Asylum seekers who sheltered Edward Snowden for a period in 2013 stand outside of Hong Kong's immigration department during a press conference in Hong Kong, China, May 15, 2017. 

© 2017 AP Images

(Toronto, June 20, 2018) – Canada should urgently intervene to admit the asylum-seekers who assisted Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today in a letter to Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration, refugees and citizenship minister.

A special application has been made for one of the men, Ajith Debagama Kankanamalage, who is suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues as a result of past torture and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of the military and military police in Sri Lanka. He faces the very real prospect that his upcoming appeal of his application for asylum in Hong Kong will be rejected and that he will be returned to danger.

“Canada has been dragging its feet on these applications, apparently waiting out the protracted legal process, and likely rejection by Hong Kong, and the psychological toll on these poor people has been enormous,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “It is shameful that Ajith Kankanamalage, who fled horrific torture and who still has persecutors tracking him, is still unsafe and unprotected, all the more so because he helped Edward Snowden, whom he knew only as a fellow asylum seeker.”

All seven of the asylum-seekers who helped provide shelter for Snowden during the brief period when he was in Hong Kong face abusers in their homelands, who are now on the alert because of publicity surrounding Snowden’s case. All seven also have sponsors willing to resettle them in Quebec province. Hong Kong admits extremely few refugees, and has rejected all seven, whose cases are on appeal. In addition to the danger they would face if returned to their home countries, Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department officers were known to be searching for Kankanamalage and other Sri Lankans in Hong Kong.

Kankanamalage’s appeal hearing in Hong Kong is scheduled for June 25 to June 27, but his psychiatrist is doubtful he can participate meaningfully or safely, given his acute post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and the re-traumatization he suffers when he is asked to discuss the experiences that caused him to flee Sri Lanka. Hong Kong authorities rejected the asylum seekers’ claims in September 2016 and his mental state has deteriorated sharply since that time. His doctors and lawyers fear that his life and safety are at risk.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 8:27 pm

Satellite image of newly-constructed detention camp for migrant children in Tornillo, Texas. Satellite image taken June 19, 2018.

© 2018 Planet Labs

(New York) – A satellite image taken of the desert tent city for children the US government is taking from their families shows the humanitarian crisis manufactured by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, Human Rights Watch said today.

The image from June 19, 2018, shows the Department of Health and Human Services tent city in Tornillo, Texas which was built on June 10 initially with 360 beds but with room for expansion. Republican Representative Will Hurd, who recently visited the site, said the facility can hold up to 4,000 beds. The image is sufficiently detailed to show 28 tents erected to date, each approximately 50 square meters. Media reports indicate each tent holds about 20 children, prompting Human Rights Watch to estimate the facility has capacity for 540 children right now.

“This image brings home the reality that the US government is harming hundreds of children, by ripping them apart from their parents and shipping them off to a remote desert site,” said Alison Parker, US managing director at Human Rights Watch. “These children need their parents and appropriate care, not to be sent off to sit in tents in the desert.”

According to media reports, about 2,300 children have been forcibly taken from their parents since the “zero-tolerance” policy began in April. That number grows every day. The children are first detained by US Customs and Border Protection in difficult conditions, as documented by Human Rights Watch. The government then separates the children from their families when it takes their parents away to face criminal charges for crossing the border illegally.

CBP then re-designates the children as “unaccompanied” and turns them over to the Department of Health and Human Services for placement in Tornillo or other facilities run by the agency for immigrant children.

“The government is creating ‘unaccompanied’ children and is now erecting this tent city to send them off to,” Parker said. “The Trump administration needs to end ‘zero-tolerance’ but it should also refrain from re-starting family detention, which is also harmful to children.”

The humanitarian issues presented by the zero-tolerance crisis include immediate psychological harm to children who are separated from their parents and detained. Children require screening and attention to their particular needs. For a child, being held captive this way can lead to lasting harm.

While separation from their parents and detention raises serious human rights and humanitarian concerns, detaining children with family members is also very damaging to children, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch urged the following immediate steps to respond to the crisis.

  • End the zero-tolerance policy and Operation Streamline, refraining from mass prosecutions and allowing prosecutors discretion not to pursue criminal prosecutions for illegal entry. The practical result would be far fewer prosecutions of parents traveling with children;
  • Stop criminally prosecuting asylum seekers. Give prosecutors national guidelines quickly to put a halt to this process. Asylum seekers should generally be released under measures that ensure their appearance at hearings, as allowed under US law, rather than detained; and
  • Make family reunification a top priority for all separated families
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 7:45 pm

A high school student (L) walks towards a group of female students chatting in front of a school in Tokyo November 9, 2006.

© 2007 Reuters

Some Japanese schools are introducing uniforms designed less around traditional gender stereotypes and more with respecting gender expression by allowing students to choose their attire—a major benefit for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth whose identities and expressions sometimes resist those social norms.

In 2015 and 2016, Human Rights Watch interviewed LGBT youth from across Japan. We heard over and over again that they felt rigid school uniform policies were preventing them from accessing education on equal footing with their peers.

Transgender students were particularly affected.

One transgender male student explained that his anxieties about the female gender of his school uniform increased over time. “When I first started junior high school, I didn’t question the uniform initially,” he said. “I progressively started to question it and by the third year I dreaded every school day because it meant I would have to put the skirt on.”

The majority of Japan’s junior high and high schools require students to wear uniforms. The attire is gender-specific and the two options, male or female, are dispensed to students according to the sex they were assigned at birth. “The idea behind the uniform is that if you can’t wear it properly, you’re a bad student,” said Mameta Endo, a transgender activist in Tokyo. “It makes you an outcast.”

In 2015 Japan’s Ministry of Education issued a directive that suggested teachers should “accept students’ preference of outfit, school and gym uniform.” Implementation has been piecemeal, but appears to be gaining traction in some schools, sparking discussions in local school boards and governments.

The national government has in recent years taken positive steps toward protecting LGBT youth. The education ministry followed its 2015 directive with a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016. That same year, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying. And in March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students.

School uniform policies that nurture self-expression and make all students feel welcome should now be a priority.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 7:19 pm

A soldier searches a house in a village in Baluchi pass in Uruzgan province, November 1, 2007.

© 2007 Reuters

The accounts are both shocking and horribly familiar.

Soldiers acting as if they were above the law assault and murder civilians in a barbaric competition to outdo each other. New recruits compelled to prove themselves by killing. The victims are not enemies in battle but the elderly, men with disabilities, a farmer on his way to buy flour – essentially anyone who can’t fight back.

The accused? Members of Australia’s elite special forces, the Special Air Services (SAS).

