(Paris) – French President Emmanuel Macron should ensure that human rights are central to his policies, both within France and globally, Human Rights Watch said today in a public letter to the president with a proposed human rights agenda.

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron waves as he arrives to attend a handover ceremony with outgoing President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 14, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

With Macron’s inauguration over and his government nominated, it is important for them to familiarize themselves with the key human rights issues in France and in the world, and to show their willingness to engage on them.

“President Macron stated in his inaugural speech that ‘France will always make sure to be on the side of … human rights,’ and he should now translate his words into action,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Macron and his government should adopt policies that respect and promote human rights at home and abroad.”

The “Human Rights Agenda,” designed by Human Rights Watch, is a series of recommendations on 11 themes: the right to asylum, identity checks, counterterrorism, bilateral relations, the role of France in multilateral organizations, the fight against impunity, France’s military intervention, arms sales, human rights and the protection of civilians in Syria, business and international financial institutions, and women’s rights.

During the presidential campaign, Human Rights Watch sent all candidates a questionnaire about these 11 key human rights issues. In his response, Macron outlined some of his policies with respect to human rights. He wrote, for example, that “peace and respect for human rights are essential values” and that “Europe must speak in a single voice on human rights.”

“Our human rights agenda indicates the path to take for the new president and his government on key issues,” Jeannerod said. “France’s president and government should address these issues head-on and place them at the heart of their policies.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 24, 2017, 5:00 am

A Palestinian medic inspects a damaged room at Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital, in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, after the building was shelled by the Israeli army on July 21, 2014, killing at least 3 people and wounding about 40 others.

© 2014 Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

(New York) – Deadly attacks on hospitals and medical workers in conflicts around the world remain uninvestigated and unpunished a year after the United Nations Security Council called for greater action, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 25, 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 2286, which condemned wartime attacks on health facilities and urged governments to act against those responsible. Guterres should commit to alerting the Security Council of all future attacks on healthcare facilities on an ongoing rather than annual basis.

“Attacks on hospitals challenge the very foundation of the laws of war, and are unlikely to stop as long as those responsible for the attacks can get away with them,” said Bruno Stagno-Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “Attacks on hospitals are especially insidious, because when you destroy a hospital and kill its health workers, you’re also risking the lives of those who will need their care in the future.”

Workers collect human remains at the yard of a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Abs district of Hajjah governorate, Yemen, after it was hit by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike, killing 19 and wounding 24 staff and patients, on August 16, 2016.

© 2016 Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

A report by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, a coalition of international nongovernmental organizations, published in May, found that attacks on health facilities and medical workers continued to occur at an alarming rate in 2016.

International humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, prohibits attacks on health facilities and medical workers. To assess accountability measures undertaken for such attacks, Human Rights Watch reviewed 25 major attacks on health facilities between 2013 and 2016 in 10 countries. For 20 of the incidents, no publicly available information indicates that investigations took place. In many cases, authorities did not respond to requests for information about the status of investigations. Investigations into the remaining five were seriously flawed.

No one appears to have faced criminal charges for their role in any of these attacks, at least 16 of which may have constituted war crimes. The attacks involved military forces or armed groups from Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and the United States.

The UN system, under its Human Rights Up Front initiative, should collect information on all health facility attacks, press governments to fully investigate them, and recommend avenues for accountability.

The 25 incidents reviewed resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people, including 41 health workers, and injured 180. The attacks also had significant impact on health services as 16 hospitals were partially or completely closed, at least temporarily.

Rescue workers and others remove rubble while looking for survivors in the ruins of a destroyed hospital supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres that was hit by an airstrike, killing 25 health workers and patients and injuring 11 others, in Marat Numan, Idlib province, Syria, February 16, 2016.

© 2016 Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

In the 20 incidents without apparent investigations, governments ignored credible allegations about the attacks, publicly denied responsibility, or blamed other parties without conducting an inquiry. In several cases, authorities claimed to have initiated investigations, but have either failed to present any findings or have not conducted any investigation whatsoever.

In one example, neither Iraqi nor US-led coalition forces acknowledged an October 2016 airstrike that hit the main health facility in a village near Mosul, Iraq, destroying half the clinic and killing eight people, though the forces carried out airstrikes near Mosul on that day.

In another, in February 2016, airstrikes hit the two largest hospitals serving the city of Ma’aret al-Nu’man, Syria, destroying one of the hospitals and killing 20 people, including 11 health workers. But Russia and Syria, the parties most likely responsible for both attacks, immediately denied responsibility and claimed that US-led coalition forces carried out the strikes. US authorities denied this allegation. None of the parties investigated the incident.

Five of the 25 incidents Human Rights Watch reviewed appear to have been investigated in some form. But Human Rights Watch found that investigating authorities either left critical questions about the circumstances unanswered or failed to draw appropriate conclusions from their findings.

For example, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition task force investigating potential violations by their forces in Yemen concluded that an August 2016 attack on a hospital in the city of Abs, Hajjah governorate, was an “error” but failed to determine whether the attack violated the laws of war.

Hospital beds in the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan about six months after US airstrikes killed 42 patients and medical staff and wounded dozens of others, on April 26, 2016.

© 2016 Josh Smith/Reuters

Following the October 2015 attack by the US military on a trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed 42 people and injured dozens of others, a US Defense Department investigation concluded that the attack violated the laws of war, but was not a war crime because the hospital was not targeted intentionally. However, the US investigation’s findings indicated criminal recklessness by US forces, which could amount to a war crime.

The Defense Department disciplined 12 military personnel, including by demoting an officer, publicly apologized for the attack, and made changes to policies to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Some of the incidents were in war-torn countries without functioning justice systems. In countries such as Central Africa Republic, Libya, and South Sudan, almost no domestic investigations have been conducted into any alleged laws-of-war violations.

The council should react promptly to every serious attack on a health facility, including by demanding credible investigations and accountability.

Bruno Stagno-Ugarte

Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy

In some cases, UN-affiliated commissions have investigated incidents in which health facilities have been attacked, but at most they can recommend cases for criminal prosecution.

In many instances, the only possible option for accountability rests with international justice mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court, or under universal jurisdiction laws in other countries. The ICC has taken up two cases of attacks on health facilities.

“The UN Security Council needs to do much more to deter attacks on hospitals,” Stagno-Ugarte said. “The council should react promptly to every serious attack on a health facility, including by demanding credible investigations and accountability.”

Selected Incidents

The eight incidents below illustrate failures of accountability for attacks on hospitals and health workers. The selected cases reflect the variety of responses to these incidents, including denial of responsibility or simple disregard, stalled and flawed investigations, and situations without functioning justice systems.

For this research, Human Rights Watch collected information on 25 incidents that occurred across all major conflicts in which attacks on health facilities were reported between 2013 and 2016. Information on attacks and government responses to them were gathered through interviews with witnesses, health workers, and representatives from humanitarian organizations. This was supplemented by open-source searches, reviews of relevant UN and other publications, analysis of photographs and videos posted on the internet, and analysis of satellite imagery where relevant. Where possible, we spoke to government officials and sent letters with our findings to appropriate investigative bodies.

Airstrike on Hammam al-Alil Health Clinic in Iraq, October 18, 2016

On October 18, 2016, an airstrike destroyed half a clinic in the ISIS-controlled town of Hammam al-Alil, Iraq, 30 kilometers south of the embattled city of Mosul. Eight people were killed, including a 72-year-old man who had taken his two grandsons to the clinic for a polio vaccination. Health workers reported that about 50 people were at the clinic, the main healthcare facility in the area, with a population of 70,000. The strike destroyed the radiation department, vaccination division, and human resources and administrative departments.

Both the US-led coalition and the Iraqi military were conducting airstrikes near Mosul that day in the fighting against ISIS. Human Rights Watch was unable to identify the source of the attack.

A health worker told Human Rights Watch that after ISIS took control of the town in July 2014, fighters took over an office in one of the treatment wards. Health workers said that three ISIS fighters, including the transportation minister, were killed in the attack.

ISIS military use of the hospital was in violation of international humanitarian law. But while the presence of ISIS fighters in the hospital made it a military objective, and thus a possible legitimate target of attack, international humanitarian law requires that attacks on medical facilities only be carried out after a warning has been given, setting a reasonable time limit to heed the warning, and after that time limit has expired. Health workers said that there was no warning.

Moreover, attacks on military objectives must be proportionate: the expected harm to civilians and civilian property cannot be greater than the anticipated military gain from the attack. This incident raises serious questions about whether it met the proportionality requirement. Yet, neither the Iraqi government nor US-led coalition forces have provided information on the intended target of the attack or made a commitment to investigate it as a possible violation of international humanitarian law.

Airstrike on Abs Hospital in Abs, Hajjah, Yemen, August 15, 2016

On August 15, 2016, Saudi-led coalition forces carried out an airstrike that hit a vehicle parked between the emergency and triage areas of Abs Hospital, a facility supported by MSF. MSF reported that the attack severely damaged the hospital’s emergency department and left 19 dead, including one of the hospital’s staff members, and 24 wounded, including 11 staff members.

According to MSF, the hospital had been the only one functioning in the western part of Hajjah governorate, and had been a lifeline to the 300,000 internally displaced people in the region. In the year before the attack, the facility’s 14-bed emergency room had handled more than 12,000 outpatient visits, and hospital staff had helped 1,631 women deliver babies.

Following the attack, the facility was out of service for more than a week. Ten days later, the emergency room, maternity ward, and lab reopened, though attendance remained low.

After the attack generated headlines, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), a body set up by the coalition to investigate potential violations of international humanitarian law committed by their forces in Yemen, opened an investigation into the incident. On December 6, Saudi state media reported that JIAT had concluded that the coalition had targeted a vehicle it considered to be a “legitimate military target” and that the damage to the hospital building was unintentional.

Key findings of the JIAT investigation, as reported by the media, directly contradict MSF’s account and visual documentation of the attack, and raise concerns about the investigation’s thoroughness. For example:

  • JIAT claimed that the building “had no signs of being a hospital before the bombing,” whereas MSF said that it had repeatedly provided the coalition with GPS coordinates of the facility, including on August 10, five days before the incident. MSF’s internal investigation’s report also included photos that show the MSF logo clearly painted on two roofs, which also appeared in videos posted by local media soon after the attack that Human Rights Watch reviewed; and
  • JIAT concluded that seven people were killed in the attack; MSF put the number at 19 and video footage and photos of the site suggest a higher death toll than seven.

Moreover, the JIAT investigation did not address whether the attack violated international humanitarian law and did not recommend a criminal investigation. It did recommend that the coalition apologize for the error and compensate those affected, and that the incident should be “further investigated” without clarifying by whom.

To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, the Saudi government has neither provided compensation for those harmed nor offered a public apology.

Raid on Clinic in Tangi Saidan, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, February 17-18, 2016

On the night of February 17 to 18, 2016, soldiers reported to be Afghan Security Forces supported by international troops, raided a medical clinic in Tangi Saidan, Wardak province, west of Kabul. The soldiers reportedly handcuffed staff members and made them lie down on the floor, then searched the 10-bed facility for Taliban fighters.

The soldiers took two patients, one of whom was under 18 years old, and a 15-year-old boy from the clinic and shot them dead outside the clinic’s grounds. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which supports the clinic, reported that local staff had observed at least two soldiers wearing foreign uniforms and speaking a language that sounded like English.

On February 25, NATO told IRIN News that its Joint Casualty Assessment Team had begun “a preliminary probe to determine if the allegations concerning civilian victims are credible.” Since then, NATO has made various statements that its investigation had found “absolutely no evidence to support that allegation,” without specifying which allegation it was referring to, or whether international military forces were present at the raid and claiming not to have access to health workers who witnessed the incident. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan told IRIN that it had “been in contact with NATO and agreed upon a procedure to take testimony from SCA staff.” NATO has not released any findings or conclusions from its investigation.

Reports published in the week after the raid indicated that the Afghan government opened an investigation into the incident concerning the conduct of its forces, but no findings have been released publicly.

Airstrikes on al-Hamadiya Hospital and the National Hospital in Ma’aret al-Nu’man in Idlib, Syria, February 15, 2016

On February 15, 2016, starting at about 9 a.m., at least four separate airstrikes hit two of the largest hospitals serving the city of Ma’aret al-Nu’man within a period of three hours. The northern city is in an area of Idlib governorate, controlled by Syrian opposition groups.

The humanitarian medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders, or MSF) reported that two strikes in quick succession hit al-Hamadiya Hospital, destroying the four-story building, killing at least 9 medical personnel and 16 patients and caretakers, and injuring another 11 people. Following the attack, emergency medical personnel began transporting the wounded to the National Hospital, six kilometers north of al-Hamadiya Hospital.

At about 11 a.m., the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Idlib Health Directorate reported that the Ma’aret al Nu’man National Hospital had been struck by two munitions. SAMS, which supports the facility, said that the first munition hit about three meters from the hospital. Ten minutes later, another munition fell close to the hospital’s entrance, where the wounded from the al-Hamadiya hospital were being shuttled in. The attack killed at least four people, including two nurses in training, according to SAMS. Hospital administrators told Human Rights Watch that the facility did not receive advance warning of the attacks.

Both facilities were attacked from the air, making it likely that Syrian or Russian air forces were responsible. A detailed analysis by Forensic Architecture suggests that the attack on the first hospital was carried out by the Russian Air Force, and the second by the Syrians. The Russian and Syrian governments immediately denied responsibility. On February 16, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, rejected claims made by MSF, which supported al-Hamadiya Hospital, that either the Russian or Syrian air forces were responsible for the attack on the hospital in Ma’aret al-Nu’man, calling the allegation “unacceptable.”

In a statement to the UN press corps, Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, denied Russian responsibility for the attack and claimed that the Syrian government possessed information that it was the US-led alliance that struck a hospital in Syria on February 15, 2016. The US Air Force spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve denied these allegations in a tweet.

The Russian government has not responded to a February 2017 Human Rights Watch letter inquiring whether it had investigated these incidents.

Airstrikes on Trauma Center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, October 3, 2015

On October 3, 2015, the US Air Force carried out an aerial attack on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The attack killed 42 people, including 14 MSF staff members, and injured dozens more. MSF’s internal review of the case found that much of the hospital’s vital facilities were destroyed, including the intensive care unit, operating theaters, and emergency room.

