A political party worker comforts another after a suicide attack during an election campaign meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, July 10, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

(New York) – Pakistan’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists who are at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for July 25, 2018.

Since July 10, attacks on political party candidates have killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds.

“The Taliban and other militants have killed and injured hundreds of people in their quest to disrupt Pakistan’s elections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The upcoming elections could be severely compromised unless the government and security forces take immediate measures to ensure that all parties can campaign freely, without fear.”

The Taliban and other militant groups should cease attacks on people campaigning for office and their supporters. Pakistani authorities need to credibly investigate such attacks and appropriately bring those responsible to justice.

On July 13, in one of the most deadly suicide bombing attacks in Pakistan’s history, at least 128 people were killed during an election rally held by Nawabzada Siraj Raisani of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in Mastung, Balochistan. Raisani was killed in the attack. A faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility, the media reported. In 2011, Raisani’s 16-year-old son was killed in a bomb attack targeting Raisani.

Violence that prevents all Pakistanis from participating freely, in safety, risks setting back the country’s democratic progress.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On July 10, Haroon Bilour, a senior leader of the Awami National Party (ANP), was killed along with at least 20 others in a suicide bombing targeting his election meeting in Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. Bilour’s father, Bashir Bilour, also an ANP leader, was killed in a suicide bomb attack by the same group in 2012.

On July 13, four people were killed and at least 32 injured when the convoy of Akram Khan Durrani, a senior political leader of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), was targeted in a remote-controlled blast in Bannu, K-P. Durrani survived.

On July 10, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority said that six political leaders and two political parties may be targeted by militants in the ongoing election campaign. The individuals named are Imran Khan, Asfandyar Wali, Ameer Haider Hoti, Aftab Sherpao, Akram Khan Durrani, and Talha Saeed. In addition, leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were also deemed at risk of attack.

Deadly attacks by militant groups during elections have become a persistent problem in Pakistan. Prior to the last general election in Pakistan on May 11, 2013, the Taliban targeted the Pakistan People’s Party, Awami National Party, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), killing hundreds of people, including election candidates. Before the 2008 elections, the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in a suicide bomb attack in Rawalpindi, Punjab, on December 27, 2007. Bhutto’s family blamed then-President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for deliberately sabotaging her security. In 2017, Musharraf was declared a fugitive after he failed to show in court.

Some political leaders have alleged that the authorities have failed to provide security in a nonpartisan manner. Selective provision of security will damage the perception of neutrality of the interim government, they warned. On July 14, the K-P administration refused permission to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, to carry on campaign activities on the pretext of security, while some other parties and candidates continued with their political activities.

Pakistan’s interim government, which took over on June 5 after the end of the government’s five-year term, should provide proper protection to individual candidates at risk and adequate security for rallies and campaign meetings.

“After decades of military rule, Pakistan has embarked on its third democratic transition, and the authorities should do their utmost ensure security for all,” Adams said. “Violence that prevents all Pakistanis from participating freely, in safety, risks setting back the country’s democratic progress.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 17, 2018, 4:00 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.

Another person died in the United States’ sprawling and abusive immigration detention system last week.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Efrain De La Rosa, 40, was “discovered unresponsive in his cell” last Tuesday after apparent “self-inflicted strangulation.” Mr. De La Rosa, who was originally from Mexico, was the third person to die in CoreCivic’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in a little over a year. He was the eighth person in US immigration detention to die this fiscal year, which started October 1, 2017. Last fiscal year, there were more deaths in immigration detention than at any time since 2009.

We don’t yet know the exact circumstances of Mr. De La Rosa’s death. Unfortunately, what we do know is that a huge proportion of all deaths in immigration detention are linked to dangerously inadequate medical care.

Of 15 recent deaths in immigration detention, independent medical analysis conducted for Human Rights Watch indicates that in eight, subpar medical care contributed to the fatalities. Of the 52 deaths that happened in immigration detention for which we have independent medical analysis since 2010, 23 of these fatalities fall into that same category.

People are dying in immigration detention from unreasonable delays in accessing treatment and poor practitioner care – including a pattern of nurses practicing outside of the scope of their licenses and botched emergency responses. We’ve also tracked a disturbing series of suicides linked to placing people with psychosocial disabilities in isolation, an abusive practice.

In May of last year, JeanCarlo Jimenez-Joseph, a 27-year-old who had lived most of his life in the United States, died by suicide at the Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Jimenez-Joseph had a known history of schizophrenia when he was ordered to 20 days in solitary confinement at the center. He died after 19 days in isolation. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his death and found that Mr. Jimenez-Joseph “repeatedly displayed suicidal behavior, but never got the mental health care he needed. He was also placed in an isolation cell that contained a known suicide hazard, a ceiling sprinkler head, upon which he affixed his makeshift noose.”

Immigration detention can be deadly. Congress should take note, and refuse to fund any expansion of ICE’s capacity to detain more, and more vulnerable, people.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 9:38 pm

Gabriel Amisi (L), known as “Tango Four”, new deputy army chief of staff in charge of operations and intelligence, and John Numbi, new national army inspector.

© 2016 Private

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s president and commander in chief, Joseph Kabila, has promoted two generals long linked to serious human rights abuses. The new appointments, announced on the weekend, heighten concerns of more repression and abuse in the weeks ahead, as Kabila ponders his plans ahead of elections scheduled for December 23.

Gen. Gabriel Amisi, known as “Tango Four,” was named the new deputy army chief of staff in charge of operations and intelligence. Forces under Amisi’s control have long been involved in serious human rights abuses in eastern Congo, including widespread killings, summary executions, rapes, pillage, and trafficking of minerals. Over the past four years, he has commanded troops involved in the violent repression of political demonstrations and mobilized youth to disrupt peaceful protests. Amisi was also implicated in the deployment of former rebel M23 fighters in the capital, Kinshasa, to crack down on protesters in December 2016.

Gen. John Numbi, named the new inspector general of the army, has also long been linked to abuse. In 2007 and 2008, police under his command used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to suppress the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) politico-religious movement in Bas Congo, killing more than 200 people and systematically burning homes and torturing suspected BDK sympathizers. In 2010, Numbi was implicated in the double murder of prominent human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and his driver Fidèle Bazana. Following a widespread outcry in Congo and abroad, Numbi was suspended as national police inspector, but never investigated. Although he no longer held an official position, several government and security force officials told Human Rights Watch that he remained a close adviser to Kabila and played an influential role in the former Katanga province, including by threatening and repressing the political opposition.

The United States and the European Union imposed targeted sanctions against both Amisi and Numbi in 2016 for their alleged role in serious abuses.

These promotions are an affront to the victims of abuses in Congo and their family members.  They reflect a system in which human rights violators are rewarded instead of being held to account, fueling the cycles of violence and impunity that have plagued the country for far too long.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:17 pm

General view as Team France players are presented medals after the final game of the 2018 World Cup, Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Russia’s World Cup is officially over. After one whole month of living and breathing football, Moscow feels hungover this Monday morning, and the spotlight is already on Helsinki where Russia President Vladimir Putin and United States President Donald Trump are holding their first summit. The World Cup brought Russia amazing games, abundant praise for the host’s logistical accomplishments, and the resulting prestige.

It also brought disappointment and missed opportunities.

Just before Russia’s 2014 Sochi Olympics, the country released several high-profile political prisoners. Russian activists and their supporters globally hoped for something similar with the World Cup. Those hopes have been dashed. Oleg Sentsov, a Crimean filmmaker serving a 20-year sentence on bogus terrorism charges, is now on day 64 of his hunger strike. Oyub Titiev, the Grozny director of Russia’s leading rights group, Memorial, is on trial in Chechnya for a brazenly fabricated drug possession case.

With Titiev behind bars, Chechnya’s governor Ramzan Kadyrov, whose repressive rule is sponsored by the Kremlin, happily availed himself of photo opps with Egypt’s national football team. Titiev faces up to ten years in prison as punishment for his human rights work. Did FIFA, football’s international ruling body, use its full leverage with Russia on his case? They won’t say.  

Another prominent Memorial activist, Yuri Dmitriev, acquitted of bogus child pornography charges in April, was re-arrested during the World Cup, apparently as part of a government smear campaign against the organization.

Four members of Russian protest art group Pussy Riot were arrested after charging onto the stadium’s field in a bold political stunt during the final match. A security official who interrogated them cursed and said he regretted today wasn’t 1937, the worst year of Stalin’s Great Terror, when hundreds of thousands were executed.

So as the largest football tournament winds up, the big picture is grim, and it’s no wonder many are concerned that after the World Cup, the already unprecedented crackdown on government critics will worsen.

That said, there was one undeniably positive dimension to the 2018 World Cup. After years of increasing isolation, Russia opened up to over 800,000 fans from across the world. Hopefully, after cheering together and making friends with foreigners over football, the broader Russian public will realize the country is not a besieged fortress surrounded by enemies, and that the Kremlin’s rights crackdown and isolationist policies are both baseless and ultimately harmful to the country’s future.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. 

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

(New York) – Member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should increase their support for the court in the face of increasing challenges to delivering justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, was adopted 20 years ago on July 17, 1998.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released a video on why the ICC matters today to a new generation of law students studying around the world.