The SAS are under investigation in Australia in a case that may be involve the “most serious and high-profile allegations” the force has faced. According to a Fairfax Media report, such crimes became a routine part of SAS operations in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province between 2006 and 2013. One soldier shot dead an elderly unarmed man in an initiation ritual. Another kicked a handcuffed Afghan civilian off a cliff and then executed him. Other soldiers removed a man’s prosthetic leg and took it back to Perth to use as a souvenir drinking vessel.

These and other alleged SAS crimes committed in Afghanistan are under investigation by New South Wales Judge Paul Brereton. Those familiar with the charges describe a culture of competitive violence and a “complete lack of accountability” within the elite force. Witnesses in the investigation, including SAS soldiers who have agreed to testify, have received threats warning them of retaliation if they do.

Australia’s SAS join the ranks of other ostensibly elite forces whose crimes are emblematic of the worst aspects of the international coalition’s involvement in Afghanistan. In 2015 the US reopened a criminal inquiry into the alleged torture and murder of 17 civilians by an army Special Forces unit between 2012 and 2013 – no information has been released since the inquiry began. Since early 2016, the UK authorities investigated allegations that British Air Services troops murdered at least 53 civilians between 2009 and 2011, snatching some from their beds, handcuffing and hooding them before shooting them dead. The inquiry into these allegations was shut down.

Australia needs to do better, most importantly by ensuring the protection of witnesses who come forward and by prosecuting those threatening retaliation against them. Only by transparently investigating the alleged war crimes and prosecuting those responsible can Australia bring some measure of justice to the victims and end impunity in the SAS.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 4:14 pm

Lawyer and human rights defender Taner Kılıç, chair of the board of Amnesty International’s Turkey section.

© 2017 Amnesty International

(Istanbul) – Sham criminal proceedings against Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair Taner Kılıç and 10 other human rights defenders are set to resume on June 21, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

The rights advocates are facing bogus, unsubstantiated criminal charges of membership in a terrorist organization over their peaceful work. The trial should be halted, the eleven acquitted, and Kilic set free as there is no compelling evidence against them of anything approaching a crime.

“Taner Kılıç should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The whole trial has been a grave injustice from the start, and Kılıç and the other 10 defenders should not be facing any charges, and under no circumstances should they be convicted.”

The prolonged detention of Kılıç, a lawyer, in the absence of any credible evidence is particularly unjust, Human Rights Watch said. Kılıç was detained in Izmir on June 6, 2017, and was sent to pretrial detention three days later. The court hearing the case, Istanbul heavy penal court no. 35, ordered Kılıç’s release on January 31. But the prosecutor appealed the decision, and before Kılıç had been released, another court again ordered his detention. On February 1, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court no. 35 reversed its decision to release him and ruled that he should be re-arrested.

The other 10, who became widely known on social media as the “Istanbul 10,” were detained on July 5, 2017, in a police raid on a human rights training workshop on the island of Büyükada, Istanbul. Among them are some well-known names. They are: Özlem Dalkıran, a member of Citizens’ Assembly nongovernmental organization, and a founding member of Amnesty International Turkey and its first chair; Nalan Erkem, a lawyer and Citizens’ Assembly member; İlknur Üstün of the Women’s Coalition, a nongovernmental group; İdil Eser, Amnesty International Turkey director at the time of her arrest; Veli Acu, member of the Human Rights Agenda Association; Günal Kurşun, a lawyer and Ankara representative of the Human Rights Agenda Association; Şeyhmus Özbekli, a lawyer and member of Rights Initiative; Nejat Taştan, coordinator of the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights; Ali Gharavi, a Swedish human rights information security consultant; and Peter Steudtner, a German well-being trainer and coach.

An Istanbul court sent six of them to pretrial detention on July 18 and two more on July 22. Steudtner and Gharavi were released and allowed to leave Turkey. The trial against the 10 began on October 25, and the eight held in pretrial detention were released at that hearing.

At Kılıç’s first hearing, in Izmir on October 26, the court decided to merge his case with that of the Istanbul defenders, and they have been tried together in subsequent hearings. Steudtner and Gharavi are being tried in their absence.

Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a recent police report examining the contents of Kılıç’s mobile phone, which confirms there is no evidence that Kılıç had the encrypted communication app ByLock, a claim that has formed a central part of the prosecution’s case against him.

The Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was widely used by followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom they accuse of masterminding the July 2016 attempted military coup in Turkey. Lawyers acting for Kılıç and Amnesty International in previous hearings presented two independent reports by forensic experts supporting Kılıç’s defense that he had never had the ByLock app.

“The case against Taner Kılıç and the Istanbul 10 is emblematic of the real danger faced by people in Turkey who stand up for the rights of ordinary people or voice criticism of the authorities,” Williamson said. “Defenders in Turkey face media smear campaigns, condemnation by state officials, bogus prosecution, and arbitrary imprisonment simply for doing their jobs.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 2:59 pm

Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 12, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters
(Beirut) – Saudi authorities have arrested two more women’s rights activists in recent days in what appears to be an unrelenting crackdown on the women’s rights movement, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi activists have reported that the authorities have placed travel bans on numerous others since May 15.
On June 6, Saudi authorities arrested the writer and activist Nouf Abdelaziz, who had publicly expressed solidarity with three women’s rights activists arrested in May, along with at least 14 other activists and supporters. On June 10, the authorities arrested Mayaa al-Zahrani, an activist and friend of Abdelaziz, after she reportedly posted a letter Abdelaziz asked her to make public in case of her arrest. In the letter, addressed to her fellow Saudis, Abdelaziz explained who she was, stressing that she committed no crime: “I am not a provoker, not a vandalizer, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor… I have never been [anything] but a good citizen who loves her country and wishes for it nothing but the best.” Both women are being held incommunicado.
“The Saudi government appears determined to leave its citizens without any space to show even rhetorical support for activists jailed in this unforgiving crackdown on dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani’s only ‘crime’ seems to be expressing solidarity with their fellow imprisoned activists.”
On June 4, the local newspaper Okaz reported that nine detained activists, four women and five men, will soon be referred to the Specialized Criminal Court, which was originally established to try detainees held in connection with terrorism offenses, to be tried for committing three “serious” crimes: “cooperating with entities hostile to the kingdom,” “recruiting persons in a sensitive government agency to obtain confidential information to harm the interests of the kingdom,” and “providing financial and moral support to hostile elements abroad.”
Okaz earlier reported that, 15 days into the activists’ detention, an investigating body had announced that all nine detainees had confessed to the latter two accusations. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Among those arrested are the prominent women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef; Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Mohammad al-Rabea, an activist; and Abdulaziz al-Meshaal, a philanthropist. They face charges similar to those against several imprisoned activists currently serving lengthy prison terms, including Waleed Abu al-Khair, Fadil al-Manasif, and Nadhir al-Majed. Immediately following their arrest, in a coordinated campaign, local media outlets publicly accused those detained of treason.
The recent crackdown on women’s rights activists comes just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24 – an occasion several of the currently detained activists had long campaigned to bring about. Saudi authorities arrested Abdelaziz and al-Zahrani just as Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry began distributing video footage and photos of women proudly displaying their new drivers’ licenses.
On May 29, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately release all recently detained activists “if, as it appears, their detention is related solely to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women’s issues.” In a strongly-worded resolution published on May 30, the European Parliament condemned the “ongoing repression of human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, in Saudi Arabia” and called on the Saudi government to “put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level,” against them.
Human Rights Watch has documented Saudi Arabia’s use of its Specialized Criminal Court and counterterrorism law to unjustly prosecute human rights defenders, writers, and peaceful critics.
Following a five-day visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, the former UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, concluded in his report published on June 6, 2018, that Saudi Arabia had misused its counter-terrorism measures to stifle political dissent, suppress opposition, and silence peaceful critics. Emmerson provided a detailed overview of the nature of the Specialized Criminal Court, where local media reports say that the currently detained activists will be tried. He included sections on the use of torture and coerced confessions, as well as on pre-trial detentions and flawed investigations.
“It is imperative for Saudi Arabia’s Western allies to speak out in solidarity with the detained activists and to pressure the Saudi authorities to unconditionally release those detained for their work as human rights activists before they are referred for trial,” Whitson said. “There can be no real celebration on June 24 while the women who campaigned for the right to drive and their supporters remain behind bars.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 4:01 am

US government records summarizing investigations of the deaths of 15 people in immigration detention support a conclusion that poor medical care contributed to at least eight of the deaths.

(Washington, DC) – Poor medical treatment contributed to more than half the deaths reported by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during a 16-month period, Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, Detention Watch Network, and National Immigrant Justice Center said in a report released today.

Based on the analysis of independent medical experts, the 72-page report, “Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention,” examines the 15 “Detainee Death Reviews” ICE released from December 2015 through April 2017. ICE has yet to publish reviews for one other death in that period. Eight of the 15 public death reviews show that inadequate medical care contributed or led to the person’s death. The physicians conducting the analysis also found evidence of substandard medical practices in all but one of the remaining reviews.

“ICE has proven unable or unwilling to provide adequately for the health and safety of the people it detains,” said Clara Long, a senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration’s efforts to drastically expand the already-bloated immigration detention system will only put more people at risk.”

12 people died in immigration detention in fiscal year 2017, more than any year since 2009. Since March 2010, 74 people have died in immigration detention, but ICE has released death reviews in full or in part in only 52 of the cases.

An illustration of detainees and beds in immigration detention. © 2018 Mitch Blunt for Human Rights Watch

Based on the death reviews, the groups prepared timelines of the symptoms shown by people who died in detention and the treatment they received from medical staff, along with medical experts’ commentary on the care documented by ICE and its deviations from common medical practice. The deaths detailed in the report include:

  • Moises Tino-Lopez, 23, had two seizures within nine days, each observed by staff and reported to the nurses on duty in the Hall County Correctional Center in Nebraska. He was not evaluated by a physician or sent to the hospital after the first seizure. During his second seizure, staff moved him to a mattress in a new cell, but he was not evaluated by a medical practitioner. About four hours after that seizure, he was found to be unresponsive, with his lips turning blue. He was sent to the hospital but never regained consciousness and died on September 19, 2016.
  • Rafael Barcenas-Padilla, 51, had been ill with cold symptoms for six days in the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico when his fever reached 104, and nurses recorded dangerously low levels of oxygen saturation in his blood. A doctor, consulted by phone, prescribed a medication for upper respiratory infections. The ICE detention center didn’t have the nebulizer needed to administer one of the medicines, so he did not receive it, and he showed dangerously low oxygen readings that should have prompted his hospitalization. Three days later, he was sent to the hospital, where he died from bronchopneumonia on April 7, 2016.
  • Jose Azurdia, 54, became ill and started vomiting at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California. A guard told a nurse about Azurdia’s condition, but she said that “she did not want to see Azurdia because she did not want to get sick.” Within minutes, his arm was numb, he was having difficulty breathing, and he had pain in his shoulder and neck – all symptoms of a heart attack. Due to additional delays by the medical staff, two hours passed before he was sent to the hospital, with his heart by then too damaged to respond to treatment. He died in the hospital four days later, on December 23, 2015.

“Immigrant detention centers are dangerous places where lives are at risk and people are dying,” said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, a national coalition that exposes the injustices of the US’ immigration detention and deportation system. “The death toll amassed by ICE is unacceptable and has proven that they cannot be trusted to care for immigrants in their custody.” 

In fiscal year 2017, ICE held a daily average of nearly 40,500 people, an increase of nearly 500 percent since 1994. The Trump administration has asked Congress to allocate $2.7 billion for fiscal year 2019 to lock up a daily average of 52,000 immigrants in immigration detention facilities, a record number that would represent a 30 percent expansion from fiscal year 2017.

“To the extent that Congress continues to fund this system, they are complicit in its abuses,” said Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nongovernmental group dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. “Congress should immediately act to decrease rather than expand detention and demand robust health, safety, and human rights standards in immigration detention.”

The new report is an update of a 2017 Human Rights Watch report that examined deaths in detention between 2012 and 2015, as well as a 2016 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Detention Watch Network, and the National Immigrant Justice Center that examined deaths in detention between 2010 and 2012.

The medical experts who analyzed the death reviews for the groups include Dr. Marc Stern, the former health services director for the Washington State Department of Corrections; Dr. Robert Cohen, the former director of Montefiore Rikers Island Health Services; and Dr. Palav Babaria, the chief administrative officer of Ambulatory Services at Alameda Health System in Oakland, California, and assistant clinical professor in Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Six of the new deaths examined occurred at facilities operated by the following private companies under contract with ICE: CoreCivic, Emerald Correctional Management, the GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

“ICE puts thousands of people’s health and lives at risk by failing to provide adequate medical care to the people it detains for weeks, months, and even years,” said Victoria Lopez, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 4:01 am

Gambian security officers at the Supreme Court in Banjul, December 5, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The Gambian authorities should thoroughly investigate the alleged excessive use of force by police causing the deaths of two anti-sand mining demonstrators on June 18, 2018, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The Gambian government should accelerate the reforms needed to ensure that government security forces have the supervision, training, and equipment needed to police demonstrations in accordance with international human rights standards.

