Today, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization – a global event to raise awareness about the limitations that abusive and discriminatory medical models place on transgender people’s basic rights.

Participants March during the Tokyo Rainbow Parade. On October 22, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization. Despite progress, governments around the world, including the Japanese government, propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people "mentally ill."

©2015 Reuters/Thomas Peter

Transgender activists are fighting a tide of stigma and discrimination, with roots deeply entwined in a medical system that has historically diagnosed this very desire to change as a mental health condition. It’s currently referred to as “gender dysphoria” in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual and as “gender identity disorders” in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.

Despite progress in countries such as Malta, Norway, Argentina, and Nepal, governments around the world propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people “mentally ill.”

For example, transgender people who want to change the gender on personal documents in Kazakhstan are required to undergo surgical procedures, hormone therapy, and a humiliating “evaluation” interview before a commission of “experts.” Japanese law requires a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and then mandates surgical procedures and hormonal interventions, even if the person doesn’t want them.

Healthcare professionals have an important role providing care for transgender people, free from discrimination and to the highest standard possible. But the process for legal recognition of gender identity should be separate from any medical interventions. In 2015, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health called on governments to “eliminate unnecessary barriers and to institute simple and accessible administrative procedures for transgender people to obtain legal recognition of gender.”

The World Health Organization is considering major changes to its revised version of the International Classification of Diseases, due out in 2018, in the hopes of significantly transforming the way physicians around the world code and categorize transgender people’s experiences. The proposed revisions would move transgender-related diagnoses out of the mental disorders chapter and into a new sexual health chapter – an important step. Human rights issues, such as legal recognition, should be separate from any medical interventions. But if someone’s personal transition process requires medical support, those services should be available and accessible.

All governments should commit to the core principle that they will not decide for people who they are.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 21, 2017, 6:00 am

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Wednesday approved a US$500 million loan for a crucial piece of a network of pipelines owned largely by the Azerbaijani government that will transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe. The bank made this decision even though an international oil and gas transparency initiative, endorsed by the bank, recently suspended Azerbaijan because the government would not end its crackdown on civil society groups.

Oil derricks are silhouetted against the rising sun on an oilfield in Baku, on January 24, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters
The bank’s decision was expected earlier this year, but was delayed when Azerbaijan was suspended from, and then quit, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March. EITI is a coalition of governments, corporations, and independent groups that promotes better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about how oil, gas, and mining revenues are used. The EBRD has endorsed EITI and is also the only multilateral development bank that has a political mandate, which includes the principles of “multiparty democracy and pluralism.”

The bank appeared to minimize the systematic dismantling of the country’s once vibrant civil society through the arrests and convictions of dozens of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists on bogus, politically motivated charges, as well as the closing of independent media outlets. The crackdown did not spare anti-corruption activists, such as Ilgar Mammadov, a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s gas industry who had been actively involved in promoting revenue transparency. He’s been in prison for nearly five years on politically motivated charges. The EBRD knew this was happening since at least 2014 when its country strategy for Azerbaijan explicitly acknowledged Azerbaijan’s poor record on meeting its human rights commitments.

The bank claims Azerbaijan will still follow principles of transparency akin to EITI, but this is difficult to fathom given the crackdown on civil society and new allegations of massive corruption. The bank’s decision came just weeks after investigative reporting in The Guardian alleged that Azerbaijan maintained a secret slush fund of about US$2.9 billion that it used over a two-year period to bribe European politicians, including to help whitewash the government’s human rights record. Among those implicated in the scandal is one of the bank’s board members.

The Azerbaijani government is eager to get the pipeline funded. The EBRD could have used its leverage for much-needed reforms. Instead, its endorsement of transparency rings hollow.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 20, 2017, 10:09 pm

A poison hazard danger sign is seen in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province, Syria on April 5, 2017.

© 2017 Abdussamed Dagul/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(New York) – Russia should not block the extension of the inquiry into who is responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today.

The mandate for the inquiry, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), will expire on November 17, 2017, even though it has yet to investigate several alleged chemical attacks in Syria. The United States has circulated a draft resolution at the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the joint UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry for another year. But Russia has threatened to block the renewal, citing concerns over the inquiry’s upcoming report on one attack.

“Russia is basically holding the inquiry’s continued work hostage to its findings on a specific attack,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “There’s a word for that – blackmail.”

Thoroughly investigating these reports is crucial because they suggest a clear pattern of nerve agent use. A Russian veto would effectively prevent a credible investigation into who was responsible for this and other similar attacks.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism is expected to release on October 26 its report on an April 4 chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, a town in northern Syria, which killed about 90 civilians. While investigations by the UN-mandated Syria Commission of Inquiry and Human Rights Watch have concluded that the evidence strongly indicate government responsibility for the attack, Russian officials have claimed that armed anti-government groups were most likely behind the attack.

In a briefing on October 13, the Russian ambassador to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Mikhail Ulyanov, said, based on a transcript posted on the website of Russia’s mission to the UN: “We are going to review [the Khan Sheikhoun report] in most carefully to determine the quality of its work moreover since in November the UNSC will have to determine whether it is appropriate to further extend the JIM mandate. [sic]”

A Russian veto of the mandate extension would be inconsistent with Russian officials’ past statements about the importance of investigating chemical weapons use, Human Rights Watch said. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have on multiple occasions condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and have insisted on a full and impartial investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack to find and punish those responsible.

 “The JIM’s October report is the result of the impartial investigation that Russia has called for,” Solvang said. “There is no point calling for an independent investigation if you are going to kill it for reaching conclusions you do not like.”

Russia supported the creation of the JIM and the extension of its mandate in the past, but has become increasingly critical of its work after the investigation attributed responsibility for three chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 to the Syrian government.

Russia has twice used its veto to block Security Council resolutions related to chemical weapons use in Syria. In February 2017, Russia, together with China, vetoed a resolution imposing sanctions on Syria after the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015. In April, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the attack in Khan Sheikhoun and expressing the Security Council’s determination to hold those responsible for the attack accountable.

The Syrian government’s repeated and systematic use of chemical weapons poses an unprecedented threat to the global ban on chemical weapons, which, with 192 member states for the Chemical Weapons Convention, is the strongest ban on a weapon in international law. An official investigation to identify those responsible for such attacks serves as a crucial deterrent and a basis for Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and UN Security Council action to hold those responsible for attacks accountable and prevent future attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

Other countries should uphold the norm against the use of chemical weapons by urging Russia not to block the extension of this crucial investigation. As a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia should ensure that it is not facilitating violations by another party to the convention, namely Syria.

As of September 15, 2017, 114 countries have endorsed the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, pledging not to vote against a credible draft resolution aimed at preventing or ending serious crimes under international law, as well as supporting timely Security Council action to address such grave abuses. Further highlighting global momentum in favor of restraint in using a Security Council veto, 96 countries support a French and Mexican initiative calling for permanent Security Council members to voluntarily pledge not to use the veto in situations of mass atrocities.

The UN Security Council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism in August 2015 “to identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons…in the Syrian Arab Republic.” At the time, Russia said the establishment of the JIM would close the gap in identifying those responsible for the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria. An OPCW Fact-Finding Mission has the mandate to determine whether chemical weapons are used in Syria, but does not have the mandate to determine who used them.

