 5, 2018. Human Rights Watch’s Ahmed Benchemsi was one of six guests invited to comment on Moroccan news during the episode that was posted on YouTube on August 24. During the show, some guests criticized King Mohammed VI’s speeches and policies, in a context of increased police repression of street protests. The episode has been viewed more than half a million times.

“The talk show ‘1 Dîner 2 Cons’ is one of the very few spaces left for free, uncensored speech in Morocco,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “By seeking the dissolution of the organization that hosted it, authorities are sending a grim message to the dwindling ranks of critical journalists and commentators in Morocco, and that message is ‘Shut up.’”

On October 9, the governor of Casablanca-Anfa, a high-ranking official in the Interior Ministry, wrote to Casablanca’s general prosecutor, requesting Racines’ dissolution on the grounds that the group had “organized an activity including interviews interspersed with clear offenses towards institutions (… and in which) political opinions were expressed that are very remote from the purposes for which the association was created.” The governor’s letter refers to the episode of ‘1 Dîner 2 Cons’ recorded on August 5. The general prosecutor petitioned the court on November 13 to dissolve Racines on the grounds raised by the governor’s letter.

Racines was neither the organizer of ‘1 Dîner 2 Cons’ nor the party that posted the recorded show on YouTube. The show was not posted on the group’s website or YouTube channel. “The association merely offered its Casablanca office as a venue for recording the show, at the request of its creators and hosts, journalists Amine Belghazi and Youssef El Mouedden,” Racines’ president, Raymond Benhaim, told Human Rights Watch. On December 26, the court ruled in the prosecutor’s favor and ordered that Racines be dissolved. The group published on January 15 a press release in which it announced its decision to appeal.

“The decision to dissolve Racines is a blow blatantly intended to intimidate critics into silence. No one should be punished for peacefully expressing their opinions or for criticizing institutions.  If the Moroccan authorities are serious about their constitutional and international commitment to guarantee freedom of expression and association, all attempts to shut down Racines should be immediately dropped,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.  

In its written judgment, the first instance court cited article 36 of the Law on Associations, which states that “any association engaged in an activity other than the ones provided for by its statutes may be dissolved.” By mentioning an article of Racines’ 2015 statutes defining the association’s objectives to include “enabling access to culture, establishing a cultural policy in Morocco, and organizing cultural events,” the court seemed to imply that hosting a show like ‘1 Dîner 2 Cons’ was beyond the scope of the association’s stated objectives. But Racines’ 2015 statutes include “activism for freedom of speech” among its objectives. Its updated 2018 statutes add that part of Racines’ mission is to implement “debates (…) concerning free speech.”

Associations should be free to determine their statutes and activities and make decisions without state interference. The rules governing organizations should not be used as a pretext to suppress exercise of human rights such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. 

1 Dîner, 2 Cons is a YouTube-based talk show in which the two hosts, self-described as “fools,” invite journalists, artists, and others to debate casually and in an offbeat tone, over dinner, a range of political and social controversial topics. It has been broadcasting since 2016. This is the first time authorities have taken legal action in response.

The relevant episode, which is titled “The Nihilists’ Saga” and is available online divided into three segments, features Ahmed Benchemsi, the Human Rights Watch advocacy and communications director for the Middle East and North Africa; Omar Radi, a journalist; Barry, a singer; Jawad El Hamidi, a religious freedom advocate; Aadel Essaadani, a cultural activist and Racines staff member; and Rachid Aourraz, an economist. Several guests criticized the King’s failure to ensure accountability in relation to the increase of police repression. One guest also mentioned the corruption that, according to him, plagued the Interior Ministry’s handling of a major social program initiated by the King in 2005.

Since the 2000’s, many independent media outlets have closed in Morocco and their founders have left the country, after years of harassment and intimidation. The government has imprisoned journalists, confiscated publications, seized assets, subjected journalists to unfair trials with disproportionate fines, and led advertising boycotts. Several journalists and commentators, including strong critics of state policy, are currently in jail. Morocco-based television channels refrain from any criticism of royal policies and practices.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2019, 5:00 am

Sudanese protesters cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2018. 

© 2018 Getty Images

(Nairobi) – Security officials in Sudan have killed dozens of protesters and rounded up hundreds since widespread anti-austerity protests began on December 19, 2018, four organizations said today. Sudanese authorities should immediately release or charge those detained in relation to the ongoing protests, four organizations said today.