“The ICC’s hard task of bringing justice to victims of grave international crimes is needed more than ever before,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “ICC member countries should use the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute to demonstrate their support for this critically important court of last resort.”

The ICC is the first permanent global court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for serious international crimes – including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide – when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The court’s treaty was negotiated over several years, starting in 1995, and concluded after a tumultuous session in Rome.

Supporters of international justice will mark the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), on July 17, 2018. In this video, students from universities around the world discuss the court’s importance.

The ICC has opened investigations in 10 countries, and a request by its prosecutor to open an investigation in Afghanistan is pending before the court’s judges. But even as the court’s workload has expanded, ICC action is needed in many other places. It has been hampered by insufficient financial support from member countries, which fund the court, and limited assistance from governments to carry out investigations and arrests. In addition, court officials have made mistakes in policy and practices that need to be addressed. Fifteen arrest warrants are outstanding.

Without political action by states, including through the United Nations Security Council, the court’s treaty restricts the prosecutor’s mandate when it comes to investigating outside ICC member countries. Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have sent crimes committed in Syria, which has not joined the court, to the ICC prosecutor for investigation. Other Security Council members have used the threat of their veto power to block other action on atrocities.

“Some of the worst international crimes committed today are beyond the ICC’s reach, but by taking effective action, the ICC sends both victims and those who would commit these crimes a powerful message that there can be justice for these crimes, and that those responsible can be held accountable,” Dicker said. “But for this to happen, court officials and member countries will need to rise to the challenge.”

July 17 is also the Day of International Criminal Justice. The work of the ICC is closely linked with broader justice efforts – in national courts, through international investigative bodies, and through international and national cooperation in hybrid institutions – to meet victims’ right to justice. Human Rights Watch has released a video that highlights the important role of trials for international crimes for victims and their loved ones, whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in locations throughout the world.

Member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should increase their support for the court in the face of increasing challenges to delivering justice. The court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, was adopted 20 years ago on July 17, 1998.

There are positive signs that ICC member countries are committed to strengthening the court, Human Rights Watch said.

Several events with participation by ministers and other senior officials from ICC member countries are planned to mark the 20th anniversary. These include events on July 17 at UN headquarters in New York, and at the seat of the court in The Hague. Government-led, high-level events in other cities, as well as efforts to promote better public understanding of the court’s mandate, are taking place throughout the year.

European Union (EU) foreign ministers were expected to adopt conclusions on July 16 reaffirming support for the ICC. Human Rights Watch, along with other nongovernmental organizations, has said that the EU should go farther and deliver on a long-standing call by the European Parliament to establish a dedicated special representative on international humanitarian law and international justice, ensuring policy commitments are translated into effective action. All ICC member countries should consider signing agreements with the court to relocate witnesses and protect defendants’ rights to release on bail.

To improve prospects for justice, court officials need to address gaps in the ICC’s performance, Human Rights Watch said. Weak investigations in some of its earliest cases, lengthy investigations and court proceedings, and too-limited efforts to support victims’ access to their rights at the ICC risk undermining confidence in the court within the communities affected by the crimes within its mandate.

Strong support from member countries is key to overcoming political obstruction to the court’s work. The United States, which has not joined the court but in recent years has supported ICC investigations on a case-by-case basis, was a no-show at a July 6 informal discussion at the Security Council aimed at improving that body’s support to the court.

“There is a risk that the deteriorating global trends on human rights will all too easily be exploited to undercut the ICC by those who have something to fear from accountability,” Dicker said. “Justice supporters will need to do all they can to see to it that the ICC will succeed on this difficult landscape and deliver victims their day in court.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 7:59 am

Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.


© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registerekad Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.


Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 4:00 am

(Beirut) – Zaid Itani, the well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance in Lebanon and torture in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 29, 2018, military investigative judge, Riad Abu Ghaida, closed the case against Itani and charged two people with falsely accusing him. Itani was released without bail on March 13. Lebanese authorities should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of Itani’s allegations of forced disappearance and torture at the hands of State Security, Human Rights Watch said.

Zaid Itani

© Private

Itani told Human Rights Watch in March that after his arrest in November 2017, he was held in what may have been an informal detention center where men in civilian clothing beat him repeatedly, tied him in a stress position, hung him by his wrists, kicked him in the face, threatened to rape him, and threatened his family with physical violence and legal charges. Details of the investigation were leaked to the media within a day of his arrest, and Itani said interrogators, reportedly from State Security, used the damage to his reputation to put additional pressure on him to confess. Lebanese authorities should investigate how details of the investigation leaked to the media, Human Rights Watch said.

“Itani’s allegations of torture and disappearance demand a thorough investigation into his treatment in detention and why he was arrested in the first place,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Itani was indeed framed, then this was a massive miscarriage of justice, and authorities should guarantee that this can never happen again.”

Itani said that he was held for six days in what appeared to be an unofficial detention site, where men in civilian clothing tortured him until he signed a confession, and only then turned him over to the military court.

Local media reported that the former head of the Internal Security Forces’ cyber-crimes bureau, Suzan Hobeiche, and a “hacker” Elie Ghabash, were charged with falsely accusing Itani under article 403 of Lebanon’s penal code, and face up to 10 years in prison. Ghabash has also been accused of fabricating evidence against a military officer detained in a separate case. Human Rights Watch spoke with Itani in March following his release, but withheld publication of his account until now at his request. Human Rights Watch also wrote to State Security and the office of the public prosecutor, but has not received a substantive response.

Itani said that at the first opportunity, on December 18, he told military investigative judge Riad Abu Ghaida that he had been tortured and showed him marks including on his wrists from being hung. He said the judge noted the allegation and ordered a medical examination by a military doctor, but that the doctor did not investigate the allegation of torture. Human Rights Watch reviewed the investigative judge’s report, but did not find any mention of torture or any indication that the judge had ordered an investigation into the allegation.

In November, Lebanon passed a new law criminalizing torture, including special procedures for investigating allegations of torture and witness protection. It also provides for rehabilitation and compensation for victims. Lebanese authorities should investigate Itani’s allegations in accordance with that law, Human Rights Watch said. In October 2016, Lebanon passed a law to establish a National Human Rights Institute, including a National Preventative Mechanism against torture. Cabinet announced the members of the Institute on May 21 but has yet to establish either body.

Human Rights Watch and Lebanese organizations have for years documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive. 

Lebanon routinely tries civilians, including children, in military court in violation of their due process rights and international law. Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which civilians tried before the military courts on terrorism or security related offenses said they were tortured into confessing, and the coerced confessions were used as evidence against them in court.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Itani’s sister, Rana Itani, in February. She said the family initially did not know where Itani was or who had detained him. She also said her brother had briefly described what happened to him and the account she relayed is consistent with what Itani later told Human Rights Watch.

Itani said he was not able to speak with his lawyer or family before the first court session, and after that only through a door in the presence of military personnel. He said that he was never able to meet privately with his lawyer or his family, and was unable to see his family until December 25, more than a month after his arrest. Due process provisions to safeguard detainee rights were not respected in Itani’s case, Human Rights Watch said.

Under Lebanese law, unless a suspect is discovered in the act of committing a crime, police cannot detain a suspect without the public prosecutor’s approval. Pre-charge detention must not exceed 48 hours, unless extended another 48 hours with the public prosecutor’s consent. Article 47 of the Lebanese Code of Criminal Procedure guarantees detained suspects the right to contact a person of their choosing, such as a family member or an employer, and to meet with a lawyer. Arresting officers must inform all detained suspects of these rights promptly upon arrest.

An arrest by state authorities, followed by a refusal to acknowledge an individual’s arrest or concealing their fate or whereabouts, constitutes an enforced disappearance under international law. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities. All detainees should be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest, Human Rights Watch said.

As a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Lebanon is required to take effective measures to prevent torture, investigate credible allegations of torture, and hold accountable anyone found guilty of committing torture with appropriate penalties that take into account the grave nature of the crime. Parliament should amend article 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly guarantee suspects the right to a lawyer from the start of any form of detention, Human Rights Watch said.

“Torture is not only illegal but also ineffective, because it can lead to false confessions,” Fakih said. “This case presents a clear litmus test for whether Lebanon’s new torture law will help end impunity for torture or remain on paper only.”

Itani’s Account of Torture

Itani told Human Rights Watch that on November 23, at around 12:30 in the afternoon, a man in civilian clothing who identified himself only as “the state,” forced Itani into an SUV after he left theater auditions in Ain al-Rummaneh in Beirut. Itani said that the man hit him in the face and chest and blindfolded him. He was taken to what he described as “a room prepared for torture,” painted entirely black with metal hooks along the wall. He said six men in civilian clothing were there, one of whom accused Itani of “talking to the Israelis” and punched him in the face. Itani said the man threatened to physically harm Itani’s daughter, and to add his wife and sister to the investigation file, and said, “You have to talk because you need to understand that there is torture in all countries.”

Itani said the men, who had a folder labelled “State Security,” interrogated him for two to three hours about connections to Israel. He said one of the men then ordered Itani to call his wife and tell her he would be away for 10 days. Itani said that there were no indications that he was in an official detention site, that he did not see anyone in uniform or any other detainees, that there were no flags or official emblems, and that he was held in a cell within a room. State Security is a Lebanese security service that reports to the prime minister and falls under the Jurisdiction of the Higher Defense Council.