In reports in August and October 2016, the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons in three attacks and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) for one. The UN Security Council extended the mandate twice, in October 2016 and November 2016.

There is plenty more work for the JIM, Human Rights Watch said. In a July report, the OPCW said that the fact-finding mission was investigating the most credible allegations among 60 incidents of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. In one of those cases, an attack near the town of al-Lataminah on March 30, five days before the Khan Sheikhoun attack, it has already confirmed the use of sarin, a deadly nerve agent. When its report is finalized, it will send the case to the JIM so it can seek to identify who is responsible for the attack.

Human Rights Watch concluded in a report in May that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons had become widespread and systematic and could amount to crimes against humanity.

Russia has been much less critical of the JIM’s finding that ISIS used chemical weapons. For example, commenting on the August 2016 JIM report that found that both the Syrian government and ISIS had used chemical weapons, the Russian ambassador to the UN told reporters that he had “very serious questions” about the two cases the investigation attributed to the Syrian government, but he was pleased the report had confirmed that ISIS had used chemical weapons. The investigation appears to have applied the same methodology to investigate all of these incidents.

“If Russia blocks the renewal of this mandate, it is hard to see how those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria would not take that as a green light to continue using chemical weapons,” Solvang said. “Blocking the renewal mandate would send a message to other members of the Chemical Weapons Convention that ignoring the ban on these weapons is perfectly fine.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 20, 2017, 4:30 pm

When Sibongile Ndashe, a South African feminist lawyer, got on a plane to travel to Tanzania to convene a meeting of human rights lawyers and activists, she knew she might come under the scrutiny of Tanzanian authorities. But what she did not expect was for Tanzanian police to raid the October 17 workshop at the Peacock Hotel and arrest her and 12 of her colleagues for “promoting homosexuality.”

The 13 were hauled to a police station, where an officer granted them bail without laying formal charges.

A day later, Lazaro Mambosasa, Dar es Salaam head of police, confirmed the arrests to the press, claiming the “criminals” had violated Tanzanian law. While it is true that “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is criminalized in Tanzania under a colonial-era law, by no measure of the imagination is it a crime to hold a meeting. In fact, the meeting, which had been organized by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), a Pan African organization whose mandate is to advance women’s and sexual rights, was not even about homosexuality. Its aim was to explore the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the government’s ban on drop-in centers serving key populations at risk of HIV, as well as the ban on importation of water-based lubricants, an essential HIV prevention tool.

Inexplicably, the bail was revoked on Friday, October 20. Ndashe and her colleagues are now back in custody on unknown charges but potentially facing criminal prosecution.

The arbitrary arrest of the 13 lawyers and activists is a sign of the Tanzanian government’s increasing lack of tolerance for freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The recent arrests follow a disturbing pattern, in which several dozen people have been arrested since December 2016 for “homosexuality” or “promoting homosexuality”. In most of these cases police have not presented any evidence whatsoever suggesting that those detained have engaged in same-sex conduct.

The truth is that the lawyers and activists are not being held for promoting homosexuality, but for challenging absurd, reactionary policies that could cost many HIV positive people their lives. Tanzanian police should immediately release Sibongile and her colleagues and drop any politically motivated charges.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 20, 2017, 2:01 pm

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in London September 13, 2016. 

REUTERS/Toby Melville

A decade ago, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party declared “zero tolerance” for torture and deepened reforms aimed at eradicating torture by state agents. There were reasons for cautious optimism that this indefensible practice might be on the way out. No longer.

A government crackdown in the wake of a failed July 2016 coup has led to widespread detentions, with more than 50,000 people rounded up on suspicion of links to the coup, and human rights defenders and journalists jailed on politically motivated charges. Hand in hand with these mass detentions has been the emergence of repeated, consistent, credible allegations of serious abuse in police custody.

When it comes to such grave violations of human rights, the international community has a vital role to play in protecting Turkish citizens by seeking to influence Turkey to improve its practices.

Take the British government. It states publicly its abhorrence of torture in all its forms, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared this summer that “human rights is an essential aim of British foreign policy.” Yet he has said almost nothing about the brutal abuses in Turkey. Indeed, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided – foolishly and incomprehensibly – in issuing its annual report on human rights in July, that Turkey didn’t merit inclusion among the 30 countries identified as warranting particular concern on human rights grounds. As one of Turkey’s closest partners in Europe, the UK has a responsibility to speak out.

British Ministers and officials should start by reading the latest chilling Human Rights Watch report on torture in Turkey, published just last week. The 43-page report: “In custody: Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey” provides evidence of 11 cases of torture in detention, including police severely beating and threatening detainees, stripping them naked, and threatening or sexually assaulting them. We also documented abductions of people from the streets that have all the hallmarks of government-backed enforced disappearances. People seen as linked to the coup or with the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party are at greater risk of torture and other human rights violations.

At the very minimum, the British government should be pressing these concerns about torture and wider human rights violations at the highest levels of the Turkish government. Boris Johnson has said that a global Britain will stand for certain values in the world. What is he waiting for? If he is not prepared to challenge Turkey over torture and ill-treatment in police custody, then these words mean nothing at all.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 20, 2017, 7:15 am

(Beirut) – Apparently indiscriminate firing during fighting on October 16, 2017, in a town near Kirkuk involving the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces and various Iraqi government forces left at least 51 civilians wounded and five dead, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraqi forces in control of the town, Tuz Khurmatu, subsequently let civilians loot property unimpeded for at least a full day before taking action. Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government forces should take all feasible steps to minimize civilian casualties and prevent looting.

“Iraqi and Kurdish forces need to resolve the current crisis in ways that fully respects human rights and avoids harming civilians or their property,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Tuz Khurmatu, an ethnically mixed Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab town in the disputed territories around Kirkuk, 65 kilometers south of the city, had been under the joint control of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces, the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi,) and local police, and the scene of sporadic clashes over the last three years. Fighting again erupted on October 16, 2017, as Iraqi forces asserted control over the city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas. According to three medical workers at a Turkmen-run hospital, fighting on October 16 left five civilians dead, and 51 wounded.

Human Rights Watch spoke to three men wounded by apparent indiscriminate fire during the clashes. “Hamid,” said that at about 3:45 a.m. he, his brother, and his mother were sitting in the living room of their home in a Turkmen neighborhood when, he said, “there were two blasts all of a sudden and I lost consciousness. I woke up at about 4:30 a.m. at the hospital, bleeding from my head and the left side of my torso.”

When Hamid returned home that night, he saw two large holes in their living room roof. “I don’t know why our house was hit,” Hamid said. “There was no fighting nearby, nor any military installations that I know of.”

“Nadim,” a Turkmen living in another Turkmen neighborhood, said he was in his garden at 4 a.m. when a mortar landed next to him, hurling metal fragments into his right hand and leg. Nadim said that as the mortar landed, he saw an ongoing battle between Peshmerga forces and PMF about 300 meters from his home.

“Ammar,” a Turkmen, lives in the same neighborhood, about 500 meters from the local headquarters of the Badr Organization, one of the most prominent PMF groups. Ammar said he and his brother were wakened at 5:30 a.m. by heavy fire. Just as they went outside, a projectile landed about two meters away. Metal fragments wounded Ammar’s left hand and head, and both of his brother’s legs. Worried about continued gunfire, they stayed inside their home until 11 a.m. before fighting in the area abated and their neighbor drove them to the hospital, he said.