Those arrested include protesters, journalists, doctors, lawyers, and opposition party leaders. On January 7, 2019, the interior minister said that at least 816 people had been arrested during the protests across the country. The number is most likely far greater since many people have also been detained for short periods and released. Many of those arrested remain in incommunicado detention, without access to family or lawyer visits.

“The number of arbitrary arrests related to the recent protests is huge, and the government seems intent on pursuing more arrests, repression, and other abuses as long as the protests continue,” said Mossaad Mohammed Ali, executive director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).

The other three organizations are Human Rights Watch, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, and the Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development.

On January 8, National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) officials arrested Salih Mahmoud Osman, a prominent human rights activist and Communist party member, at his law offices. NISS confirmed two days later that he was in custody, and his family has been told that no visits will be allowed for two weeks.

“We are worried about his health and even his life because he is suffering from hypertension and diabetes,” his family said in a statement. “We call on the international community to advocate for his immediate release.”

Others arrested include Masoud Mohamed el-Hassan and 88-year-old Siddig Yousif, both Communist party members, and Sudan Congress party leaders including Omer el-Digair. Mohamed Naji Al-Assam and Ahmed Rabi of the Sudanese Professionals Association’ Secretariat were arrested and detained on January 4 and 5, respectively. Adila Al Zaibaq and Sumaia Isaaq, activists with the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU), were arrested on December 25 and remain in detention. Ihsan Figiri, Amal Jabralla, Ahmed El- Sheikh, and Najeeb Najm El-Din, leaders of the Sudan Doctors Syndicate, are also detained.

NISS officers have also detained hospital patients. On January 5, a group of 12 security force members arrested Yasser Ali Elsir, 57, at his home where he was recuperating after being shot in the chest by a sniper on December 25. Elsir spent nine days in a hospital. Family members said in a statement the security forces are detaining him in an unknown location and will not allow him to travel although he requires further surgery outside the country.

Doctors’ associations reported additional detentions of doctors and violence against medical professionals and patients, especially on January 9 during protests in Omdurman. On January 11, Dr. Alfatih Omer Elsid, the manager of Tuga private hospital, was arrested while on his way to the mosque in Khartoum. He was arrested, the Sudan Doctors Syndicate said, after he announced that his hospital will provide free medical services to injured protesters. On January 13, Dr. Hiba Omer Ibrahim, a surgeon and mother of five, was arrested and held by NISS in an unknown location.

Dr. Alaa Nugdallah, the head of the Sudanese Surgeons' Association, was arrested on January 14 at his office in Khartoum. The association issued a statement on January 13 warning of a nationwide strike if detained doctors were not released in 24 hours.

In addition, the NISS is detaining more than 40 Darfuri students whom they have accused publicly of being part of a “sabotage cell,” news reported. Under the 2010 national security laws, the NISS may detain people for up to four and a half months without judicial review. The abuse of detainees in NISS custody, including torture, is well documented and all detainees in the agency’s custody are at risk of such ill-treatment.

Authorities should make known the names and whereabouts of all detainees and either charge them with an internationally recognized criminal offense, upholding due process protections, or release them at once, the organizations said.

“Violence won’t help Sudan overcome its many problems,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than using violence and abuses to clamp down on dissent, Sudan needs to engage peacefully with protesters’ concerns.” 

Signatory organizations
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies
Human Rights Watch 
International Refugee Rights Initiative 
Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development     


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2019, 5:00 am

This week a militant Islamist group in Indonesia raided the offices of an HIV prevention organization on suspicion that the group had been conducting “LGBT activities.” The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was joined by Indonesian soldiers and local residents in an incident that follows a disturbing pattern of similar vigilante raids across Indonesia. 

Sebuah kelompok yang menentang komunitas Lesbian, Gay dan Transjender (LGBT) sedang bersiap untuk menghadapi kelompok pro-LGBT yang melakukan protes tandingan di Monumen Tugu, Yogyakarta, pada 23 Pebruari.

© 2016 Andreas Fitri Atmoko/Antara

Mulyadi Anwar, a member of the city council in Pekanbaru in eastern Sumatra, orchestrated the raid and boasted about it in an anti-LGBT message on his re-election campaign Facebook page. Mulyadi acknowledged that the organization provides condoms and counseling for sex workers and waria (roughly translated as transgender women). However, he said: “[The organization] is for HIV prevention but we still cannot accept it. They still do vice activities. We are closing this place.”