Details of Itani’s interrogation and the accusations against him leaked to the media within a day of his arrest, and Itani described the leak as “the biggest form of torture I’ve seen in my life. They took my phone as I sat in my cell and read the news and my friends’ Facebook posts about me. I lost hope.… The psychological torture and words they used were more horrible than the physical torture.” Itani said the investigators told him that they were preventing people from setting fire to his parents’ home, and that he should cooperate.

Itani said that the physical torture began after he refused to sign a confession around 6 p.m. on November 26. He said four men tied him in a stress position on the floor and one of them hit him with a cable as he screamed. Itani said the men then punched him in the face, chest, and groin and kicked him, and that one man pulled his pants off and hit his genitals. He said the men then strapped his wrists to a bar in the doorway so that his feet barely touched the ground and left him in that position for hours.

Itani said the men later took him down and chained him, and that he fell to the floor. They then punched and kicked him in the face and stepped on him, causing him to bleed from the mouth and breaking one of his teeth. He sent Human Rights Watch a doctor’s report documenting injuries in his mouth and seven of his teeth. Itani recalled one man saying, “I don’t care, eventually people will applaud us because you are a traitor.” Then they again strapped his wrists to the bar. Itani recalled one of the men speaking on the phone, saying “we can’t hand him over yet, there are marks on him.”

Itani said one man, who appeared to be in charge, told him they would insert a rod into his anus if he didn’t sign, and pointed at another man saying, “This one will ride you, and we don’t care because you are a traitor.” Itani then agreed to sign.

On November 28, he said, the men took him to the military court in Beirut and handed him over to the military police, where he was held in solitary confinement for 54 days. “There was no doctor who saw me, my body was all blue and I was spitting blood,” he said. “I couldn’t speak properly.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 3:00 am

A young Burmese fisher sorts trash fish onboard a trawler in Laem Sing, Chantaburi, November 11, 2016. 

© 2016 Daniel Murphy for Human Rights Watch

(Bangkok) – The Thai government has failed to address widespread labor rights abuses in Thailand’s fishing fleets, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to senior European Union officials. 

Human Rights Watch urged the EU to renew efforts for serious reforms of Thai policies and practices to effectively curtail forced labor and other abusive treatment of migrant fishing workers. 

“The Thai government’s reforms in the fishing industry still fall far short of resolving serious labor rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should use its leverage as a major seafood importer to demand changes to improve the lives of migrant fishing workers on Thai vessels.” 

Under pressure from the EU and other governments, the Thai government adopted a series of reforms to improve labor rights in the fishing industry. But since the much-publicized consultation between the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment and the Thai Ministry of Labour on May 16-17, 2018, in Brussels, little has improved. 

Migrant workers still enter into fishing work in debt bondage, and are prevented from changing employers, not paid on time, and paid below the minimum wage, as documented in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report, “Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry.”

Human Rights Watch found that captains compelled predominantly Burmese and Cambodian fishing workers to work overtime hours well beyond those set out in law. Boat owners and captains violated legal requirements to pay wages at least monthly, frequently paying fishing workers once every six months – or in some cases once a year at subminimum wages. A reform requiring monthly wage payments by electronic bank transfer has been thwarted by unscrupulous captains who keep the fishing workers’ ATM cards and bank books. 

Boat owners did not provide written contracts or copies, or explain the contracts to the fishing workers. Captains continued to seize migrant workers’ documents in violation of the law. Threats, intimidation, and physical violence by captains, officers, and fleet owners against fishing workers were still reported.

Thai government reforms have been neither effective nor adequate to improve complaint processes and monitoring to ensure that fishing workers are able to change employers without obstruction, Human Rights Watch said. Labor inspections at Port-in, Port-out (PIPO) checkpoints remained perfunctory and primarily consisted of a document check. Similarly, inspections at sea often failed to follow basic procedures necessary to protect workers when providing information about possible onboard abuses. 

Migrant workers in Thailand’s fishing industry still do not receive sufficient legal protections, Human Rights Watch said. The Labour Relations Act of 1975 prohibits workers without Thai nationality from formally establishing a labor union or being a member of a labor union committee. Without the ability to organize a union, migrant workers have few avenues to demand their rights and become extremely vulnerable to retaliation by boat captains, fleet owners, and abusive officials.

In June, the Thai government fulfilled an important pledge by ratifying the International Labour Organization (ILO) Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29). The government should immediately take all necessary steps to ensure that it is implemented effectively. The Thai government should also ratify ILO Conventions on Freedom of Association (No. 87) and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (No. 98), Human Rights Watch said. 

“Thailand needs to make genuine progress, not just paper reforms, to address labor rights abuses on Thai fishing fleets,” Adams said. “The EU should further press Thailand to protect the rights, health, and safety of migrant fishing workers. European consumers should be confident that their seafood from Thailand does not involve trafficked or forced labor.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 16, 2018, 1:00 am

In this file photo, Egyptian security forces stand guard outside a court in Cairo, Egypt, January 3, 2018.

© Reuters

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities are increasingly using counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts to unjustly prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for their peaceful criticism, Human Rights Watch said today.

These abusive practices and distortion of counterterrorism measures have taken place at the same time as Egypt was chairing one of the key United Nations committees to ensure compliance with counterterrorism resolutions and while the UN’s most senior counterterrorism official was visiting the country.

“While Egypt faces security threats, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has exploited these threats cynically as a cover to prosecute peaceful critics and to revive the infamous Mubarak-era state security courts,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is combining a bad law with unjust courts and the outcome has been predictably disastrous, as al-Sisi’s Western allies look the other way.”

In the period before the March 2018 presidential elections, Egyptian police and National Security Agency forces carried out a wave of arrests of critics of al-Sisi. The crackdown continued after the election with the detention of prominent activists and journalists and their prosecution under Egypt’s 2015 counterterrorism law. The law criminalizes a wide range of acts, including publishing or promoting news about terrorism if it contradicts official statements.

Some cases have been transferred to the Emergency State Security Courts, a parallel judicial system operating since October 2017, under the state of emergency that the government claims is being used only against terrorists and drug traffickers. These courts do not guarantee a fair trial and their decisions are not subject to appeal. 

Human Rights Watch has documented the detention of scores of activists and journalists (see Annex) since 2015, when the new counterterrorism law was issued, who have been referred for prosecution under terrorism-related charges. In each case, the charges are apparently based on peaceful criticism or opposition to the authorities. Some of those prosecuted are affiliated with opposition parties and movements such as Strong Egypt Party and April 6 Youth Movement, while others are journalists and human rights activists.

Those recently arrested include a well-known blogger and rights defender, Wael Abbas. Security forces detained him on May 23, 2018, and kept him for almost 36 hours in an undisclosed location before taking him before prosecutors. Other recent detainees include Amal Fathy, a political activist and the wife of the head of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a human rights organization, and Shady Abu Zaid, a comic known for a 2016 viral video in which he inflated condoms and handed them to security forces guarding Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Authorities have referred these cases to Supreme State Security Prosecution, the branch of general prosecution that usually oversees terrorism cases. Lawyers are frequently prevented from accompanying their clients to interrogations. The prosecutors charged several activists under the counterterrorism law with “aiding a terrorist group in achieving its aims,” or “spreading false news,” or joining a “banned group” and referred them to Emergency State Security Courts.

Prosecutors indicted Abbas on claims that he was part of the “media wing of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the political group of the ousted elected President Mohamed Morsy. Several journalists and activists have been indicted in this case, case 441 of 2018, over the past weeks, including some who are actually critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Sisi’s government, assisted by a mainstream media that Reporters Without Borders says is under increasing control of the intelligence services, has sought to portray a broad conspiracy against the security of Egypt that includes human rights and labor activists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, journalists, and rights lawyers. In March 2018, the Interior Ministry published a video, “The Spider’s Web,” which portrayed diverse groups ranging from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to the Muslim Brotherhood, to human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, as part of a plot against Egypt’s security.

Since 2013, Egypt has banned a wide range of groups as “terrorist organizations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood; April 6 Youth Movement, an activist group that played a key role in the protests organized against Mubarak in 2011; and football Ultras, hardcore fan groups. The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters, a non-specialized court, issued most of these decisions.

The reliance on the emergency courts adds to a broader legal arsenal that security forces have used in the name of fighting terrorism, including terrorism courts and expedited legal proceedings.

In March 2018, the head of the newly established UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, visited Egypt. Voronkov’s office was established in June 2017 to provide leadership in carrying out the General Assembly counterterrorism mandates. These include, as one of four “pillars” of counterterrorism strategy, “ensuring human rights and rule of law.” While the exact nature of discussions was not disclosed, no criticism was publicly voiced about Egypt’s abuse of one of the UN’s key pillars to fighting terrorism.

From January 2016 to January 2018, while Egypt was using its counterterrorism courts to silence dissent, Egypt was chair of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), a subsidiary body composed of all 15 Council members that monitors member states’ implementation of the various Security Council resolutions and decisions dealing with counterterrorism. Security Council resolution 1624 (2005), which addresses incitement to commit terrorist acts, stresses that countries must ensure that any measures they take to carry out the resolution comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law.

“Egypt is proud of presenting itself as a key international actor in the fight against terrorism, but its domestic record shows that it is fighting peaceful critics and dissidents under the cover of countering ‘terrorism,’” Houry said. “And the most worrying part is that international actors in charge of ensuring an effective and human rights compliant counterterrorism strategy have been completely silent about this crackdown.”