The hospital was the province’s most advanced medical facility and was the only one of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan. Before it opened in 2011, severely injured patients had to travel to Kabul or Pakistan for treatment. Since 2011, it had conducted more than 15,000 surgeries and treated patients during more than 68,000 emergency room visits.

The day of the incident, the US government confirmed that its military had carried out the attack and promised to investigate. In November 2015, the US Defense Department released a summary of its investigation, which concluded that the attack was the result of a combination of human errors, equipment failure, and miscommunication. A redacted investigation report was published in April 2016, and found that US forces committed several serious violations, including initiating an attack that was unlawfully disproportionate to the expected military gain, as well as failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians. The report ultimately concluded that the attack did not constitute a war crime because forces had not intentionally targeted the medical facility.

However, the report shows overwhelming evidence of recklessness on the part of US forces, which could amount to the necessary criminal intent for a war crime. For instance, the ground commander had authorized the strikes on the basis of a single source, despite being “9 km from the [facility]” and not having a visual “line of sight.” None of the commanders used “resources available … that would have confirmed” that the attacked location was a medical facility and not the intended target, a grouping of Taliban attackers. Moreover, commanders allowed the air crew to continue shooting at the hospital for an additional eight minutes, even after MSF alerted commanders that they were attacking a hospital.

The US government apologized for the attack and made significant changes to military operating procedures to prevent a similar attack in the future. The investigation identified sixteen servicemembers who were involved in the attack, and twelve were given administrative punishments, according to the Defense Department. One officer was demoted and removed from Afghanistan, the others either received letters of reprimand, were sent to counseling, or went through mandatory retraining. The US government also offered compensation to the families of the victims and approved funds to reconstruct the MSF facility.

None of the servicemembers involved faced criminal charges.

Furthermore, the Afghan government’s investigation into the role of Afghan troops in the incident was never completed. While Afghan forces played a crucial role in supplying the US airship first with GPS coordinates of the original target and later with a physical description of the hospital’s compound, the Afghan government has not reported on whether troops knowingly provided their US allies with a description of the hospital, rather than the intended target. Moreover, Afghan officials have repeatedly claimed the hospital compound was being used by the Taliban for military purposes, stating the day after the attack, for example, that the Taliban had taken control of the compound prior to the airstrike. MSF rejected those claims.

On October 10, 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had appointed investigators to look into the Taliban’s capture of Kunduz and the US airstrike on the hospital. However, the final report did not mention the airstrike.

Attack on Shuhada’ al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza, July 24, 2014

On July 21, 2014, at about 2:40 p.m., Israeli tanks repeatedly fired on the Shuhada’ al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza while patients and staff were inside. The attacks reportedly resulted in three or four civilian deaths and injured about 40 people, including medical staff and patients. The surgical and intensive care units, as well as two ambulances, were damaged, Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq said.

In June 2016, the Israeli Military Advocate General responded to complaints submitted by multiple Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, saying that the incident was still under review.

An investigation by the UN human rights office found the facility was not given advance warning of the attack.

Established in 2001, Shuhada’ al-Aqsa Hospital was the only major hospital in the central district of the Gaza Strip, which had a population of about 260,000. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, the hospital’s emergency department had more than 90,000 patient visits, and its surgical department admitted 4,521 patients.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson told the media that initial investigations into the incident found “that a cache of antitank missiles was stored in the immediate vicinity of the Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital.” However, Israel has not published findings of any additional investigation.

The Military Advocate General has not responded to a February 2017 Human Rights Watch letter seeking more information about its investigation into this incident.

Shelling of Railway Hospital in Liman, Ukraine, June 3, 2014

On June 3, 2014, nine mortar shells hit the Liman City Hospital (known as the “Railway Hospital”) in Liman, seriously damaging the facility’s pharmacy and general therapy, surgery, and gynecology wings. Health workers told Human Rights Watch that the hospital’s only surgeon was hit in the head by a shell fragment and died several days later. The hospital’s chief doctor said that he believed that Ukrainian government forces, which at the time were fighting for control over the area against Russia-backed rebel forces, fired the mortars.

The hospital had 90 beds and was used primarily by railway workers. Approximately 80 patients were inside the facility at the time of the attack, though none were injured.

The Human Rights Watch investigation found that the hospital may have been intentionally targeted, as it suffered far greater damage from shelling than the surrounding area. Moreover, medical personnel said that soldiers from the Ukrainian military arrived at the hospital on June 4, the day after the attack, and asked to be shown through its wards, referring to the hospital as an “insurgent hospital.” Another group of soldiers searched the hospital on June 9.

A day after the attack, the Ukrainian National Guard denied any involvement, saying its forces had not been in Liman that day. The hospital’s chief doctor said that he had promptly filed a complaint with the district prosecutor’s office and had submitted all shell fragments to prosecutors. He said that the prosecutor’s office also recorded his testimony and examined the hospital grounds. The district prosecutor, however, has not published any findings of the investigation – it remains unclear whether a formal investigation was ever opened.

The Ukrainian government has not responded to a February 2017 Human Rights Watch request for information about any possible investigation into the incident.

Raid on Amitié Hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic, December 5, 2013

At 6 a.m. on December 5, 2013, a group of anti-balaka fighters brought several injured people to Hôpital de l’Amitié (Amitié Hospital) in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, according to a report by the International Commission of Inquiry on Central African Republic. A few hours later, fighters from the opposing Seleka militia arrived at the hospital and searched for anti-balaka fighters. They took between 8 and 20 young men – the exact number remains in dispute – out of the hospital at gunpoint and shot them.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, former President Michel Djotodia, who was the leader of the Seleka militia at the time of the attack, acknowledged the killings but denied responsibility: “I control my men. The men I can’t control are not my men.”

Amitié Hospital is one of four hospitals in Bangui. After the attack, it was closed until January 2014, when Save the Children helped to reopen it.

Since the country descended into political and communal violence in 2013, the government has struggled to maintain control. The domestic justice system no longer functions, with limited capacity to investigate or prosecute the large numbers of serious crimes the various armed groups have committed. The killings of patients at Amitié Hospital have not been investigated.

Since September 2014, the office of the prosecutor of the ICC has been investigating the situation in the Central African Republic, focusing on alleged crimes in the country since August 2012, the second investigation by the court into crimes committed in the country.

In June 2015, the country’s then-transitional president promulgated a law to establish a Special Criminal Court, consisting of national and international staff, to investigate the gravest crimes committed in the country since 2003, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In February 2017, a prosecutor was named to the court. It remains unclear whether the Special Criminal Court will investigate the raid on Amitié Hospital and other attacks on health facilities in the country.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 24, 2017, 4:01 am

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the European Council, Brussels, October 5, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

(Brussels) – A meeting planned for May 25, 2017, between European Union leaders and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey should signal that discussion of upgraded economic cooperation is dependent on Ankara’s willingness to tackle its human rights and rule of law crisis, Human Rights Watch said today.

The meeting, on the sidelines of the NATO summit meeting in Brussels, between President Erdoğan and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, is expected to include discussion of a possible new customs union.

“At the first meeting with President Erdoğan after he won a referendum that expands his power, the EU should put human rights firmly back into the picture,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “Presidents Juncker and Tusk should convey the message that with Turkey’s EU accession stalled, deeper economic cooperation under a possible new customs union will depend on Erdoğan ending the deplorable crackdown in Turkey and taking steps to uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

In December 2016, the European Commission formally asked the EU member states for a mandate to open talks to renew the existing Customs Union, which entered into force in 1995. Negotiations over modernizing the Customs Union are likely to take years. The European Commission has stated that, “Respect of democracy and fundamental rights will be an essential element of the agreement.”

President Erdoğan’s narrow win in Turkey’s landmark referendum for a new political system has ushered in an executive presidential system, giving enormous centralized power to Turkey’s president without the checks and balances needed to safeguard processes and institutions fundamental to democratic society. The referendum campaign took place in a deeply repressive climate under a state of emergency in the aftermath of the failed July 15, 2016 military coup.

Repeatedly extending emergency rule, Turkey’s president and government have silenced independent media, closed down media outlets, jailed more than 150 critical journalists and the leaders and members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition, and repeatedly threatened to reintroduce the death penalty. Emergency decrees resulted in the summary dismissal of more than 100,000 civil servants, including police, members of the military, teachers, academics, judges, prosecutors, and health professionals for alleged support for US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen or for unsubstantiated connections with other outlawed groups. Turkey accuses Gülen of masterminding the attempted coup.

Up to 50,000 people are in pretrial detention on suspicion of involvement in the coup attempt or membership of what the government terms the Fethullahist Terror Organization. The Turkish government has confiscated by decree and without a right of appeal at least 600 companies worth billions of dollars, contending that the companies supported the Gülen movement. In many cases, people have been detained or businesses seized without due process. The blanket charge of non-violent association with a religious group cannot alone be construed as a terrorist offense, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has also documented a pattern of police torture and ill-treatment of detainees since the coup. Human Rights Watch continues to receive allegations that some detainees have been beaten, threatened with rape or threatened with the rape of members of their family, and generally coerced into confessing crimes in violation of Turkey’s own laws and international human rights law.

Journalists held in prolonged pretrial detention face charges such as terrorism and coup plotting, for which the penalty is life in prison, simply for articles and television commentary that have not in any way advocated violence or supported military coups. Among those held in prison for periods of up to seven months are 13 journalists, board members, and executives for the respected daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet. They include the newspaper’s editor, Murat Sabuncu, and well-known journalists Kadri Gürsel and Ahmet Şık.

A number of respected journalists in their sixties and seventies, who wrote for publications associated with the Gülen movement, have been in prison for almost 10 months. They include Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Turan Alkan, and Mümtaz’er Turköne. The well-known novelist and commentator Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, an economics professor, have also been in prison for more than eight months. The German-Turkish Die Welt journalist Deniz Yücel has been jailed for over three months.

Turkey’s disastrous record on restricting free speech also extends to the internet, with the authorities blocking thousands of Twitter accounts and websites – including, since April 29, the entire Wikipedia site – because they allegedly include online content critical of President Erdoğan or the Turkish government.

Over the past eight months, President Erdoğan and the Turkish government have ruthlessly cracked down on the leaders and members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The Turkish government has jailed leading elected HDP members of parliament, including Selahattin Demirtaş, the party’s popular leader. All face terrorism charges, mainly based on their political speeches and lacking any credible evidence of activities that could amount to terrorism.

The Turkish government has also taken direct control of 86 municipalities in the mainly Kurdish southeast region of the country, suspending and jailing elected mayors. The crackdown on democratically-elected politicians not only violates their rights to political association and participation, and freedom of expression, but also deprives millions of voters of their chosen representatives in parliament and local government.

The dramatic deterioration in Turkey is inextricably linked with a state of emergency that allows the president to head the cabinet and rule by decree, bypassing parliamentary scrutiny and any judicial review of decrees. The more than 100,000 civil servants dismissed cannot currently appeal their dismissal through any court in Turkey. And they face major obstacles to finding employment or a livelihood after being blacklisted, with their names on a list of people linked with outlawed organizations.

The state of emergency was prolonged after Erdoğan’s referendum win on April 16. At the Justice and Development Party congress on May 21, Erdoğan assumed leadership of the party and announced that he saw no reason to end emergency rule in the period ahead.

“Today, Turkey is the world leader in jailing journalists and charging them with terrorist offenses purely for peaceful, albeit critical, writings and commentary,” Leicht said. “Juncker and Tusk should insist that EU-Turkey relations depend on Erdoğan’s releasing journalists and elected politicians, ending the state of emergency used to perpetuate a lawless crackdown on perceived opponents, and dropping any idea of reintroducing the death penalty.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 24, 2017, 3:00 am

Soldiers and policemen walk in front of pictures of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Victory monument in Bangkok May 28, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters/Damir Sagolj

(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately end the incommunicado military detention of a 14-year-old boy and three others for allegedly “insulting the monarchy,” Human Rights Watch said today. Abhisit Chailee, 14, has been detained since May 15, 2017 without any effective safeguards against abuse or mistreatment.

Thai soldiers and police arrested Abhisit and three other youths – Jirayu Sinpho, 19, Akkharapong Ayukong, 19, and Rattthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20 – in Khon Kaen province’s Chonnabot district for allegedly setting fire to a portrait of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Military authorities then transferred them to a detention facility at the 11th Army Circle Camp in Bangkok for questioning without access to legal counsel or their families.

“The secret detention of a 14-year-old boy in a Thai military camp should set off alarm bells, especially since no improvements have come following past reports of military abuse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “None of the four youths arrested should have been denied access to a judge and placed in an incommunicado military detention, whatever the charge against them.”

None of the four youths arrested should have been denied access to a judge and placed in an incommunicado military detention, whatever the charge against them.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Under section 112 of the Penal Code, lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) is a serious national security offense in Thailand resulting in punishment of from 3 to 15 years in prison. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made lese majeste prosecutions a top priority for his government. Since the May 2014 coup, the government has arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste charges. Some have been convicted and sentenced to years or even decades of imprisonment. In September 2016, General Prayuth revoked three junta orders that empowered military courts to try civilians for national security offenses, including lese majeste.

Acting on orders of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), military authorities possess the power to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or other safeguards against mistreatment. However, in this regard, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.

International human rights law provides special protections for everyone under age 18. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that, regardless of the circumstances, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the detention of children who are perceived to be a “threat to national security.” Children prosecuted for crimes need to be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which emphasize alternatives to detention, and prioritize the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the child.

“The Thai government should put to rest serious concerns for the safety of Abhisit by immediately letting him see his family, giving him access to a lawyer, and taking him out of military lockup,” Adams said. “The United Nations human rights office and concerned governments should press General Prayuth to immediately end all such secret detentions and provide a full accounting for the treatment of all detainees in military custody.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 23, 2017, 11:47 pm

Police in riot gear block a roadway to stop demonstrators from entering a neighborhood as they protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September 25, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – Congress should reject a bill that would severely reduce the ability of people in the United States to hold police officers accountable for abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The bill would also reduce incentives for police agencies to prevent rights violations.