For three years Indonesia has been engulfed by a government-driven moral panic about gender and sexuality. Politicians, government officials, and state offices have issued anti-LGBT statements calling for criminalization of homosexuality, censorship of LGBT-related information, and other threats to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Tensions began across the country in January 2016, when Indonesia’s higher education minister, Mohammed Nasir, tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses. Within two months, dozens of public officials had joined a cascade of public anti-LGBT vitriol.

Throughout 2017, police across Indonesia raided saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons, and private homes on suspicion that gay or transgender people were inside. Militant Islamists often tipped off police or accompanied them during these raids. Police apprehended at least 300 people in 2017 because of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity. Raids and arrests continued throughout 2018.

The combination of anti-LGBT rhetoric, the public flogging of gay men, and police targeting of private spaces has jeopardized Indonesia’s very limited public health infrastructure. Indonesia’s HIV rates in men who have sex with men, which have spiked five-fold over the past decade, could worsen as a result.

Years of anti-LGBT rhetoric from public officials has effectively sanctioned and given political cover for violence and discrimination. To change course, the government needs to uphold its commitments to “unity in diversity” by halting and investigating unlawful police raids and by supporting inclusive public health programs – not sanctioning their attack.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2019, 4:31 am

Honduran migrants rest in the main square of Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, on October 19, 2018.

© 2018 Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

(Washington, DC) – Central American refugees fleeing for their lives have a right to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019. The Trump administration uses fearmongering to claim that what the US immigration system needs is some kind of border barrier, when what it really needs is to invest in an immigration policy that fairly processes asylum claims.

El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with news reports indicating that many homicides are targeted. Honduras also has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Violence and extortion by criminal organizations remain serious problems in Guatemala as well. Several United Nations agencies working in Central America have noted that violence forces hundreds of thousands of people into “internal displacement” or to flee the country in search of international protection.

“Refugees in Central America are literally fleeing for their lives, walking thousands of miles to bring themselves and their families to safety,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch.” The US has a responsibility to hear these asylum claims and to ensure that those hearings are fair and afford due process to all asylum seekers.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In El Salvador, gangs battle for territorial control. They forcibly recruit children and subject some women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to sexual slavery. Gangs kill, disappear, rape, or displace those who resist them, including government officials, security forces, and journalists. Security forces have been largely ineffective in protecting the population and have committed egregious abuses, including the extrajudicial execution of alleged gang members, sexual assaults, and enforced disappearances.

Honduras has widespread corruption and abuse in the police force and judicial system, which are ineffective in squelching the violence in the country.

“Many Central American countries are facing epidemic levels of targeted homicide, rape, and disappearance, so many families and individuals feel they have no choice but to take the dangerous and difficult journey to the US border,” Long said. “While not all Central American migrants are coming to the US to flee violence and persecution it is critical for border authorities to allow all anyone seeking asylum a swift and fair hearing.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 2:00 pm

Relatives grieve during the burial of councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was gunned down the night before by two unidentified attackers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, March 15, 2018. Police said the 38-year-old councilor, who was known for her social work in slums, was killed by perpetrators who knew exactly where she was sitting in a car that had blackout windows. 

© 2018 Leo Correa/AP Photo
(São Paulo) – President Jair Bolsonaro should address the public security crisis that engulfs Brazil through measures that both enhance respect for human rights and reduce crime, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, met this week with members of the Bolsonaro administration to discuss human rights concerns in Brazil. The officials included Justice Minister Sérgio Moro; General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, the governmental affairs minister; and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves.

“Brazilians are understandably fed up with the very high crime rate in the country,” Vivanco said. “But encouraging police to kill and packing more suspects who haven’t yet been tried into Brazil’s overcrowded prisons will undermine, not enhance, public safety.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

On his first day in office, on January 1, 2019, Bolsonaro issued an executive order for the governmental affairs minister to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities” of nongovernmental organizations.

“We raised with authorities our concern that attempts to ‘supervise’ and ‘monitor’ these groups may undermine their independent role in an open and democratic society,” Vivanco said. “We are all the more concerned as the executive order applies not only to groups that receive government funding, but also to those that do not.”

As a candidate, Bolsonaro promised to give “carte blanche” to police to kill crime suspects. Rio de Janeiro’s new governor, Wilson Witzel, who belongs to a party allied to Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, has said that police should shoot to kill, without warning, anyone carrying an assault rifle – including using snipers and drones – even if the person is not threatening anyone. Moro told Human Rights Watch that the government is drafting a bill that will seek to “clarify” the situations in which a police officer will be able to kill in self-defense.