Witnesses said that police fired live ammunition at demonstrators in the village of Faraba Banta, killing local residents Bakary Kujabi and Ismaila Bah, and wounding at least six others. President Adama Barrow issued a news release the same day stating that he had opened an investigation and that all mining in the area had been suspended. The government also said that five police officers involved in the shooting were in police custody and will be suspended while investigations are conducted.

“The alleged excessive use of lethal force by the security forces has conjured up painful memories from Gambia’s recent past,” said Sabrina Mahtani, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International. “The government’s promise to investigate is a positive move. Gambians should be able to hold demonstrations safe from disproportionate and excessive use of force by the security forces.”

Members of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU), a police paramilitary force, clashed with residents of Faraba Banta, 50 kilometers south of the capital, Banjul, after local residents blocked mining-related traffic.

A journalist who observed the protest told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “As soon as [police reinforcements] came out of the vehicle they started firing live bullets. They did not issue a warning or alarm.” Another journalist in the village, Pa Bojang, said that police officers detained him for six hours, slapped him, and confiscated his voice recorder.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that protesters threw stones and burned vehicles, injuring more than a dozen police officers. Gambia’s police chief, Landing Kinteh, said in a June 18 media statement that police leadership, “did not authorize the use of firearms” by police in responding to the protests.

Several protesters arrested on June 18, including those injured, remain in police custody, and face possible charges for destruction of property. Injured detainees should receive medical attention and a court should promptly review the necessity of their continued detention. Those responsible for destroying property or committing other offenses should be prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards.

A May 26 protest in Faraba Banta against sand mining, which provides sand for concrete for construction, had also led to clashes between local residents and police, with officers firing teargas and rubber bullets to disperse at times violent demonstrators. Faraba Banta residents say that sand mining will damage the rice fields they rely on for food and income. The Police Intervention Unit had maintained a presence in the village following the May 26 clashes.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that the intentional lethal use of firearms by security forces “may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” Furthermore, “[i]n the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary.”

The Guidelines on Policing Assemblies in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, state that, “firearms must never be used to disperse an assembly” and that intentional use of lethal force is prohibited “unless it is strictly unavoidable to protect life.” Where force is used, law enforcement officials must ensure that medical assistance is rendered to any injured person.

“Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit has a history of using excessive force against demonstrators, and escaped censure during former President Jammeh’s abusive rule,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Gambian government needs to show that it can conduct credible investigations and appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible for abuses.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 4:01 am

Damaged school in Nikishine. Rebel fighters deployed inside the school between September 2014 and February 2015 and exchanged intense fire with Ukrainian forces.

© 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch

In eastern Ukraine, the armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed armed groups has disrupted the education of thousands of children. Since the conflict began in 2014, at least 740 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Both sides have used schools and universities as bases and barracks.

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report on attacks and military use of schools documented how both sides used schools for military purposes, destroying many schools and forcing thousands of children out of school or to continue their studies in unsafe or overcrowded facilities. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recently reported that fear of such attacks has caused parents to keep their children away from schools.

When schools are targeted in wartime, kids are put in the line of fire and miss out on their right to an education. And when armed groups are present, schools lose their crucial role as a safe haven to learn, grow, thrive, and maintain a normal routine.

More and more countries are recognizing that something must be done. Seventy-five countries – constituting over one-third of UN member states – have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political agreement which contains concrete commitments to better protect students, teachers, and schools in wartime. Ukraine’s absence among the endorsers is especially noticeable, given the armed conflict’s devastating toll on Ukrainian children.

The UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict is on July 9.. What better platform for Ukraine to endorse the declaration than on one of the world's most influential stages? At last year’s Open Debate in October, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs said Ukraine “attaches great importance” to the Safe Schools Declaration and expressed Kyiv’s willingness to endorse it.

These words were encouraging, but more than seven months later, it’s time to put words into action.

Ukrainian children cannot wait any longer. In its report for May of this year alone, the UN included damages to six education facilities in eastern Ukraine. On July 9, Ukraine should make good on its commitment to protect the lives of children and their right to education and endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 20, 2018, 3:00 am

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

It has been six years since Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to seek asylum from possible extradition to the United States to face indictment under the US Espionage Act. 

At the time, Assange, an Australian national, was wanted by Sweden for questioning over sexual offense allegations. Assange had also broken the terms of his UK bail. Since then, he has become even more controversial, having published US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and internal emails from Democratic Party officials.

While some admire and others despise Assange, no one should be prosecuted under the antiquated Espionage Act for publishing leaked government documents. That 1917 statute was designed to punish people who leaked secrets to a foreign government, not to the media, and allows no defense or mitigation of punishment on the basis that public interest served by some leaks may outweigh any harm to national security.

The US grand jury investigation of Assange under the Espionage Act was apparently based on his publishing the leaks for which Chelsea Manning, a former US army soldier, was convicted. Her sentence was commuted.

The publication of leaks—particularly leaks that show potential government wrongdoing or human rights abuse—is a critical function of a free press in a democratic society. The vague and sweeping provisions of the Espionage Act remain ready to be used against other publishers and journalists, whether they be Wikileaks or the New York Times.  

Assange has agreed to surrender himself to the British police – but only if he were granted assurances against extradition to the US, where he could face life in prison. He also offered to appear in Sweden if Sweden would offer similar assurances.

In 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorean embassy, enforced by the alternative of his potential extradition to the US, to be an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.  Ecuador, offended by Assange’s political comments, this year has denied him internet access and visitors, other than occasional contact with his lawyers. Ecuador denied Human Rights Watch permission to visit him this May. Concern is growing over his access to medical care.  His asylum is growing more difficult to distinguish from detention.

The UK has the power to resolve concerns over his isolation, health, and confinement by removing the threat of extradition for publishing newsworthy leaks. It should do so before another year passes.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 9:40 pm

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein meets with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in Jakarta, February 6, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

What is the Indonesian government hiding in Papua?

That’s the question raised by the government’s seeming refusal to make good on an official invitation promised to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to visit Papua and West Papua provinces (collectively referred to as “Papua”).

On Monday, Zeid issued a statement saying he is “concerned that despite positive engagement by the authorities in many respects, the Government’s invitation to my Office to visit Papua – which was made during my visit in February – has still not been honoured.”