For more information on the use of emergency courts and terrorism laws, please see below.

The Emergency State Security Courts are exceptional courts grounded in Egypt’s State of Emergency Law No. 162 of 1958. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017, which has been renewed and in effect ever since. Former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail issued a decree in October 2017 placing numerous crimes, including those related to protest, assembly, terrorism, and labor law, under the jurisdiction of the State Security Courts.

Egyptian authorities have not released any information on the number of people who have been referred to these courts since that time, but they have been used against large numbers of peaceful activists, including indigenous rights activists. In November 2017, authorities referred 32 indigenous-rights activists in Nubia to these courts for participating in an unlicensed protest. The activists were protesting land policies that deprive Nubian people, an ethnic minority in the south of Egypt, from returning to their original lands, from which they were displaced in the 1960s.

The government’s use of these courts violates many international standards, including article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees to every defendant the right to trial before a competent, independent, and impartial court, as well as the right to appeal and receive a judicial review of verdicts. The president has sweeping powers over these courts, as he or the prime minister, as his delegate, can appoint the judges and determine which offenses should be referred to those courts.

There is no appeal process for the courts’ decisions, and they are considered final when the president ratifies them. This is particularly problematic given that Egypt’s counterterrorism law punishes many crimes with death. Under international standards, proceedings in death penalty cases must conform to the highest standards of judicial independence, competence, and impartiality and must strictly comply with all fair trial rights. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases.

The UN special rapporteur on “the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism” noted following his visit to Egypt in 2009 that trials before these courts raise “concerns about the impartial and independent administration of justice and furthermore does not comply with the right to have a conviction and sentence fully reviewed by a higher court.” The current special rapporteur has identified Egypt among the 26 countries she wishes to visit during her mandate, but Egypt has not responded to her request, according to her most recent report in September 2017.

The emergency courts earned their infamous reputation during the administration of former President Hosni Mubarak. He made extensive use of the courts in prosecuting students, human rights defenders, political activists, union members, and those suspected of opposing the government during Egypt’s long spell under the state of emergency.

Despite Article 97 of the 2014 Constitution, which provides that “individuals may only be tried before their natural judge” and “extraordinary courts are forbidden,” the emergency courts have resumed their work. In August 2017 and April 2018, several lawyers filed suits challenging the constitutionality of the emergency courts before the Supreme Constitutional Court. However, the court has yet to make a decision.

Before the government reintroduced emergency courts in October 2017, Human Rights Watch documented that authorities referred peaceful activists, often rounded up in peaceful protests, to trial before “terrorism courts,” specialized chambers of the criminal courts that the government created in December 2013 to oversee terrorism cases.

Unlike emergency courts, terrorism courts are part of the criminal justice system and accordingly are bound by the procedures outlined under the country’s criminal procedural code.

The authorities set up those courts and assigned a few specific judges to them shortly after President Mohamed Morsy’s forced ouster in July 2013. The designation of specific judges was seen at the time as an attempt to circumvent judges who had recused themselves from judging certain cases that they considered politically motivated. The terrorism courts were then used to prosecute thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and Morsy supporters in mass trials that violated due process and often ended up in death sentences.

The authorities also used these courts to prosecute activists protesting other government actions. Human Rights Watch documented that these “terrorism courts” tried and convicted scores of protesters who took to the streets in 2016 and 2017 to oppose al-Sisi’s decision to relinquish two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. 

In the past, the Cassation Court, Egypt’s highest appellate court, which reviews criminal court decisions, has annulled many terrorism courts’ judgments and often ordered retrial. Several Egyptian officials, including al-Sisi, have criticized what they considered “slow” judicial processes and expressed their wish for “swifter justice.”

In April 2017, the Parliament issued several amendments to expedite criminal proceedings in terrorism cases and to reduce appeal opportunities before the Cassation Court. Al-Sisi has also issued laws that allow him more control over the appointment of the head of the Cassation Court and the Supreme Administrative Court.

The reliance on the emergency courts is further marginalizing the regular judiciary, especially the Cassation Court. 

In parallel to its emergency courts, Egypt maintains an overbroad legal arsenal in the name of countering terrorism. Al-Sisi issued Law 8 of 2015 for Organizing Lists of Terrorist Entities and Terrorists that allowed the prosecutor general to request designated Cairo criminal courts to add individuals or groups to “terrorism lists.” The court has seven days to consider the request. Thousands of individuals and groups have been listed without any hearing or proper due process.

In addition, al-Sisi issued a decree in October 2014 that expanded the jurisprudence of military courts. Since that time, about 15,000 civilians including hundreds of children, have been referred to military prosecutors.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 15, 2018, 4:01 am

Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a well-respected independent journalist in Tajikistan, was arrested on December 5, 2017, after publicly appealing to Tajikistan’s president about alleged local authority corruption.

©Radio Ozodi/Tajik Service of Radio Free Europe

(Bishkek) – A court in Tajikistan on July 11, 2018, convicted a well-known journalist on bogus charges and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said. Khayrullo Mirsaidov was charged with embezzling and misusing state funds and false reporting to police after he made corruption allegations against local government officials.

The United States, European Union member states, and Tajikistan’s other international partners should publicly and privately press Tajik authorities to set aside the conviction. They should also communicate the consequences on their bilateral relations of the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of hundreds of government critics, including opposition leaders, lawyers, and journalists. Washington and Brussels should make clear that targeted punitive measures against Tajik officials responsible for egregious human rights abuses are possible unless concrete improvements are made.

“If allowed to stand, this conviction and draconian sentence strike a blow to free speech and the journalistic profession in Tajikistan,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Sadly, we now add a journalist known throughout the region for the high quality and independence of his work to the ranks of Tajikistan’s numerous other imprisoned political activists and lawyers.”

The regional Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Mirsaidov, 39, in Khujand, in Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region, on December 5, 2017, on charges of embezzlement; incitement of interethnic, national, or religious hatred; forgery; and providing false testimony after he voluntarily appeared at the prosecutor general’s office for questioning. The charges were brought after Mirsaidov appealed to Tajikistan’s president to crack down on corruption by local authorities. Authorities later dropped the charges of incitement. 

The conviction followed a deeply flawed investigation. Prosecutors issued a gag order preventing Mirsaidov’s attorneys from discussing the case in public and severely limiting Mirsaidov’s access to the alleged evidence against him. He was held in pretrial detention for seven months through the end of his trial, which began in June, though he had no criminal record, and no charges alleging violence. His lawyer said she will appeal the verdict.

In a joint statement, the US and EU member states, including the UK, Germany, France, and the EU delegation in Tajikistan moved swiftly to condemn Mirsaidov’s sentence, calling it “extremely harsh” and “incompatible with the crime he was accused of.” They said that “[t]his sentencing will have a negative impact on the freedom of media and expression in Tajikistan,” and urged Tajik authorities to re-consider this verdict.

On the same day, Harlem Desir, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) representative for freedom of the media stated that he was “alarmed by the stringent and disproportionate sentence handed down to the journalist,” especially given the relatively small sum of 124,000 Somoni (approx. ‎€11,521) he was accused of embezzling. Desir reiterated his earlier call for Tajik authorities to immediately release Mirsaidov and “ensure that journalists in Tajikistan are free to report on all matters of public interest without fear of reprisal.”

In November 2017, Mirsaidov wrote an open letter to President Emomali Rahmon, Prosecutor General Yusuf Rahmon, and the head of the Sughd region, Abdurakhmon Kodiri, asking them to investigate an allegation of corruption. His letter detailed alleged attempts by the head of the Sughd Department of Youth and Sport to solicit a US$1,000 bribe from the funds Sughd authorities allocated to the local youth satirical comedy troupe – known commonly by its Russian acronym KVNthat Mirsaidov manages. The funds were intended to pay for microphones and other equipment for the troupe.

Over the past 18 years, Mirsaidov has earned a reputation for fearless, independent journalism and solid political analysis. He has reported for Deutsche Welle, Asia-Plus, and the Fergana media outlets, among others. Mirsaidov has often written about human rights issues, ecological problems, and respect for ethnic minorities. He also worked as a media development trainer in projects sponsored by the OSCE, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Index on Censorship, a nongovernmental group.

Mirsaidov has managed the Sughd region’s competitive KVN team since 2014, leading the comedy troupe to the finals and to win championships in Bishkek, Sochi, and Moscow. KVN comedy competitions have a long and popular tradition across the former Soviet countries and are known for including political satire.

Tajikistan’s appalling human rights record deteriorated further in 2018, as authorities intensified a widespread crackdown on free expression and association, peaceful political opposition activity, the independent legal profession, and the independent exercise of religious faith. Well over 150 political activists, including a number of lawyers, remain unjustly jailed, and relatives of dissidents who peacefully criticize the government from outside the country have been subject to violent retaliation orchestrated by authorities, including arbitrary detention, threats of rape, confiscation of passports and property, and vigilante justice at the hands of sometimes violent mobs.

Over two years, at least 20 journalists have fled the country, fearing prosecution for their professional activities. Journalists perceived to be critical of the government risk harassment and intimidation.