International human rights standards bar police from deliberately killing people except where necessary to protect their own lives or the lives of others.

The latest national data show that Brazilian police killed 5,144 people in 2017. In Rio de Janeiro state, police killed 1,444 people from January through November 2018, according to the Public Security Institute (ISP, the Portuguese acronym), a state agency. That means that Rio finished the year with the highest number of police killings since the state started collecting that data in 1998. The previous record was 1,330 in 2007.

While some police killings are justifiable, Human Rights Watch research has shown that many others are extrajudicial executions. These pit communities against police and make residents less likely to report crime and help with investigations, Human Rights Watch said. Illegal killings by some police officers also endanger other officers, subjecting them to reprisals by gang members and making suspects less likely to surrender when cornered. In 2017, 367 police officers were killed nationwide.

The previous government estimated that by the end of 2018, 840,000 people would be incarcerated in Brazil. The latest available data show 40 percent of people in detention are awaiting trial. Bolsonaro defends “piling up” even more people in the prison system, which, according to the latest available data, already holds double the number of inmates its facilities were designed to handle, often in unhealthy, violent, and gang-controlled cells.

Instead of pursuing policies that violate human rights, the Bolsonaro government should embrace reforms that are consistent with Brazil’s obligations under international law and will ultimately be more effective at reducing crime, Human Rights Watch said.

The new government and Congress should bolster the investigative capacity of the civil police to end the current climate of impunity, given the low percentage of homicides that are solved. In addition, authorities should end a “war on drugs” that only results in more violence in the streets and more power for criminal gangs, and instead decriminalize drug use.

Another crucial measure is reducing pretrial detention. The National Council of Justice (CNJ) ordered that by May 2016 all detainees should be taken, within 24 hours of arrest, to a “custody hearing” to determine if they should be in preventive detention or set free pending trial. But more than two years later, more than half of detainees still are not granted such hearings, the CNJ told Human Rights Watch, and often wait months to see a judge for the first time.

On January 15, Bolsonaro approved a decree that loosens some restrictions on gun ownership. Bolsonaro claims, among other things, that access to guns will make it easier for women to defend themselves against abusive partners. But this is not a serious response to rampant violence against women in Brazil, Human Rights Watch said.

The new federal and state governments should respond to widespread domestic violence by strengthening protection for women and ensuring justice when violence occurs. Brazil, with a population of more than 200 million, has only 74 shelters for abused women. Police fail to properly investigate thousands of domestic-violence cases each year, with the result that they are never prosecuted. “If Bolsonaro is concerned about the safety of women, he should improve legal, psychological, and other support for women and the police response to domestic violence,” Vivanco said.

Human Rights Watch also addresses human rights problems affecting children, people with disabilities, LGBT people, indigenous people, migrants, and others in its World Report 2019.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 9:35 am

A convoy of UAE military vehicles and personnel travels from Al Hamra Military Base to Zayed Military City, marking the return of the first batch of UAE Armed Forces military personnel from Yemen, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

© 2015 AP Images

(Beirut) – The United Arab Emirates in 2018 handed down draconian prison sentences to an Emirati activist and a British academic following deeply flawed trials, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. The UAE also played a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen.

In May, after security forces held him in an unknown location without access to a lawyer for more than a year, a UAE court sentenced Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender, to 10 years in prison for free speech-related offenses. In November, after authorities arbitrarily detained him for more than six months, the same court sentenced a British academic, Matthew Hedges, to life in prison on spying charges. But five days later, on November 26, following diplomatic pressure and international outrage, the UAE pardoned and released Hedges. Both trials were marred by serious due process violations, and Hedges has since spoken out about ill-treatment during detention. On December 31, the country’s court of last resort in state security cases upheld Ahmed Mansoor’s conviction, quashing his final appeal.