The Back the Blue Act of 2017 (SB 1134/HR 2437) was introduced on May 16, 2017, by Senator John Cornyn and Representative Ted Poe, both of Texas. It proposes to significantly weaken a key rights protection statute, Section 1983 of the US Code, by limiting the ability of victims of illegal and unjustified police violence to receive compensation for harm. Specifically, the bill would limit liability in situations in which the victim had had some involvement with a felony or “crime of violence,” including property damage. Police are already protected from liability if the use of force is justified. Section 1983 lawsuits have been a primary way for ordinary people to hold police and government officials answerable for violations of their rights. They have also provided an important incentive for police departments to prevent abuses by their officers.

“This bill would not protect police officers from danger,” said John Raphling, senior criminal justice researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, it protects police departments from accountability, and removes important incentives for those departments to monitor themselves and improve the quality of their policing.”

Under the guise of protecting officers, this bill would make police less accountable, which can only undermine their legitimacy with the communities they serve.

John Raphling

senior criminal justice researcher

In addition to limiting the right to recover damages inflicted by unjustified police violence, the bill would make all assaults on police officers, even very minor ones, federal crimes subject to severe mandatory minimum sentences. Such mandatory minimums prevent judges from using their discretion to ensure that sentences are reasonable and proportionate to the gravity of the offense committed. The bill would also expand the federal death penalty to cover police killings, even in states that choose not to impose death as punishment under state law, while removing certain habeas corpus and other legal protections that are essential to preventing wrongful convictions and executions.

“Under the guise of protecting officers, this bill would make police less accountable, which can only undermine their legitimacy with the communities they serve,” Raphling said. “Congress should reject this dangerous bill.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 23, 2017, 1:51 pm

(Johannesburg) – Anti-riot police have harassed, beaten, and ordered some 200 families off a farm linked to President Robert Mugabe’s family, Human Rights Watch said today. The police affirmed in a court filing that the Arnolds Farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central province, Zimbabwe, which the families have occupied since 2000, is owned by the president’s family. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify the farm ownership.

On March 17, 2017, about 100 anti-riot police began demolishing homes at Arnolds Farm, forcing residents onto trucks and dumping them by the roadside 40 kilometers away. On March 24, the farm residents obtained a High Court order to stop the evictions, and barred the police from harassing them by demolishing their homes or attempting to evict them without a valid court order. The police told lawyers representing the farm residents they were acting on the orders of their “superiors,” but did not have a High Court order approving the eviction, as required by the law. A January 14, 2015, High Court order similarly prohibited the police from interfering with farming activities at Arnolds Farm and from demolishing the residents’ homes and other property.

“The police are illegally tearing down homes at Arnolds Farm, leaving hundreds of people homeless and destitute in heavy rains and cold weather,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Residents have occupied the farm for 17 years, and any process to evict them should respect their rights and follow due process.”

Witnesses at Arnolds Farm told Human Rights Watch that anti-riot police, who claimed to be acting on behalf of First Lady Grace Mugabe, on several occasions ordered residents to leave the farm, demolished homes, destroyed property, and beat up those who resisted. The police would put a rope around each house, tie it to a truck, and then drive the truck to pull the house down. They then cordoned off the area, set up entry and exit checkpoints, stationed 18 police officers to patrol the farm, and told the residents that anyone found on the farm would be trespassing.

Two residents have since been arrested and charged with criminal trespassing because, according to police statements in court, they allegedly, “illegally entered into Arnolds Farm, which is owned by the First Family.” Lawyers provided to the two residents by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a local group, witnessed the police assaulting their clients during the arrest. The magistrates’ court later freed the two.

The police have now demolished most of the homes on the farm, as well as makeshift shelters subsequently built by residents. Many families have lost their crops and livestock during the demolitions and now live and sleep in the open with no protection from the rain and cold. Police harassment has prevented the families from harvesting their corn, sugar beans, and groundnuts crops. When a Human Rights Watch team visited Arnolds Farm on May 9, they witnessed four uniformed and armed anti-riot police and six people in civilian clothes demolish homes and destroy property belonging to farm residents. Human Rights Watch interviewed five men whom the police had beaten on the soles of their feet that day for refusing to leave the farm.

The Arnolds Farm families have refused to move despite continuing police harassment because the government has not provided them with suitable alternative land. Since 2015, the government has resettled just five families from the farm, but offered no compensation. The families, through the Arnolds Farm Residents Association, are demanding an immediate end to police harassment and appropriate compensation before they move.

The government should ensure that the Arnolds Farm residents are not denied their rights under international law and Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the rights to shelter, food, health, and the prohibition of torture, Human Rights Watch said. The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which Zimbabwe ratified, requires in article 3(1)(a) that states parties “refrain from, prohibit and prevent arbitrary displacement of populations.”

Human Rights Watch made efforts to contact lawyers who represent the Mugabes, as well as provincial affairs and police officials, but did not receive any reply to questions regarding the ownership of Arnolds Farm and the conduct of the police.

“The government should urgently intervene in the Arnolds Farm case to stop the ongoing violation of court orders and abuses,” Mavhinga said. “The government should also investigate police conduct and punish any who are found responsible for the abuses.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 23, 2017, 4:01 am

A family from Afghanistan pushes their older mother in a wheelchair near Roszke, Hungary after crossing the border with Serbia. September 13, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch
 

(Athens) – Unnecessary delays and arbitrary barriers are keeping older refugees and asylum seekers stranded in Greece, unable to reunite with family members who have legal status in the European Union, Human Rights Watch said today.

Family reunification often focuses on minors and their parents. But hundreds of older refugees and asylum seekers currently in Greece who have fled war zones and persecution are waiting to learn if they will be allowed to reunite with adult family members who have been granted residency in another EU country. Although EU law provides for family reunification for older people, lack of clarity or explicit provisions governing the process means that they can remain in limbo, far from their family for prolonged periods of time.

“These older people, already victims of conflict and persecution, hoped to find protection in the EU after treacherous journeys to Greece, and to be reunited with their family,” said Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “Now they don’t know if they will ever see their relatives again.”

Under international human rights law, everyone has a right to family life. For refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, the possibility of family reunification is an aspect of that right, but barriers, including lack of information and clarity around eligibility for reunification, is causing anguish amongst older people, Human Rights Watch found.

A refugee squat in an abandoned factory on Lesbos, Greece, where dozens of asylum seekers are living in fear of being forcibly returned to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal. 

© 2017 Arash Hampay for Human Rights Watch

In December 2016, Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 older refugees and asylum seekers in four camps and one refugee squat around Athens. Nearly all said they were seeking to be reunited with family in other parts of Europe. Human Rights Watch found, however, that these people often face seemingly insurmountable legal and practical barriers to reuniting with their families. Almost all had been waiting in Greece for more than eight months. The barriers included: a narrow interpretation of family under national laws, misinformation, and confusion about the process.

While several barriers are common to all asylum seekers, they can have a more significant impact on older people. Older people have been shown, in some contexts, to have significantly higher rates of psychological distress than the general refugee population, and often suffer from health issues, injuries and violence during displacement, and frailty that can be exacerbated by time and uncertainty. One asylum seeker interviewed in December 2016 passed away before officials reached a decision on whether she could reunite with her children in Germany.

Barriers include lack of information about family reunification procedures for older people. Many of those interviewed said they had no idea about the status of their application or how to obtain information about it. In some cases, Greek Asylum Service officials who met with them had told them not to apply for reunification.

An older woman sits outside caravans in a camp for asylum seekers, near Athens, Greece.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

“Giselle,” a 63-year-old woman from Syria, told Human Rights Watch in December 2016: “I feel pain everywhere: in my head, in my stomach.... I wish to be established, to have the daughters of my sons around me.” She had been with her husband in a camp outside Athens since March 2016. “My granddaughter [in Germany] says ‘I want to break the phone to get through to you.’”

Greek authorities and other actors providing information to asylum seekers, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organization on Migration, should inform anyone requesting asylum of their rights under the Dublin III regulation, the primary EU legal instrument establishing criteria and mechanisms for determining the member state responsible for examining an application for international protection. The information to be provided should explicitly include information about family reunification. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented serious gaps in access to information and legal assistance, particularly on the Greek Aegean islands, the main entry point to Greece for migrants and asylum seekers.

Human Rights Watch found an alarming lack of available data on older refugees. Despite repeated requests to the Greek Asylum Service, it has not provided data it says it has on the number of older refugees in Greece; the number of reunification requests; or the average length of time such procedures are taking.

In the short term, recognition and support for a relatively small caseload of older people stranded in Greece seeking to reunite with adult children and grandchildren would relieve suffering, Human Rights Watch said. In the longer term, better systems to address family reunification are urgently needed.

The Greek Asylum Service should identify and provide accurate and timely information to older refugees and asylum seekers on how they can reunite with family members. EU member states should ensure that procedures for family reunification are accessible and efficient for all eligible family members, as outlined by international law.

World Report 2017: European Union

World Report 2017: European Union

Faced with significant strategic challenges, EU governments and institutions responded in 2016 in ways that often undercut or set aside core values and rights protections rather than working consistently together to defend them. 

A number of organizations working for refugees in Greece, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have called for the protection of the right to family and speedy reunification by EU member states. They have criticized EU and national laws for defining “family” to mean only spouses and minor children (under 18 years old).

In an Action Plan published in December 2016, the European Commission recommended tougher measures aimed at increasing the number of returns of those stranded on the Greek Islands to Turkey, under a deeply flawed EU deal signed with Turkey in March 2016. One of these measures ended exemptions for vulnerable groups – which include older people – and people eligible for family reunification. The exemptions were aimed at protecting them from return to Turkey under this agreement. The measures in this Action Plan could have a serious impact on older people’s rights and well-being, Human Rights Watch said.

“Older refugees and asylum seekers should be able to enjoy family life,” Brown said. “The delays and barriers for older asylum seekers undermine the well-being and integration of communities across Europe.”

Accounts by Older Asylum Seekers

Older refugees and asylum seekers in Greece have been forced to leave their homes, their family lives shattered by war. Many spoke of the desperation they felt to reestablish their family relationships after losing everything else.

“Nesrin” is an older Syrian-Kurdish woman who was living in an outdoor camp with her daughter outside Athens when Human Rights Watch interviewed her in December 2016. She and her daughter are unclear about where Nesrin’s application to be reunited with her sons in Germany stands. Nesrin said she did not know her age but has tattoos on her face that she said her mother gave her when she was a baby “to make me beautiful.” This tradition was common until 50 years ago, according to historians. She told us she has slipped discs in her back, and walked with difficulty.

As she talked about her adult children, scattered around Germany, a Greek island, and Iraq, she started to cry and could not continue to speak. Her daughter said: “She is sick, and has been left here. They [officials] said that she can see her sons [in Germany], and then ‘No.’”

Nesrin added: “All of my bones are in pain. I want to die, I really want to die. [But before I do,] I just want to see my sons.”

“Adnan,” 59, an asylum seeker from Syria, has an adult son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters in Germany. He has an adult son and daughter-in-law with him in Greece, where he arrived in March 2016. Adnan has applied to join them in Germany, but is unsure about what process they used. He expressed his anxiety about being separated from his family, highlighting the way his family lived together in Syria and what he stood to lose.

At the time of our interview, in December 2016, he lived in a camp just outside Athens. He said:

We came all this way as a family; we fled Syria as a family. [When my son and I were separated into different households with different files during registration here in Greece,] we said, ‘This is not human....’ I begged. ‘You cannot separate us into two families.’ I went to another interview and told them the same. That guy [Greek official] said that my son should give my case number, and maybe we can be together.... We are one family. Why would they want to separate us? Every one of us must serve the other. We have learned to live together. In Europe, everyone is on his own.

“Gisele,” 63, whose young granddaughters live in Germany, said that when it came time for her interview with the Greek authorities, “I told them my children are in Germany, and that I raised my granddaughters who are now there, and I wish to go to them.” She was living in a camp outside Athens when Human Rights Watch interviewed her in December 2016. She said that the officials told her that they could not promise that she will be reunited with them. She told us that when her granddaughter [in Germany] talks with her on the phone, her granddaughter says: ‘I want to break the phone to get through to you!’ Gisele had not seen her sons, her daughters-in law, or her granddaughters for over a year.

“Mussa,” 60, was born in Afghanistan. At the time of our interview in December 2016, he lived in a tent camp outside Athens. He told Human Rights Watch he has three adult children in Germany. He lives with his wife, a son, 18, and a daughter, 19, who has a disability. Mussa told Human Rights Watch that he fled the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s and went to Iran, only to be later threatened by a government official. He spoke quietly and intensely about his family’s journey and his anxiety over separation from his 18-year-old son:

We left [Iran] because I have a daughter who was engaged to marry.… [H]er fiancé became important in his government ministry. He was coming every day with a cool car from the ministry, asking her for a walk. He stopped her from going to school. She was unhappy. So, I called the father of that man, and sought to cancel the engagement. I paid everything. He broke the legs of my two sons. In the end, he was a politician and I had a normal life, [so we had no choice but to] sell the house and car, and flee.

Here in Greece, I have not told anyone this story. We were on a [Greek] island for six months, and we have been here [in the camp] for three or four months. Our first interview [with the Asylum Service] will be in one month. We applied for family reunification, but we are worried about our son because he is 18. They [officials] told our daughter that she could stay [with us] because of her special needs, but they didn’t say that about our son. We can’t leave behind our 18-year-old boy. [I know of] another family with such a case.

Right to Family Life

The right to family in international law is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 16 (3)), and key human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 10 (1)), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 23 (1)), the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, (Article 33 (1)), and the European Convention on Human Rights (article 8). Under international law the definition of “family” is not restricted only to spouses and minor children. The European Court of Human Rights refers to social, emotional, and biological factors when assessing whether a relationship should be considered part of “family life.”

Older people have the right to have their applications reviewed within a reasonable timeframe that considers their specific needs. They are recognized as a vulnerable group under EU law, and are entitled to appropriate support commensurate with that status, including information about how to apply for family reunification. Greece has incorporated EU minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers into its domestic law, which include requirements to support vulnerable people, including those who are older.

The EU law that determines asylum processing, known as the Dublin regulation, says that in accordance with EU human rights law, “respect for family life should be a primary consideration for Member States when applying this Regulation.” It also states that “in order to ensure full respect for the principle of family unity and for the best interests of the child, the existence of a relationship of dependency between an applicant and his or her child, sibling or parent on account of the applicant’s pregnancy or maternity, state of health or old age, should become a binding responsibility criterion.”

