Men look at protesters marching to demand an investigation into what they say is the alleged misuse of Venezuela-sponsored PetroCaribe funds, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 18, 2018. 

© REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

(Washington, DC) – Haitian authorities should ensure the prompt, thorough, and independent investigation of killings that took place during the February 2019 demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today.  

Thirty-four people were killed and 102 injured – including 23 police officers – in the course of these demonstrations as police sought to patrol and control the crowds and remove barricades protesters had erected, according to the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti. 

“Haitian authorities should investigate the use of force by police during these protests, and ensure that any police officer who used excessive force is held accountable,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Thousands of Haitians took to the streets in October and November 2018, in response to revelations that billions of US dollars meant for infrastructure were missing from the Venezuelan-sponsored PetroCaribe fund. They resumed in early February after the government declared a state of economic emergency, with demonstrators expressing discontent over the cost of living and calling for President Jovenel Moïse to resign.

The UN Mission said that during the October protests, police using excessive force injured 44 protestors and killed 3 others. It also reported allegations that police using excessive force caused 21 casualties, including 6 deaths, during the November protests.

The government announced in January that it would pursue civil and criminal action against individuals implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 9:45 pm

Last month, Alexander Korovainy shared an image on his Facebook page as part of the online “10-Year Challenge,” in which people post photos of themselves from a decade ago and today. Korovainy, who lives in Yeysk, in Russia’s Krasnodar region, made a tweak to the challenge, sharing an infographic comparing prices of household items such as a kilo of sugar in 2009 and 2019.

Alexander Korovainy.

© 2017 Daniel Burmaka

It sounds harmless enough. Except that the graphic was from MBKh Media, a news outlet founded by Mikhail Khordokovsky, a former oil tycoon, political prisoner and longstanding thorn in the Russian government’s side. And Korovainy, 34, is a member of Russia’s Yabloko opposition party and a deputy of Yeysk’s municipal council. He spent 10 days in jail in 2017 for taking part in a protest against corruption, and was fired from his teaching job on the same day. “I often ask uncomfortable questions” he told Human Rights Watch.

On March 14, Korovainy was summoned to the prosecutor’s office and informed that administrative charges had been filed against him under Russia’s 2015 law on “undesirable organizations,” which authorizes the prosecutor general to ban from the country any foreign or international organization that it perceives as harming Russia. The prosecutor alleged his post was related to Open Russia, an online movement that encourages transparency and independent information on Russia. In 2017, Russia’s prosecutor general designated Open Russia, a Khordokovsky initiative, an “undesirable organization.” Those who support Open Russia have also come under increasing pressure from the authorities.

The charges against Korovainy are consistent with the authorities’ wider crackdown on online expression. Prosecutions for speech offenses on social media have increased in Russia. That extends, as in Korovainy’s case, to posts the authorities deem merely connected to a foreign “undesirable organization”.

Korovainy, who faces a maximum 15,000 ruble fine (US$233) if convicted, told the prosecutor that MBKh Media, though blocked in Russia, is neither an undesirable organization nor the same as Open Russia. The prosecutor responded that MBKh media is a resource of Open Russia and “this is the same thing because MBKh stands for Mikhail Borisovich Khordokovsky.” Whether MBKh is or isn’t part of Open Russia is a distraction: neither should be banned from Russia. “I believe the case against me is intended to pressure me to stop my protest activities,” Korovainy said.

The authorities should stop exploiting vaguely worded laws to go after critics and drop the case against Korovainy.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 5:39 pm
Aerial photo of the vast freshwater resources in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario, Canada, October 2018.
© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Toronto) – World Water Day on March 22, 2019 is a reminder that many of Canada’s First Nations communities do not have safe drinking water, Chiefs of Ontario and Human Rights Watch said today.

The groups issued a draft guide on the human right to water for First Nations communities and advocates. This guide will be open for comment through September 6, and then finalized.

“Most Canadians have easy access to fresh water, but many First Nations communities in Canada face a daily struggle to get safe drinking water,” said Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this guide will serve as an important tool for communities to help them achieve their right to a safe water supply.”

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Human Rights Watch conducted research in First Nations communities in Ontario in 2015 and 2016, and found that the Canadian government had violated a range of international human rights obligations by failing to provide a safe water supply to First Nations reserves.

Since that time, the federal government has taken steps to increase transparency in situations in which First Nations communities have long been without a safe water supply and to work more closely with the communities to address the problems. The government recently announced new investments to support ongoing efforts to eliminate and prevent long-term drinking water advisories.

But as of February 4, there were 62 long-term drinking advisories throughout Canada. The Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario, for example, has had a water boil advisory in place for the last 23 years.

The Chiefs of Ontario continue to apply pressure and influence governments to provide safe potable drinking water – which is a human right – for First Nations peoples, leading toward a sustainable future and one that is based on truth and reconciliation.

Despite some progress, the government has failed time and again to deliver on its promises for safe drinking water. In developing the guide, Human Rights Watch and Chiefs of Ontario seek to develop an additional tool for First Nations to build their advocacy for safe drinking water access. The guide provides an overview of the legal framework behind the human right to water and recommendations on how to engage government officials on the topic. The commentary period will be helpful in producing a final guide to address the needs of communities and advocates.

“We need to guide and inspire a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation between First Nations and Canada,” said Chief Shining Turtle, of Whitefish River First Nation and member of the Chiefs of Ontario Environment Committee. “Collaboration on a renewed relationship based on inclusion, respect, and mutual understanding is paramount. Let’s begin this important process first by protecting our sacred water, in the spirit of true partnership.”

It is often those who least contribute to water crises around the world who are most affected by the outcome, Human Rights Watch and the Ontario Chiefs said. World Water Day 2019 serves as a reminder that everyone all over the globe should have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Canada has played an important role in promoting efforts to meet this goal globally. First Nations communities are on the front lines of demanding that Canada should meet this obligation at home as well.

“Water is life. It is recognized that women are the sacred keepers of the water and know that it's a gift that connects all life,” said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald. “Water is significant to our way of life and livelihoods, and we recognize our inherent responsibilities as caretakers to protect water. Our responsibilities and our rights include all aspects to the use of water, jurisdiction and stewardship over use and access to water, and the protection of water.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 10:22 am

Burkina Faso Soldiers take part in a training exercise in 2017, in Burkina Faso.  (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt Benjamin Northcutt 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs Sergeant/released)

© 2017 AB Forces News Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Atrocities by Islamist armed groups in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel Region and by security forces during counterterrorism operations have left scores dead and created widespread fear and displacement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The violence has forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee since early 2019.