Human Rights Watch was unable to determine if there were casualties among Kurdish or other civilians in Tuz. Four Tuz residents said the clashes were heaviest in the Turkmen neighborhoods because of the proximity to both PMF and KRG military and security installations. Two aid workers whose organizations work in camps for displaced families in Kirkuk said there was also fighting near Laylan 2 camp, 15 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk, killing or wounding two camp residents. Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any specific civilian casualty numbers for other areas in and around Kirkuk.

On the morning of October 16, all remaining KRG forces and Kurdish residents fled Tuz Khurmatu. A resident said he visited the predominantly Kurdish northern neighborhood of al-Jumhouri, at around 4:30 p.m., and saw what he knew to be at least 10 Kurdish shops on fire. He saw two boys looting plastic building materials from another Kurdish shop nearby. He said three officers from the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s Emergency Response Division were parked 20 meters away, watching the boys without intervening. A passer-by told him that the boys were taking revenge for looting and burning of Turkmen houses and shops by Peshmerga forces and armed Kurdish civilians in 2015 and 2016.

The resident said he saw a man coming from the direction of the shops in a car loaded with TVs, computers, and other electronics. The three Emergency Response Division officers waved the man past without questioning him. The resident said another civilian in the area had told him that at around noon he had seen a group of about 10 armed civilians in the same neighborhood looting homes but avoiding a few that had “Turkmen Shia” graffitied on them.

A United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) statement on October 19 said it had received allegations that about 150 homes were burned in Tuz on October 16 and 17 “by armed groups” and another 11 destroyed by explosives. In an October 17 news conference, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi acknowledged incidents of abuse in Tuz saying he had given “strict orders to arrest anyone who endangers internal security, and attacks citizens, their property.”

In the early hours of October 18, Ataf Najar, the local head of the Badr Organization, publicly called on all civilians in Tuz to stop looting, after which local police cordoned off the largest Kurdish neighborhood. The resident who had told Human Rights Watch about looting in one Kurdish area said he was unable to return to verify that looting had stopped.

Kurdish journalists and activists shared photos of the burned-out interiors of buildings with Human Rights Watch, saying they were from the city of Kirkuk. Human Rights Watch could not find any witnesses to the looting or burning of buildings in Kirkuk. Three international journalists who visited Kirkuk on October 17 and 18 told Human Rights Watch they had seen no signs of arson or looting inside the city. One said he saw a Peshmerga military base on the road to Erbil on fire, but did not know who had started it.

Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of looting and destruction of civilian property and prosecute anyone responsible for crimes, and security forces should prevent any further looting, Human Rights Watch said.

Starting on October 16, Iraqi forces including PMF units retook other parts of the disputed territories under de facto KRG control since 2003, including Sinjar, Zummar, Rabia, Hasansham, Khazir, Dibis, Kirkuk, Taza Khurmatu, Jalawla, Khanaqin, and Mandali. The Peshmerga forces retreated after very limited engagements. Authorities should ensure the safety and security of the minority communities in these areas.

According to the United Nations, as Iraqi forces retook the areas an estimated 61,200 people fled their homes to stay with relatives in more stable areas, with some returning over the following days. Human Rights Watch did not identify any incidents of forced displacement.

On October 18, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, the Iraqi military’s communications branch, issued a statement condemning coverage by two leading Kurdish outlets, Rudaw and Kurdistan 24, saying they had “continue to mislead public opinion and accuse the security forces of baseless accusations.” The statement called on Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission to monitor the outlets and bring legal action where their coverage has “threaten[ed] the civil peace.”

Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns over the media commission and its “mandatory” guidelines, which unjustifiably restrict media freedom. The guidelines demand that media avoid making information about insurgent forces public and requires them to report on government forces only in favorable terms. Article 1 forbids media from broadcasting or publishing material that “may be interpreted as being against the security forces” and insists that they “focus on the security achievements of the armed forces, by repetition throughout the day.”

“Lashing out against media unfavorable to Baghdad undermines the same authorities who are telling Iraqis they are protecting the rights of all of them equally,” Stork said.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 20, 2017, 4:30 am

Slum houses in Hazaribagh beside an open gutter channeling untreated effluent from tanneries nearby. Local residents of Hazaribagh reported to Human Rights Watch an array of health problems—many of them undiagnosed due to the cost of medical attention—such as fevers, diarrhea, respiratory problems, and skin, stomach, and eye conditions. Dhaka, June 2012

© 2012 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch.
Pollution is a major cause of premature death, disability, and disease around the world, a new report in the medical journal Lancet said today, stressing that most health impacts are on people living in low- and middle-income countries.

The report estimates that diseases caused by pollution were responsible for approximately 9 million premature deaths in 2015 – 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease kills more than one in four people.

But pollution rarely kills people directly or quickly. Instead, it is an important cause of asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and developmental delays in children; and heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and cancer in adults.

The report challenges the oft-repeated line that pollution and disease can be addressed only when a country has industrialized and become richer. It notes that many of the pollution control strategies that have been effective in some wealthier countries – newer technologies as well as sound laws, policies, and regulations – can be adapted for countries at every income level.

It also notes that the burden of pollution is not evenly distributed within countries. Human Rights Watch’s own research has shown how pollution often disproportionately impacts marginalized populations – including ethnic minorities, the urban poor, women, children, older people, and people with a disability – who usually don’t have the means to hold governments or industry to account when their rights are violated.

Finally, the report rightly says that pollution and pollution-related disease “deserve the concentrated attention” of world leaders, civil society and health professionals. The way to do that is through improved technology, combined with legal developments, policy reform, and robust human rights interventions. If world leaders act with the urgency these issues demand, they can reduce the enormous health burden of this major global threat. 

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

Wairimu V., 65, was raped by a group of men at an IDP camp. Her husband blames her for the rape, and beats and verbally abuses her including in the presence of their children. She would like to leave her abusive husband but is worried that she will not be able to support herself. She has such severe pain in her leg, lower abdomen and back that she has to take pain killers daily; she also has vaginal bleeding and hypertension. Many sexual violence survivors are still in urgent need of medical treatment and psycho-social support. 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch research confirms that, once again, there was sexual violence against women and girls during the most recent post-election violence in Kenya. I interviewed over 50 victims and witnesses in Mathare, Kisumu, Bungoma, and Dandora. They told me about rape, gang rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, and beatings on their genitals, including by members of security forces and militia groups and civilians.

Some survivors urgently need medical treatment and counseling. Many were unable to go to health facilities because they were afraid of retaliation or stigma or did not know where to go. Given that the police themselves were the attackers in some cases, few reported these crimes.

Since the 1990s, Kenyan elections have been marred by serious human rights violations, including killings, maiming, and destruction of property. In 2007-2008, over 1,000 people were killed and half a million displaced. Sexual violence against women and girls, though less visible, has been a part of these abuses and just as devastating for victims. Men and boys, to a lesser extent, have also been targeted.

The patterns of election-related violence in Kenya suggest that there is a real threat of sexual violence in next week’s repeat election. The Kenya government needs to be ready to take urgent measures to protect women and girls and to ensure that any women and girls assaulted have access to medical treatment and can report crimes and get help from the authorities.