The Indonesian government’s apparent unwillingness to allow Zeid to investigate human rights conditions in Papua should come as no surprise. Indonesian authorities have consistently blocked foreign journalists and rights monitors from visiting Papua. Those restrictions defy an announcement made in 2015 by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua. The decades-old access restrictions on Papua are rooted in government suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals for reporting on the region, which is troubled by a small-scale pro-independence insurgency, widespread corruption, environmental degradation, and public dissatisfaction with Jakarta. Security forces are rarely held to account for abuses against critics of the government, including the killing of peaceful protesters.

The limbo of Zeid’s Papua invitation has dampened hopes raised in March 2017, after the government allowed a UN health expert to make a two-day official visit to Papua, that Indonesia would end its reflexive prohibition on travel to the region by foreign human rights monitors. Instead, Zeid’s experience is reminiscent of 2013, when then-UN independent expert on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, was blocked from visiting Indonesia. Diplomatic sources in Geneva told La Rue that the Indonesian government froze his requested visit due to his inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary. “They said, ‘Great, we’ll get back to you,’” La Rue told Human Rights Watch. “What it meant was that they postponed the dates and put the trip off indefinitely.”

It’s clear that parts of the Indonesian government remain hostile to the idea of greater transparency in the region. Yet granting reporters and human rights monitors access to Papua is an essential element of ensuring the rights of Papuans are respected.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 9:00 pm

(Geneva) – The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 8:53 pm

A man displays a rainbow flag during a LGBT Pride parade in metro Manila, Philippines June 25, 2016.

The Philippine Supreme Court heard a long-awaited argument on Tuesday that could open the door to same-sex marriage in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The case, which was filed by a gay lawyer named Jesus Falcis in 2015, urges the court to declare the marriage restriction in the country’s Family Code – which limits marriage to one man and one woman – unconstitutional. It also asks the court to recognize marriage equality in the Philippines. Falcis argues that the marriage restrictions violate his rights to due process, equal protection, and forming a family under the Philippine Constitution.

If the Supreme Court rules that the provisions of the Family Code are unconstitutional and permits same-sex marriage, or the national legislature enacts a law allowing same-sex marriage, the Philippines will join Taiwan at the forefront of Asian countries with marriage equality.

Beyond the Supreme Court hearing, the recognition of same-sex partnerships has gained considerable steam in the Philippines.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a bill in October 2017 that would create civil partnerships. The bill, HB 6595, would grant same-sex couples “[a]ll benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a marriage,” including the ability to jointly adopt, inherit property, obtain tax benefits, and share insurance, health, and pension benefits. The bill was debated by a House panel in January 2018, but has not been voted on

President Rodrigo Duterte has sent conflicting messages about his views on same-sex marriage, indicating support for it on the campaign trail, seemingly reversing his position in March 2017, and then endorsing the idea again in December 2017.

As the Supreme Court deliberates over the same-sex marriage case, lawmakers have an opportunity to proactively protect the rights of LGBT Filipinos. In 2017, the House of Representatives made history by approving a nondiscrimination law that, if passed by the Senate, would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, education, health care, housing, public services, and other areas.

It should now show similar leadership in recognizing and advancing the rights of same-sex couples.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

An activist wears a gas mask in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where Syrian government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons, August 22, 2013.

© 2013 REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

(New York) – Governments should strengthen the tools to reverse the unprecedented threat to the global ban on chemical weapons, a coalition of 21 human rights and humanitarian groups said today. The continuing unattributed use of chemical weapons in Syria and nerve agents in the United Kingdom and Malaysia highlight the need to assign responsibility for those violating the longstanding and near universally accepted prohibition against chemical weapons.

On June 26, 2018, the 192 members of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will have the opportunity to strengthen compliance with one of the most adhered-to weapons bans in history when they gather for a special meeting in The Hague. The meeting, requested by 11 states parties, aims to take urgent steps to strengthen the implementation of the convention. This should include ensuring that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria and anywhere else they take place.

“The June 26 meeting is an important opportunity for member countries to reaffirm their commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention and strengthen it,” said Sherine Tadros, head of the New York office of Amnesty International. “All states parties should come to The Hague and vote to create a team to clearly identify who is violating the treaty’s core prohibition on using chemical weapons.”

Many member states do not have permanent representatives assigned to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. However, all governments should make attending the meeting and strengthening the ban a priority, the groups said.

The continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria is the biggest threat to the viability of the convention, the groups said. Over 85 confirmed chemical attacks have taken place in the country since August 21, 2013, the day of the deadliest chemical attack in Syria to date, at least 50 of them by Syrian government forces, based on research by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other organizations. Chemical weapons are inherently indiscriminate, and using them constitutes a war crime. Until November 2017, the UN and the OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was authorized to identify who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. But after the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the April 2017 sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent the renewal of the JIM’s mandate.

“The threat of Russia’s veto looms large over any Security Council action for a credible procedure for attributing blame,” said Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect. “Member states should empower the OPCW to urgently fill this gap to help ensure the Chemical Weapons Convention is not undermined further.”

As a first step, states parties should ask the OPCW to take on the task of identifying those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. However, if the June meeting fails to successfully achieve this goal, UN Secretary-General António Guterres should immediately appoint a team of experts who could do so. The lack of attribution of responsibility fuels a cycle of impunity for these attacks and emboldens parties to the conflict to continue the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The situation in Syria is emblematic of a wider problem with the OPCW’s capacity to ensure compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can send fact-finding missions to determine whether chemical weapons have been used but remains unable to attribute responsibility for their use. To better ensure that warring parties responsible for their use can be held to account, the convention’s member countries need a credible way to identify those involved in chemical warfare.

The June meeting comes ahead of a major review conference in November that will take stock of the Chemical Weapons Convention. That conference will offer an opportunity for member states to further strengthen the treaty and to establish a permanent OPCW unit tasked with attributing blame for chemical attacks anywhere and anytime.

“The lesson to take away from the widespread use of chemical weapons in Syria should be ‘never again,’” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries have an opportunity to act to prevent the unraveling of the ban on chemical weapons and make our world that much safer.”

Adopt a Revolution
Amnesty International
Arms Control Association
Baytna Syria
Council for Arab-British Understanding
David Wildman on behalf of General Board of Global Ministries | The United Methodist Church
Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Justice Center
Hand in Hand for Syria
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Open Society Justice Initiative
PAX for Peace
Permanent Peace Movement
Syrian Archive
SCM-Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ
Vision GRAM-International
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 6:45 pm

Revellers wave flags during a gay pride parade in downtown Madrid, Spain, July 2, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines published this week no longer describe gender non-conformity as a “mental disorder”—a major change that was the result of tireless advocacy by transgender activists around the world to update the WHO’s global manual of diagnoses.  