The 56-page report, “‘We Found Their Bodies Later that Day’: Atrocities by Armed Islamists and Security Forces in Burkina Faso’s Sahel Region,” documents over 40 killings by armed Islamist groups, mostly of people suspected of collaborating with the government, and the execution by Burkinabè security forces of over 115 men accused of supporting or harboring the armed Islamists. The Burkinabè government has promised to investigate the allegations. Key international actors, including the United Nations Security Council, which is visiting Burkina Faso in late March, should urge the government to follow through on this commitment.

“Scores of people have been murdered in what amounts to a dramatic deterioration in the rights situation in northern Burkina Faso,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. “Villagers are living in fear as both armed Islamists and government forces have demonstrated utter disregard for human life.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 92 victims and witnesses to the abuses, as well as community leaders, government officials, and security analysts, among others. The abuses documented occurred in 32 villages in the Sahel region, from mid-2018 until February 2019. The research builds on Human Rights Watch research in Burkina Faso from 2018.  

Beginning in 2016, armed Islamist groups linked to both Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have attacked army bases, police, and gendarme posts, and purely civilian targets in Burkina Faso. While the violence and insecurity have spread throughout the country, the epicenter remains the northern Sahel region, which borders Mali and Niger.

Witnesses described the alleged killing by armed Islamists of 42 civilians, apparently because of their actual or suspected ties to the government, or for supporting the formation of a self-defense group. Most of the victims were from the ethnic Foulse or Bella communities. Witnesses said the Islamists had abducted and intimidated local leaders, pillaged livestock, and commandeered ambulances. They also said the Islamists had forbade villagers from celebrating marriages and baptisms and, at times, women from socializing or selling in markets. 

One villager said that armed Islamists opened fire inside his home, killing three members of his family and wounding two others, during a January assault on the village of Gasseliki that left 12 people dead.

“They kicked the door in, went room to room and found us hiding,” he said. “Then they opened fire in a hail of bullets killing three men.” Another witness described the Islamists’ killing of nine men, including two brothers, during a January 27 attack on Sikiré village.

“People are dominated by fear,” a local farmer said. “No man over 18 dares sleep in his house anymore for fear of being kidnapped or worse.” Many villagers described large-scale looting of livestock, undermining the livelihoods of entire villages.

Witnesses also described 19 incidents in which Burkina Faso security forces allegedly summarily executed a total of 116 men. They said that all but a few of these incidents involved a detachment of about 100 gendarmes based in the town of Arbinda since late August.

All of the victims were last seen in the custody of government security forces, and when their bodies were later found, the majority had been shot in the head or chest. Most were from the Peuhl ethnic group. Witnesses described large operations involving dozens of security force members traveling on motorcycles and vehicles and, in several cases, operating small drones.

Witnesses provided lists of the victims and maps indicating where the bodies of the men were found and where they were buried.

“We found Hamadoun, 72-years-old…under a tree with both knees and his forehead on the ground,” said a man who searched for nine men detained by security forces in February and later buried their bodies. “It seemed like he’d asked to pray before being shot.”

A witness to the security forces’ October detention of 14 men who were later found dead said, “They ripped their turbans to bind their eyes and hands, ordering them into the truck. Minutes after they left, we heard gunfire and said, ‘Oh God, our people are dead.’”

Villagers consistently decried being caught between armed Islamists’ threats to execute those who collaborated with the government, and the security forces, who expected them to provide intelligence about the presence of armed groups and meted out collective punishment when they didn’t. 

“The killing is driving people straight into the arms of the jihadists and guaranteeing that this problem will go on for many years to come,” a civil society leader said.

On March 8, Human Rights Watch sent a letter detailing its major findings and recommendations to the Burkinabè government. On March 18, the defense minister responded on behalf of the government, promising to investigate the alleged abuses.

The government should thoroughly investigate the alleged human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. Armed Islamist groups should cease all extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and other human rights abuses. Burkina Faso’s international partners should privately and publicly press the government to stop security force abuses and conduct credible investigations.

“Confronting the expansion of armed Islamists in Burkina Faso by executing suspects will only fuel the cycle of violence and abuse,” Dufka said. “The government should stop the abuse and commit itself to a lawful and rights-respecting counterterrorism strategy.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 6:00 am

Anti-government protesters wave national flags and carry signs against Formula One's Grand Prix on April 17, 2012.

© 2012 AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

(Beirut) – The Formula One Group disregards its human rights commitments and overlooks grave rights abuses in Bahrain, Human Rights Watch said today. Some of the abuses appear to be directly related to Formula One’s activities in the country.

Bahrain has a longstanding record of arresting and harassing dissents, including those opposing the Grand Prix races, which are scheduled this year for March 31, 2019. But the Formula One organizers rely on baseless assurances from the Bahraini authorities claiming respect for human rights. Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), should adopt and carry out a human rights policy that would identify risks and make use of its leverage to end rights abuses.

“Formula organizers should not look the other way while Bahrain uses the publicity and grandeur of the races while stepping up repression against people who oppose holding the race in Bahrain,” said Minky Worden, global initiatives director at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch is encouraging concerned athletes and people around the world to write directly to FIA President Jean Todt and Formula One Chairman Chase Carey. The letter writers should encourage Formula One to adopt a human rights policy similar to those recently adopted by companies and other major sporting organizations, including the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Since 2011, Bahraini demonstrators have used the occasion of the Formula One races to protest the country’s human rights record, and every year, the Bahraini authorities respond with repression to close down the protests, Human Rights Watch said.

During the 2012 Grand Prix protests in which tens of thousands of protesters called for cancelling the race, police shot dead one protestor. In the lead up to the 2013 races, security forces conducted a series of home raids and arbitrarily detained opposition protesters in towns close to the Bahrain International Circuit. During the raids, the authorities arrested at least 20 people, including prominent anti-government figures, and security forces shot protesters in the head with tear gas canisters.