The government needs a credible plan to ensure that sexual assault victims get timely and quality post-rape treatment. This need is more urgent because of the ongoing strike by nurses, limiting available health personnel and facilities. Information for communities on where victims can get post-rape care, including free treatment, is crucial.

Kenyan authorities have failed rape survivors. They should take measures during the upcoming elections to protect women against rape, including by government security agents. They should ensure that there are clear codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures in place, for example, with respect to police, and raise awareness and speak against sexual violence. When rape happens, offenders should be investigated and prosecuted. Women have a right to vote without the fear of sexual violence.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2017, 11:56 am

(Berlin) – Kyrgyz President-elect Sooronbai Jeenbekov should demonstrate from the outset that he intends to put human rights front and center when he takes office in December, Human Rights Watch said today. Jeenbekov’s government should reverse the human rights backsliding that accelerated in the months leading up to the presidential election, reaffirm the importance of an independent media, and respect the important role of independent groups and activists.

Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission announced preliminary results on October 17, giving Jeenbekov 54 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Omurbek Babanov, a businessman who was his leading opponent.

Presidential candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan October 15, 2017. © 2017 REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

“A competitive presidential election took place in Kyrgyzstan, but concerns expressed by election monitors, including about media restrictions, underscore the continued need for reforms,” said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The president-elect should set out how he intends to guarantee human rights in his domestic policies when he takes office.”

In an October 16 preliminary statement on the presidential election, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election monitoring mission noted that even as the election “contributed to the strengthening of democratic institutions by providing for an orderly transfer of power from one elected president to another,” they had “received credible reports of widespread abuse of public resources and pressure on voters, as well as of vote-buying.”

The observers also said there were “numerous and significant problems…during the vote count and the initial stages of tabulation,” and noted that “elections were held concurrently with several criminal cases against opposition politicians or others supporting one of the main candidates.”

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Désir, on October 17 condemned an assault on three journalists in the southern city of Osh on election day, saying that the authorities should investigate and bring those responsible to justice. The observation mission had also noted that “an increasing number of defamation cases with excessive damages claimed by the incumbent president and Mr. Jeenbekov and awarded against media and journalists before and during the campaign had an adverse effect on an open debate of matters of public concern.”

The president-elect should publicly acknowledge these and other concerns and pledge to address them as a signal that he is committed to upholding Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

Jeenbekov, a former prime minister and member of the majority party in parliament, will be confronted with other significant human rights concerns, which he should also make clear he intends to remedy, Human Rights Watch said.

These include the deteriorating environment for media freedom and human rights activism, and the wrongful imprisonment of the human rights defender Azimjon Askarov. The new government should move promptly to free Askarov from his life sentence, to carry out a ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee, in accordance with Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations. The government should also stop bringing unfounded lawsuits against media that criticize the government, and instead ensure that both journalists and human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan can work without fear of reprisal or harassment.

The incoming president should also make it a priority to address the longstanding issue of ill-treatment and torture in places of detention. He should oversee the rigorous enforcement of laws criminalizing torture and end the culture of impunity for torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement.

The new president should also work to eliminate the country’s persistent domestic violence and violence against women. Following the adoption of a strengthened law against domestic violence earlier in 2017, Jeenbekov’s government should commit the resources to ensure adequate protection, support, and access to justice for survivors of abuse. The president-elect should also give appropriate attention to improving interethnic relations in the south and take steps to provide justice to victims of the 2010 ethnic violence and its aftermath.

Another challenge facing the new administration will be ensuring respect for human rights in the context of fighting terrorism and extremism. Over the past year, the government stepped up counterterrorism measures, arresting dozens of people for possession of vaguely defined “extremist” materials. Some detainees have alleged they were arrested based on false testimony or evidence planted by the police, and that they were tortured or otherwise abused in police custody. Jeenbekov should ensure that law enforcement agents do not violate rights in the context of fighting terrorism and extremism in Kyrgyzstan.

Jeenbekov has said that he will continue his predecessor’s policies and that his task is “to preserve what has been achieved [and] strengthen what has been started.”

“Strengthening what has been started means building on areas of human rights progress, and in equal measure, bringing an end to rights-violating practices,” Rittmann said. “Jeenbekov has an important opportunity to address head-on existing human rights problems, and to set a meaningful human rights agenda for his time in office.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2017, 4:05 am

One of 39 US Embassy in Jakarta declassified documents showing US government knowledge of the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965-66. Published on October 17, 2017.

© 2017 National Security Archive
(New York) – Newly released US government documents on the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965-66 underscore the need for the US and Indonesian governments to fully disclose all related classified materials, Human Rights Watch said today. Those classified documents are crucial to an accurate historical record of the killings and to provide justice for those crimes.

The release on October 17, 2017, by the United States nongovernmental public transparency organization National Security Archive of 39 US Embassy in Jakarta documents show that US diplomatic personnel were fully aware of the scale and savagery of the 1965-66 killings. The documents reveal that US diplomats and their State Department counterparts in Washington, DC, were documenting tens of thousands of killings by the military, paramilitary groups, and Muslim militias of suspected members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists.

“These newly released documents make clear that US officials had detailed knowledge of the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965-66,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The US government now needs to release the remaining documents, not only for the historical record of one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities, but as a long overdue step toward bringing redress to the victims.”

The US government now needs to release the remaining documents, not only for the historical record of one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities, but as a long overdue step toward bringing redress to the victims.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

The 39 documents are part of a cache of almost 30,000 pages of declassified embassy paperwork spanning from 1965 to 1968, processed by the National Declassification Center, a division of the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They include State Department letters, telegrams, situation reports, and confidential communications between US consulates in Indonesia and the US Embassy in Jakarta. They do not include US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents, which remain classified.

In Indonesia, there has been a recent surge in efforts by paramilitary groups and militant Islamists to stoke “anti-communist” paranoia in response to calls for accountability for the mass killings. Elements of those groups led a violent “anti-communist” demonstration in Jakarta in September while the Indonesian military launched a propaganda offensive aimed at reinforcing the official narrative that the killings were a justified response to an attempted communist coup.

Starting in October 1965, Indonesian army officials, led by then-Major General Suharto, oversaw a campaign of mass killings targeting Communist Party members and giving free rein to a mix of soldiers and local militias to kill anyone they considered a communist. Over the next few months into 1966, at least 500,000 people were killed (the total may be as high as 1 million).

In the 52 years since the killings, the Indonesian government has justified the massacres as a necessary defense against the PKI. Its account holds that the communists attempted a coup, murdering six army generals on September 30, 1965, as part of their attempt to turn Indonesia into a communist state. In October 2012, then-Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto responded to findings of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) that the events of 1965-66 constituted a “gross human rights violation” by insisting that those killings were justified. Public discussion about the killings, a taboo topic in Indonesia for decades, has increased in recent years, a process substantially aided since 2012 by the release of the documentary films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

On December 10, 2014, US Senator Tom Udall introduced a “Sense of the Senate Resolution” condemning the 1965-66 atrocities in Indonesia and calling on US authorities to declassify related documents in US files. The proposed Senate resolution highlighted the continued impunity enjoyed by those who carried out the crimes, and called on Indonesian political leaders to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to address alleged crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. It called upon all relevant US government agencies to “locate, identify, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public all classified records and documents concerning the mass killings of 1965-1966, including but not limited to records and documents pertaining to covert operations in Indonesia from January 1, 1964-March 30, 1966,” and to expedite the public release of such files. The release of the 30,000-odd US Embassy documents was just the first step in that process.