However, the definition of “family member” in the Dublin regulation is limited to spouses, or partners and minor children, while the definition of “relative” refers explicitly only to aunts, uncles, and grandparents of adults. Parents of adults are not listed in this definition. This omission leaves an important gap in the protection of older people’s rights.

The Dublin regulation explicitly states that older asylum seekers in Europe who depend on the support of a family member in another part of Europe should be kept or brought together.

Dependency is not defined in the regulation, but developed by each member state’s case law, and it provides the main basis on which older parents in Greece seeking refugee status who may have adult children in other parts of Europe can seek reunification. Dependency on an adult child can entitle them to be kept or brought together. The European Commission encourages member states to use this option “in the most humanitarian way.”

Practical Barriers

EU asylum processes are failing to properly respect or protect the right to family life of older refugees in Greece. Many older refugees and asylum seekers find their lives are on hold as they wait to learn if they will be reunified with family, with little information and great uncertainty. This issue has long been ignored. The refugee crisis in Greece is just the latest place around the world where this reality is unfolding.

As reports about the deteriorating mental health of refugees and asylum seekers still waiting in limbo in Greece are becoming common, many organizations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have been advocating quicker family reunification.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that family reunification procedures should provide guarantees of flexibility and promptness to ensure the right to family life is respected. Multiple EU states, however, use a narrow definition of family in assessing family reunification requests.

The organization Action Aid, in its recent advocacy on family reunification, criticized such narrow definitions for effectively breaking up “key support networks that are not only important to the asylum seekers themselves, but to the societies in which they will eventually be integrated.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees too, has been vocal about European countries’ narrow interpretation of family to include only nuclear members. It has advocated that: “[T]he concept of family should be interpreted flexibly by States, which could reflect strong and continuous social, emotional or economic dependency between family members, though which does not require complete dependence (for example, as in the case of spouses or elderly parents).” For older people, the last surviving family relationships may not be nuclear family members.

But the Greek Asylum Service has said to Human Rights Watch via Twitter that: “Member States reject such requests when not obliged to accept fam[ily] members.” And that it “sends relocation request[s] to MS [Member States] where the family is if [reunification] not applicable under Dublin. Both too slow.” This pace may become even slower. On May 19, 2017, it was reported by the media that the German Interior Ministry is planning to accept only 70 asylum-seeker family members per month.

The Greek Asylum Service’s chief of the Dublin Unit, Isa Papiliou, also acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that asylum seekers have experienced misinformation, legal and administrative blockages, problems obtaining and verifying documentation, and difficulty communicating across borders. She also noted that refugees and asylum seekers “may believe that the procedure via the [EU] embassies may [take less time] … the embassies have a legal basis [to provide] family reunification directive separately from [the] Dublin [regulation].”

Recommendations

  • The EU, its member states, and, in particular, Greece should ensure that the right to family life for older beneficiaries of protection already in the EU is respected, including through family reunification, without onerous conditions or waiting periods;
  • Greece should resist EU pressure to weaken protections for vulnerable asylum seekers – including older people eligible for family reunification – under the EU-Turkey agreement of March 2016;
  • The European Commission should request the Greek government and its partner agencies to provide clear information from grantees about how the programs it funds in Greece benefit older people and other at-risk groups;
  • Greece should reform the intake system for asylum seekers in Greece, by providing information on family reunification and access to legal aid for at-risk groups, including older people;
  • The EU and member states, including Greece, should provide for speedier reunification for older people; and
  • EU member states should increase the use of dependency determinations for older refugees in Europe seeking family reunification.

Methodology

The research is based on interviews Human Rights Watch conducted between December 16 and December 23, 2016, with 13 older refugees and asylum seekers in four camps and one refugee squat around Athens. This relatively small number reflects the difficulty in accessing formal data about numbers and locations of older refugees and asylum seekers, and their decreased visibility within each setting. Human Rights Watch identified most of those interviewed by word-of-mouth. Despite small numbers, there was similarity in their stories around the anxiety and uncertainty of family reunification, creating reason to believe that other older people have had similar experiences.

Each interviewee consented voluntarily to be interviewed. None received remuneration, a personal service, or benefit in return for the interview. Names of the interviewees have been withheld to protect their privacy and security.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and representatives of nine aid organizations and the Greek Asylum Service’s Dublin Unit between November 2016 and April 2017.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 23, 2017, 4:01 am

Mukuma Hamad, a volunteer health worker, holds a container of folic acid, the only assistance she can give pregnant women who visit the lone health clinic in Hadara village, in rebel-controlled Southern Kordofan. 

© 2016 Skye Wheeler/ Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) – Most women and girls in the rebel-held Nuba Mountains of Sudan lack access to reproductive health care, including emergency obstetric care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Their plight is one of the little known yet far-reaching effects of years of obstruction of aid to the area by the Sudanese government and armed opposition.

The 61-page report, “No Control, No Choice: Lack of Access to Reproductive Healthcare in Rebel-Held Southern Kordofan,” documents how women and girls cannot get contraception and have little access to health care if they face complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The parties to the six-year-long conflict, the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA/M-North), have both obstructed impartial humanitarian aid.

“Women and girls in the Nuba Mountains are suffering and dying from years without access to life-saving humanitarian aid,” said Skye Wheeler, a women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Sudanese government and armed opposition need to put the people first, and should immediately smooth the way for impartial and independent aid agencies to reach the area.”

Most women and girls in the rebel-held Nuba Mountains of Sudan lack access to reproductive health care, including emergency obstetric care. Their plight is one of the little known yet far-reaching effects of years of obstruction of aid to the area by the Sudanese government and armed opposition. 

The Sudanese government, which has a long history of obstructing humanitarian aid to conflict zones, promised to improve aid access across Sudan before the United States government agreed to lift economic sanctions in January 2017. While the government appears to have eased access restrictions in some parts of the country, neither the government nor the rebel group has agreed to conditions for allowing aid into rebel-controlled parts of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

The United Nations and its members should investigate both parties’ obstruction of offers of impartial aid as a violation of international humanitarian law. The UN and others should consider individual sanctions against commanders or leaders determined to be responsible for clear obstruction of aid or any serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The two sides have been fighting in both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states since 2011. Unlawful and terrifying airstrikes by the government on populated areas, along with food shortages, have pushed more than 200,000 people into refugee camps in South Sudan and displaced hundreds of thousands more within Sudan.

In December 2016, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 25 women in the Nuba mountains counties of Heiban, Delami, and Um Dorien about their access to health care, as well 65 local authorities, humanitarian and health workers, and other civilians.

No one in the rebel-held areas has had access to government health services or unhindered humanitarian aid since the conflict began. In mid-2014, Sudanese forces bombed in and around several health facilities in what appeared to be targeted attacks, shutting down two major facilities that provided emergency obstetric care and contraception. There are only five doctors for perhaps as many as 900,000 people and two functioning hospitals, both in Heiban county, which can be up to a two-day journey for many people. Active front lines sometimes make the hospitals entirely inaccessible. There are no ambulances in the rebel-held area and few civilian cars.

Most pregnant women have no prenatal care or must rely on local birth attendants without formal training, or trained midwives with no, or insufficient, equipment. When women and girls face complications during labor, they sometimes only reach care after many hours of travel by motorcycle, carried between two men, or transported on beds.

The lack of access to prenatal care, skilled health providers during delivery, and emergency obstetric care are risk factors for maternal deaths. In the most recent statistics available, the Sudanese government in 2006 put Southern Kordofan’s maternal mortality rate at 503 per 100,000 live births, compared with 91 in Northern state and 213 in Southern Kordofan’s neighboring Northern Kordofan state.

The little information available suggests that maternal mortality remains high. Local administration officials said that about 350 women died in 2016, and they suspected that most of them were pregnant. The Diocese of El Obeid’s Mother of Mercy Hospital documented two maternal deaths in 2016 and three in 2015 at their hospital, out of 260 to 280 births a year. Cap Anamur (German Emergency Doctors) recorded two maternal deaths at their hospital in 2016, out of 193 deliveries and six maternal deaths in women’s homes in areas near their outreach clinics. However, all the health workers Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they believe most women who die in pregnancy, including childbirth, do so at home, far from help.

Family planning is largely unavailable, making it difficult for women and men to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and for women to control their fertility. Three organizations and local authorities all reported that detected cases of syphilis and gonorrhea are increasing. In one facility, for example, gonorrhea cases jumped from 39 in 2013 to 896 in 2016. The Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, which houses the area’s largest maternal health program, reported that 20 percent of pregnant women in their care tested positive for Hepatitis B.
 
The rebel SPLA/M-North civilian administration has maintained about 175 clinics in the area, but these do not regularly distribute contraception. German Emergency Doctors is the only organization consistently providing contraception in rebel-held areas, but local restrictions require women to obtain permission from their husbands.
 
“The women we spoke to wanted to space their children, in part because they were worried about food shortages,” Wheeler said. “But most of the women we interviewed did not know what a condom or contraception was or had never seen any.”
 
Sudan declared a unilateral ceasefire in June 2016 in Southern Kordofan, which it then extended to all conflict zones, and appears to have stopped aerial bombardments in 2017. The US decision to suspend economic sanctions will become permanent in July if Sudan shows progress on a number of fronts, including humanitarian access. The US should delay the decision, allow more time for Sudan to demonstrate progress, and monitor a wider set of human rights concerns. The UN should also step up its engagement on the conflicts.
 
Witness: Hoping for a Child Who Survives

Witness: Hoping for a Child Who Survives

Wrapped in a pink, flower-embroidered cloth called tobe, her voice a mere whisper, Hassina tells her story – a story of pain, loss, and lack of control over her body and life.  

 
The UN Security Council issued a resolution in May 2012 threatening punitive measures if the parties did not allow aid to flow freely to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, but has taken no further action.
 
“The scrutiny from the UN Security Council on Sudan in 2011 and 2012 has given way to silence and non-action,” Wheeler said. “The UN and donors should urgently press the parties to allow them to provide desperately needed emergency assistance to civilians, including women and girls, in this long-neglected crisis.”
 
Selected Cases and Quotes
 
Hasina Soulyman:
 
Four years ago, after 14-year-old Hassina Soulyman, from Hadara village in Delami county, spent two days in labor at home, weak from loss of blood and falling in and out of consciousness, her family put her on a motorcycle – the only transport in her village – with two men holding her between them for a two-hour drive to a larger village. There they waited hours for a car to take her to one of only two hospitals in the rebel-held area of Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state. When she finally got there, a doctor delivered her stillborn baby by cesarean section and told Hassina that her cervix was too narrow to give birth vaginally.
 
Without adequate health information or access to contraception, Hassina became pregnant two more times. Her second baby was delivered at the hospital but died before turning six months old. During the last weeks of her third pregnancy, when she was 18, Hassina and her family fled her village to escape government bombing. She went into labor in the riverbed where her family was sheltering, and endured three days of obstructed labor, during which the body of the baby cleared the birth canal but the separated head was stuck in her womb before she could get transport to a hospital. As of December 2016, Hassina still did not have access to family planning assistance.
 
Amal Tutu:

“I had a miscarriage at five months, of twins. They came out and then there was a lot of bleeding, a lot of pain. There was no car, no painkillers. I had to walk to the hospital because the bleeding would not stop.”

— Amal Tutu, 30, from a village in Heiban County, a day’s walk from the nearest hospital.

Aisha Hussein:

“My aunt died in childbirth, they took her to the hospital and she died on the way with the baby in her womb, it was an hour by car.”

— Aisha Hussein, 41, Tongoli village, Delami county.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 23, 2017, 2:01 am

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference on September 9, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

(Sydney) – As civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria rise in the battle against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the Australian government should take all feasible measures to protect civilians during military operations and improve the transparency of its operations, Human Rights Watch said today. The Australian government is an active member of the United States-led coalition against ISIS and has dropped thousands of munitions on targets in Iraq and Syria since August 2014, but has been one of the least transparent members of the coalition.

On May 8, 2017, the Australia Defence Force (ADF) began releasing fortnightly reports on strikes taken by the Australian air force as a member of the US-led coalition, but more detailed reporting is urgently needed.

“The rise in reports of civilian casualties raises questions about the precautions and procedures in place to protect civilians,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “New fortnightly Australian defense reports are a welcome step, but the government needs to provide more detailed information to ensure greater transparency and accountability for its military operations in Iraq and Syria.”

On May 1, 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Minister of Defence, Marise Payne, calling for the government to improve the transparency of its operations and strike reporting. Throughout its campaign against ISIS, Australia has failed to be transparent. Airwars, a United Kingdom-based nongovernmental organization that monitors airstrikes, said in a December 2016 report that the Australian government is “one of the least transparent members of the international Coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State.” Australia’s stated reason for this lack of transparency was to protect operational security and prevent information about strikes taken by the Australian government from being used as propaganda.

On May 2, 2017, the Australian Ministry of Defence announced a review of its airstrike reporting, saying it would henceforth publish fortnightly reports “summarizing the targets and locations in Iraq and Syria struck by Australian aircraft.” According to the statement, the decision to increase transparency was made after weighing the importance of reporting over “the potential propaganda advantages” the reports might provide and risks to ADF personnel and operations. On May 8, the first report was released, detailing seven engagements between April 18-30. It gave the date and described in general terms the location, targets, and type of weapon used. The statement made no reference to any civilian or combatant casualties or active investigations.

While regular reporting is a welcome step toward more transparency, the Australian government should release data on its operations occurring in Iraq and Syria since the campaign began in 2014, and not just those after April 18, 2017, Human Rights Watch said. In these reports, the Australian government should detail instances in which they have investigated reports of civilian casualties, the outcome of these investigations, and to what extent compensatory or punitive actions have been taken. Publishing these reports would demonstrate Australia’s commitment to transparency and allow independent monitors to check reporting against allegations of civilian casualties.

The Australian government should also work directly with human rights organizations and independent monitors like Airwars to help it determine whether its operations may have resulted in civilian casualties. This has been done by other members of the coalition, including the US and the UK.