“Tajikistan’s international partners should publicly and unanimously condemn this mockery of justice,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajikistan’s human rights situation has been spiraling downward at a rapid pace and the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 10:33 pm

Activists from the citizens’ movements Filimbi and LUCHA RDC Afrique peacefully protest on July 11, 2018 in Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for the release of fellow activists detained in the capital Kinshasa since December 2017.

© 2018 Private

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrested seven activists on Wednesday in the eastern city of Goma after a sit-in in front of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. The activists read out a memorandum demanding the release of their fellow activists in the capital, Kinshasa, sang protest songs, and displayed banners with messages such as “Release Our Friends” and “Activism is Not a Crime.”

“We were peacefully singing in front of MONUSCO,” an activist from the Filimbi youth movement who escaped arrest told Human Rights Watch. “As we started to leave, police arrived and encircled us. Then they came after us and we ran toward the base. They arrested seven of us and drove them off in a private jeep.”

One of the detained activists said that they were taken to the police station at the mayor’s office, where police kicked them and hit some of them with the butt of a gun.

The activists from the Filimbi and LUCHA RDC Afrique youth movements – Christophe Muissa, Patrick Kambale Nguka, Eustache Hangi Kyaviro, Jackson Lumoo Hangi, Urbain Mesi Mumbere, Espoir Muhimuka, and Emmanuel Binyenye – were released later that afternoon.

The activists had organized their protest to support Filimbi’s national coordinator, Carbone Beni, and Filimbi activists Grâce Tshunza, Mino Bompomi, Cédric Kalonji, and Palmer Kabeya, who went to court in Kinshasa that day. Detained since December, they are accused of “insulting the Head of State” and “disturbing public order through propaganda of false information,” among other charges.

During the court proceedings, which Human Rights Watch observed, the activists’ lawyers denied the charges, saying they were simply relaying a message from the Catholic Church’s Lay Coordination Committee, which had called for a peaceful protest on December 31 against President Joseph Kabila staying in power past his constitutionally mandated two-term limit. Congolese authorities brutally repressed that demonstration and two more that followed.

The defense also argued that statements the defendants had made under torture in incommunicado detention should be considered null and void. The court rejected their motion on procedural grounds.

The activists had previously been denied provisional release, despite Beni’s deteriorating health.   The trial is due to resume on July 19. Authorities should finally end their suffering, drop these politically motivated charges, and release them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 9:55 pm

Prison officials and security forces have arbitrarily detained and tortured prisoners for years in the notorious regional prison known as Jail Ogaden. Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, should urgently order investigations into the horrific situation, and the government should ensure regional security forces and officials are held accountable.

Last week Human Rights Watch released “We are Like the Dead,” a report documenting torture, rape, and other serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s notorious Jail Ogaden in the Somali Region. Among the officials most responsible for those abuses is Somali Region President Abdi Mohamoud Omar, commonly known as “Abdi Illey.” The abusive Liyu police, implicated in many serious rights violations in the Somali Region and increasingly in the neighboring Oromia region, report directly to him.

In response to the report, Abdi Illey released many prisoners from Jail Ogaden and announced the prison will be closed and converted into a mosque. There was also reportedly a request from the federal government for him to resign.

But Abdi Illey doesn’t appear to be going quietly. On July 11, he made bold speeches in Somali regional parliament and state television, blaming the former head of Ethiopian intelligence Getachew Assefa for directing abuses. He also threw his support behind Prime Minister Dr. Abiy and his reform agenda and asked for forgiveness. It’s a shocking 180 degree turn from a man whose position had been so secure in the past, despite many allegations of abuses, allegedly because of his close links with Ethiopian federal intelligence and security.

Since the report launch, we have received messages from dozens of Ethiopian Somali victims or family members of victims who stress that this is not enough. They want justice. They rightly argue that Abdi lley cannot whitewash his role in a decade of serious crimes in the Somali region by striking a political deal to avoid justice. Accountability matters: it sends a message to abusers, - past, present, and future - that there is a price to be paid for their crimes. As one 42-year-old former prisoner told me: “We cannot forgive him for what he and his [Liyu] police have done to our people. He has destroyed a generation. His police killed my brother, my mother died in jail, and my other brother has disappeared. My family is gone…We will never forgive him. He must face justice for what he has done.”

Abiy’s many announced reforms have captured the imagination of a nation. Noticeably lacking in his many speeches so far is a commitment to accountability, to ensure those who have committed serious crimes in Ethiopia will be held to account. Whether, and how, Abdi Illey and others in Somali region face investigations for the many abuses in Jail Ogaden will be a litmus test of Abiy’s commitment to justice and to reigning in abusive security forces. This is important for victims and their families, but also to send an important message to security forces that abuse will no longer be tolerated.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 8:38 pm

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

When Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki July 16, will they betray the most famous summit associated with the Finnish capital – the 1975 meeting among the Western and Soviet-bloc leaders that gave us the Helsinki Accords? That question is not likely to preoccupy either leader, but their approach to the summit could be as significant as the Helsinki Accords were in shaping Europe’s future.

The Helsinki Final Act – the formal name of the accords – was an agreement signed by 35 nations, including the nations of Europe, the Soviet Union, Canada and the United States. Their most notable provisions effectively affirmed the 1945 Yalta conference among Franklin Roosevelt, Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill that accepted the post-World War Two division of Europe, with the Soviet Union dominant in Eastern Europe. Because of that affirmation, the Kremlin was widely seen to have gotten the better of the Helsinki deal, and published the entire text in Pravda, the official Communist Party newspaper.

However, the Helsinki Accords also committed the signatories to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” – a major step for the Soviet bloc. A section of the accords confirming “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights” spawned a series of Helsinki monitoring groups in Moscow, Warsaw and Prague. Their members were all promptly imprisoned; Helsinki Watch, the precursor to Human Rights Watch, was formed in an effort to defend these embattled activists. But this recognition that sovereign nations had a duty to respect the rights of their people gradually gave rise to a movement that contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc, the very empire that the Helsinki Accords ostensibly recognized.

Read more here

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 4:00 pm

Excerpt from 2014 court document describing US Drug Enforcement Administration's undercover distribution of compromised phones.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – United States law enforcement has used undercover distributions of phones to monitor suspects’ activities, raising rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The Justice Department should disclose its policies regarding the tactic and whether it is currently being used. 

Human Rights Watch has identified two forms of this technique that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has used or, evidence suggests, has contemplated using. One involved the undercover sale of BlackBerry devices whose individual encryption keys the DEA possessed, enabling the agency to decode messages sent and received by suspects. The second, as described in a previously unreported internal email belonging to the surveillance software company Hacking Team, may have entailed installing monitoring software on a significant number of phones before attempting to put them into suspects’ hands.

“Putting a smartphone whose security has been compromised into circulation could create privacy and security risks for anyone who ultimately uses that device and jeopardize free expression,” said Sarah St.Vincent, researcher on US surveillance and domestic law enforcement at Human Rights Watch. “Who’s going to speak freely on the phone if they have to worry about whether it’s bugged?”

Both techniques for distributing compromised phones raise human rights concerns for a broader range of smartphone users, including peaceful activists whose groups may be at risk of government monitoring and non-suspects who may obtain the compromised phones. They also prompt questions about what rights protections the government is applying if the tactic remains in use.

The DEA’s use of the first technique is revealed in court documents filed in 2012 and 2014 during the prosecution in southern California of an alleged drug ring. The traffickers included John Krokos, a Canadian citizen whom the authorities believed was involved in smuggling cocaine between the US, Mexico, and Canada. In early 2010, Krokos and some of his associates began buying encrypted BlackBerry devices from a source in California without realizing she was an undercover DEA agent, as first reported by the Arizona Daily Sun and Vancouver Sun but examined here in detail for the first time. The US also used an undercover law enforcement agent to sell Krokos’ ring some encrypted BlackBerry devices in Mexico in late 2009, although that agent’s institutional affiliation is unclear.

After members of Krokos’ ring were arrested, the government revealed that it had held encryption “keys” allowing it to decode messages agents intercepted from the devices. An affidavit indicates that the intercepted communications included the content of emails.

A court filing suggests that from at least mid-2010, agents obtained wiretap warrants for the real-time monitoring of the compromised devices. However, the available documents do not mention whether a court authorized the dissemination of the devices at the outset. The DEA also attempted to prevent the suspects from buying non-compromised encrypted BlackBerry devices from other sellers, including by arranging for shipments of such devices to be intercepted in Mexico.

The available documents do not suggest that BlackBerry knew about these activities. In response to a request for comment, BlackBerry told Human Rights Watch that it had no involvement in the Krokos investigation. It said customers purchasing BlackBerry devices – in this case, apparently the US government – receive the keys to the encryption used on those individual devices.

The company further stated that it does not possess copies of the encryption keys for the devices it produces and therefore would not have been able to provide them to the government, even in response to a court order. Control over a device’s encryption key is solely in the hands of the customer, the company said.

The DEA declined to comment on these issues due to ongoing proceedings arising from the Krokos investigation.

Ensuring that it holds encryption “keys” to decode communications may not be the only way US law enforcement may make a phone vulnerable before selling or giving it to a suspect. This possibility is illustrated by a previously unreported May 20, 2015 email between personnel at Hacking Team, an Italian firm that has sold surveillance technology to governments. The message, which has no known connection to the Krokos investigation, suggests that the government may seek to infect phones with surveillance software before agents distribute these devices to suspects (or cause others to do the same). A later Justice Department letter to Congress reported by Motherboard acknowledged this technique, but the Hacking Team email raises new questions about the method’s scale and details.