“The US government can help the Indonesian government shine a light on the 1965-66 massacres,” Kine said. “Meaningful accountability for those heinous crimes – including the role of the US government – requires full-disclosure and declassification of all relevant official information.”

Excerpts from the 39 Declassified US Embassy in Jakarta Documents:

- “We continue to receive reports [of] PKI being slaughtered by Ansor [a Muslim militia] many areas East Java. Killing of PKI continues in villages bordering Surabaya and wounded released from Surabaya refuse to return to their homes. According head East Java Railways, 5 stations closed because workers afraid to come to work since some of them have been murdered.” (Telegram from US Consulate in Surabaya to the US Embassy in Jakarta, November 26, 1965)

- “Meanwhile, both in the provinces and Djakarta, repression of the PKI continued, with the main problem that of what to feed and where to house the prisoners. Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or by killing them before they are captured.” (Cable marked “Secret” from the Political Affairs Counselor at the US Embassy in Jakarta to Washington DC, November 30, 1965)

- “Muhammadiah [a reference to Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s oldest Muslim mass membership organization] source reports that preachers in Muhammadiah mosques are telling congregations that all who consciously joined PKI must be killed. ‘Conscious’ PKI members are classified as lowest order of infidel, the shedding of whose blood is comparable to killing a chicken. This appears to give Muhammadiah Muslims wide license for killing. Policy of reformist Muhammadiah very similar to ‘Final Interpretation” issues by conservative NU [a reference to Indonesia’s mass membership Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama], suggesting Muslim opinion here practically unanimous on disposal of PKI members.” (Cable marked “Confidential” from the US Consulate in Medan to the US Embassy in Jakarta, December 6, 1965)

- “[Anti-PKI violence] have now resulted in an estimated 100,000 PKI deaths. A reliable Balinese source informed the Embassy that PKI deaths on the island of Bali now total about 10,000 and include the parents and even distant relatives of crypto-Communist Governor Sutedja.” (Cable marked “Secret” from the Political Affairs Counselor at the US Embassy in Jakarta to Washington DC, December 21, 1965) ​

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2017, 11:24 pm

Students hold signs as they chant slogans during a protest on the premises of PAKTURK International Schools & Colleges in Karachi, Pakistan November 17, 2016.


© 2016 Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

On Sunday, the Pakistani government deported a Turkish educator and his family living in Pakistan back to Turkey, despite their being registered as asylum seekers by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to media reports.

Mesut Kacmaz, his wife and two daughters were picked up from their Lahore home on September 27, allegedly by law enforcement officers. Kacmaz, a well-known educator, was the former vice president of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan. The family’s UNHCR asylum seeker certificate was valid until November 24, 2017.

Since November 2016, following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, the Pakistani government has put pressure on Turkish nationals living in Pakistan to leave. Pakistani authorities ordered the staff of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges out of the country, implying staff had links to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Some Pakistani media reported that the schools are linked to Gulen. The Turkish government holds what it refers to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) responsible for the attempted coup. Thirty families associated with the schools departed, while Kacmaz’s family stayed on.

After the Kacmaz family was detained, friends petitioned the Lahore High Court to order the government to provide information regarding the family’s whereabouts. On October 6, the government’s lawyer said he was unaware of their location but assured the court that the family would not be deported as they were registered with UNHCR.

The government’s deportation of the asylum seekers not only appears to violate the high court’s order, but would violate Pakistan’s obligations under international law. While Pakistan is not a party to the United Nations refugee convention, customary international law prohibits governments from returning people to places where they risk being persecuted, tortured, or exposed to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Pakistani government has not provided any reasons for the Kacmaz family’s deportation. In keeping with its recent election to the UN Human Rights Council, the government should transparently investigate the detention and deportation of the Kacmaz family, take appropriate disciplinary or legal action against any officials responsible for violating their rights, and adopt and publicize measures to ensure that the rights of other asylum seekers and refugees in the country are fully protected.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2017, 6:34 pm

Human rights activists chant slogans during a protest to condemn the disappearances of social activists in Karachi, Pakistan January 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Akhtar Soomro / Reuters

(Geneva) – The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are urging Pakistan to take immediate steps towards meeting “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” following the country’s election to the Human Rights Council on Monday.

On October 16, the UN General Assembly selected 15 states to serve as members of the UN Human Rights Council from January 2018 to December 2020. From the Asia-Pacific region, Nepal, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were selected out of five candidates.

To secure the UN Human Rights Council membership, Pakistan pledged its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. However, the pledge failed to address directly many of the most serious human rights issues facing Pakistan, including enforced disappearances, the use of the death penalty, blasphemy laws, the country’s use of military courts, women’s rights including the right to education, and threats to the work of human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists.

According to UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” The Resolution also provides that, “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.”

Pakistan’s abuses have been highlighted by various national and international human rights organizations, UN treaty-monitoring bodies, and special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

Pakistan has affirmed in its election pledge that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

Given the pressing human rights issues in the country, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urge Pakistan to take the necessary action to fulfill these responsibilities.

Background on human rights areas of concern:

The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urge Pakistani authorities to act promptly to address the following human rights concerns:

Enforced disappearances
Despite hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of enforced disappearance reported from across Pakistan, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has noted there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Pakistan authorities should publicly condemn and call for an end to the practice of enforced disappearances; ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; recognize enforced disappearance as a distinct, autonomous offence; recognize the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from on behalf of victims or other state parties; and hold perpetrators of enforced disappearance, including military and intelligence personnel, to account, through fair trials before civilian courts.

Death Penalty
Pakistan has executed at least 471 people since it lifted an informal moratorium on executions in December 2014. In many cases, there are serious concerns that people executed were denied the right to a fair trial. Courts have also imposed the death penalty, in violation of international law, on people with mental disabilities, individuals who were below 18 years of age when the crime was committed, and those whose convictions were based on “confessions” extracted through torture or other ill-treatment.

Pakistan should restore the moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, in line with repeated UN General Assembly resolutions, and pending the moratorium, ensure the death penalty is not applied in violation of international law.

Blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and equal treatment before the law. These laws have been disproportionately applied against religious minorities, they are frequently misused, and people accused of blasphemy offences are often denied the guarantees of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to legal counsel and the right to a fair trial.

Pakistan should repeal or significantly amend its blasphemy laws, in particular sections 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 298-A, 295-B, and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, to bring them in line with international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Military Courts
Since January 2015, Pakistan’s military courts have convicted at least 305 people, out of which 169 have been sentenced to death. Proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall short of national and international standards on fair trial. Judges are part of the executive branch of the State and continue to be subjected to military command; the right to appeal to civilian courts is not available; the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed; the right to a duly reasoned, written judgment – including the essential findings, evidence, and legal reasoning – is denied; the procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and details about the alleged offences are kept secret; the right to counsel of choice is denied; and a very high number of convictions are based on “confessions” without adequate safeguards against torture and other ill treatment.