Transgender people are fighting stigma and discrimination globally, much of which can be traced to a medical system that has historically diagnosed the desire to express one’s gender identity as mental pathology. But it’s stigma, discrimination, bullying, and harassment—and not anything inherent in gender non-conformity—that can inflict mental health problems in transgender people.

Still, the diagnosis stuck around for a long time. Governments often require a “gender identity disorder” diagnosis as a precondition for changing trans people’s names and gender markers on official documents, imperiling basic rights like work, education and travel.

Despite progress in countries such as MaltaNorwayArgentina, and Nepal, governments around the world continue to deem trans people “mentally ill,” and countries including Spain, Turkey and Japan still require a mental health diagnosis to legally change one’s name or legal gender marker.

The new WHO guidelines re-frame “gender identity disorders” as “gender incongruence,” and move the diagnostic codes from the chapter on mental disorders to one on sexual health—an important gain for transgender adolescents and adults, who may soon be able to seek medical care without being viewed as “mentally disordered.”

The new document does, however, retain a problematic and stigmatizing diagnosis of “gender incongruence in childhood,” which would apply to pre-pubescent children. Yet young children exploring their gender identity and expression do not need any of the specialized treatment that some transgender adults and adolescents may seek, such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgery. They do not need a diagnosis.

Overall, the WHO’s new guidelines are a major step in the right direction.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 6:06 pm

Russian journalist Viktor Korb. 

© 2017 Evgeniya Lifantyeva

In the early hours of May 18, a team of police and security officials raided the apartment of Viktor Korb, a journalist from Omsk. One of the agents shoved a search warrant in Korb’s face and the team conducted a 10-hour search, turning his home upside down. They seized all electronic devices, documents, and archives belonging to Korb and his family. This was how Korb learned that on May 16, the Omsk Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against him. Two and half weeks later, he found out the charges: incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, or terrorist propaganda.

The charges stem from an excerpt of a court transcript posted on April 21, 2015 on Korb's web-site, Patriofil, which he has been running and moderating for eight years. It’s a fragment of the closing speech made by a controversial Russian blogger, Boris Stomakhin, at his trial in April 2015. The court found Stomakhin guilty of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to five years in prison for his publication about the December 2013 Volgograd bombings. Stomakhin, who ran his own publication, titled Radical Politics, had two prior criminal extremism convictions, from 2006 and 2014, also connected to his writing.

Stomakhin’s closing speech indeed contains odious, offensive views. The transcript posted on Patriofil is based on a publicly available YouTube video of Stomakhin’s court speech. Nowhere in the publication does Korb express support of what Stomakhin said in his speech.

This is not the first time the authorities have gone after Korb. In 2015, they fined him for “disseminating extremist materials” after he posted on Patriofil a cover of Radical Politics. In 2014, a hosting provider unexpectedly shut down Patriofil without warning or notification. After Korb moved his site to another hosting platform, the site has been functioning with no problems.

Korb told me that at no point in the past three years did the authorities issue him any warning about the posting of Stomakhin’s closing speech, or any other activities.

Now, Korb faces similar criminal charges as Stomakhin, and up to seven years in jail. On May 20, police detained Korb at the airport as he was about to leave Omsk for Moscow. Officials kept him in custody until the plane departed without him. Korb said that when the police released him they “politely but firmly” told him he was not allowed to leave Omsk due to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases of Russian authorities bringing groundless charges for online speech, including for reposting alleged “extremist” information. Now there is one more. The charges against Korb should be dropped.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 4:01 am

Residents of Naunde, in Macomia, Cabo Delgado, flee their village following an attack on June 5, 2018. 

©2018 Human Rights Watch

(Johannesburg) – Attacks by armed groups in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado have killed at least 39 people and displaced more than 1,000 since May 2018. Hundreds of families fled their villages after suspected members of an armed Islamist group burned down their houses during nighttime attacks.

The group implicated in the attacks is known locally as both Al-Sunna wa Jama’a and Al-Shabab, though it has no publicly known connection with the Somali group of the same name. Local activists told Human Rights Watch that more than 400 homes have been burned down in the past two weeks, displacing people in three districts. Mozambican authorities should investigate and provide assistance to those in need.

“Armed groups should immediately cease attacking villages and executing people,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Mozambican authorities should assist those displaced and establish conditions that will allow them to return home voluntarily, in safety and with dignity.”

Human Rights Watch researchers visited the village of Naunde, in Mucojo town, Macomia district after an attack on June 5, and saw 164 houses, five cars, and scores of cattle burned. The residents said the attackers had burned a local mosque, including copies of the Quran and prayer mats, and beheaded a local Islamic leader inside the mosque. Human Rights Watch witnessed dozens of families carrying their belongings and fleeing the village.

Some of the houses burned down by an armed man who attacked the village of Naude, on June 5, 2018. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch also spoke by phone with residents of villages that were attacked on June 6 and June 12, the most recent attack. Various sources in Macomia and Quissanga districts confirmed that hundreds of people were still fleeing their villages for fear of more attacks.

One villager in Naunde said that the attackers caught a community leader: “When he realized they were looking for him, he tried to run away but one of the men chased him, grabbed him by the arm, held the machete, and cut his head off… there in front of everybody.”

The wave of violence in Cabo Delgado province began in October 2017, when suspected armed Islamists attacked a string of police stations in the Mocimboa da Praia district, causing two days of lockdown in the area and a massive military response that led to the evacuation of villages. Following the attack, authorities closed seven mosques and detained more than 300 people without charge, including religious leaders and foreigners suspected of having links to the armed attacks in Palma and Mocimboa da Praia districts, which are about 95 kilometers apart. But attacks on villages continued sporadically.

Army soldiers deployed to the town of Mucojo following the attack on the nearby village of Naunde told Human Rights Watch that since April, they had apprehended and handed over to the police more than 200 men suspected of having links to the armed Islamist group implicated in the attacks. The soldiers said some of those detained were local young men who were found in makeshift camps in the bush with machetes and Islamic teaching books. The men would not reveal their intentions or the names of their leaders, the soldiers said.

“They don’t talk,” one soldier said. “Whatever they are drinking in these camps seems to make them forget everything. Even if we threaten to kill them, they don’t talk.”

A soldier who appeared to command a small unit said that they had been advised by a local state prosecutor to detain suspects and hand them over to authorities with evidence of their crime. However, he expressed reluctance to accept this directive. “Let the judges come to the bush and catch them,” he said. “We will not waste our time. If we find them in the bush, we will kill them there.”