BlackBerry responded to Human Rights Watch’s request for comment regarding the May 2015 Hacking Team email by stating that it had had no involvement with Hacking Team and that its analysis had not revealed any compromise of the security of its platform by the surveillance company.

The US government’s policies for secretly distributing devices it has compromised by obtaining encryption keys or installing surveillance tools largely remain unknown. Documents the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) disclosed in 2011 mention seeking a warrant explicitly for a “two-step” process of installing a spying mechanism on a US computer and then carrying out surveillance, but it is unclear whether the DEA has adopted similar standard procedures for the measures it has used or considered.

Under international human rights law, all surveillance methods that interfere with privacy should be authorized by clear, publicly available laws; be subject to approval by a court or other independent body for specific purposes such as protecting public safety or national security; and be proportionate to those aims. Undermining the security of devices to conduct surveillance could have long-term repercussions for privacy, including for people other than the original intended surveillance targets, making it all the more important for the Justice Department to disclose its policies regarding these tactics.

“These are intrusive investigative methods with potentially far-reaching rights consequences in the US and globally,” St.Vincent said. “The Justice Department should disclose its policies for spreading vulnerable devices around, whether in the US or elsewhere – and Congress and the courts should be vigilant in preventing potential abuses.”

Comments by experts and former officials interviewed about the subject and further details regarding the documents located by Human Rights Watch are provided below.

Encryption, Surveillance Authorization, and Human Rights

Encryption is a technique for encoding the content of communications in a manner that makes them unreadable by anyone who lacks the “key” to decode them. Journalists, human rights activists, and millions of others worldwide regularly use encrypted communications – sometimes without realizing it, since some applications and devices employ encryption by default.

Where surveillance is concerned, international human rights law requires any government that interferences with privacy or correspondence to comply with domestic and international law. The measure must also be limited to what is necessary and proportionate to achieving a legitimate aim. Surveillance should be authorized by a court or other body that is independent of the law enforcement, intelligence, or other agency implementing the surveillance. In the United States, the surveillance of the content of telephone or electronic communications is generally subject to a requirement that authorities obtain a judicial warrant in advance based on strict criteria.

Experts’, Former Officials’ Assessments

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, former DEA attorney Robert Spelke, who retired from the Justice Department in 2011, recalled that DEA agents had deliberately disseminated satellite phones to drug trafficking organizations in Colombia through confidential informants approximately 10 years ago during operations with which he was personally familiar.

In Spelke’s recollection, the DEA was able to track the location of these phones – although he did not suggest that the phones’ technical security had been compromised. Human Rights Watch was unable to corroborate the use of this method in Colombia, although the May 2015 Hacking Team email said the DEA has expressed a particular interest in “the ability to know the geographic location of [a] device, and its user.”

“If a DEA agent has a connection into a drug organization and [the agency] can get the phones into them,” then it would do so, Spelke said. In Colombia, he recalled, “We were getting sat[ellite] phones to captains of go-fast [drug-running] boats, and we gave phones to some other people who were in the jungle.” He indicated that the DEA would have obtained warrants or court orders in any relevant countries.

Former DEA Special Agent Bobby Kimbrough, who retired from the agency in 2016, told Human Rights Watch he was not aware of any distribution of compromised devices. However, he suggested that investigative technology exists that should largely remain unrevealed to protect agents’ safety. He said that for the DEA to be able to “do what the taxpayers pay the agents to do – and that is secure, stop, and apprehend those that engage in the illegal drug trade – sometimes the technology is not commonly known or commonly used.”

However, US courts will typically prohibit the prosecution from using evidence obtained through techniques that broke the law, meaning that the use of a legally questionable investigative method can undermine the government’s case. Kimbrough said DEA agents – whom he emphasized do “a very dangerous job” – take pains to do everything legally so as not to risk such consequences. “It would be a sad day to put over a year or two years into an operation … and have done something to break the rules and have it be for naught,” he said. He emphasized that an agent would always obtain advance confirmation from a US government attorney that a technology was legal to use, to avoid the risk of negative legal repercussions.

Notwithstanding this caution, the distribution of surveillance-ready devices raises difficult questions under current US law and multiple human rights concerns.

Jumana Musa, director of the Fourth Amendment Center at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, declined to comment on the Krokos case – some aspects of which remain ongoing – but expressed broader doubts about the legality of agents’ dissemination of compromised phones unless a judge has already issued a wiretap warrant.

“If they’re going to be in a position of putting in somebody’s hands a device that would give them the ability to listen to people’s real-time communications, then the bare minimum is that they need to get a warrant” for real-time wiretapping, Musa said, observing that such warrants are only issued under exceptionally strict standards to prevent abuses. “You don’t set up a wiretap before you get the wiretap order.”

Even if authorized by a warrant, the dissemination of vulnerable devices could create a risk of significant harm. Riana Pfefferkorn, a cryptography fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, told Human Rights Watch it would be “frightening to use a wiretap order to authorize seeding compromised devices among people.” She suggested that anyone who might accept such a tactic when the targets are suspected drug traffickers should consider a hypothetical scenario in which agents secretly gave such non-secure devices to “journalists or activists.”

The existence of this technique might also “make people suspicious of using the products that are out there for protecting themselves,” Pfefferkorn added.

Hamid Khan, campaign coordinator Stop LAPD Spying, a grassroots coalition that has investigated law enforcement and privacy issues in Los Angeles (the area where the Krokos investigation took place), told Human Rights Watch that any warrantless distribution of compromised phones “completely throws due process out the window” and should be viewed in the broader context of an investigative environment that “flips innocent until proven guilty on its head.”

The United States has a lengthy history of excessive surveillance of minority communities, and Khan suggested that the larger issue of surveillance’s impact on “the most vulnerable populations” should be kept in mind as methods evolve.

The Krokos Investigation

Government filings say that in 2009, the DEA began investigating John Krokos, a Canadian citizen whom the authorities described as part of an international cocaine trafficking ring. Investigators regarded encrypted communications using BlackBerry devices as integral to Krokos’ operation. In late 2009, an undercover source began selling encrypted BlackBerry devices (EBDs) to Krokos and his associates, and US law enforcement soon began a multi-year period of intercepting communications that the traffickers believed were encrypted and would therefore be unintelligible if captured by authorities.

In response to a 2013 motion by one of Krokos’ co-defendants, Zaid Wakil, to suppress evidence in the case due to alleged constitutional violations, prosecutors filed a declaration stating that a DEA special agent had initially posed as a drug buyer to infiltrate the suspected trafficking ring “but subsequently posed as a person who could supply encrypted [B]lackberry devices … to the group.”

The declaration noted that the agent went on to meet with one of Krokos’ suspected associates “on multiple occasions in Southern California to supply EBDs” and that “[t]he exchanges typically occurred in parking lots in Southern California” – including the parking lot of a Home Depot in the West Hills area of Los Angeles. Undercover sales of the devices to Krokos’ ring had also taken place in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico the previous year.

The declaration suggests that at some point after the phones had been sold to the suspected traffickers, “agents applied for and obtained orders for the wiretap interception of the EBDs” and other devices with which the users communicated. The earliest orders for real-time wiretapping mentioned in the documents examined by Human Rights Watch date to mid-2010, although the government had previously obtained search warrants for historical communications sent and received by the devices.

“I believe that, since the EBDs had encryption technology on them, Krokos felt relatively safe in communicating over the devices,” a Homeland Security Investigations special agent wrote in the declaration.

The agent went on to state that “[i]n fact, law enforcement had the encryption software ‘keys’ to the devices and was able to intercept communications over them.”

An affidavit by the undercover DEA agent who sold the BlackBerry devices in California also describes repeated efforts by the agency to prevent the suspected traffickers from obtaining non-compromised devices from vendors, including by arranging for shipments of such devices to be intercepted in Mexico.

Krokos and several of his associates were ultimately convicted of federal offenses related to the drug trafficking conspiracy. Wakil’s prosecution remains ongoing.

Parallel Construction – Keeping Evidence Secret

Krokos’ co-defendant Wakil ultimately became the subject of a US government attempt to engage in “parallel construction” – a controversial method for concealing investigative sources and methods from defendants. In January, Human Rights Watch published an investigative report on parallel construction concluding that the practice violates rights.

The parallel construction method in Wakil’s case involved a request from DEA agents to Arizona police to find a reason to conduct a “traffic stop” of Wakil’s rental car. An Arizona officer subsequently stopped the car on the grounds that it lacked a license plate and had an illegal windshield attachment. However, authorities did not disclose in the Arizona state-level prosecution that a DEA agent had placed a secret “slap-on” GPS tracking device on Wakil’s rental car without getting a warrant; this warrantless tracking violated Arizona law at the time, and the US Supreme Court has since ruled that it is unconstitutional throughout the country.

The prosecutors in the state court also did not disclose the interceptions of communications from compromised devices, which were part of the chain of investigative steps that had led the DEA to suspect Wakil of being involved in drug trafficking. At the state level, Wakil was convicted of narcotics trafficking.