Pakistan should repeal or amend relevant laws in order to ensure that only civilian courts may try civilians, including for terrorism-related offences, and to ensure that military courts only have jurisdiction over military personnel for military offences.

National Human Rights Institution
Pakistan has committed to provide the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) adequate human and financial resources. However, the NCHR does not have the required independence to fulfill its mandate effectively and impartially. We also note that the NCHR has a limited mandate to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed by military forces, and it does not have jurisdiction over intelligence agencies.

Pakistan should extend the jurisdiction of the NCHR to cover military and intelligence agencies and ensure its autonomy and independence in accordance with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions.

Human Rights Defenders
Authorities in Pakistan have increased restrictions on human rights defenders and attempted to stop the operation of certain nongovernmental organizations for reasons such as “presenting a very bleak picture of human rights” to the UN. In some cases, state agents have perpetrated human rights violations against human rights defenders: activists exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have been subjected to unjustified or excessive force by the police and even prosecuted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws; and many have been attacked, killed, or forcibly disappeared. The onerous and opaque procedures of the international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) policy, coupled with the vague, arbitrary, and at times unlawful reasons for refusing or canceling INGO registrations, have also resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of association for people working for INGOs.

In accordance with international standards including the ICCPR and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Pakistan should guarantee, and ensure that human rights defenders are able in practice to exercise, the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the right to express opinion – whether critical or not – of the state, its agencies and other matters of public interest; and the right to unhindered access to other human rights organisations and institutions – domestic, regional or global.

Cooperation with Special Procedures
Since 2012, Pakistan has accepted country visit requests by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Requests for visits from a number of other special procedures, however, remain pending, including: the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions (pending since 2000); the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (pending since 2003); the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism (pending since 2006); the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (pending since 2006); and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (pending since 2010); among others.

Pakistan should extend a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures, should respond favorably to all outstanding requests, and should facilitate the visits in an expeditious manner.

In 2016, more than 380,000 registered Afghan refugees were returned to Afghanistan with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Exit interviews conducted by UNHCR give rise to concern that these returns were not voluntary and therefore were contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, in what amounts to one of the largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times. Of those repatriated, 24 percent said they feared arrest and/or deportation and had therefore decided to leave. Those left behind face an uncertain future, including because of the heightened risk of harassment and intimidation by the Pakistani authorities.

These returns have taken place at a time when Afghanistan has been enduring the highest recorded levels of civilian casualties. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 11,418 people were either killed or injured last year. In the first six months of 2017, according to UNAMA, there have been 5,243 civilian casualties. No part of Afghanistan can be considered safe, putting returnees at a real risk of serious human rights abuses.

Pakistani authorities should immediately halt all returns to Afghanistan and ensure that Afghan refugees can continue to seek and enjoy protection in Pakistan. Pakistani law enforcement agencies should end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of all registered and non-registered Afghan refugees. Pakistan should also ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Optional Protocol while abandoning policies that deny refugees protection in line with international standards.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2017, 5:57 pm

The recent release of 200,000 university students and some teachers and medical workers from forced labor picking cotton in Uzbekistan came shortly after World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s first meeting with the country’s new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, on September 20, 2017. Kim urged Mirziyoyev at that meeting to end forced labor.

While more comprehensive reforms are necessary, Kim’s strong and public stance, and its near immediate impact in Uzbekistan, shows that the World Bank can convince governments to stop abusing human rights abuses when it chooses to use its leverage.

It isn’t all good news though. The government is making some of the recalled teachers and medical workers pay a significant chunk of their already low salary to hire people to replace them in the fields, and police have continued to arrest independent monitors and journalists documenting labor abuses. While some teachers and medical workers have been recalled, others have been instructed to lie about their professions and to remain in the fields or have been sent back to the fields after a short reprieve.

These developments came after the release of our joint report with the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights documenting systematic forced labor and ongoing child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, including in World Bank project areas. We found that the government threatened people’s jobs, welfare payments, or access to university education if they refused. Kim said the facts that we provided allowed him to have a “very honest, direct conversation” with Mirziyoyev.

The Uzbek government should stop forcing anyone to work in the cotton fields, not charge people to hire “replacement workers,” and allow human rights defenders to monitor and report on the labor situation in the fields without fear of reprisals. It should also address the root causes of forced labor, including by raising the state-established procurement prices for cotton and other agricultural products to reflect the costs of the market rate for voluntary labor and by making the country’s opaque agriculture fund, the Selkhozfond, transparent and accountable.

The World Bank should press the Uzbek government to make these reforms and allow unfettered independent monitoring. It should suspend projects linked to forced and child labor until government-led abuses in these project areas stop and engage a monitor completely independent of the government to identify abuses linked to bank projects.

Recognizing the significant impact of his intervention with the Uzbek government, Kim should urge other governments to address serious rights abuses that undermine development. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2017, 5:31 pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on October 18, 2017. 

© Aly Song/Reuters

(New York, October 18, 2017) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to abolish the abusive shuanggui internal party disciplinary system will only be meaningful if its replacement ensures rights protections for detainees, Human Rights Watch said today. In his opening remarks to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing on October 18, 2017, President Xi said shuanggui will be replaced by liuzhi, a new detention system, as part of broader reforms to the legal system.

“If President Xi’s proposal means that detainees are not ill-treated, get to choose their lawyers, and otherwise have their rights respected, then this will indeed be a significant step forward,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But if he is just proposing to replace one abusive detention system with another, it will be another setback for legal reform in China.”

Shuanggui is a detention system run by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) that can be imposed on any of its 88 million Party members.

In December 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report on shuanggui, detailing the use of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, and calling for its abolition. Around the same time, CCDI head Wang Qishan pledged to curb shuanggui abuses with steps such as videotaping interrogations, but it is not clear whether those protections have been implemented.

The liuzhi system mentioned by Xi is a new detention power of the soon to be created “super” anti-graft agency, the National Supervision Commission, which is slated to start work in March 2018. The agency will also consolidate graft-fighting powers currently vested in various government departments. It is also empowered to investigate anyone exercising public authority – including officials, managers in state-owned companies, and public school managers. The agency will share space and personnel with the CCDI.

Official articles suggest liuzhi will offer improvements: the system will be codified in law and subjected to stricter internal procedures; detainees will be given adequate food and rest; detentions will have time limits – three months, and, upon approval, another three months.

However, similar measures by the CCDI since the 1990s have not deterred abuses in the shuanggui system, Human Rights Watch said. There is no indication that those held under liuzhi will enjoy access to lawyers or redress mechanisms – two problems Human Rights Watch identified as facilitating serious rights violations in shuanggui. The draft State Supervision Law establishing the National Supervision Commission has not been made public; what little is known has raised concerns among Chinese human rights lawyers.

At the beginning of his presidency, President Xi promised to “put power in a cage” and to rule China according to law. While his government previously abolished the abusive “re-education through labor” system, this positive development was undermined and overshadowed by his using the legal system as a weapon against perceived threats to Communist Party rule, notably defense lawyers, petitioners, dissidents, rights activists, and anyone critical of the government. Under his leadership, the government has promulgated many laws that, in the name of protecting “national security,” further restrict freedoms of expression and association while expanding surveillance.