“Matthew Hedges’ six-month ordeal and Ahmed Mansoor’s continued imprisonment are further proof of the UAE’s fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “While it fervently claims to be a progressive, tolerant and rights-respecting state, over the past several years, the UAE has become worryingly unsafe for academics, journalists, activists, and critics alike.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In March, UAE authorities apparently forcibly returned and then disappeared Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammad al-Maktoum, the 33-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai, after she tried to flee the UAE by sea to a third country. She was not seen in public or heard from for over nine months following her disappearance. On December 6, just hours ahead of the airing of a BBC documentary regarding her forcible return, Sky News reported a statement from Dubai’s royal court claiming that she is back in Dubai and celebrating her birthday privately with her family. On December 24, the UAE’s foreign ministry released photos of Sheikha Latifa with Mary Robinson, a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and a former president of Ireland, to rebut what they described as “false allegations” that she was taken home against her will. In an interview with BBC radio on December 27, Robinson echoed the ministry’s statement and suggested that the princess was mentally ill.

“Government assurances that she is receiving ‘the care and support she requires’ are no substitute for evidence that she is currently a free woman,” Whitson said. “The authorities should allow Sheikha Latifa to speak for herself and allow her to leave her country if she wishes.”

Labor abuses in the UAE persist. Despite some reforms, many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers without their consent before the end of a contact can face punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. A 2017 law extended key labor protections to domestic workers, but the provisions remain weaker than those in the country’s national labor law. Domestic workers face a range of abuses, including long working hours, unpaid salaries, and physical and sexual abuse.

The UAE is a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen. Human Rights Watch has documented about 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some likely war crimes, since March 2015. Coalition members, including the UAE, have provided insufficient information about the role their forces are playing in the campaign to determine which country’s forces are responsible for unlawful attacks.

The UAE leads coalition efforts in southern Yemen, including by supporting Yemeni forces carrying out security campaigns. The UAE and UAE-led proxy forces have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and tortured Yemenis in southern and eastern Yemen, including Yemeni activists who have criticized coalition abuses.

“As the civilian toll worsens and the war crimes allegations mount, the US, UK, France and other countries that continue to arm the UAE should press the UAE and their coalition partners to immediately end abuse and provide redress for Yemeni civilian victims of past unlawful attacks,” Whitson said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 9:29 am

Candles lit by activists protesting the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are placed outside Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul. 

© 2018 Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman faced scrutiny over the country’s human rights record in 2018 following the murder of a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudi agents at the country’s Istanbul consulate on October 2, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. The scrutiny shed additional light on ongoing abuses, including unlawful attacks in Yemen that may amount to war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition and escalated repression of dissidents and human rights activists at home.

“The Khashoggi murder has not only wrecked Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s reputation but has exposed a pattern of lawless behavior by Saudi leadership,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If Saudi Arabia has any hope of rehabilitating its tattered image, the authorities should immediately release everyone they’ve locked away merely for their peaceful criticism.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

As the leader of a coalition that began military operations against the Houthis in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch has documented about 90 apparently unlawful attacks by the coalition that have hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. Some of these attacks may amount to war crimes. An April coalition attack on a wedding killed 22 people and wounded more than 50. An August attack on a bus killed and wounded dozens of children. Saudi commanders face possible criminal liability for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility.

On May 15, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, authorities began a wave of arrests of prominent women’s rights activists, and accused several of them of grave crimes like treason that appear to be directly related to their activism. By November at least nine women remain detained without charge, though some anticipated charges could carry prison terms of up to 20 years. In November, Human Rights Watch received reports that Saudi interrogators tortured at least three of the women, including with electric shocks and whippings, and forcibly hugged and kissed them.

Saudi prosecutors escalated their longstanding campaign against dissidents, seeking the death penalty on charges that related to nothing more than peaceful activism and dissent. By November those on trial facing the death penalty included a prominent cleric, Salman al-Awda, whose charges were connected to his alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and public support for imprisoned dissidents, as well as Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province whose charges related to her support for and participation in protests.

Saudi Arabia does not generally tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam. The government systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, notably Twelver Shia and Ismailis, including in public education, the justice system, religious freedom, and employment.

Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government reforms in 2017 that banned imposition of “unofficial” male guardianship restrictions. Under this system, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian – usually a husband, father, brother, or son – to travel, marry, or be released from prison.

“The world should seize this opportunity to demand justice for Saudi Arabia’s serious rights abuses and harmful practices, which have reached a peak in the past year,” Page said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 9:28 am

An election official shows a ballot with colors of political parties participating in the parliamentary election shortly after the polling stations closed in Beirut, Lebanon on May 6, 2018. 