The interceptions and unlawful GPS tracking came to light during the prosecution of Wakil in federal court for offenses stemming from the same activities. An Arizona judge went on to vacate Wakil’s state-court conviction. However, while as a matter of policy US defendants often are not prosecuted in both state and federal court for the same acts, the law does not strictly prohibit such successive prosecutions and the federal proceedings against Wakil remained in progress at the time of publication.

Other California Investigations

Human Rights Watch has identified another federal drug investigation from approximately the same period as the Krokos sting, and the same California jurisdiction, in which indictments refer to the suspects’ extensive use of encrypted BlackBerry communications. The indictments in the resulting cases, United States v. Alvarez and United States v. Higgins, go on to describe the content of communications within the alleged rings, and a government filing suggests that “email intercepts” were used in the investigation. However, the available court records do not clarify whether federal agents had distributed compromised devices and/or were decrypting intercepted conversations.

While inconclusive, these documents raise questions about whether the technique employed in the Krokos case has been used more widely.

The Hacking Team Email

In July 2015, a large number of internal emails belonging to Hacking Team were leaked, and a searchable database is now available on WikiLeaks. An email Hacking Team’s operations manager sent on May 20, 2015 provides notes from what he describes as a meeting with “the DEA Team,” including procurement and technical officials, two days earlier.

The email’s author indicated that the DEA was infecting “a large number of phones” with Hacking Team’s software and then “work[ing] to circulate these phones within target organizations” of suspected drug traffickers, although he noted that the agents wanted to be able to use the malware’s capabilities “[o]nly when a person of interest in the [target] organization begins to use one of the phones.”

The email said the DEA wanted to buy the monitoring software for “perhaps 1,000” phones and that while agents “showed high interest in BlackBerry 10, as it is widely used in Latin America where they operate,” they were “looking at all the options possible to infect Android and iPhones as well.”

The Hacking Team emails available through WikiLeaks do not appear to confirm whether the DEA made this purchase. Hacking Team did not respond to a request for comment regarding the May 20, 2015 e-mail prior to publication, and the DEA declined to comment, citing pending judicial matters.

In July 2015, after the breach of Hacking Team’s emails publicly revealed a longstanding relationship between the company and the DEA, the Justice Department wrote a letter to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee stating that Hacking Team’s surveillance application could be installed either “remotely” or “through physical access” to a device.

The letter, which has previously been reported, describes the use of this technique outside the United States, explaining that agents of a country that hosted the DEA would “provide the targeted devices” and that the DEA would then install Hacking Team’s software before handing the devices back “to be given to … foreign-based drug traffickers and money launderers.” The letter said this activity occurred in 16 instances under foreign court orders, and that the software was “used to collect real-time written communications … and location information.”

In the same letter, the Justice Department said the DEA had “recently” cancelled its contract with Hacking Team, although it did not disavow the technique it had described.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 10:00 am

“Angela,” 20, walks with her son near her home after returning from school in Migori county, western Kenya. She is a Form 4 student at a girls-only school. Angela became pregnant when her trainee teacher offered to pay some of her primary school fees in return for sex. Her father tried to marry her off to suitors after she gave birth, but Angela’s mother fought against this and supported her return to school. She wants to go to college and study nursing.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Representatives of the Catholic church in Eastern Africa will meet in Addis Ababa later this week to discuss “vibrant diversity, equal dignity, and peaceful unity” in the region.

A good place to start would be to change the way the Church treats pregnant teenagers.

Last year, in Tanzania, leaders of the Catholic church openly supported the government’s ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending school. Archbishop Damian Denis Dally stated that allowing young mothers in school “is not part of African culture.”

In Zambia, Catholic schools – including those that are financially supported by the government – reject the government's school re-entry policy for young mothers and to allow pregnant girls to attend. They often force students who become teenage moms to transfer to other schools.

East African church leaders should take the opportunity this week to reaffirm their commitments under the African Union’s call to “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.” This should include a resounding commitment to abandon all policies or practices that discriminate against pregnant girls and young mothers.

These leaders should remember there are many complex reasons why teenage girls get pregnant – including a government’s failure to protect girls from sexual violence in and around schools. Pregnant girls often face discrimination, punishment, and exclusion. Pregnant students and teenage moms are often left behind when they most need support from their schools, families, and communities. Turning their backs on these girls will only worsen their situation.

In Burundi and Tanzania, governments have chosen to deny pregnant girls their right to education. But they are a minority. Ensuring teenage moms of school-going-age stay in school has broad support across Africa, including in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia. Our report, Leave No Girl Behind in Africa, shows that many countries have adopted policies or legislation to protect a girl’s right to education regardless of pregnancy, motherhood, or marriage status. In doing so, a large group of countries have demonstrated that keeping all girls in school is the right thing to do.

Catholic leaders in East Africa should not support policies or practices that leave the most vulnerable girls in East Africa behind. That’s what “equal dignity” means.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 5:00 am

A supporter of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) uses a mobile phone to photograph a portrait of CPP president Hun Sen during an election campaign in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 7, 2018.
© 2018 Reuters/Samrang Pring
(New York) – Cambodian military officers, gendarmes, and police officers are actively campaigning for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in violation of Cambodia’s law requiring political neutrality, Human Rights Watch said today. Cambodia is holding national elections on July 29, 2018, in an environment in which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been dissolved, its president Kem Sokha has been detained, and its founder Sam Rainsy has been forced into exile.

Senior members of the security forces have endorsed Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP at numerous public rallies and other events throughout Cambodia. Article 9 of the Law on the General Status of Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) states that “military personnel shall be neutral in their functions and work activities, and the use of functions/titles and the state’s materials for any political activities shall be prohibited.”

“To win a sham election, it is not enough for the ruling CPP to ban the opposition, control all election institutions and maintain a chokehold on the media,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Apparently the CPP thinks it also needs to deploy some of the country’s most feared generals to campaign and intimidate people into going to the polls.”

To win a sham election it is not enough for the ruling CPP to ban the opposition, control all election institutions and maintain a chokehold on the media.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

According to local media reports, since the official campaign period started on July 7. Gen. Sao Sokha, acting supreme commander of the Cambodian military, campaigned for the CPP, told attendees on July 8 at a Buddhist pagoda in Kandal province that “under the wise leadership of Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia, our country has developed everywhere in the country, including roads, bridges, canals, schools, hospitals, etc.”

  • Gen. Hing Bun Heang, who was recently sanctioned for human rights violations by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act, spoke to an estimated 1,000 teachers at a CPP rally on July 8. He spoke to the crowd about the “whole nation's development and peace throughout the country under the wise leadership of Samdech Techo Hun Sen as the head of government and president of the Cambodian People's Party,” and called for those assembled to vote for the CPP.
  • Lt. Gen. Rat Sreang, deputy commander of the national gendarmerie and commander of the Phnom Penh gendarmerie, led a CPP team on July 8 in Phnom Penh to “explain to the people how to vote correctly.”

Human Rights Watch has received reports of many other senior members of the security forces campaigning for Hun Sen and the CPP before the official campaign period began on July 7, in violation of Cambodian law:

  • Gen. Hun Manet, son of Hun Sen, who was recently promoted to be acting commander in chief of RCAF, campaigned for the CPP on July 2.
  • Gen. Meas Sophea, deputy commander in chief of RCAF, inducted CPP members and called for a CPP election victory while campaigning in Preah Vihear province on June 15.
  • Chap Pheakdey, deputy army commander and Brigade 911 commander, campaigned for the CPP and Hun Sen in Svay Rieng province on June 17.
  • Kun Kim, RCAF deputy supreme commander, campaigned for the CPP in Oddar Meanchey province on June 23 and June 26.
  • Pol Saroeun, RCAF supreme commander, made a campaign trip to Preah Sihanouk province and introduced CPP candidates for election, with himself as number one on the list, on June 24 and again on July 1.
  • Chuon Sovan, National Police deputy supreme commissioner, presided over CPP campaigning in Pea Reang district of Prey Veng province on June 16.

The list of CPP candidates for seats in the election includes active-duty high-ranking military, gendarmerie, and police officers who have helped maintain Hun Sen’s continued rule since he became prime minister in 1985. These include Pol Saroeun, Meas Sophea, and Kun Kim, along with Lt. Gen. Dy Vichea, deputy chief of the National Police and Hun Sen’s son-in-law.

Guidelines promulgated in 2016 by the Venice Commission and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights state that “the non-involvement of judges, prosecutors, police, military, and auditors of political competitors in their official capacity in electoral campaigning is of essential importance. Concrete measures should ensure such official neutrality throughout the entire electoral processes.”

“Basic democratic principles require the political neutrality of the military and police for elections to be free, fair, and credible,” Adams said. “But nothing about this election is democratic, so it is hardly a surprise that the CPP is using senior commanders as ruling party campaigners. Foreign governments that have poured billions of dollars into Cambodia over the past decades to promote democracy should protest this blatant abuse of the electoral process.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 13, 2018, 12:00 am

UPDATE: On July 13, 2018, the UN Security Council voted to adopt a resolution extending the sanctions regime in South Sudan, imposing sanctions on two additional individuals and for the first time imposing a globally enforceable arms embargo on weapons sales and transfers to the country.