Mozambican security forces are bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture, along with other international human rights treaties that Mozambique has ratified. These prohibit summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions, and torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody. Individuals detained should be promptly brought before a judge and charged with a criminal offense or released.

“The Mozambican authorities should ensure that security forces deployed against armed groups treat everyone in their custody humanely,” Mavhinga said. “Respecting the basic rights of detainees is not only a legal obligation, but important for restoring a secure climate that would allow displaced villagers to return home.”

Recent Attacks
The most recent attack reported took place early on June 12 in the village of Nathuko, Quiterajo town, in the Macomia district. Residents who spoke with Human Rights Watch by phone said that a group of six men with their faces covered arrived in the village carrying machetes just before 2 a.m. and without identifying themselves, started setting houses on fire with lighters. They beheaded an elderly man and burned down at least 100 homes, according to a local government official.

Aisha, a resident of Naunde, said that on June 5, she woke up at 2 a.m. hearing gunshots and people screaming. Cabo Delgado, June 5, 2018 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Two villagers said that the authorities had warned them to be on alert and that most people left the village before the attackers arrived. When they returned in the morning, their houses and belongings had been destroyed. With no safe accommodation in the village, they took their families to the houses of friends and relatives in the towns of Macomia and Quiterajo. Others returned to the village because they had nowhere else to go.

On June 6, a group of armed men raided the village of Namaluco, in the nearby Quissanga district, killing six people and burning more than 100 houses, according to media reports. Villagers said that the men had their faces covered, spoke Swahili, and carried machetes and an AK-47 assault rifle. They arrived at about 9 p.m., fired shots in the air, and started burning houses. The attackers killed those who could not escape, a villager said.

Quissanga district authorities and Namaluco residents said that the attackers beheaded three people, fatally shot another three, and injured two more with machetes. Three villagers who sought refuge at Ibo island, about a two-hour journey by boat from Namaluco, said that more than 400 people had fled with them. An online publication, Zitamar News, also reported people escaping to another island, Quirimbas, where boatloads of people arrived in the early hours of June 6.

Mozambican police said that a small group of young men, armed mainly with machetes, were responsible for the attack on Namaluco as well as on Naunde on June 5. A police spokesman said the attackers were part of the same larger group that carried out an attack in Palma on May 27. The suspected group has not made any public demands or claims.

Accounts by Naunde Villagers
Aisha, a woman whose house was reduced to ashes, said that she woke up at about 2 a.m. on June 5, 2018, after hearing gunshots and people screaming. “I went outside and saw a group of people with their faces covered,” she said. “Two of them had big guns. The other three had machetes. The ones with machetes also had a small book in their hands. They read loudly Arabic words from the book, before setting the houses on fire.”

Another woman, Anshia, explained how she managed to escape:

I was running behind my husband and my three older children, when I remembered that I had left the baby in my room. I went back. They had already set my house on fire. One of the men grabbed my hand and slapped me in the face. I managed to escape when I fell on the floor. Then I ran inside the house, took my baby and used the other side of the house to reach the road and run.

Another woman who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation said that the group appeared to be targeting specific people:

When they arrived here, I was still trying to remove some of my belongings. They asked for the midwife who lives in this house next to mine. I told them she had left. They set her house on fire. Then they asked for the community leader. … he was here because he lives in this house opposite mine. When he realized they were looking for him, he tried to run away but one of the men chased him, grabbed him by the arm, held the machete, and cut his head off… there in front of everybody.

The attackers fled shortly after 3 a.m. when soldiers arrived.

The head of the administrative post in Mucojo, who asked not to be named, confirmed the death of the community leader, saying that “his head had been cut off and left there for everybody to see.” He also confirmed that six other people had been killed, three of them beheaded, and three with several machete cuts on their bodies.

The official said he did not know if the government had plans to set up camps to accommodate the villagers who were fleeing. But he said that people were afraid to return to their villages following the attacks.

All names of villagers interviewed have been changed for their protection.

Alleged Abuses by Mozambican Security Forces
Following the attack on Naunde village, soldiers took four injured people to a local clinic in Mucojo town, about two kilometers away.

A man, 62, at Mucojo clinic, after an alleged soldier shot him in the left lower back. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

A health official at the clinic said that two of the seriously injured patients had been evacuated for further treatment in the Pemba provincial hospital. But she said that the local police took one of the wounded men for questioning and told the other wounded man to remain in the clinic until he had been questioned.

The patient in the clinic, a 62-year-old man, said that he had been shot in the left lower back by a soldier as he tried to flee: “I was running when I met a group of soldiers who had just arrived at the village. One of them shouted something that I did not hear well… then I just remember the sound of gunshot, and the pain… Then they brought me here.”

Human Rights Watch was unable to locate the patient who had been taken for questioning. An officer at the Mucojo police station said he was suspected to be part of the group of attackers and had been taken away by soldiers.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 4:00 am

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha gestures as he leaves Thai Union company in Samut Sakhon, Thailand on March 5, 2018. 
© 2018 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Before Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London this Wednesday, the junta’s long arm of repression has already reached there, targeting critics of the government. 

Thai authorities issued the arrest warrant for Watana Ebbage on June 12, citing the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act. Watana’s supposed crime was posting information on her Facebook page, KonthaiUK, alleging corruption in military procurement programs.

Shockingly, at least 29 people in Thailand have now been arrested simply for sharing Wattana’s posts. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison for each post.

When she meets with Prayut, May should address the repression that is a daily reality in Thailand despite the junta’s promises to hold an election early next year.

The junta wields unchecked power and violates human rights in Thailand with impunity. It routinely enforces censorship. Hundreds of critics and dissidents have been prosecuted on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) when they peacefully express opinions. Public gatherings of more than five people and anti-junta activities are prohibited. Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop criticizing the junta. Military authorities secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

Since the junta took power in a May 2014 coup, the UK has repeatedly stated that bilateral relations with Thailand will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections. As a longtime ally of Thailand, those words carry weight. Now they need to be translated into action.

There should be no red-carpet welcome for Prayut, the junta leader who has repeatedly given empty pledges about guaranteeing fundamental freedoms for Thai people ahead of the promised elections.

No business deals should come at the expense of serious discussions on Thailand’s deteriorating human rights situation.

May should make sure that Prayut returns to Bangkok with a clear understanding that Thailand’s human rights problems remain a top priority for London and that the Thai government’s future with the UK depends on the restoration of respect for human rights and democracy in Thailand.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2018, 12:21 am

United Nations Mission in Darfur peacekeepers stand guard in Shagra village, North Darfur, October 18, 2012. 