© 2018 Bilal Hussein/AP Photo

(Beirut) – Lebanon made legislative progress on the waste management crisis and the status of the disappeared in 2018, but parliament failed to follow through on legislation in other key areas, including women’s and sexual minority rights and freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

“Lebanon’s new parliament has not delivered on long-awaited rights reforms, and the human rights situation in the country is stagnating,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “In 2019, parliament should commit to passing critical legislation to improve Lebanon’s human rights record.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In a positive development, parliament passed a national solid waste management law in September. However, Human Rights Watch witnessed the open burning of waste in municipal open dumps, in contravention of the law, which explicitly bans the practice.

On November 12, parliament endorsed a landmark law creating an independent national commission to investigate the fate of the estimated 17,000 people kidnapped or “disappeared” during the 1975 – 1990 civil war.

However, there was no change in the status of women, who are systematically discriminated against under Lebanese law and inadequately protected from discrimination and violence. An estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and are at risk of exploitation and abuse. Lebanon is now only one of two major-destination countries for migrant domestic workers in the Middle East without labor law protections for domestic workers.

Lebanon’s 15 religious personal status laws discriminate against women and deny them basic rights in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Unlike Lebanese men, Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children and foreign spouses. Child marriage and marital rape remain legal.

There has been no change in article 534 of the penal code, which punishes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” with up to one year in prison despite a groundbreaking ruling by a district court of appeal that consensual sex between people of the same sex is not unlawful. Security forces used the law to interfere with freedom of assembly and association, including by banning Beirut Pride and raiding a conference on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Criminal defamation laws were used to detain and charge people for criticizing officials, particularly on social media, threatening freedom of speech and opinion.

A prominent actor who was falsely accused of spying for Israel said in March that State Security held him at what appeared to be an unofficial detention site, where men tortured him. A military judge closed the case against him in May, failing to follow procedures set out in the 2017 anti-torture law, which should have resulted in an investigation. Lebanon has also failed to establish a national system to monitor and investigate the use of torture, following passage of a law in 2016 to create such a system. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 9:27 am

Anti-government protestors in Venezuela take to the streets for a candlelight vigil in honor of protesters killed in clashes with security forces.

© 2017 Associated Press
(Berlin) – There is a growing global trend to confront the abuses of headline-grabbing autocrats, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2019. Within the European Union, at the United Nations, and around the world, coalitions of states, often backed by civic groups and popular protests, are pushing back against anti-rights populists.

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the big news of the past year is not the continuation of authoritarian trends but the growing opposition to them. That pushback could be seen in efforts to resist attacks on democracy in Europe, prevent a bloodbath in Syria, bring to justice the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, stop the Saudi-led bombing and blockading of Yemeni civilians, defend the longstanding ban on chemical weapons, convince Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila to accept constitutional term limits, and demand a full investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


World Report 2019: Reversing Autocrats’ Attacks on Rights

There is a growing global trend to confront the abuses of headline-grabbing autocrats, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2019. Within the European Union, at the United Nations, and around the world, coalitions of states, often backed by civic groups and popular protests, are pushing back against anti-rights populists.

“The same populists who spread hatred and intolerance are fueling a resistance that keeps winning battles,” said Roth. “Victory isn’t assured but the successes of the past year suggest that the abuses of authoritarian rule are prompting a powerful human rights counterattack.”

In Europe, support for rights took many forms, on the streets and in institutions. Large crowds in Budapest protested against Hungarian leader Victor Orbán’s moves to shut down Central European University, a bastion of liberal inquiry and thought, and to enact a so-called “slave law” that increases permissible overtime and allows three-year delays in paying for overtime work.

A high point for the EU came in September, when the European Parliament responded to Orbán’s increasingly authoritarian rule by voting to launch a process that could end with political sanctions under article 7 of the EU Treaty. Nearly 70 percent of members of the European Parliament from a wide range of parties supported the unprecedented move. With discussions about tying the EU’s next five-year budget – due by the end of 2020 – to respect for democratic standards, the parliament’s move signals that Hungary, one of the largest per-capita recipients of EU funds, may no longer depend on European largesse if it continues to undermine the EU’s fundamental democratic freedoms.

Download a free copy of the 674-page World Report 2019

Tens of thousands of Poles repeatedly took to the streets to defend their courts from ruling party attempts to undermine their independence. Poland’s judges refused to abandon their jobs in the face of Law and Justice Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s efforts to purge them; the EU Court of Justice later backed their refusal, and they were reinstated by the authorities as a result.