“China’s top legislature should ensure that basic rights protections for detainees are included in the new legislation regulating liuzhi,” Richardson said. “Otherwise liuzhi may simply be the legal, but no less abusive, twin of shuanggui – and no more likely to succeed in deterring corruption.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2017, 1:05 pm

Complete destruction of Rohingya villages in close proximity to intact Rakhine village, Maungdaw township, recorded on 21 September 2017.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Analysis of the satellite imagery indicates both that the burnings focused on Rohingya villages and took place after Burmese officials claimed security force “clearance operations” had ceased, Human Rights Watch said. The imagery pinpoints multiple areas where destroyed Rohingya villages sat adjacent to intact ethnic Rakhine villages. It also shows that at least 66 villages were burned after September 5, when security force operations supposedly ended, according to a September 18 speech by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese military responded to attacks on August 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) with a campaign of ethnic cleansing, prompting more than 530,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

“These latest satellite images show why over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in just four weeks,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Burmese military destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages while committing killings, rapes, and other crimes against humanity that forced Rohingya to flee for their lives.”

Map of villages destroyed in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung Townships.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

A total of 866 villages in Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine State were monitored and analyzed by Human Rights Watch. The most damage occurred in Maungdaw Township, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the areas where destruction happened between August 25 and September 25. Approximately 62 percent of all villages in the township were either partially or completely destroyed, and southern areas of the township were particularly hard hit, with approximately 90 percent of the villages devastated. In many places, satellite imagery showed multiple areas on fire, burning simultaneously over wide areas for extended periods.

Human Rights Watch found that the damage patterns are consistent with fire. Comparing recent imagery with those taken prior to the date of the attacks, analysis showed that most of the damaged villages were 90 to 100 percent destroyed. Many villages which had both Rohingya and Rakhine residing in segregated communities, such as Inn Din and Ywet Hnyo Taung, suffered heavy arson damage from arson attacks, with known Rohingya areas burned to the ground while known Rakhine areas were left intact.

Multiple villages on fire along the coast of Maungdaw Township, Burma on the morning of September 15, 2017.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The Burmese government has repeatedly said that ARSA insurgents and local Rohingya communities were responsible for setting the fires that wiped out their villages, but has offered no evidence to support such claims. Human Rights Watch interviews in Bangladesh with more than 100 refugees who had fled the three townships gave no indication that any Rohingya villagers or militants were responsible for burning down their own villages.

The Burmese government and military has not impartially investigated and prosecuted alleged serious abuses committed against the Rohingya population. UN member countries and international bodies should press the Burmese government to grant access to the UN-mandated fact-finding mission to investigate these abuses. The UN Security Council should also urgently impose a global arms embargo on Burma, and place travel bans and asset freezes on those Burmese commanders responsible for grave abuses. Governments should impose a comprehensive arms embargo against Burma, including prohibiting military cooperation and financial transactions with military-owned enterprises.

“The shocking images of destruction in Burma and burgeoning refugee camps in Bangladesh are two sides of the same coin of human misery being inflicted on the Rohingya,” Robertson said. “Concerned governments need to urgently press for an end to abuses against the Rohingya and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches everyone in need.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 11:22 pm

Members of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Cambodia demonstrate at a police blockade in December 2012 on the second day of community activist Yorm Bopha’s trial, on trumped up charges apparently brought for speaking out on forced evictions linked to a World Bank financed project.

© 2012 John Vink/Magnum Photos

When things go wrong with World Bank Group’s projects, it is often members of the community impacted who expose these problems. But they do so at their own risk. Finally, one of the bank’s accountability bodies is taking steps to make it safer for such members when they speak out.

Here’s why this move is so important: When a Cambodian villager filed a complaint about a World Bank Group project, a government official allegedly said, “Don’t be too strong in your advocacy, otherwise you may end up in prison.”

“I was afraid,” the community member said, “but felt I had to continue, because I was doing the right thing.”

This echoes other findings we documented in a 2015 report on whistleblowers in bank-financed projects. In 18 of the 34 cases we looked into, people who complained said they had been threatened or faced retaliation that they believed was linked to their concerns about the project. We found the bank does little to make sure it is safe for people to share their views about projects, and to prevent retaliation against these people.

Last week, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent body within the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, published an “approach” outlining how it will work to prevent and respond to threats and reprisals. This is after the Inspection Panel – the accountability body for the bank’s public sector lending arms – released in March 2016 guidelines to reduce retaliation risks.

These efforts to make it safer for people to expose problems in World Bank projects are welcome, as are pledges from other international financial institutions’ accountability bodies to follow suit. Still, the CAO approach does not describe actions it will take in partnership with people who are retaliated against.

The World Bank and other financing institutions, which have far more power to prevent and respond to reprisals than their accountability bodies, should commit to taking stronger actions themselves. The Dutch development bank, FMO, which published a position statement on human rights that addresses human rights defenders last month, is the only financing institution to have overtly tackled these issues.

The World Bank says that it takes “all reports regarding harassment of independent monitors very seriously.” It should back up these words by working with its clients to make sure it’s safe for people to share their views about its projects, monitoring for threats, and responding strongly whenever reprisals occur. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 6:13 pm

Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Liu Xia, pictured before his arrest in 2008. 

© 2009 Reuters
(Washington, DC, October 16, 2017) – An event celebrating the life, courage, and fight for human rights by Liu Xiaobo, the late Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be held this week at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In Beijing, the 19th Communist Party Congress opens on Wednesday in an atmosphere of repression and control.

The service for Liu Xiaobo, on Thursday, October 19, 2017, at 10:30 a.m., will also renew calls for the release of Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s widow, who has been forcibly disappeared since July 15, two days after her husband’s death.

“Liu Xiaobo deserved a state funeral; Liu Xia deserves her freedom,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “This event shows that their extraordinary sacrifices will not be forgotten.”

The service will include readings of the couples’ works by Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, and statements by US and international political leaders, among others.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 6:08 pm

A medical report filled out by a doctor in Kampala, Uganda, after conducting a forced anal examination on a man suspected of consensual same-sex conduct.

© 2016 Neela Ghoshal/Human Rights Watch


(Nairobi, October 17, 2017) – Doctors, medical professionals, and national medical associations should heed the World Medical Association’s October 2017 resolution to end forced anal examinations on people accused of homosexual conduct, Human Rights Watch said today. The General Assembly of the World Medical Association (WMA), an international organization consisting of national medical associations from 111 countries, condemned the use of forced anal examinations to seek evidence of consensual homosexual conduct.

Forced anal examinations, based on long-discredited 19th century science, often involve doctors or other medical personnel forcibly inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into a person’s anus to attempt to determine whether that person has engaged in anal intercourse. The exams, relied upon as “evidence” in prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct in some countries, have no scientific basis, violate medical ethics, and constitute cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture.

“The jury is no longer out. There is no excuse for governments to continue conducting forced anal exams on people accused of homosexuality,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights at Human Rights Watch. “The World Medical Association has added its voice to an overwhelming consensus that forced anal exams are unethical, unscientific, and unjustifiable on any grounds.”

The World Medical Association resolution calls on doctors to stop conducting the exams. It calls on national medical associations to issue written communications prohibiting their members from participating in them, and to educate doctors and health workers about “the unscientific and futile nature of forced anal exams and the fact that they are a form of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” It also calls on the World Health Organization to make an official statement opposing forced anal exams as unscientific and in violation of medical ethics, which would build on an existing reference that condemns the practice.