Heavy fighting in recent months in Iraq and Syria, especially in the densely populated neighborhoods of Mosul, Iraq, has exacerbated already dire conditions for hundreds of thousands of civilians caught between ISIS and those fighting to defeat them, increasing the importance of an emphasis on protection of civilians. Intensified operations against ISIS by the members of the US-led coalition operating under the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve have resulted in a sharp increase in the number of alleged civilian casualties in both Iraq and Syria since March 2017.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged the Department of Defence to maintain measures to require the maximum levels of target verification and authorization prior to taking all strikes (air and ground-launched). Measures that can be taken include the use of a central decision-making node, such as a Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve’s “Strike Cell” in Baghdad, which can provide military forces with additional targeting information and targeting recommendations. Additionally, the Australian government should maintain a multilevel approval process to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. Human Rights Watch remains concerned that recent changes to the manner in which the US forces authorize some airstrikes may be contributing to the surge in casualties and urges the Australian government to press the US government to roll back this change.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Australian government to utilize all available intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance assets to identify the presence of civilians in the immediate vicinity of a target area prior to strikes and to verify information received by partner forces prior to acting on it. The Australian government admits that it is operating in a “dynamic and complex environment” and that “[ISIS] fighters capture civilians, holding them hostage and using them as human shields.” These conditions make it imperative that the Australian government act with extreme caution, taking all feasible measures to protect civilians and civilian objects.

Where there are allegations of civilian casualties, the Australian government should ensure that they are investigated. To date, the Australian government has not acknowledged it has taken part in any strike in Iraq or Syria that has resulted in civilian casualties, though it has acknowledged it has taken part in operations where there were “credible claims of civilian casualties.” The government later determined that it could not substantiate these allegations.

The government is also obligated under international law to conduct thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations of alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law, appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible, and provide adequate redress for victims of serious violations. Information about civilian casualties should be drawn from a wide range of sources and should not be reliant on self-reporting or Battle Damage Assessments (BDA), which may only capture a partial picture of the consequences of a strike. A recent acknowledgment in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request that the government “does not specifically collect authoritative (and therefore accurate) date on enemy and/or civilian casualties in either Iraq or Syria and certainly does not track such statistics” is troubling insofar as it raises questions about government efforts to seek or collect information about civilian casualties and to take remedial measures, Human Rights Watch said.

Results of any investigations should be made public with an explanation of what accountability measures have been taken, including any redress provided to victims or the members of their families. Redress should include providing compensation for wrongful civilian deaths and injuries and appropriate compensation under the Tactical Payment Scheme for civilian harm where the Australian government has determined that its actions were lawful.

“If the Australian government is committed to protecting civilians, it should not only take precautions before striking targets, but also fulfill its individual duty to investigate allegations of unlawful civilian casualties and make every effort to ensure accountability and redress,” said Pearson.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 22, 2017, 5:27 pm

Thai soldiers secure the area after a bomb blast at Phra Mongkutklao Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, May 22, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

(New York) – The detonation of a pipe bomb at an army-run hospital in Bangkok that also treats civilians is an unjustifiable act of lawlessness, Human Rights Watch said today. The bomb exploded at about 10 a.m. on May 22, 2017, in the dispensary waiting room of Phra Mongkutklao Hospital, injuring at least 24 people – three critically.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, which occurred on the third anniversary of the military coup that brought the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta to power.

“The bombing of a hospital is an outrageous rights abuse that shows total disregard for human life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bombing hospitals not only risks the lives of patients and medical workers, but disrupts medical care for many more.”

Thai authorities should ensure those responsible for this heinous crime are apprehended and brought to trial.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

The authorities should conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the bombing and ensure full respect for due process rights.

Similar pipe bombs exploded in front of Bangkok’s National Theater in Bangkok on May 15, and near the Government Lottery Office on April 5. No one has claimed responsibility or has been apprehended in those attacks.

“Thai authorities should ensure those responsible for this heinous crime are apprehended and brought to trial,” Adams said. “Upholding due process rights for those accused of the attack is critically important to deliver justice to the victims and deter such vicious attacks in the future.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 22, 2017, 5:06 pm

For the past four years, the Kremlin has sought to stigmatize criticism or alternative views of government policy as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, or even traitorous.  It is part of a sweeping crackdown to silence critical voices that has included new legal restrictions on the internet, on freedom of expression, on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and on other fundamental freedoms.   

An enduring, central feature has been the 2012 law requiring independent groups to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined “political activity.” In Russia, the term “foreign agent” can be interpreted by the public only as “spy” or “traitor.” To date, Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated 158 groups as “foreign agents,” courts have levied staggering fines on many groups for failing to comply with the law, and about 30 groups have shut down rather than wear the “foreign agent” label. 
Organizations targeted  include groups that work on human rights, the environment, LGBT issues, and health issues,  groups that do polling about social issues. A court forced the closure of AGORA Association, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations , in response to a  Justice Ministry suit alleging that the group violated the “foreign agents” law and carried out work beyond its mandate.
 
The ministry has removed its “foreign agent” tag from over 20 groups, acknowledging that they had stopped accepting foreign funding. Accordingly, as of May 22, 2017, the official list of active “foreign agents” consisted of  96 groups. 
 
 
The ‘Foreign Agent’ Law
Under the 2012 law, groups must register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents” if they receive even a minimal  amount of  funding from any foreign sources, governmental or private, and engage in “political activity.” The definition of political activity under the law is so broad and vague that it effectively extends to all aspects of advocacy and human rights work. Initially, the law required all  nongovernmental organizations that met these criteria  to register with  the ministry and to identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials, with  legal consequences for failure to comply.  
 
Russia’s human rights groups resolutely boycotted the law, calling it “unjust” and “slanderous.” In 2013, Russia’s then-federal ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, challenged the law in Russia’s Constitutional Court. In 2014, the court upheld the law, finding that there were no legal or constitutional grounds for contending that the term “foreign agent” had negative connotations from the Soviet era and that, therefore, its use was “not intended to persecute or discredit” organizations. The court also found that the “foreign agent” designation was in line with the public interest and the interest of state sovereignty.
 
Two years of mounting pressure by the authorities, court proceedings, and massive fines did not succeed in forcing groups to voluntarily register as foreign agents.  In May 2014 Russia’s parliament amended the “foreign agents” law to authorize the Justice Ministry to register groups as “foreign agents” without their consent. 
 
In May 2016, parliament adopted another set of amendments to the law, expanding the controversial definition of “political activity” to include, among other things, any attempt by an independent group to influence public policy, regardless of the group’s mandate. 
 
To date, the registry of “foreign agents” includes the following organizations:
  1. Association of NGOs in Defense of Voters’ Rights “Golos” (Moscow) – June 5, 2014 
  2. Regional Public Association in Defense of Democratic Rights and Freedoms “Golos” (Moscow) – June 5, 2014
  3. Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (Saratov) – June 5, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  4. Women of Don (Rostov region) – June 5, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 29, 2016)
  5. Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives (Kostroma) – June 5, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – June 19, 2015)
  6. Interregional Human Rights Association “Agora” (Kazan) – July 21, 2014 (the organization was shut down – December 29, 2016)
  7. Regional public organization “Ecozaschita! – Womens’ Council” (Kaliningrad) – July  21, 2014
  8. Public Verdict Foundation (Moscow) – July 21, 2014
  9. Human Rights Center “Memorial” (Moscow) – July 21, 2014
  10. Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms / JURIX (Moscow) – July 21, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 26, 2015)
  11. Soldiers’ Mothers (Saint Petersburg) – August 28, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 23, 2015)
  12. Freedom of Information Foundation / Institute for Information Freedom Development – August 28, 2014
  13. PIR Center – September 3, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 24, 2016)
  14. Association “Partnership for Development” (Saratov) – October 2, 2014 (the organization was shut down – November 6, 2015)
  15. “News Agency MEMO.RU” (Moscow) – November 20, 2014
  16. Regional Press Institute (St. Petersburg) – November 20, 2014
  17. Moscow School of Civic Education – December 9, 2014
  18. Rakurs, Arkhangelsk regional non-governmental LGBT organization – December 15, 2014
  19. All-Russian movement "For Human Rights" – December 22, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 30, 2015)
  20. Human Rights Center (Kaliningrad) – December 25, 2014
  21. Krasnodar Regional Social Organization of University Alumni – December 25, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – April 22, 2016)
  22. Regional social organization "Public Commission for Academic Sakharov's Heritage Preservation" – December 25, 2014
  23. Resource Human Rights Center (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – November 3, 2015)
  24. Regional Public Organization "Man and the Law" (Republic of Mari El) – December 30, 2014
  25. Center for Social Development "Vozrozhdeniye" (Pskov) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – January 31, 2017)
  26. Public Human Rights Organization "Civil Control" (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014
  27. The League of Women Voters (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  28. Free Press Support Foundation – December 30, 2014
  29. Interregional Non-Governmental Organization "The Committee Against Torture" – January 16, 2015 (the organization was shut down – September 13, 2016)
  30. Educational Center "Memorial" (Sverdlov region) – January 16, 2015
  31. Autonomous non-profit human rights organization "Youth Center for Consulting and Training" – January 20, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – July 22, 2015)
  32. "Information Bureau of the Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg" – January 20, 2015 
  33. Jewish regional branch of the Russian public organization "Municipal Academy"– January 26, 2015 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  34. The noncommercial partnership "Press Development Institute - Siberia" – January 30, 2015
  35. Center for social, psychological and legal help to victims of discrimination and homophobia “Maximum” (Murmansk) – February 4, 2015 (the organization was shut down – October 28, 2015)
  36. Interregional public fund for civil society development “Golos-Povolzhye” (Samara) – February 6, 2015
  37. Interregional charity organization “Siberian Environmental Center” (Novosibirsk) – February 12, 2015
  38. Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research / GRANI (Perm) – February 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – June 19, 2015)
  39. Municipal public organization “Samara Center for Gender Studies” (Samara) – February 16, 2015
  40. Regional Fund "Center for Defense of Mass Media Rights" (Voronezh) – February 26, 2015
  41. Regional Charitable Social Foundation "For nature" (Chelyabinsk) – March 6, 2015 (the organization was shut down – April 18, 2017)
  42. Regional Ecological Social Movement "For nature" (Chelyabinsk) –  March 6, 2015
  43. Humanist Youth Movement (Murmansk) – March 13, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 25, 2015)
  44. Regional Social Organization for Contribution to Harmonization of Interethnic Relations "Azerbaijan" – March 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – July 22, 2016)
  45. Regional Social Environmental Organization "Bellona-Murmansk" – March 19, 2015 (the organization was shut down – October 16, 2015)
  46. "Educational Center for Environment and Security" (Samara) – March 20, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 8, 2015)
  47. Foundation "Migration XXI Century" – March 27, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – November 25, 2016)
  48. Eco-logika (Rostov) – April 3, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – March 30, 2016)
  49. Transparency International Russia - April 7, 2015
  50. Social Environmental Organization "Planeta Nadezhd" – April 15, 2015
  51. Foundation for Consumers' Rights Defense (Novosibirsk) – April 17, 2015 (the organization was shut down – May 12, 2016)
  52. Civic Assistance Committee – April 20, 2015
  53. Foundation 19/29 -  Foundation for Support of Investigative Journalism – April 24, 2015 
  54. Commemorative Centre of History of Political Repressions "Perm - 36" –  April 29, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 18, 2016)
  55. Women's League (Kaliningrad ) – April 29, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 16, 2015)
  56. Legal Expert Partnership "Soyuz " – May 7, 2015 (the organization was shut down – 25 August 2015)
  57. Center for Development of Non-Commerical Organizations – May 13, 2015
  58. Club of Accountants and Auditors of Non-Commercial Organizations – May 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – March 30, 2016)
  59. Informational Bureau of the Council of Ministers of Northern Countries (Kaliningrad) – May 13, 2015
  60. Sutyajnik (Yekaterinburg) – May 15, 2015
  61. Human Rights Academy (Yekaterinburg) – May 15, 2015
  62. Ecological Center "Dront" (Nizhny Novgorod) – May 22, 2015
  63. The non-profit organization "Liberal Mission" Scientific Foundation of Theoretical and Applied Research – May 25, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 11, 2015)
  64. The non-profit Dynasty Foundation – May 25, 2015
  65. Union of Employers (Tula region) – May 28, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 13, 2016)
  66. Youth organization "Nuori Karjala/Young Karelia" – June 19, 2015 (the organization was shut down – March 25, 2016)
  67. Siberian Center for Support of Social Initiatives – June 19, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  68. Interregional Social Foundation for Peace in the South and in the Northern Caucasus – June 19, 2015
  69. Informational Center "Free Inform" – June 22, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 21, 2016)
  70. Center for Independent Sociological Studies (St. Petersburg) – June 22, 2015
  71. Regional Organization for Population and Development  – June 23, 2015
  72. Geblerov Ecological Societ (Barnaul) – June 23, 2015 
  73. Association “Legal Basis” (Yekaterinburg) – July 3, 2015
  74. Interregional Non-governmental Organization "Northern Environmental Coalition" (Petrozavodsk) – July 8, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 1, 2015)
  75. Komi Human Rights Commission "Memorial" (Syktyvkar) – July 21, 2015
  76. Altai Regional Public Fund for 21st Century Altai (Barnaul) – July 22, 2015 (the organization was shut down – March 28, 2016)
  77. Interregional Public Foundation for Civil Society Development "GOLOS-Ural" (Chelyabinsk region) – July 22, 2015
  78. SREDA Foundation – July 28, 2015
  79. Non-governmental environmental organization "Green World" (Nizhny Novgorod) – July 29, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 28, 2016)
  80. Civic Action Foundation (Perm) – August 5, 2015
  81. Alliance of Funds of Local Communities of the Perm territory – August 11, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 26, 2016)
  82. Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Center – regional branch of the “For Human Rights” All-Russian movement (Nalchik) – August 18, 2015 (the organization was shut down – November 6, 2015)
  83. The Human Rights Center of the Chechen Republic (Grozny) – August 21, 2015
  84. Interregional Social Ecological Foundation "ISAR-Siberia" (Novosibirsk) – August 26, 2015
  85. Perm Regional Human Rights Center (Perm) – September 3, 2015
  86. Siberia's lifeline (Novosibirsk) – September 3, 2015
  87. Golos Foundation in Support of Democracy – September 4, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 21, 2016)
  88. Jewish Cultural Center "Hesed-Teshuva" (Ryazan) – September 11, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 13, 2016)
  89. Sakhalin Environment Watch (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) – September 18, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended - April 10, 2017)
  90. Yasavey Manzara Information and Research Center (Naryan-Mar) – September 23, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 15, 2016)
  91. Consumer Rights and Environment Protection Association "Princip" (Moscow region) – October 5, 2015
  92. Far East Center for the Development of Civil Initiatives and Social Partnership (Vladivostok)– October 13, 2015
  93. Russian Research Center for Human Rights – October 20, 2015
  94. Women of the Don (Rostov region) – October 27, 2015
  95. Friends of the Siberian Forests (Krasnoyarsk) – October 28, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 6, 2016)
  96. Photography Club "Sobytiye" (Omsk) – October 28, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 16, 2015)
  97. Research and Information Center "Memorial" (St. Petersburg) – November 6, 2015
  98. Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk) – November 10, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 1, 2016)
  99. Glasnost Defense Foundation – November 19, 2015
  100. Human Rights Institute – November 20, 2015
  101. Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North – November 27, 2015
  102. Green World (Leningrad region) – December 2, 2015
  103. Mashr (Republic of Ingushetia) – December 8, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – April 18, 2017)
  104. Woman's World (Kaliningrad) – December 11, 2015
  105. Panorama Information and Research Center (Moscow) – December 18, 2015
  106. Dauria Ecological Center (Chita) – December 30, 2015 (the organization was shut down – September 1, 2016)
  107. Yekaterinburg Memorial Society (Yekaterinburg) – December 30, 2015
  108. Bureau of Public Investigations (Nizhny Novgorod) – January 14, 2016
  109. Committee for the Prevention of Torture (Orenburg) – January 14, 2016
  110. Institute of Forecasting and Resolving of Political Conflicts (Nizhny Novgorod) – January 22, 2016
  111. Ryazan Historical, Educational and Human Rights Center "Memorial" (Ryazan) – February 1, 2016
  112. Society of Assistance to Social Protection of Citizens "Peterburgskaya EGIDA" (Saint Petersburg) – February 2, 2016 (the organization was shut down – April 26, 2016)
  113. Center for Health and Social Support "SIBALT"  (Omsk) – February 15, 2016
  114. Chelyabinsk Regional Organ of Public Independent Action "Ural Human Rights Group" (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  115. Women of Eurasia (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  116. Ural Democratic Foundation (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  117. Legal and Social Support Charitable Foundation "Sphere" (Saint Petersburg) –  March 1, 2016
  118. Centre for Civic Education and Human Rights (Perm) – March 3, 2016
  119. The International Development Fund for Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation "Batani" (Moscow) – March 11, 2016
  120. Center for Social and Labor Rights  (Moscow) – March 21, 2016
  121. Arkhar (Gorno-Altaysk) – April 5, 2016 (the organization was shut down – October 6, 2016)
  122. Publishing House "Valentin Manuylov" – April 15, 2016
  123. Tengri School of Soul ecology (Altay) - May 17, 2016
  124. Hanse Buero / Information Bureau of Schleswig-Holstein in Kaliningrad (Kaliningrad) - May 24, 2016 (the organization was shut down – December 30, 2016)
  125. Krasnoyarsk Regional Public Organization «Agency of public initiatives» (Krasnoyarsk) - May 27, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  126. Saratov Regional Public Organization "Socium" (Engels) - May 30, 2016
  127. Perm regional non-governmental organization "Perm Civil Chamber" (Perm) - June 9, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  128. Regional non-governmental organization Integration center "Migration and Law" (Moscow) - June 16, 2016
  129. Non-Profit Partnership “ESVERO” (Moscow) - June 22, 2016
  130. Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (Moscow) - June 29, 2016
  131. Altai regional sport and patriotic youth public organization "Arctica" (Biysk) - July 6, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 8, 2017)
  132. Autonomous non-governmental organization "Free Word" (Pskov) - July 13, 2016
  133. The Institute of Economic Analysis (Moscow) - July 22, 2016
  134. Penza regional youth civic organization for prevention of negative phenomena among youth "Panacea" (Kuznetsk) - August 15, 2016 (the organization was shut down – December 8, 2016)
  135. Samara regional, civic organization "American alumni club" (Samara) - August 26, 2016
  136. Autonomous non-for-profit organization "Publishing house 'Park Gagarina'" (Samara) - August 31, 2016
  137. Levada Analytical Center (Moscow) - September 5, 2016
  138. Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (Maikop) - September 13, 2016
  139. Autonomous non-for-profit human rights organization "Draftee's school" (Chelyabinsk) - September 21, 2016
  140. Foundation for support of civil freedoms "Legal mission" (Chelyabinsk) - September 21, 2016
  141. International Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society Memorial (Moscow) - October 4, 2016
  142. Sverdlovsk regional non-profit foundation "Health Era" (Ekaterinburg) - October 11, 2016
  143. Chapaevsk non-profit organization "Chapaevsk city medical personnel association" (Chapaevsk) - October 21, 2016
  144. Regional charity foundation "Samarskaya gubernia" (Samara) - November 2, 2016
  145. Non-profit partnership "Internet Community" (Samara) - December 13, 2016
  146. Autonomous non-profit organization for social support "Project April" (Tolyatti) - December 19, 2016
  147. ANNA Centre for the prevention of violence (Moscow) - December 26, 2016
  148. Southern Human Rights Centre (Sochi) - December 26, 2016
  149. Sverdlovsk branch of the International Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society Memorial (Ekaterinburg) - December 29, 2016
  150. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (Moscow) - December 30, 2016
  151. Sverdlovsk civic organization for assistance to legal migration "Nelegalov.Net [No Illegals]" (Ekaterinburg) - January 10, 2017
  152. Environmental human rights center Bellona (Saint Petersburg) - January 16, 2017
  153. Youth civic organization "Pro-movement" (Altay region) - January 25, 2017
  154. Kaliningrad regional civic organization "Society for German culture and Russian Germans Eintracht - Soglasie" (Kaliningrad) - January 31, 2017
  155. Foundation for development assistance to mass communication and legal education "Tak-Tak-Tak" (Novosibirsk) - February 20, 2017
  156. Murmansk regional non-profit organization "Kola ecological center" (Apatity) - April 20, 2017