In April 2017, the authorities arrested Najah Yusuf, an activist and blogger, after she released a series of posts critical of the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix. Yusuf, in a written statement, said that National Security Agency (NSA) officers allegedly interrogated and subjected her to physical abuse, sexual assault, and psychological torture. She said they forced her to sign a prepared confession. In June 2018, she was sentenced to three years in prison for her social media activity.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the evidence submitted by the public prosecution and found that it heavily relies on her social media posts expressing her opposition to holding the Formula One races in Bahrain. The Bahrain High Criminal Court cited her peaceful criticism of the Grand Prix in the judgment against her.

On February 6, Human Rights Watch and 16 other human rights groups sent a letter to Formula One urging it to uphold its commitment to human rights by publicly calling on the Bahraini authorities to drop the charges against Yusuf related to her exercise of her right to free speech, release her immediately, and hold anyone responsible for her ill-treatment or torture to account.

Formula One responded on March 4, citing the Bahraini authorities’ claims that Yusuf’s charges and conviction have “absolutely no relation to the Formula One race.” Formula One indicated in its reply that it relies on assurances from the Bahraini authorities that “no punitive measures will be taken against any other activists” for peaceful opposition to the races, and that such measures “[were] not and never would be” exercised by the Bahrain authorities.

Such claims are clearly untrue, given the spate of arrests and convictions ahead of the races every year. Taking these claims at face value also ignores the persistent human rights violations in Bahrain. The Bahraini authorities regularly imprison and convict peaceful demonstrators and human rights defenders, many of whom have alleged serious violations, including torture, in detention. Security forces have used excessive, and at times deadly, force against protesters. Officials who ordered or participated in these abuses have yet to be held to account. Bahrain’s pursuit of peaceful critics includes persecution overseas, as in the case of the refugee football player Hakeem al-Araibi.

In keeping with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Formula One has a duty to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts resulting from its business operation. Formula One’s own policy also requires it to consider the human rights impact of its activities and conduct the necessary due diligence to prevent such abuses. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that business enterprises have a responsibility to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities,” “address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent them.”

The recent creation of the Geneva-based Center for Sports and Human Rights and FIFA’s adoption of an internal human rights policy demonstrate a marked shift in the sporting world’s understanding that the rules of human rights apply to it too. FIFA, the International Olympics Committee (IOC), and the Center for Sports and Human Rights were instrumental in seeking the release of al-Araibi, from a Thai prison earlier this year.

Formula One has taken its Grand Prix Race to other deeply repressive counties, including Azerbaijan, while similarly claiming that it “is committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights in its operations globally.” Human Rights Watch and the Sport and Rights Alliance have met with and pressed Formula One to meaningfully carry out that pledge.

“Formula One has an opportunity to join other sporting organizations in advancing the respect for human rights in the areas in which it operates,” Worden said. “Adopting a human rights policy is the best way to avoid being driven to endorse repressive host countries’ abusive records.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 6:00 am

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands during a press conference in Beijing, China, January 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

(Paris) – French President Emmanuel Macron should keep his pledge not to “cover upChina’s human rights abuses during the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Macron. Xi will visit France from March 24 to 26, 2019.

“President Xi’s trip to France provides President Macron with an important opportunity to seek credible international visits to assess the conditions of Xinjiang’s persecuted Turkic Muslims,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Macron needs to give meaning to his call for ‘common goods,’ such as freedom and justice, by challenging Xi over human rights violations of a magnitude not seen in China for decades.”

Human Rights Watch urged Macron to press Xi, among other steps, to:

  • Allow meaningful access to the Xinjiang region for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights and other UN representatives, consistent with recent calls by France and the European Union;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release wrongfully detained human rights defenders and peaceful critics, including Gui Minhai, Huang Qi, Wang Quanzhang, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Guligeina Tashimaimaiti, and Li Ming-che;
  • Reverse China’s actions at the United Nations in opposition to human rights; and
  • Inform China that France will undertake a thorough review of all law enforcement cooperation with China in light of the enforced disappearance of then-Interpol chief Meng Hongwei in 2018, with a view toward suspending the cooperation where international human rights protections are not met.

“Foreign officials have often justified not challenging Chinese leaders on human rights out of ostensible concern that they might ‘lose face,’” Roth said. “But President Macron should keep in mind that the faces that matter are those of the countless people wrongly imprisoned, tortured and persecuted by President Xi and his government.”

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

Ziad Itani, a Lebanese actor, who was exonerated of spying for Israel, is carried after he was released by Lebanese authorities. Itani has accused security officials of torturing him and has called on authorities to investigate.

© 2018 AP Photo/Hussein Malla

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s Council of Ministers on March 7, 2019 appointed the five members of the country’s National Preventative Mechanism against Torture, Human Rights Watch said today.

Lebanon’s parliament passed a law establishing the NPM, a body within the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), on October 19, 2016. The NHRI is mandated to monitor the human rights situation in the country by reviewing laws, decrees, and administrative decisions and by investigating complaints of human rights violations and issuing periodic reports of its findings.

“Lebanon has taken a positive, if overdue, step toward eradicating the use of torture in the country through appointing the members of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, the government should allocate a sufficient budget so that the members can get to work.”

The five-member body will oversee the implementation of the anti-torture law adopted in September 2017. It will have the authority to conduct regular unannounced visits to all places of detention, investigate the use of torture, and issue recommendations to improve the treatment of detainees. The members will be able to interview detainees privately and outside the presence of guards. Lebanese authorities are legally obligated to cooperate with the unit and facilitate its work.

The appointments were mandated by Lebanon’s October 2016 law establishing the unit that also brought Lebanon one step closer to complying with its obligation under the international Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which it ratified on December 22, 2008. The protocol requires Lebanon to create an independent national mechanism to prevent torture, including through regular visits to the country’s detention centers to examine the treatment of detainees.

The cabinet should submit a sufficient budget for both the National Human Rights Institute and the National Preventive Mechanism, and parliament should ratify the budget and related financial decrees to allow those bodies to fulfill their mandates, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has routinely documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. However, authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and justice for torture in detention remains illusive. Ziad Itani, a well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance and torture in detention at the hands of State Security in November 2017.

Human Rights Watch wrote to State Security and the office of the public prosecutor, raising these allegations and urging them to conduct a thorough investigation into the case. It has not received a substantive response.