(New York,  July 12, 2018) - “How can I forget the sight of an old man whose throat was slit with a knife before being set afire?” a 14-year-old girl was quoted as saying in a new United Nations report, laying bare the suffering of South Sudan’s civilians at the hands their own government.

The report, by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), documents murder, rape, and other abuses by South Sudan’s soldiers and armed groups during an April-May military campaign in southern Unity state.

This new information underlines the need for the UN Security Council, which meets tomorrow, to finally level an arms embargo against South Sudan.

Many abuses in the report appear to be war crimes, and are consistent with previous abuses perpetrated during offensives documented by Human Rights Watch. In one attack, a 20-year-old woman – who had delivered a baby just three days earlier – described being raped by a government soldier.

In late May, a frustrated Security Council sent a powerful warning to the warring parties. Extending the UN sanctions regime, the council also said it would impose further sanctions and an arms embargo by July if the fighting between the parties continued and there was still no viable political agreement.

Fast forward to late June, when South Sudan’s leaders – under increasing pressure from the international community – signed another peace deal to end the nearly five-year long war. However, as has happened before, the parties broke the ceasefire within hours of signing it. Moreover, a June 29 letter to the council’s president from the UN secretary-general said the peacekeeping mission had documented “gross violations” in June.

Now, the Security Council has an opportunity to turn its warnings into decisive action. It should impose both individual sanctions and a long overdue arms embargo on the country, which through reducing the flow of weapons can mitigate risk of harm to civilians.

Instead of being drawn in by the latest political maneuvers from South Sudanese leaders, the council should address the suffering of South Sudan’s civilians. They’re the ones who need an arms embargo now.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 12, 2018, 11:14 pm

A worker tends to chickens at a farm in Thailand. 

© 2007 Sukree Sukplang / Reuters
In an important verdict for the protection of labor rights and freedom of expression in Thailand, a magistrates court in Bangkok on Wednesday acquitted 14 Burmese migrant workers of criminal defamation charges for filing a complaint against their employer with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).

The court found the workers had filed their complaint in good faith in order to protect their rights, as guaranteed by the Thai constitution and international conventions.

In their complaint to the NHRCT in July 2016, the workers alleged that the Thammakaset chicken farm in Lopburi province had subjected them to grueling work conditions, including forced labor. Three months later Thammakaset responded with a criminal defamation complaint against the workers as well as a labor rights activist from the Migrant Worker Rights Network, contending that the complaints had damaged the company’s reputation.

Disappointingly, the NHRCT took no action to support the right of the workers to bring grievances against the company.

Human Rights Watch, along with a growing number of states and international bodies, seeks the abolition of criminal defamation laws because individuals should not face imprisonment for the purpose of protecting reputations.

In May, six United Nations human rights experts called on Thailand – where defamation laws have frequently been used to retaliate against whistleblowers who report labor abuses – to revise its laws and prosecution processes to prevent the “misuse of defamation legislation by companies.” But the Thai government has yet to do so.  

This verdict should serve as a wake-up call for the Thai government to take concrete measures to ensure fair treatment of workers in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It should also serve notice to the NHRCT to end their weak performance and step up to protect the integrity of its complaint process by speaking out against abusive criminal defamation cases.

Thailand should be investigating and ending labor rights abuses, instead of ignoring retaliation against victims, whistleblowers, and human rights defenders.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 12, 2018, 3:51 pm

The Indian government’s plan to develop a national registry of sexual offenders is raising a slew of concerns, from data breaches to violations of privacy protections, including for individuals who were never convicted of a sexual offense.

Schoolgirls participate in a protest rally against the rape of two teenage girls in Chatra and Pakur districts of Jharkhand state, in Ranchi, India May 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The proposed national database – the government issued a call for bids in May – will store the name, photo, fingerprints, and personal details of all arrested, charged, and convicted of sexual offenses, including children. The information on convicted offenders will be public while law enforcement agencies will have access to the rest. It will categorize the individuals as “low,” “moderate,” or “high risk.”

Whether a person gets added to the sex registry can depend on laws that are archaic and open to misuse to arbitrarily classify suspects.

Those deemed “low danger” and “not likely to engage in criminal sexual conduct” will include everyone arrested, charged, and convicted of “Technical Rape,” a term often used by law enforcement to describe consensual sexual activity involving a girl under 18 years old. This means a boy who has consensual sex could be recorded in the database if someone, including the parents of the girl, filed criminal charges. This tier would also include section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes adult consensual same-sex relations, whose constitutionality is currently before the Supreme Court.

The record on those deemed “a moderate danger” would include those arrested, charged, or convicted under sections 67 and 67A of the Information Technology Act, which criminalize the publication and distribution of obscene and sexually explicit material, vague legal provisions that are repeatedly misused by police.

If the rape or sexual assault victim is under 12 years of age, an arrested, charged, or convicted offender will be categorized as “serious danger” likely to continue to “engage in criminal sexual conduct.”

A data breach or even rumors of possible inclusion in the registry is especially dangerous at a time when vigilante violence is on the rise. At least 24 people have been killed across India over rumors of kidnapping children in the past six months, while several have been attacked for inter-religious or inter-caste consensual relationships. This has been a problem elsewhere: in the United States there have been several instances of vigilante violence, including killings, of sex offenders listed in public registries, and in the UK in 2001 when a newspaper published details of convicted sexual offenders.

There is no silver bullet that can fix the complex problem of sexual violence in India. But the government should focus on supporting sexual violence survivors to ensure they can report crimes and receive justice without being stigmatized and threatened, and ensuring a system that provides them protection, legal aid, and adequate medical care. A poorly designed registry with inadequate safeguards will do little to advance change.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 12, 2018, 9:14 am

A man walks down a street at Codrington on the island of Barbuda, October 7, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
(Washington, DC) – A draft law before the Antigua and Barbuda Senate would deprive Barbudans of communal land where they have lived for generations, Human Rights Watch said today. The Antigua and Barbuda government should consult with the people of Barbuda to determine the impact of repealing communal land ownership on their human rights, and to reach an agreement that fully respects and safeguards those rights.

Since 1834, when the British emancipated their slaves, Barbudans as a community have owned all their island’s land. Barbuda, the smaller of the two biggest islands of Antigua and Barbuda, with a population of approximately 2,000, codified this long-existing communal ownership in 2007 in the Barbuda Land Act. The law states, “All land in Barbuda shall be owned in common by the people of Barbuda,” and, “No land in Barbuda shall be sold.”

“A change in land ownership in Barbuda could harm Barbuda’s most vulnerable people, including women, children, and the elderly,” said Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher on women and land at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to consult with Barbudans before any such drastic change to make sure that their rights are protected.”

Barbudans who oppose the change have for months been battling Prime Minister Gaston Browne, a businessman from Antigua, over communal ownership. Browne wants to repeal the Barbuda Land Act to open the palm-fringed island to foreign investment to ease post-Hurricane Irma recovery. With only one of 19 members of the House of Representatives representing Barbuda, the House passed the repeal bill on May 3, 2018. It is now before the Senate.

If the Senate passes it, Barbudans have retained a law firm to challenge it in court.

Browne has called the Barbuda Land Act unconstitutional – and denigrated Barbudans who defend it to the media as “deracinated Imbeciles, Ignorant [sic] elements.”

Lawmakers had already weakened the Land Act. In 2017, a set of amendments watering down protections related to communal ownership sped through both the House and the Senate. Barbudans who opposed the changes urgently sought the intervention of Antigua and Barbuda’s High Court and lost.

Proponents of those amendments – and this year’s repeal effort – assert that Barbudans do not actually own the land, that collective tenure is not viable, and that individual freehold – in which the individual will have rights only to the land they use and not common areas – is the only route to modernity. These arguments gathered force after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in September 2017. Repeal advocates contend that Barbudans need to own only the land on which their individual homes and businesses sit to get the loans needed to rebuild.

However, there is no evidence that Barbudans have been previously denied such help or would be unable to access necessary recovery financing from the World Bank as a community, in accordance with their communal ownership.

Opponents contend repealing communal ownership is unlawful and that the government should consult Barbudans on any changes to their communal land structure.

“The Barbuda and Antigua government should introduce safeguards to protect in full residents’ rights in the event of a repeal,” Nnoko-Mewanu said. “If the Barbuda Land Act is to disappear, it cannot be arbitrary and needs to happen on Barbudans’ terms, with their rights guaranteed.”

Approximately half the world’s land mass is subject to some sort of communal ownership, and almost a third of the world’s population – some 2.5 billion people – live on such land. Fourteen countries in Africa enshrine community-owned land in their laws, and seven more are debating doing so. China has a million rural cooperatives that hold land in common for the use of the people who live on it.

Globally, investors frequently seek to wrest valuable pieces of community-owned land into private ownership to extract natural resources or develop the land for industry or tourism, although those who once held the land in common usually only get minimal benefits. Weak protections for customary and indigenous lands expose the most vulnerable groups, such as women and children, to human rights violations.

Research from Human Rights Watch in Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Mozambique has consistently shown that taking away land used by communities – without due process and without adequate compensation and rehabilitation – results in serious risks to people’s rights to food, water, housing, health, and education.

“Barbuda may be small, but the rights of its people are as important as anyone else’s,” Nnoko-Mewanu said. “The government shouldn’t shortchange the people it is supposed to serve by snatching their land out from under them.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 12, 2018, 9:03 am