And the four NGOs which registered voluntarily:

  1. Non-commercial Partnership “Supporting Competition in the CIS Countries” – June 27, 2013 
  2. "The Union of Young Political Scientists",  Karachay–Cherkess Republican Youth Social Organization – December 15, 2014
  3. Regional Social Movement "Novgorod Women's Parliament" (Veliky Novgorod) –  March 6, 2015
  4. Center of Independent Researchers of the Altai Republic –  June 10, 2015

 

Leader of at least 1 NGO faces criminal charges personally:

  1. Women of Don (Rostov region) - criminal proceeding is in process. Chair Valentina Cherevatenko faces up to two years in prison for “malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of nonprofit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 22, 2017, 11:07 am

(Erbil) —Iraqi government-allied troops arbitrarily detained at least 100 men in late April 2017, in some cases torturing them during interrogations, Human Rights Watch said today. 

Human Rights Watch interviewed three men from al-Hadar, a village 90 kilometers southwest of west Mosul, who were detained by the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi) and two local officials who had knowledge of the detention operations in the area. The men said the fighters detained them as they fled their homes because of the fighting, and held them for up to 15 days in a school building and in one case a home in an area solely under PMF control. Their captors interrogated them about possible Islamic State (also known as ISIS) links, and in two cases beat them with thick metal cables, before releasing them and a small number of other detainees. Other detainees told them they had also been beaten during interrogations.

“Given the previous track records of PMF abuse in the area of screening and detaining local men, Baghdad should treat these findings with the gravest concern,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should do all in their power to ensure that families fleeing the fighting around Mosul are able to get to safety, not tortured in secret facilities.”

Human Rights Watch heard similar accounts from other men fleeing the fighting earlier in 2017 and raised the issue with the government, but the detentions and abuse seem to have continued. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi should issue a decree banning screening and detention by the PMF and hold those who have committed abuses accountable.

One man, “Hassan,” said that his family and a group of others fled al-Hadar, which was under ISIS control, on April 25, for a camp for displaced people run by the PMF. After two days there, he and 10 of his relatives were then taken to a building they said was a school and held there in a room, along with about 40 others from their village. His family group was interrogated for a week, then released.

Hassan and the other two men interviewed said that they were able to determine that they were being held in a school by speaking to fellow prisoners and guards, and by lifting their blindfolds. A government official from Tal Abta told Human Rights Watch that the PMF held the men in the Tal Abta Janubia primary school and provided the GPS coordinates. The official said that his office had documented the names of 100 men from the area who the PMF had detained as they fled, over the same period, based on calls from their families.

Ali Al-Ahmadi, director of al-Hadar district, told local media outlets on May 1, that the PMF had detained at least 160 people upon their arrival at camps for people displaced by the fighting. The same reports said that the governor of Mosul was calling for a high-level emergency session to discuss these detentions.

Earlier in the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch documented cases of the PMF arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and executing civilians. Following a Human Rights Watch report, the PMF Commission issued a statement in early February denying that its forces had screened or detained anyone. The statement said the PMF hands over captured ISIS suspects to state security forces who have a mandate to screen suspects.

But in a meeting on February 6, a PMF Commission representative told Human Rights Watch that in limited circumstances they do detain people captured on the battlefield for at least short periods before transferring them to Iraqi authorities with a detention mandate. One man the PMF had detained for eight days and an aid worker confirmed that.

Iraqi authorities should only allow those with the requisite legal authority to screen people. The authorities should ensure that anyone detained is held in a recognized detention center accessible to independent monitors, and granted their due process rights under international and Iraqi law. All detention should be based on clear domestic law, and every detainee should be brought promptly before a judge to review the legality of their detention. Iraqi law requires authorities to take detainees before an investigative judge within 48 hours.

Human Rights Watch has also documented that Iraqi forces, including PMF forces, have used schools for security or military purposes such as for screening and as detention centers. Such use of schools can delay the re-opening of the schools to teach and provide other services to children, and damage classrooms and equipment. Iraqi forces should avoid using schools except as a last resort, when no other facilities are available.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, which Iraq ratified in 2011, obliges member countries to investigate and prosecute torture and to compensate victims.

“While there may be grounds to detain some people fleeing the fighting who are suspected of criminal acts under ISIS’s rule, they have to be given their rights under Iraqi law,” Fakih said. “That includes the right not to be ill-treated.”

Detainees’ Accounts

“Hassan”

“Hassan” said that on April 25, when the village of al-Hadar, where he lived, was still under ISIS control, his family and about 15 others managed to escape in several cars. The convoy spent two nights out in the desert just north of al-Hadar, before unidentified security forces arrived and told the families to go to Jarbua, a PMF-run camp for displaced people, 30 kilometers north of Tal Abta.

After they spent two nights at the camp, Hassan said, at around 9 p.m., a group of fighters with PMF badges rounded him up, along with 10 of his relatives, blindfolded them, then drove them to another location where they were held in a room of a large building. When he was able to, he said, he pulled down his blindfold quickly because his hands were bound in front and saw that he was in a room with about 40 other detainees, all from al-Hadar.

After seven days, guards released him and the other 10 men detained with him without explanation, he said. Throughout his detention, he said, the same guards moved him in and out of the room with the other detainees for interrogation, asking why he had remained living under ISIS, whether he had joined ISIS, and for names of ISIS fighters. Hassan said he was blindfolded throughout his captivity but said that he was held and interrogated by fighters with southern accents whom he thought were from the PMF.

“Ahmed”

“Ahmed” said that on the morning of April 26, as Iraqi forces began an operation to retake al-Hadar, more than 60 other families fled the area in cars. Six were families from al-Hadar and the rest were families previously displaced by the fighting, mostly from villages in Tal Abta district, just to the north, he said. When they were about six kilometers north of the village, they reached a base of a large number of fighters carrying flags identifying them as belonging to the PMF unit Ali al-Akbar Brigade (Liwa Ali al-Akbar), with fighters from southern Iraq.

The fighters made them wait for several hours, then checked the men’s identity cards. By then it was evening, and the fighters told them it was too late to take them to the nearest camp, which they said was at least 40 kilometers away. They told the families to stay in their cars or erect tents, he said.

At midnight, Ahmed said, he was standing with five of his relatives, including his brother, by their cars when three Ali al-Akbar fighters with PMF badges approached them and said they needed the men to come with them so they could interview them about their area. Ahmed said that the PMF fighters blindfolded him and his relatives, drove them for about five minutes, and then held them in a school, where the fighters detained them for 10 days. His hands were bound in front, so he was able to slip off the blindfold on various occasions. Ali said he saw guards bringing in about 90 men, who told him they were from al-Hadar.

For four days, Ahmed said, guards with southern accents whom he thought were PMF interrogated him blindfolded in a separate room once each day, asking why he had joined Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and beating him for about 10 minutes each time with thick metal cables. Ahmed said that twice the guards held a plastic bag over his head until he lost consciousness. He said he insisted he had not joined any extremist group. After four days of abuse, he asked the 40 or so men held in a room with him if they had confessed and all said they had, to stop the abuse, Ahmed said. He said all his relatives told him the guards also beat them with thick metal cables.

The next morning, Ahmed said, he confessed to being affiliated with ISIS. Later that afternoon, he was again brought into a separate room and a man who sounded different from his interrogators asked if his confession was true, and he admitted it had not been.

While the PMF held them, he and the other two detainees said they were only given one cup of water and limited food every day. The guards moved Ahmed among three rooms. In two he estimates there were a total of another 40 detainees, with one room full of men he did not recognize as from al-Hadar, and about 50 from al-Hadar in the other. After the other man questioned him, Ahmed said, guards loaded him and 11 other men, including his brother and other relatives into cars and drove them to a house about two hours away, where they were held in the same room and interrogated separately for another two days. At that point, guards with the same southern accents as the Ali al-Akbar fighters brought in 20 to 30 men from al-Hadar whom Ahmed recognized as also having been held at the school. One said that PMF fighters had bused all 90 to the house together.

That night, guards with southern accents took him and 10 of the other men, including four of his relatives, to al-Hadar village and let them go. They eventually made their way to displaced camps in Jadah, 54 kilometers northwest, where they rejoined their families. As of May 17, he said, his brother was still in detention.