Itani told Human Rights Watch that he filed a civil lawsuit against the individuals involved in his torture in November 2018. However, he said that the public prosecutor referred the case to the military prosecutor and that there has been no movement on his case. Under international law, torture cases should be heard by regular judicial courts, not military courts. While the preamble in Lebanon’s new torture law specifies that torture cases should be heard by regular judicial courts, this is not reflected in its operational text, leaving open the possibility that Lebanon’s military courts will continue to hear some cases.

In July 2017, at least four Syrians died in military custody within days of their arrest, amid evidence of torture. Although local media reported that the military concluded an investigation into the deaths on July 24, the military has not published the results.

Following Lebanon’s first appearance in 2017 before the Committee Against Torture, the international body charged with overseeing implementation of the convention, the committee noted in its concluding observations that it remained:

concerned at various consistent reports that security forces and military personnel continue to routinely use torture against suspects in custody, including children, who are often held incommunicado, primarily to extract confessions that are to be used in criminal proceedings or as a form of punishment for acts that the victim is believed to have committed.

Lebanon’s 2017 anti-torture law precludes any excuse or justification for the use of torture, prohibits the use of testimony extracted under torture as evidence except against a person accused of committing torture, and provides special procedures for investigating allegations of torture and witness protection.

The need to combat torture and ill-treatment lies at the heart of several international conventions, treaties, and declarations that Lebanon is obligated to uphold under international law and is bound to by the preamble of its constitution. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the optional protocol.

Lebanon should accept the pending request of the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Lebanon, submitted on February 13, 2017. It should also make publicly available the last and only report issued by the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture in 2010, as well as the state’s response submitted in 2012.

“Despite improvements in Lebanon’s anti-torture framework, we have yet to see concrete progress in holding those response for torture to account,” Fakih said. “Lebanon’s authorities should ensure that the institutions they set up to end torture have the resources they need to effect real change.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 4:00 am

Kalev Mutond (second from left), Director of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, appears with First Lady Marie Olive Lembe and President Joseph Kabila during the country’s independence anniversary celebration in Kindu, capital of Maniema province, June 30, 2016. Mutond was one of eight officials sanctioned by the EU for “planning, directing, or committing” serious human rights violations.

© 2016 Reuters

(Kinshasa) – Democratic Republic of Congo authorities should investigate two recently dismissed intelligence officials for serious human rights violations. In March 2019, President Félix Tshisekedi removed Kalev Mutondo as director of the National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignements, ANR), and Roger Kibelisa as head of the agency’s Department for Internal Security.

Under Mutondo and Kibelisa’s leadership, the National Intelligence Agency has been an instrument of political repression against opposition leaders and human rights and pro-democracy activists during the country’s protracted political crisis.Tshisekedi has appointed Kibelisa as an assistant to the president's special security adviser. It is unclear if Mutondo will be offered a new position.

“President Tshisekedi’s removal of Mutondo and Kibelisa could prove to be an important step toward ending systematic abuse by the Congolese intelligence services,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But instead of giving the men new posts, the new administration should investigate their past actions and prosecute them as appropriate.”

Mutondo was a principal architect of the government’s drive to repress political dissent as then-President Joseph Kabila remained in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than a dozen government officials, members of Kabila’s coalition, and security force officers who said that Mutondo played a central role in the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy youth activists and opposition leaders and supporters, as well as in orchestrating violence across the country, including in the restive central Kasai region.

The National Intelligence Agency held many of those arrested incommunicado for weeks or months, without charge and without access to their families or lawyers. Some were tried on fabricated charges, with Mutondo also allegedly playing a role in intimidating judges and dictating verdicts.

The National Intelligence Agency badly mistreated or tortured some of those detained in the crackdown, including with electric shocks and a form of near-drowning. Intelligence agents under Mutondo’s command also repeatedly intimidated, threatened, and harassed activists, journalists, and opposition leaders or supporters, apparently as part of a broader campaign to spread fear and curtail their work before national elections in December 2018. Mutondo was also allegedly implicated in the recruitment of ruling party youth to infiltrate opposition protests and spread violence and chaos.

The United States sanctioned Mutondo on December 12, 2016 for “undermining democratic processes,” and the European Union sanctioned him on May 29, 2017 for “planning, directing, or committing” serious human rights violations. The EU renewed its sanctions on Mutondo in December.

Kibelisa also played a critical role in the repression against activists and the opposition during the Kabila administration. Kibelisa’s office was located at an ANR building in Kinshasa known as the “3Z” detention center, where from 2015 to 2018 scores of political prisoners and activists were detained in inhumane conditions, and in many cases ill-treated or tortured. Families of detainees, lawyers, and human rights defenders were regularly denied access to the 3Z center under Kibelisa’s watch.

In 2016, the EU sanctioned Kibelisa for his role in suppressing the democratic process, directing human rights abuse, and inciting violence. The sanctions were renewed in December, before the presidential and legislative elections.

Tshisekedi’s decision to appoint Kibelisa to be assistant to the special security adviser indicates that he will not be investigated for past alleged abuses. While Mutondo has not to date been offered a position in the government, the appointment of Justin Inzun Kakiat, his deputy for many years, to replace him as ANR director further signals an unwillingness by the new administration to address impunity in the intelligence agencies. A thorough vetting of Kakiat’s role in past abuses should be carried out before he takes up the position, Human Rights Watch said. 

“President Tshisekedi’s treatment of past rights abusers from the Kabila administration will say a great deal about the future direction of his administration,” Mudge said. “Will there be genuine accountability and reform or a continuation of Kabila’s repression, abuse, and impunity?” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2019, 4:00 am

Then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping makes a speech at the opening of Australia's first Chinese Medicine Confucius Institute, at the RMIT University in Melbourne on June 20, 2010. 

© 2010 WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images


(New York) – Institutions of higher learning around the world should resist the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine academic freedom abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 21, 2019, Human Rights Watch published a 12-point Code of Conduct for colleges and universities to adopt to respond to Chinese government threats to the academic freedom of students, scholars, and educational institutions.

Many colleges and universities around the world with ties to the Chinese government, or with large student populations from China, are unprepared to address threats to academic freedom in a systematic way, Human Rights Watch said. Few have moved to protect academic freedom against longstanding problems, such as visa bans on scholars working on China or surveillance and self-censorship on their campuses.