The resolution, proposed by the South African Medical Association with the support of Human Rights Watch, has been through a year-long review and feedback process, allowing all members to comment in advance of adoption. It passed unanimously, with two abstentions.

At the General Assembly session, the association also adopted a revised “Physician’s Pledge,” which calls on doctors to refrain from discrimination on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation.

Several countries that have not yet eradicated forced anal examinations have made recent progress toward ending them, Human Rights Watch said. Governments in Lebanon and Tunisia have taken steps toward banning forced anal exams. Tunisia recently accepted a recommendation to end the exams during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, although it remains to be seen whether Tunisia will rigorously enforce the ban. In both cases, national medical associations played a key role in shifting their governments’ positions. The Kenya Medical Association, in September, became the latest medical association to condemn the use of forced anal examinations, although the Attorney General’s Office has attempted to defend their use.

Other countries lag behind. In Egypt, men and transgender women arrested on charges of “debauchery” are systematically referred to the Forensic Medicine Authority, a branch of the Justice Ministry, for forced anal examinations, and the results are regularly used in court to put people behind bars on the grounds of their presumed sexual orientation. Since late September, according to Egyptian human rights activists, at least five Egyptians have been subjected to forced anal exams as part of a vicious crackdown after several young people waved rainbow flags at a concert.

And in Tanzania in late 2016, police resorted to forced anal examinations to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct for the first time, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, as part of a broader campaign against LGBT people and their allies. Neither the Egyptian Medical Association nor the Medical Association of Tanzania, both members of the WMA, have publicly condemned the exams.

Other countries in which Human Rights Watch has documented the use of forced anal exams between 2010 and 2015 include Cameroon, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Zambia. Human Rights Watch has received reports of government authorities ordering forced anal exams on people accused of homosexual conduct in Syria and the United Arab Emirates, but has not been able to independently verify these allegations.

“Doctors play a critical role in upholding ethical standards and are often part of the moral compass of society,” Ghoshal said. “In Egypt, in Tanzania, and in all countries in which people are being subjected to forced anal examinations, doctors should take the lead in ending these horrific abuses.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 3:00 pm

A woman walks past election campaign poster of far right Freedom Party (FPOe) head and top candidate Heinz-Christian Strache and People's Party (OeVP) top candidate and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria October 4, 2017. Poster reads "islamization needs to be stopped" and "this time Kurz".

© 2017 Reuters

Earlier this year, a political theory emerged predicting that we had hit “peak populism.” In Austria, voters twice rejected a far-right president in favour of one from its Green party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National was defeated. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedoms (PVV) failed to win expected votes. The centre ground was winning once again, the theory went.

That prediction was premature.

On Sunday, Austria’s national elections – much like Germany’s earlier elections – saw radical right populists win substantial vote shares, while mainstream political parties embraced right-leaning positions to win votes.

In Austria, the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP), led by Sebastian Kurz, is likely to enter into coalition with the radical right populist Freedom Party (FPÖ). Both parties have an anti-immigrant agenda. When Austria last had an ÖVP-FPÖ government in 2000, other EU governments sought to isolate and sanction it.

An EU already grappling with Hungary and Poland, which both have governments implementing policies that undermine core EU values of the rule of law, human rights and democratic safeguards, is unlikely to contemplate similar action against Austria now. Close attention is now needed on the policies of the new Austrian government, given that Kurz campaigned on an agenda to replicate the appalling Australian model for outsourcing responsibility for asylum-seekers.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim, and anti-EU party, entered Lower Saxony’s parliament in regional elections on Sunday. Last month it became the third largest party in the Bundestag, which it entered for the first time, after federal elections.

Late last week in the Netherlands, four parties led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte finally formed a government coalition six months after the election, shutting out Wilders’ populist PVV. But the PVV is the second largest party in Parliament and the official voice of the opposition. And two of main coalition parties – Rutte’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and Sybrand Buma’s Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA) – ran campaigns copying the PVV’s toxic anti-immigrant dogwhistle playbook.

Be in no doubt: the normalization of radical right populism poses a serious threat to the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the rule of law at the heart of the European project.

Mainstream politicians in Europe need to ask themselves some hard questions: Can these standards and hard fought for rights simply be set aside for the sake of political success? Or are mainstream parties willing to stand up for them and defend the rights of migrants and minorities?

What kind of future is in store for the European Union depends on the answers. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 2:56 pm

(Mexico City, October 17, 2017) – Mexico’s Congressional Mental Health and Drug Commission is considering a national mental health bill that proposes to improve mental health services for all in Mexico but would seriously jeopardize the rights of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter sent on October 16, 2017, to the Commission on Health and Drugs in the Chamber of Deputies, Human Rights Watch urged the commission to reject the bill in its current form. The commission should revise the bill to reflect a human rights-oriented framework, based on consultations with organizations representing people with disabilities and disability rights experts. The final bill should ensure the right to mental health for all in Mexico on an equal basis, without resort to forced treatment, and be consistent with Mexico’s laudable international commitments to the rights of persons with disabilities.

“The bill before the commission unfortunately reflects a discredited approach to mental health, focusing on forced medical treatment instead of on the consent, autonomy, and rights of those in need of mental health services,” said Carlos Ríos Espinosa, senior researcher and advocate for disability rights at Human Rights Watch. “The bill is inconsistent with Mexico’s human rights obligations, in particular the right to consent to or refuse treatment, which is an integral aspect of the right to health.”

Mexico was an early champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), signing the treaty when it was first opened and becoming a full party to the CRPD in 2007. The Mexican government has the opportunity with this new law to incorporate the standards of the CRPD into domestic law and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. It should follow the example of other countries and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, that are developing new mental health policies that respect the rights of people with disabilities and emphasize people’s right to choose and to govern their own lives. In particular, it should act on the recommendations to it from the CRPD Committee to:

  1. Eliminate security measures that mandate medical and psychiatric inpatient treatment and promote alternatives that comply with articles 14 and 19 of the Convention;
  2. Repeal legislation permitting detention on grounds of disability and ensure that all mental health services are provided based on the free and informed consent of the person concerned.

The current bill would still allow people to be locked up against their will on the basis that they had a diagnosed disability, Human Rights Watch said  But UN experts on health and torture and the UN expert body on disability rights have emphasized that forced treatment and other nonconsensual invasive measures, including involuntary admission to psychiatric hospitals for medical treatment, should be ended.

The bill would provide broad authority for medical and judicial authorities to find that people labeled as having “mental disorders” do not have the capacity to make decisions for themselves. In such circumstances, the bill authorizes involuntary hospitalization and treatment without the person’s consent. Under human rights norms, people with disabilities may not be detained on the basis of their disability, and may only be detained, on an equal basis with others, if they engage in behavior that constitutes grounds for detention for everyone under the law.

Among other worrisome elements, the bill allows the solitary confinement of and use of physical restraints on people with “mental disorders,” which experts agree can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

“It is commendable that the commission is devoting time and effort to enhance the right to health for all Mexicans, but it’s all the more important for them to get it right,” Rios Espinosa said. “The commission should create a framework for health services that respects the right to informed consent, whether you have a disability or not.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2017, 12:00 pm