An official from the area working on the detainees’ release told Human Rights Watch that the house the PMF detained the men in was referred to as Yaseen’s house.

“Kareem”

“Kareem” said he fled al-Hadhra on April 26, with about 10 families to a nearby village. The next day, they drove 40 kilometers to a PMF checkpoint. Four PMF fighters with badges checked the men’s identity cards. The fighters selected him and seven other men, blindfolded them, and bound their hands, then drove them to a nearby large building. Kareem said the building held many other prisoners but he was unable to count because he was afraid he would be caught if he lifted his blindfold.

He said he was held for 15 days and that guards interrogated him daily about ISIS affiliation and beat him with thick metal cables. An older man from his village held with him died from an illness that predated his detention. Kareem said he did not want to speak about what the guards had done to him, but he had visible bruising and scaring around his wrists and up his right arm when he spoke to Human Rights Watch, two days after he was released.

 

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

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference after his meeting with the National Security Council at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, August 15, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

(New York) – Thailand’s junta has failed to fulfill pledges to respect human rights and restore democratic rule three years after the military coup, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has instead prolonged its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms, and devised a quasi-democratic system that the military can manipulate and control.

“The Thai junta’s empty promises to respect rights and restore democratic rule have become some sort of a sick joke played on the Thai people and the international community,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Three years after the coup, the junta still prosecutes peaceful critics of the government, bans political activity, censors the media, and stifles free speech.”

Sweeping, Unchecked, and Unaccountable Military Power

General Prayuth and the Thai military staged a coup on May 22, 2014, and created the NCPO junta. On March 31, 2015, the nation-wide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which allows General Prayuth as the NCPO chairman to wield power without administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. In addition, section 47 states that all such orders are “deemed to be legal, constitutional, and conclusive.” Section 48 further provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibility, and liabilities.”

Three years after the coup, the junta still prosecutes peaceful critics of the government, bans political activity, censors the media, and stifles free speech.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO – such as the National Legislative Assembly – are dominated by military personnel and other junta loyalists, meaning that there are no effective checks and balances on military rule.

The new constitution, which was promulgated on March 6, 2017, ensures that NCPO members will not be held accountable for any of the many rights violations committed since taking power. It also strengthens and prolongs military control of the government even after an election that the junta promises to hold in 2018.

“The new constitution whitewashes all junta rights violations, ensuring that Thai military leaders can continue to commit abuses without fear of prosecution,” Adams said.

Censorship and Restrictions on Free Expression

The junta’s promised reconciliation and “road map” to return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless as a result of the censorship and prosecution of those expressing dissenting opinions.

Immediately after the May 2014 coup, the NCPO forced satellite TV channels and community radio stations from all political factions off the air. Some were later allowed to resume broadcasting if they agreed to self-censorship, by excluding programs on political issues.

A man watches Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha during his weekly TV broadcast in Bangkok, Thailand, May 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

Since then, the junta has aggressively restricted media freedom and conducted extensive surveillance of the internet and other online communications. Print media have been ordered not to publicize commentaries critical of the junta. TV and radio programs have been instructed not to invite guests who might give negative comments about the situation in Thailand.

Three years after the coup, repression against anyone openly critical of the government continues. On March 27, 2017, a government order forced Voice TV – a private station known for its criticism of military rule – off the air. Voice TV had aired stories that contradicted and disparaged information provided by military authorities about the raid on Dhammakaya Temple, the army’s killing of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist, the arrest of anti-government groups for alleged weapons possession and plotting assassinations of the prime minister and others, and the controversial construction of a casino on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Asserting that political discussions and differences in political opinions could somehow undermine social stability and national security, Thai authorities have frequently canceled political events, academic panels, seminars, and public forums on issues related to the state of human rights and freedom in Thailand. Most recently, on World Press Freedom Day on March 3, Thai authorities ordered the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) to cancel its panel discussion on the disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932. On May 19, police arrested eight activists in Bangkok after they staged a mime performance in memory of those killed and wounded from excessive use of force by the military during the political upheavals in 2010. Not only does the military remain completely untouchable, but many of the commanders involved in the 2010 crackdown – including General Prayuth – are now ruling Thailand.

Thailand’s new Computer-Related Crime Act, which the junta-installed National Legislative Assembly adopted in December 2016, gives broad powers to the government to restrict free speech and enforce surveillance and censorship. On May 16, Thai authorities threatened to shut down all access for users in Thailand to Facebook to pressure the social media platform to block or remove alleged lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) content posted by various users.

People charged with lese majeste, a serious criminal offense in Thailand, are routinely denied bail and held in prison for months or years while awaiting trial.  This is the case of prominent pro-democracy student activist Jatupat Boonphatthararaksa, who faces lese majeste and computer crimes charges for posting on his Facebook page a profile of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, published by the BBC Thai language service. Thai authorities deemed the article to be critical of the monarchy and blocked it in Thailand. Since the May 2014 coup, at least 105 people have been arrested on lese majeste charges, mostly for posting or sharing online commentary. Some have been convicted and sentenced to years or even decades of imprisonment.

Thai authorities continue to enforce the NCPO’s ban on political gatherings of more than five people, with violators subject to punishment that includes up to a year in prison and a 20,000 baht (US$600) fine. Thousands of dissenting activists, politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders have been taken to military camps for questioning and, in the junta’s parlance, “adjusting” of their attitude. The junta has also compelled those released from “attitude adjustment” programs to sign a written agreement that they will not make political comments, become involved in political activities, or oppose military rule – all in violation of their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Failure to comply with such agreements could result in a new detention or a sentence of two years in prison.

Arbitrary Secret Detention, Torture and Military Courts

Under NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016, military authorities have the power to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment. The junta has repeatedly dismissed allegations that soldiers have tortured detainees but then failed to provide any evidence to rebut those allegations.

Human Rights Watch has frequently raised serious concerns regarding secret military detention in Thailand. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military custody. The junta continues to refuse to provide information about people in secret detention.

On April 29, Prawet Prapanukul – a prominent human rights lawyer and critic of the monarchy – and five other people were secretly arrested and put in incommunicado military detention for allegedly posting and sharing commentary on Facebook that Thai authorities considered to be offensive to the monarchy. Their whereabouts were unknown for six days until they were transferred to the Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division and charged with lese majeste, sedition, and computer crimes.

There have been no indications of any serious or credible official inquiry by Thai authorities into reports of torture and mistreatment in military custody. In November 2015, Human Rights Watch submitted a letter to the Thai government raising grave concerns about conditions at the 11th Military Circle Camp, where dissidents have routinely been held. The letter was prompted by the suspicious deaths of a fortune teller, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa during their detention there.

The use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians remains a major problem. In September 2016, General Prayuth revoked Announcement 37 and other two NCPO announcements that empowered military courts to try civilians for national security offenses, including lese majeste and sedition. However, the action is not retroactive and does not affect the more than 1,800 cases already brought against civilians in military courts across Thailand.

“With each passing year in power, Thailand’s junta falls deeper into a dictatorship,” Adams said. “Pressure from Thailand’s friends is urgently needed to end repression and restore respect for basic rights that are essential for the country’s return to democratic civilian rule.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 22, 2017, 12:37 am

Update:

According to the deputy director of the Brak El-Shati hospital, the number of bodies it received from the May 18 assault on the Brak el-Shati military base had risen from 75 to 96 as of May 22. The additional corpses were those of male soldiers, each with gunshot wounds to the head that looked as if they had been summarily executed.  Their bodies were found strewn across the base; some in a state of decay, according to the deputy director. 

(Beirut) – Forces aligned with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) attacked a military base and allegedly executed at least 30 captured soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today. A hospital official and an eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that soldiers from the 13th Battalion aligned with the GNA Defense Ministry attacked the base in Brak El-Shati, in southern Libya, on May 18, 2017, and executed troops from the 12th Battalion of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Members of Libyan National Army (LNA) inspect a damaged military vehicle after clashes with fighters from Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) in Ras Lanuf, Libya, March 16, 2017.  

© 2017 Reuters

The head of the GNA’s Presidency Council ordered an investigation and the suspension of his defense minister and the commander of the battalion responsible for the attack. The summary execution of persons who have been captured or who have surrendered constitutes a war crime.

“The Government of National Accord should act on its promise to investigate allegations that its troops executed opposing forces who had already been rounded up,” said Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to send a strong message that such crimes will not be tolerated which means that if the allegations are true, they should try those responsible.”

The LNA does not recognize the authority of the GNA, and instead supports rival authorities based in the east.

A senior official in the main hospital in Brak El-Shati told Human Rights Watch by phone that the hospital had received 75 dead as of May 19, all adult men with the exception of 2 boys aged around 15, and that around 30 were military personnel. The official said that all the military dead had died from gunshot wounds, and that all had bullet wounds to their head. He also said that five corpses arrived at the hospital with bound arms, and another six had been disfigured in a way that suggested their heads had been run over by a vehicle. The official said the hospital received no one injured in the attack, nor did it receive any casualties from the 13th Battalion. News reports quoted an LNA spokesperson saying 141 were killed.

Human Rights Watch also spoke by phone on May 19 with a member of the LNA’s 12th Battalion who survived the attack, a member of the Libyan Red Crescent Society in Brak El-Shati, and a spokesperson for the 13th Battalion. Human Rights Watch also reviewed extensive photo and video material related to the clashes.

Brak El-Shati military base is under the control of the LNA’s 12th Battalion, commanded by General Khalifa Hiftar. Troops from the LNA’s 10th Battalion were also present during the clashes. The LNA is allied with the Interim Government and House of Representatives based in the eastern cities of al-Bayda and Tobruk. The interim government is one of the three governments vying for legitimacy, international recognition, and control of territory in Libya. The LNA forces in the south have been engaged in an armed conflict with the 13th Battalion, an alliance of armed groups that includes the Third Force from Misrata, the Benghazi Defense Brigades, and other armed groups from the south. The 13th Battalion is under the command of Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi, the GNA defense minister. The GNA, based in Tripoli, is the only Libyan government recognized by the UN Security Council.

According to the 12th Battalion soldier who witnessed the attack and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, elements of the 13th Battalion based in the nearby Tamenhint airbase, about 60 kilometers away, staged the surprise attack at around 9:30 a.m. The eyewitness said that the heavily-armed attackers, who included Chadian fighters, arrived in a large convoy of black armored vehicles.

The LNA soldier, who was at the main gate with around nine other LNA soldiers, said the attackers came out of their cars shooting and fought their way to the interior. The LNA soldiers returned fire but offered little resistance once the attackers had penetrated the base. The 13th Battalion withdrew five or six hours after arriving, taking prisoners.

Hiding under an overturned car during the attack, the LNA soldier said he saw nine comrades executed:

I saw the attackers catch my nine comrades who had been running with me from the main gate. They were disarmed, lined up in a row, and made to kneel on the ground. The attackers then sprayed them with bullets, and once they were lying on the ground dead, the attackers shot each and every one of them in the head. As they were shooting they were shouting, “You apostates, you enemies of God.”

The soldier said that there did not seem to be much resistance in the base, but that he could hear intermittent shooting, which he believed to be “executions.” He said one or two of his comrades survived by hiding among the dead, but that the attackers killed all the military personnel who did not hide or escape. He said they also killed civilian cooks, workers, and medical personnel. However, they did not harm detainees held by military police at the base. The soldier said that the attackers caused much destruction and looted vehicles, military equipment, and weapons.

According to the hospital official, the 75 bodies received included two migrant workers from Niger whose job was to unload food trucks at the base. He said the dead included two civilians unconnected to the base who were killed on the road. He said that relatives who accompanied one victim to the hospital told him the man had been shot in front of his family. The other, a truck driver, had been shot in the head, and both his arms broken. The hospital official said the retreating forces set ablaze the food warehouse and some trucks. He added that the nonmilitary victims were killed by gunfire but unlike the military victims did not have execution-style shots to the head.

Human Rights Watch reviewed at least 80 photographs and several videos that seemed to show the May 18 attack; they appeared to corroborate witness statements about the incident. The photographs showed mainly dead men, some in uniform, many with what appears to be a single gunshot wound to the front of the head. One video shows a group of four LNA detainees from the Brak El-Shati airbase in the back of a pickup truck, shackled, handcuffed, and blindfolded while fighters, seemingly from the 13th Battalion, give them water to drink as they talk about the events at the base.

Another video, shot from inside a car, shows a convoy driving on a desert road; the passengers say they are from the Benghazi Defense Brigades on their way to attack Brak El-Shati. The video then shows around nine dead men face down as an unidentified person shoots at them and a voice calls them “mercenaries of Hiftar and dogs of Hiftar.” Human Rights Watch cannot independently verify the videos or photos.

Mohamed Alghiwan, a spokesman for the 13th Battalion, told Human Rights Watch that forces from the battalion had attacked the Brak El-Shati base on May 18 in retaliation for many attacks on their Tamenhint base. Alghiwan denied that forces linked to the battalion had committed summary executions or any other laws-of-war violations during the attack.

Alghiwan added that the 13th Battalion suffered no injuries or deaths in the attack and took 14 or 15 prisoners. He said the battalion would release only civilian detainees.

All parties to a conflict are required to abide by the laws of war. Certain serious violations of the laws of war, when committed with criminal intent, such as executions of civilians or enemy fighters who had been captured or had surrendered, are war crimes. Anyone who commits, orders, or assists, or has command responsibility for war crimes, can be subject to prosecution by domestic courts or international courts. Commanders may be criminally liable for war crimes of their subordinates if they fail to hand over those responsible for prosecution.

“Senior commanders need to understand that they too can be implicated in war crimes unless they act resolutely to stop them and punish those responsible,” Goldstein said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 21, 2017, 5:55 am

Two Indonesian men walk into a cell prior to their trials at a shariah court in Banda Aceh on May 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(New York, May 20, 2017) – Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should immediately intervene to prevent the scheduled May 23, 2017 public flogging of two young men convicted of same-sex sexual relations, Human Rights Watch said today. The men were prosecuted under Aceh province’s abusive Sharia regulations and sentenced to 85 lashes with a cane, which constitutes torture under international law.