© 2012 Reuters
(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should ensure that its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region continues to conduct human rights monitoring and public reporting in all of Darfur. The mandate of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is due for renewal by the end of June 2018.
The Security Council is expected to approve drastic cuts in the mission, including closing 14 UNAMID team sites and a plan for withdrawal in two years. The African Union Peace and Security Council has already approved the plan. The plan under discussion would limit the mission’s area of operation to 13 sites around Jebel Marra, the mountainous area where government forces have repeatedly attacked civilians while engaging in operations against rebel groups. 
“The UN’s proposed cuts would effectively end the peacekeeping mission’s core human rights and protection role in most of Darfur, which would be a mistake” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council needs to ensure that UNAMID will continue monitoring and reporting publicly on abuses throughout Darfur or it will share responsibility for pushing Darfur off the world’s agenda.”
A special report on June 1 by the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the UN secretary-general outlines the plan to downsize the peacekeeping mission. Outside the new operational area, the mission would primarily support other UN agencies in development and humanitarian activities. The UNAMID peacekeepers would no longer carry out regular patrols across the region, which humanitarian agencies have often relied on for security. 
The report acknowledges the reconfiguration “would no longer allow UNAMID to continue the monitoring, verification and reporting of protection of civilians’ issues outside the greater Jebel Marra area,” and that the other UN agencies have “limited scope to monitor, raise, and address protection concerns.” 
On June 12, the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed concerns about the proposed reduction in the mission’s area of operation. It said that thedrawdown should be guided by the situation on the ground so as not to “create a security vacuum and expose civilian populations.” It also said that the mission should continue to cover “the whole geographic Darfur,” since it is mandated to protect civilians from imminent threat across the region. 
The review process, which began in 2014 amid Sudan’s insistence that the UN needed an exit plan, led to significant cuts to the mission in 2017, with the closure of 11 team sites and the addition of a presence in Golo in Jebel Marra. Human Rights Watch warned at the time that the downsizing reflected a “false narrative about Darfur’s war ending” and that any reductions should leave flexibility for the mission to respond to evolving threats and to strengthen the mission’s human rights monitoring and reporting capacities. 
Sudan has obstructed the work of the UNAMID human rights staff by delaying visas, denying access and preventing staff recruitment. Instead of accepting these limits, the Security Council should bolster the section’s work and make its responsibility to report on violations across the region more explicit. Even if their physical access is limited by the drawdown, UNAMID human rights officers could still do remote research, which the mission could report publicly, Human Rights Watch said. 
While the African Union Commission’s special report recommends that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should open an office in Sudan, the office has had little success in negotiating permission to work in the country. The Sudanese government’s long practice of intransigence and obstruction leaves little hope that the office would be able to fill the vacuum left by UNAMID, Human Rights Watch said. 
The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, has been marked by large-scale government air and ground attacks on civilians, destruction and burning of civilian property, and mass displacement. More than 2.7 million Darfuris remain displaced, with 1.6 million living in over 60 camps, and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in Chad.
In 2005, the UN Security Council referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court in resolution 1593. The International Criminal Court brought charges against President Omar al-Bashir and four other officials on charges including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan has refused to cooperate in the investigation and no suspects are in custody, but the Security Council has taken no meaningful steps to insist on cooperation with the investigation. The prosecutor will make her 27th report to the UN Security Council on her office’s work in Darfur on June 20 as part of her twice-yearly briefings to the council.
There was less fighting in Darfur in 2017 following the Sudanese government’s ceasefire declarations prior to the US lifting of its economic sanctions against Sudan. However, while government aerial bombing of villages in Darfur declined, government security forces, including the notoriously abusive Rapid Support Forces, continued ground attacks on civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.
During fighting in Jebel Marra between March and April 2018, government forces attacked and burned dozens of villages, killing an unknown number of civilians and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, UNAMID reported. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies documented at least 23 civilian deaths from government attacks. In addition, longstanding patterns of rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as a culture of impunity, persist across Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
In February, the UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict raised concerns about continued reports of sexual violenceespecially against displaced women and girls, and the deep-seated culture of denial in Sudan around sexual violence. In April, following a visit to Sudan, the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan reported that government security forces were committing  sexual violence against women and girls, and that North Darfur authorities were holding 117 detainees without charge under emergency laws.
“Everything we know about Darfur indicates a pressing need for human rights monitors to continue their work, especially where the mission will no longer have team sites and peacekeepers,” Segun said. “The Security Council shouldn’t adopt this shortsighted proposal, but instead should keep a spotlight on Darfur.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2018, 6:50 pm

Proposed changes by France’s Senate Law Commission to a controversial and widely criticized asylum and immigration bill could make things worse and open the door to improper and unlawful exclusion of refugees.

The commission’s amendments would require examiners to refuse an asylum seeker refugee status if there are “serious reasons to believe a person’s presence in France constitutes a threat to public security or state security.”

Migrants queue for a free meal distributed by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) humanitarian agency on a street near Stalingrad metro station in Paris, France, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

While at first blush this may seem like a legitimate ground, it is unnecessary and contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which France is party. Under the Convention a persecuted person, who otherwise qualifies as a refugee, can be denied that status, if there are serious reasons to believe he or she has already committed a serious crime against international or domestic law. The bill’s proposed standard is much lower, vaguer and open to abuse, making it easier and more likely that asylum seekers who have a right to protection in France, would be rejected. Moreover, if a refugee with status does prove to be a threat to public order or national security, that is a ground for expulsion from the country following due process under the Convention anyway.

Senators on the commission also backtracked on three improvements adopted by the lower house of parliament. They rejected the extension from one to four years for permits for people who benefit from ‘subsidiary’ protection, but not full refugee status; refused to extend a right to family reunification to parents and siblings of a child who is receiving international protection in France; and withdrew protection from prosecution for people providing humanitarian assistance to migrants, going against changes proposed by parliamentary members who hoped to shield such activists from prosecution for so-called crimes of solidarity.

The bill also forces refugees to wait two years, instead of 18 months, before they can be reunited with family members.

The Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty, has recently recommended a ban on the detention of children in line with international norms, but the commission’s senators voted only to limit detention of children to five days. Senators also want to allow migrants slated for deportation to be held for up to five days, up from the current 48 hours limit, before they see a judge.

The one positive note: the commission rejected the heavily-criticized proposal to shorten the deadline to appeal asylum rejections from one month to 15 days.

Now, it is critical that senators in the plenary sessions uphold international refugee law and do the right thing by amending and adopting a text that will protect not damage asylum seekers’ rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2018, 4:55 pm