“Colleges and universities that stand together are better equipped to resist Chinese government harassment and surveillance on campuses, visa denials, and pressures to censor or self-censor,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Most important, they will be better prepared to ensure academic freedom on their campuses for all students and scholars, particularly those from China.”

The proposed Code of Conduct is based on more than 100 interviews between 2015 and 2018 in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States with academics, graduate and undergraduate students, and administrators, some of them from China. The people interviewed came from a range of institutions, including globally known universities, large public institutions, and small, private colleges. Almost all were from or study China, or have operated academic programs on behalf of their institutions in China.

Human Rights Watch found various threats to academic freedom resulting from Chinese government pressure. Chinese authorities have long monitored and conducted surveillance on students and academics from China and those studying China on campuses around the world. Chinese diplomats have also complained to university officials about hosting speakers – such as the Dalai Lama – whom the Chinese government considers “sensitive.”

Academics told Human Rights Watch that students from China have described threats to their families in China in response to what those students had said in the classroom. Scholars from China detailed being directly threatened outside the country by Chinese officials to refrain from criticizing the Chinese government in classroom lectures or other talks. Others described students from China remaining silent in their classrooms, fearful that their speech was being monitored and reported to Chinese authorities by other students from China. One student from China at a university in the United States summed up his concerns about classroom surveillance, noting: “This isn’t a free space.”

Many of the academics interviewed identified censorship and self-censorship as serious concerns. One said a senior administrator has asked them “as a personal favor” to decline media requests during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, fearing that it could have ramifications for their university.

At two US universities, senior administrators cancelled appearances by speakers they believed the Chinese government would deem “sensitive,” and in one of those cases, the dean explained to a faculty member that the school did not want to lose its growing number of students from China. In another case, colleagues discouraged a scholar at a university with a large population of students from China from assigning his classes potentially “sensitive” titles. Two described academics participating in hiring panels in which the candidates were questioned during job interviews about their views on Confucius Institutes, which are effectively international outposts of China’s Ministry of Education that offer classes in Chinese language and culture.

Many of those interviewed said they modified their remarks inside and outside classrooms because of fears of being denied access to China or to funding sources, of causing problems for students or scholars from China or their family members, or of offending or irking students or scholars from China.

Many expressed discomfort with the presence of Confucius Institutes on their campuses. They said the presence of such institutions fundamentally compromised their institution’s commitment to academic freedom, especially when Confucius Institutes had been invited to their campuses without broad faculty consultation. In 2019, Victoria University cancelled the screening of a documentary critical of Confucius Institutes after the university’s Confucius Institute complained.

A number of US institutions, including the University of Chicago, North Carolina State University, and the University of Massachusetts Boston have closed or announced they will close the Confucius Institutes on their campuses because of concerns about academic freedom, among other reasons.

Few of those interviewed believed that their institutions offered any guidance or practical protections to enable them to speak freely.

“Universities can’t continue to rely solely on honor codes or other statements of principle designed to address issues like cheating, plagiarism, or tenure to address pressure from the Chinese government on academic freedom abroad,” Richardson said. “Those don’t envision – let alone set out remedies for – the kinds of threats to academic freedom now widely reported.”

As concerns about the Chinese government undermining human rights around the world have grown, students and scholars from China told Human Rights Watch they increasingly feel they are regarded with suspicion within their educational institutions.

A recent Wilson Center study of Chinese political influence in higher education in the US found it important that “countermeasures neither vilify PRC [mainland] students as a group, nor lose sight of the fact that these students, along with faculty members of Chinese descent, are often the victims of influence and interference activities perpetrated by PRC diplomats and nationalistic peers.” Academic institutions should ensure that students and scholars from China feel welcomed, integrated, and protected, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Xi’s moves to strangle academic freedom inside China makes it all the more urgent to ensure that students and scholars of and from China can enjoy academic freedom abroad,” Richardson said. “Institutions can demonstrate their commitment to peaceful, critical expression by adopting smart, robust protections, and keeping their gates open to all who seek academic freedom.”


Resisting Chinese Government Efforts to Undermine Academic Freedom Abroad
A Code of Conduct for Colleges, Universities, and Academic Institutions Worldwide

Large numbers of students, scholars, scientists, and professors from China now study or work at colleges and universities abroad. In recent years, Chinese government authorities have grown bolder in trying to shape global perceptions of China on campuses and in academic institutions outside China. These authorities have sought to influence academic discussions, monitor overseas students from China, censor scholarly inquiry, or otherwise interfere with academic freedom.

Human Rights Watch investigations found that the Chinese government attempts to restrict academic freedom beyond its borders. To counter such pressures, ensure the integrity of academic institutions, and protect the academic freedom and free expression rights of students, scholars, and administrators, particularly those who work on China or are from China, Human Rights Watch proposes the following Code of Conduct. While the impetus for and focus of the provisions that follow is pressure emanating from China, academic institutions should apply the same principles to interactions with all governments that threaten academic freedom on their campuses.

All institutions of higher education should:

  1. Speak out for academic freedom.  Publicly commit to supporting academic freedom and freedom of expression through public statements at the highest institutional levels, institutional policies, and internal guidelines. Explicitly recognize threats posed to academic freedom and freedom of expression by the Chinese government seeking to shape discussions, teaching, and scholarship on campus. Reaffirm a commitment to freedom of inquiry, enabling scholars and students to freely conduct research, and make clear that opposing direct and indirect censorship pressures or retaliation by third parties, including national and foreign governments, is integral to academic freedom.
  2. Strengthen academic freedom on campus. Emphasize the commitments and policies in support of academic freedom in student orientation, faculty hiring, handbooks and honor codes, and public gatherings. To avoid self-censorship or retaliation for stating opinions, academic institutions should publicize a policy that classroom discussions are meant to stay on campus, and never to be reported to foreign missions. 
  3. Counter threats to academic freedom.  Encourage students and faculty members to recognize that direct and indirect censorship pressures, threats, or acts of retaliation by Chinese government authorities or their agents against students or scholars for what they write or say threaten academic freedom. Develop and implement effective mechanisms, such as an ombudsperson, to whom such pressures, threats, or acts of retaliation can be privately or anonymously reported.
  4. Record incidents of Chinese government infringement of academic freedom. Actively track instances of direct or indirect Chinese government harassment, surveillance, or threats on campuses. Where warranted, they should be reported to law enforcement. Report annually the number and nature of these kinds of incidents.   
  5. Join with other academic institutions to promote research in China. Academic institutions should work in concert, including by making public statements and complaints where appropriate, in the event of unwarranted visa denials or prolonged delays for research in China.  Academic institutions should consider joint actions against Chinese government entities in response to visa denials or other obstacles to academic research.
  6. Offer flexibility for scholars and students working on China. Ensure that a scholar’s career advancement or a student’s progress will not be compromised if their research has to change direction due to Chinese government restrictions on research or access to source material in China. Institutions should consider steps, such as granting the scholar or student extra time to finish their research, supporting alternative research strategies, or publishing using pseudonyms, in the face of Chinese government obstacles, harassment, or reprisals. Academic institutions should be open to alternative research strategies when funding or receiving funds for academic work that has been rejected by a Chinese entity. Funders and review boards should provide comparable flexibility.
  7. Reject Confucius Institutes. Refrain from having Confucius Institutes on campuses, as they are fundamentally incompatible with a robust commitment to academic freedom. Confucius Institutes are extensions of the Chinese government that censor certain topics and perspectives in course materials on political grounds, and use hiring practices that take political loyalty into consideration.
  8. Monitor Chinese government-linked organizations. Require that all campus organizations, including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), that receive funding or support from Chinese diplomatic missions and other Chinese government-linked entities, report such information.
  9. Promote academic freedom of students and scholars from China. Inform students and scholars from China that they are not required to join any organizations, and help mentor and support them to ensure they can enjoy full academic freedom.
  10. Disclose all Chinese government funding. Publicly disclose, on an annual basis, all sources and amounts of funding that come directly or indirectly from the Chinese government. Publish lists of all projects and exchanges with Chinese government counterparts.
  11. Ensure academic freedom in exchange programs and on satellite campuses. Exchange programs and satellite campuses in China should only be undertaken after the completion of a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese counterpart that has been transparently discussed by relevant faculty members and ensures the protection of academic freedom, including control over hiring and firing, and the curriculum.
  12. Monitor impact of Chinese government interference in academic freedom. Work with academic institutions, professional associations, and funders to systematically study and regularly publicly report on: a) areas of research that have received less attention because of fears about access; b) decline of on-campus discussions of topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre; c) efforts by academic institutions to curtail Chinese government threats to academic freedom; and 4) strategies collectively pursued by institutions to defend and promote academic freedom.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 6:10 pm

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, passes Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany during the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 17, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Andy Brownbill

Next week, Formula One returns to Bahrain for its high-octane auto race, the Grand Prix. The race sparks protests year after year in Bahrain, as well as in other repressive host countries like Azerbaijan.

Bahraini authorities enjoy these extravaganzas because they distract from their abysmal human rights situation. But Bahrain’s true picture is of arrests, abuse, and torture of peaceful dissidents and members of the opposition and the Grand Prix cannot “sports-wash” this track record away.

Bahraini security forces have arbitrarily arrested many protestors and prominent opposition figures in the lead up to the annual race in Bahrain. Salah Abbas Habib was shot dead by security forces while protesting the Grand Prix in 2012. In June 2018, activist and mother of four Najah Yusuf was detained, tortured, and sentenced to three years in prison for her social media activity, including posts opposing Formula One because of the government’s use of the race to whitewash repression.

A Bahraini anti-government protester carries a sign opposing the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix, in Daih, Bahrain, Sunday, April 3, 2016. 

© 2016 AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

The leaders of Formula One and its governing federation, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) will be celebrating their race in Bahrain – a mere 20 kilometers away from the prison where Yusef is unjustly held. They could and should ask to meet her in prison.

To ensure sports events don’t contribute to human rights abuses, global businesses, and sports federations – including motor racing’s footballing equivalent, FIFA – are increasingly adopting the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This helps ensure they properly assess the human rights risks of their operations, and do not further fuel abuses.

Formula One and FIA leaders should follow suit.

Human Rights Watch and 17 other rights groups have written to urge Formula One to use its substantial leverage with press Bahrain’s authorities for change.

Bahrain already tried to export repression beyond its own borders this year when it sought to extradite its former national football player and torture survivor Hakeem al-Araibi from Thailand.

After a global outcry the extradition bid failed, but Bahrain’s abuses are a warning flag.

It is time for Formula One to adopt and implement a human rights policy. And it should start by calling for Yusuf to be freed ahead of the Grand Prix race on March 31.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 4:12 pm

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters

Debate is growing in the UK over schools teaching children about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities and relationships.

When a Birmingham school started the “No Outsiders” program, lessons aimed at teaching kids about inclusion, including about ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, it sparked weekly protests by some parents, and hundreds of children were pulled from classes.

Despite the body responsible for monitoring education approving the classes as age-appropriate, a trust that manages a group of schools in Birmingham announced this week it would temporarily suspend the program.

As schools cave to pressure from some parents, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, made things exponentially worse on Wednesday.

Leadsom argued in a radio interview that parents should have control over when their child is “exposed to that information.” The implication that such information is harmful could not be more wrong.

It is important for children to be taught age-appropriate lessons about LGBT people and that being different is not bad.

Human Rights Watch has seen the effects in other countries of banning positive discussions about homosexuality and other “non-traditional” relationships. These policies contribute to bullying and violence, and can leave already vulnerable children feeling like their existence is a mistake.

In Russia, a ban on “gay propaganda” in schools has led to devastating consequences for LGBT children’s mental health. Their grades suffered, their relationships with parents and teachers degraded, and some dropped out of school. Anti-LGBT violence also increased in the wake of the bill’s passage.

“No promo homo” laws – legislation in some US states against promoting homosexuality –effectively give license to discriminate against LGBT kids in school, where all children should feel safe.

In Japan, the government failed to include LGBT issues in the national curriculum despite nearly 75 percent of teachers indicating they wanted the topics to be included.

Some have sought to defend the decision to suspend the teaching because the objections of some parents are linked to religious faith. But people’s beliefs – no matter how firmly held cannot be used to override the rights of LGBT children to go to school without having to face fear and anguish just for being who they are. What message does it send those children when schools erase their identity from the curriculum?