On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. A Sharia (Islamic law) court convicted them of sodomy on May 17. While Aceh’s Sharia courts have enforced public flogging before, this is the first time that Sharia courts have sentenced people to flogging for homosexual acts.

“President Jokowi has spoken out in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Indonesia, so the imminent public flogging of two young men for same-sex relations is a crucial moment to act,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Jokowi needs to be clear to Aceh’s authorities that flogging is torture for which they will be held to account.”

Aceh’s Sharia ordinances empower members of the public as well as the special Sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules. Cell phone video footage of the raid apparently shot by a vigilante shows one of the two men visibly distressed as he calls for help on his cellphone.

Under Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayah), the men faced up to 100 lashes in public as punishment for same-sex behavior. The prosecutor recommended 80 lashes because the men were young and reportedly admitted their guilt.

“The court’s less-than-maximum sentence of 85 lashes is no act of compassion. It does not change the reality that flogging is a grotesque display of medieval torture,” Kine said.

Local government officials in Aceh have long stoked discrimination against LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012 then-Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal advocated harsh punishments for homosexuality, telling the media: “Even if one case of homosexuality [is] found, it’s already a problem.” In 2013, after Djamal was elected mayor of Banda Aceh, she told reporters that “homosexuals are encroaching on our city.” In February 2016, she announced she would create a “special team” to make the public more aware of the “threat of LGBT” and to “train” LGBT people to “return to a normal life” while posting an image of herself to Instagram holding a handgun and vowing to flush LGBT people out of Aceh.

Aceh’s Sharia police have previously detained LGBT people. In October 2015, Sharia police arrested two women, ages 18 and 19, on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public and detained them for three nights at a Sharia police facility in Banda Aceh. Sharia police repeatedly attempted to compel the two women to identify other suspected LGBT people in Aceh by showing them photographs of individuals taken from social media accounts – sparking fears among LGBT people in Aceh that the Sharia police could target them in the future.

In April 2016, four United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indonesian government expressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people in Aceh. In October 2016, Jokowi broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community, saying that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”

“The clock is ticking for Jokowi to demonstrate that his support of equal rights for all is not empty rhetoric. He needs to start by protecting these two young men from torture,” Kine said.
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 20, 2017, 12:00 am

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

© 2016 Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

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

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

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

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

Brad Adams

Asia Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 18, 2017, 9:09 pm

A young boy holds US flags as immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington on November 20, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – The United States House Judiciary Committee should reject a dangerous immigration bill that would exacerbate abusive aspects of the US immigration system and undermine public safety, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill would essentially criminalize the presence of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

The “Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act,” HR2431, sponsored by Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, is being considered today in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would authorize local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents, criminalize unauthorized immigration, and broaden the federal definition of an “aggravated felony” to include more state misdemeanor offenses. Substantially similar bills were introduced but not passed in 2013 and 2015.

“This bill offers no new ideas to address a broken immigration system, but instead revives a parade of unworkable and unjust ideas that have been rejected before,” said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This bill would heap new layers of wasteful misery on immigrants as well as their US families and communities, under an administration whose harmful immigration policies have already gone to extremes.”

HR 2431 would give state and local law enforcement officers the authority to investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to federal custody unauthorized immigrants for the purposes of enforcing federal immigration laws. Human Rights Watch has documented the significant harm to communities that results when local law enforcement is required to enforce federal immigration law rather than focus on state and local crimes. Giving such authority to local law enforcement can also encourage racial profiling.

This bill offers no new ideas to address a broken immigration system, but instead revives a parade of unworkable and unjust ideas that have been rejected before

Grace Meng

senior US researcher

The bill would make unlawful presence in the US a federal crime punishable by six months in prison, meaning that anyone who overstayed a tourist visa by one day would be committing a federal crime. The bill would also increase the already harsh penalties for illegal reentry, despite the lack of any evidence that these prosecutions actually deter people from re-entering the US after deportation. That is especially true for people motivated by a desire to return to their families or to flee violence and persecution.

The bill would also place significant burdens on an overwhelmed immigration court system by changing longstanding evidentiary rules. HR2431 would also broaden the definition of an aggravated felony, making more state misdemeanors offenses that can lead to automatic deportation and to family separation, even for green card holders. The change would be retroactive, meaning that even decades-old offenses would trigger deportation. The already over-broad definition of an “aggravated felony” in US immigration law has led to the separation of countless families without due consideration of how long an immigrant has been in the US, or their family ties, military service, and other factors. A college student arrested with seven Ecstasy tablets, for example, is already in the same category as a drug cartel leader.

“This bill would make a terrible situation worse,” Meng said. “US citizens and the immigrants in their families and communities deserve a fair and functional immigration system and have been demanding one for decades. Congress should listen and deliver.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 18, 2017, 5:30 pm

(Beirut) – The Iraqi army and other local security forces have forced over 300 displaced families to return to west Mosul neighborhoods still under risk of attack by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. The families, who had fled to the Hammam al-Alil and Hajj Ali camps for displaced people, are severely short of water, food, electricity, and medical assistance.

Wadi Hajjar neighborhood in west Mosul. Many families who had fled were forced to return there.

© 2017 Bran Symondson

Displaced residents, camp staff in Hammam al-Alil, and three federal police officers said that families were returned to certain west Mosul neighborhoods to make room for newly displaced people from more recently retaken neighborhoods of west Mosul. But aid workers involved in camp management and United Nations assessments of camp capacity indicated that the camps still have space for new arrivals.

“People from western Mosul fled some of the worst fighting there and finally found safety, only to be forced back to areas still under ISIS fire,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families should not be forcibly returned to unsafe areas and areas that lack adequate water, food, electricity, or health facilities.”

The UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement state that all internally displaced people should be able to choose where they live and have the right to be protected against forcible return to any place where their life, safety, liberty, or health would be at risk.

Human Rights Watch visited the Mansour and Wadi Hajjar neighborhoods of west Mosul on May 15, 2017, and spoke with some of the families. Three people from Wadi Hajjar said they had fled the fighting there for camps in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of west Mosul, between one and two months ago. They said that at around 1 p.m. on May 9, camp staff came to their tents and said they had to leave because the camp was full, and new arrivals were on the way from other west Mosul neighborhoods that had more recently been retaken. Some families were given up to two hours to leave, while others were ordered to leave immediately, without being able to gather their belongings.

A camp resident talks to a member of the Iraqi forces after his arrival at Hammam al-Alil camp south of west Mosul, Iraq May 10, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The west Mosul residents who were forcibly returned and spoke to Human Rights Watch said they had not wanted to return because of the lack of adequate food, water, and health facilities.

A staff member at the same camp in Hammam al-Alil said that an army commander called the camp manager on May 9, and said the camp had two hours to round up all the families from Wadi Hajjar, Tal Rumman, and Mansour neighborhoods. The staff started going tent by tent in Section A to deliver the instructions.

“The families were not ready, and most did not want to go,” the staff member said. “In the end, it was totally indiscriminate who got to stay because we had not made it to their tent in time, and who was forced to leave. We only got through a small number of the tents when at least 30 army trucks came and took at least 300 families.”

One man said Iraqi army officers loaded him into a truck with three families and drove them to Baghdad Circle, the southern entry point to the city, just over two kilometers from the front line, without giving them any choice in where they were taken.

The families walked back to their neighborhoods or shared taxis. One woman from Wadi Hajjar who could not afford a taxi said she walked back with her four young children, the youngest 3 months old. Her home was destroyed during the fighting and her husband was executed by ISIS, she said. “I have no water and cannot find milk here for my baby,” she said. She was living in an abandoned apartment in the area and was afraid her baby would die because she couldn’t get milk.

On May 10, the camp staff member said, staff rounded up more families, but stopped when they got word that the mayor of the town of Hammam al-Alil had ordered the returns halted.

An international staff member said that the mayor issued an order on May 9, after hearing about the forcible returns, and that some of the families who had been forced out heard about it from friends or relatives in the camp and returned to the camp. But the staff member was concerned that their ration cards might not have been returned to them. The mayor told Human Rights Watch all the returns had been voluntary, and that only 67 families had ultimately remained in west Mosul.

However, two people from Wadi Hajjar, who said they had lived in the same camp, said that at about 7 a.m. on May 14, camp management came to their tent and told them they had two hours to get ready to leave. They both protested but were told they had no choice. They said the army loaded up about 30 families from Wadi Hajjar, Mansour, and Wadi al-Ayn onto several trucks and drove them to Baghdad Circle. One said he returned to his home in Wadi Hajjar to find that an ISIS mortar had blasted through his roof. Neighbors told him it had happened 10 days earlier.

Another man from Wadi Hajjar who had spent a month and a half in a camp in Hajj Ali, a village about 70 kilometers south of Mosul, said that on May 10, a local sheikh arrived at the camp with several guards in two vehicles. When residents gathered around, the sheikh said: “Those of you from liberated neighborhoods have to go back home.” The man said he was concerned about having to go back, but left three days later, sharing a taxi with 10 other people back to Wadi Hajjar.

Dozens of the returned families from Wadi Hajjar and Mansour said that they had limited electricity and water. Many said they could not afford to buy enough food for their families from the local markets, where prices remain elevated.

Abu Omar, the mayor of Wadi Hajjar, said that one hospital in the area has recently reopened, but has yet to offer more than the most basic medical services. An aid worker traveling into west Mosul told Human Rights Watch they only knew of one other clinic in the five neighborhoods that was operational.

People who had returned to Wadi Hajjar said that ISIS mortar attacks had hit the neighborhood as recently as May 5, and that they feared ISIS grenade attacks delivered by drone. Security reports from the International NGO Safety Organisation said that the Mansour neighborhood was hit with an ISIS mortar attack as recently as May 12. The front line is currently between one and three kilometers from the neighborhoods where people returned.

As of May 16, UN data showed that there were at least 7,000 plots in various camps available for new arrivals and two international aid workers told Human Rights Watch that organizations have identified multiple sites for potential new camps. They said that one new camp opened at about the same time as the first forcible returns and that another is to open in late May. They said that at least one camp was ready to receive displaced people but was sitting empty at the order of local authorities.

In addition, at least 38 percent of displaced people were seeking refuge in host communities, not camps, with that number rapidly rising in recent weeks to up to 80 percent of the new arrivals. However, aid workers said, Iraqi authorities have been hesitant to look beyond the camps in their planning to try to meet the needs of people seeking refuge elsewhere.

“The armed forces have an obligation to protect civilians, but they are instead putting civilians in danger by sending them back into unsafe areas,” Fakih said. “All returns should be safe, dignified, voluntary, and informed.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 18, 2017, 4:00 am

Afghans perform prayers at the funeral for the victims killed by an air strike called in to protect Afghan and US forces during a raid on suspected Taliban militants, in Kunduz, Afghanistan November 4, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters/Nasir Wakif

(Washington, DC) – The US Defense Department should promptly adopt measures to better protect civilians in the Afghanistan armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. The US government is currently conducting a review of its Afghanistan strategy and support to the Afghan government in its efforts against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic State-affiliated armed groups.

“Increasing numbers of civilian deaths and injuries from US airstrikes in Afghanistan raise concerns that the procedures for vetting airstrikes are inadequate,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The US review of its Afghan strategy is a crucial opportunity for adopting changes to minimize civilian casualties.” 

Increasing numbers of civilian deaths and injuries from US airstrikes in Afghanistan raise concerns that the procedures for vetting airstrikes are inadequate.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have steadily risen in recent years, with 2016 seeing the highest toll recorded since 2008 with a total of 11,418 (3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured), according to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA).  While the Taliban and other insurgent forces have caused most of these casualties through deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, casualties caused by US and Afghan forces have also been on the rise.

A recent UNAMA report shows that in 2016, aerial operations by US and Afghan government forces resulted in the deaths of 250 civilians and injuries to 340 others, which is nearly double the total from the previous year. Aerial operations remained the second leading cause of civilian casualties by Afghan government forces in 2016, causing 43 percent of civilian casualties. 

Most support for Afghan air operations has come from the US military, though Afghan civilian casualty tracking and mitigation measures are significantly lacking. NATO has provided guidance to the Afghan government in developing its own civilian casualty mitigation policy, which reportedly remains under review by Afghan authorities.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 17, 2017, 9:53 pm

 

Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a joint news conference with his Philippine counterpart Perfecto Yasay (not pictured) in Davao city, southern Philippines on August 11, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should not fund any Philippine government drug rehabilitation services that fall short of international standards, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and President Shinichi Kitaoka of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JICA, which funds overseas development initiatives, agreed in April 2017 to provide the Philippine Health Department with US$17 million for “upgrading of [drug] rehabilitation centers and enhancement of treatment protocols for drug dependents.”

“The Japanese government should not support potentially abusive approaches to drug rehabilitation in the Philippines,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “JICA should disclose precisely what kind of drug rehabilitation services it is funding and the safeguards it has imposed to ensure that Japan isn’t supporting services or facilities that are violating the human rights of people seeking drug treatment.”

The Philippines desperately needs voluntary, community-based drug dependence treatment services that comport with international standards and human rights principles. However, neither JICA nor the Health Department have provided any details about how the Philippine government will spend those funds. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s offer of “meaningful assistance measures to address the issue of illegal drugs” in the Philippines is questionable given the serious human rights violations linked to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Since Duterte took office in June 2016, police and unidentified gunmen have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and drug dealers.

The Philippine government’s response to the surge in demand for drug rehabilitation facilities – the December 2016 opening of a China-funded “10,000-bed mega treatment and rehabilitation center” within the Fort Magsaysay military base 120 kilometers north of Manila – raises concerns that instead of evidence-based drug treatment services, the rehabilitation services may mirror abusive models documented by Human Rights Watch elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The Japanese and Philippine governments should avoid the abusive practices uncovered in Cambodia, China, Laos, and Vietnam, whose reliance on involuntary drug rehabilitation approaches has been linked to serious human rights violations. In so-called “treatment centers” in these countries, Human Right Watch research found that the “treatment” provided consisted of forced labor and military drills rather than evidence-based treatment interventions; that torture and ill-treatment were rampant; and that people were detained at these camps without any kind of due process.

“Japan should help provide voluntary and community-based effective drug treatment in the Philippines, not help provide cover for Duterte’s murderous war on drugs,” Doi said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 17, 2017, 9:50 pm