Beyond its borders, the EU and some member states showed notable leadership on human rights issues. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Ireland, along with Canada, took the lead to ensure the UN Human Rights Council rejected a heavy-handed Saudi effort to avoid scrutiny of alleged war crimes in Yemen. Following Khashoggi’s murder, Germany barred 18 Saudi officials from entering the 26-nation Schengen area, while Germany, Denmark, and Finland stopped arms sales to the kingdom. (The United States and Canada also imposed targeted sanctions against many of the Saudis implicated in the murder.) This pressure may have contributed to Saudi-led coalition agreement during UN-led negotiations to a ceasefire around the port of Hodeidah in Yemen, a critical point of access for the population facing starvation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas have publicly criticized Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for undermining human rights and suppressing political opposition, activists, and journalists. For the next two years, Germany will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, providing opportunities for Berlin to lead by example.

In the United States, President Donald Trump sought to mobilize his support base by trying to portray asylum seekers fleeing Central American violence as a crisis. The opposition Democratic Party gained control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections partly by voters’ rejecting such fear-mongering.

Other transfers of power reflected human rights concerns. Voters in Malaysia and the Maldives ousted their corrupt leaders. Armenia’s prime minister stepped down amid massive protests over corruption. Ethiopia, under popular pressure, replaced a long-abusive government with a prime minister who embarked on an impressive reform agenda. Sri Lankan legislators, courts and the public turned back a “constitutional coup” by the current president and his predecessor.

The trend is not all positive. Today’s autocrats try to undermine democracy by scapegoating and demonizing vulnerable minorities to build popular support, Human Rights Watch said. They weaken checks and balances on government power, including an independent judiciary, a free media, and vigorous civic groups. The human cost can be enormous, such as the humanitarian crisis in once oil-rich Venezuela, the thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines’ “war on drugs,” and China’s arbitrary detention for forced indoctrination of some 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims, according to credible estimates.

China has increased its repression over the past year to the worst levels since the 1989 massacre of protesters from the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Xi ended term limits on his presidency and vastly expanded China’s surveillance of ordinary people. The authorities broadened their assault on freedom of expression, detaining journalists, prosecuting activists, tightening ideological control over universities, and expanding internet censorship.

Autocrats’ failure to protect basic human rights has made it easier for brutal leaders to get away with mass atrocities, such as Syria’s attacks on civilians in areas held by anti-government forces and the Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing and blockading of Yemeni civilians. But growing global opposition repeatedly raised the cost of such actions, Human Rights Watch said.

The UN Human Rights Council overwhelmingly voted to adopt a landmark resolution, jointly presented by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the EU, creating a mechanism to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes committed inMyanmar since 2011 to build cases for future prosecutions.

In Syria, government forces with backing from Russia, Iran, and the armed group Hezbollah took back most of the country. European pressure on Russia helped to stem an all-out attack on northwestern Idlib province, where another bloodbath seemed likely as the Syrian-Russian military alliance threatened another indiscriminate bombardment of the 3 million civilians there. Putin agreed in September to a ceasefire that remains precariously in place, showing that even in such a complicated situation, concerted international action can save lives.

This 29th annual World Report is dedicated to the memory of our beloved colleague David Mepham OBE, UK director, who died of cancer on October 21 at age 50. David was a superb advocate, combining a piercing intellect, an extraordinary eloquence, and a deep personal commitment to the human rights cause. Colleagues around the world recall the depth and scope of his knowledge, his willingness to go the extra mile, and his determination to challenge those in power—always with unfailing courtesy. Perhaps most of all, we miss his genuine warmth, evident in his deep love for his family, and his steadfast support of colleagues and friends.

Pressure from other African countries was key to persuading Congolese President Kabila to finally schedule elections for his successor, two years after his two-term limit ended, although a dispute now rages over the election results announced by the government-dominated election commission. The threat of mass African withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) further ebbed following pushback from African countries and civic groups.

Much of this counterattack played out at the UN, even as autocratic leaders sought to weaken its multilateralism and the international standards that it sets. Beyond its important action on Myanmar and Yemen, the UN Human Rights Council adopted for the first time a resolution condemning the severe repression in Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro. Five Latin American governments and Canada urged the ICC to open an investigation of crimes in Venezuela – the first time that any governments have sought an ICC investigation of crimes that took place entirely outside their territory.

“The terrain for the fight to protect human rights has shifted, with many longtime participants missing in action or even switching sides,” Roth said. “But effective coalitions have emerged to oppose governments that are not accountable to their people and respectful of their rights.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2019, 9:25 am