As hard as it is, schools should stand firm against these protests and support a curriculum inclusive of all children.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 1:59 pm

ناشطات سعوديات

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia’s charges against women’s rights defenders appear almost entirely related to their human rights activities, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia opened individual trials on March 13, 2019 of 11 activists, most of them prominent women’s rights advocates detained beginning in May 2018. Saudi Arabia should immediately release all human rights activists detained merely for their rights advocacy, Human Rights Watch said.

Informed sources who have reviewed the prosecutor’s written charge sheets have described to Human Rights Watch the content of charges for two of the detainees, nearly all of which are related to peaceful human rights work, including promoting women’s rights and calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system. The sources said that charges against the other women are similar. Prosecutors also accuse the women of sharing information about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia with journalists based in Saudi Arabia, diplomats, and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, deeming such contacts a criminal offense.

“After nearly a year of accusations in Saudi government media that these brave champions of women’s rights are ‘foreign agents,’ the actual charges against them appear to be simply a list of their efforts to promote women’s rights,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This is hardly the act of a government that is carrying out reforms, as Mohammad bin Salman and his supporters keep claiming.”

The charges include contact with international journalists based in Saudi Arabia and fully accredited there, foreign diplomats, Saudi human rights activists abroad, and international human rights organizations. They appear to blatantly contradict Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s statements to Bloomberg in an interview in October 2018. When asked whether the women would face charges for talking to foreign diplomats and journalists, he responded: “Journalists, no. But intelligence, yes. Secret intelligence. We have some of them with videos. We can show it to you.”

Bloomberg noted on March 13 that Saudi authorities never allowed journalists to visit prosecutors to view the evidence despite repeated requests. The two charge sheets described to Human Rights Watch make no mention of contact with intelligence agencies.

“If sharing information about women’s rights with journalists and diplomats is illegal, then by that standard most of the Saudi leadership would be in prison right now,” Page said.

Sources told Human Rights Watch that the trials were initially slated to take place in Saudi Arabia’s notorious Specialized Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over terrorism-related crimes, but the evening before, the Saudi authorities informed detainees’ families that the trials had been moved to Riyadh’s regular criminal court.

A Saudi lawyer well-versed in Saudi court procedures told Human Rights Watch that the switch is highly irregular, as prosecutors would normally submit charges to a relevant court well in advance, and a change of venue would require the initial court to rule that it lacked jurisdiction. He said that the move indicates political influence over the court proceedings.

On March 13, Bloomberg reported that Saudi authorities had barred a group of about 20 foreign diplomats and international journalists from entering the courtroom to observe the hearings. The head of the court, Ibrahim Al Sayari, told journalists that 10 women were on trial, including the prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul Aziza Yousef, Hatoon al-Fassi, and Eman al-Nafjan.

The Saudi human rights group ALQST reported the same day that 11 women were on trial, including the four mentioned by the head of the court and Mayaa al-Zahrani, Amal al-Harbi, Shadan al-Onezi, and Nouf Abdulaziz, who did not attend her hearing. Two others included Saudi professors Abeer Namankani and Ruqayya al-Mohareb. The eleventh woman remained unidentified, ALQST said. Neither Samar Badawi nor Nasima al-Sada, other detained women’s rights activists, were taken before the court.

The women also face the charge of violating article six of Saudi Arabia’s notorious, vaguely worded cybercrime law, which prohibits “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network,” with penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million Saudi Riyals (US$800,000). Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented Saudi prosecutors’ use of this vague provision to jail human rights activists and dissidents who criticize Saudi human rights abuses online or peacefully call for reform.

Human rights organizations began reporting in November accusations that Saudi interrogators tortured at least four of the women, including with electric shocks and whippings, and had sexually harassed and assaulted them. In January, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said that Saudi authorities should allow international monitors to enter the country and investigate the torture allegations.

The crackdown on women's rights activists began just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24, for which many of the detained activists had campaigned. While some were quickly released, others have remained detained without charge for nearly 10 months.

Authorities accused several of those detained of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties.” Government-aligned media outlets have carried out a smear campaign against them, branding them “traitors.” The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that nine of those detained will be referred for trial to the Specialized Criminal Court.

On January 2, a panel of British parliament members and international lawyers sent an official request to Saudi authorities for access to the country and to detained women’s rights advocates, but the Saudi authorities have not responded. The panel issued a comprehensive report detailing the torture allegations in February. On February 14, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release “women’s rights defenders and all human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and other prisoners of conscience detained and sentenced merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and for their peaceful human rights work.” The resolution also called for an EU-wide ban on export of surveillance systems, reiterated that arms sales to Saudi Arabia contravene the EU’s common position on arms exports, and called for “restricted measures against Saudi Arabia in response to breaches of human rights, including asset freezes and visa bans.”

On March 7, 2019, 36 countries at the UN Human Rights Council issued a joint statement calling on Saudi Arabia “to release all individuals, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al Yousef, Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon al-Fassi, Mohammed AlBajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan al-Anezi, detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

In February, a bipartisan group of US Congressional representatives led by Congresswoman Lois Frankel issued a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release jailed Saudi women’s rights activists and hold those responsible for abuses accountable. A bipartisan group of US Senators led by Senator Marco Rubio introduced a similar resolution in the US Senate.

Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted in August 2018 that she was alarmed over the detention of Badawi and called for her release, and the Canadian foreign ministry tweeted in August calling for the immediate release of Saudi human rights activists. Saudi Arabia retaliated to these calls by expelling the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, suspending all new trade, cancelling state airline flights to Canada, and forcing the withdrawal from Canadian universities of all Saudi students.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 6:00 am

Myanmar: Women, Girls Trafficked as ‘Brides’ to China

The Myanmar and Chinese governments have failed to stem the trafficking of ethnic Kachin women and girls as “brides” to families in China. 

(Yangon) – The Myanmar and Chinese governments have failed to stem the trafficking of ethnic Kachin women and girls as “brides” to families in China, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 112-page report, “‘Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go’: Trafficking of Kachin ‘Brides’ from Myanmar to China,” documents the selling by traffickers of women and girls from Kachin and northern Shan States into sexual slavery in China. Trafficking survivors said that trusted people, including family members, promised them jobs in China, but instead sold them for the equivalent of US$3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese families. In China, they were typically locked in a room and raped so they would become pregnant.
“Myanmar and Chinese authorities are looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse,” said Heather Barr, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The dearth of livelihoods and basic rights protections have made these women easy prey for traffickers, who have little reason to fear law enforcement on either side of the border.”
The report is based primarily on interviews with 37 trafficking survivors, as well as with 3 families of victims, Myanmar government officials and police, and members of local groups, among others.
A Kachin woman who had been trafficked at 16 by her sister-in-law said:

“The family took me to a room. In that room I was tied up again. … They locked the door – for one or two months. When it was time for meals, they sent meals in. I was crying…Each time when the Chinese man brought me meals, he raped me.”

Survivors said the Chinese families often seemed more interested in having a baby than a “bride.” Once trafficked women and girls gave birth to a baby, they were sometimes able to escape their captors, but usually at the cost of leaving their child behind with little hope of seeing the child again. Back in Myanmar, survivors grapple with trauma and stigma as they try to rebuild their lives. There are very few services for trafficking survivors, and the few organizations that provide desperately needed assistance cannot meet the survivors’ needs.

Many of the trafficking survivors interviewed were among over 100,000 people internally displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States who face desperate lives in camps. The Myanmar government has largely blocked humanitarian aid to the camps, some of which are under the control of the opposition Kachin Independence Organization. Women are often the sole breadwinners, with men taking part in the conflict. This makes women and girls vulnerable to traffickers, who sell them to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons due to the gender imbalance in China related to the country’s earlier “one child policy.”

The percentage of women in China’s population has fallen steadily since 1987, and the gender gap among men and women ages 15 to 29 is increasing. Researchers estimate that China has 30 to 40 million “missing women,” who should be alive today but are not due to preference for boys exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015 and China’s continuing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

Some families cope with the lack of marriageable women by buying trafficked women or girls. It is difficult to estimate the total number of women and girls being trafficked as brides to China, but the Myanmar government reported 226 cases in 2017. Experts on the issue told Human Rights Watch they believe the real number is most likely much higher.

Law enforcement officers in China and Myanmar, including officials of the Kachin Independence Organization, have made little effort to recover trafficked women and girls, Human Rights Watch found. Families seeking police help were turned away repeatedly, often told that they would have to pay before police would act. Women and girls who escaped and went to the Chinese police were sometimes jailed for immigration violations rather than being treated as crime victims.

“The Myanmar and Chinese governments, as well as the Kachin Independence Organization, should be doing much more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and prosecute traffickers,” Barr said. “Donors and international organizations should support the local groups that are doing the hard work that governments won’t to rescue trafficked women and girls and help them recover.”

Selected Quotes

Armed Conflict and Trafficking in Myanmar

“Suddenly, in 2011, fighting broke out. We had to run away and escape for our lives. In the past we just left for a short time…We thought once the Myanmar army stopped firing we could go back. But we never could go back – and slowly we had to move to the border area, because the Myanmar army targeted the civilian population. …Then Chinese traffickers started coming here to persuade the civilians. … [Young women] thought they would take any risk if it would help their family, help their younger siblings.” – A Kachin Women’s Association worker, herself a displaced person. Interviewed by phone, January 2018.

Lure of Work in China

“I was the breadwinner of my family – I took care of my mother and I had to look after her. So, to live in the IDP camp – the place is too small, and everything is difficult. So, one of my friends told me: “In China there are jobs and good salaries. Every month you can get 4,000 to 5,000 yuan [US$640 to $800].” – Woman trafficked in 2013 at 27. Myitkyina, April 2017.

Targeting by Traffickers

“The broker was my auntie. She persuaded me.” – Survivor trafficked at 17 or 18. Myitkyina, December 2017.

“The Myanmar broker gives them to the China broker. The China broker provides a place to stay and food and shows them to a Chinese man and he looks and pays depending on how pretty [she is]. [They pay] 100,000 yuan [$15,900] or 70,000 or 50, 30, 20 – depending on how pretty. It’s like trading jade – if jade is a good quality we make a call and trade from one broker to another. Same thing with a girl, traded from one broker to another.” – Kachin Independence Organization official who had worked in anti-trafficking. Myitkyina, January 2018.

Journey of Trafficked Women and Girls

“After a week there, I fainted. I think maybe they gave me some medicine or something. I don’t remember what happened. When I woke up, I heard the train and recognized that I was on the train. I don’t know how many days I had fainted or how long I was on the train. I saw only the Chinese letters. I could not read them. There were no Myanmar letters. I started crying. I saw a woman. Maybe she was a broker – I never met whoever it was who brought me on the train. She pinched my face. She was a Shan-Chinese woman…We stayed in a hotel. When we arrived, the Shan-Chinese woman locked the door from the outside and warned us not to run away. She said if we try to run she will cut off our hands and legs.” – Woman trafficked at 14 with her cousin after they accepted work in a clothing store near the border paying 50,000 kyat ($38) per month. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“They fed us sometimes, but not always. After three days they brought the men to the compound. There was a high fence, so no one could see what was happening inside the compound. Outside the room they showed me to 10 men. At that time it was morning, 7 a.m. They separated me from my baby and showed me to the men. The original broker had gone, and a second broker came and showed me to the men and asked me which one I liked. When I said I didn’t like any of the men, the broker slapped me. This continued for a few days and I kept refusing. Then the broker raped me. The broker got mad – to calm himself down at night he raped me. It was a violent rape. When I didn’t take off my clothes he beat me.” – Woman trafficked at 36, along with her 2-year-old son. Myitkyina, April 2016.

Life in Captivity

“[An interpreter used by my purchaser told me]: ‘You have been brought in this family for marriage…[Y]ou will not easily go home now. You have been grabbed by this family – you are to marry, and you will be here, and you will stay here.’” – Woman trafficked at 18. Myitkyina, July 2016.

“Four days later we arrived in Fugan. …Then I was locked up in the room. I was not allowed to use the phone. For a week I cried. I ate nothing. All I could do was pray. After that I realized that I had no way to choose anymore…I was there for four years.” – Woman trafficked at 18. She escaped with her daughter but was forced to leave her son behind. Myitkyina, December 2017.

“I don’t know why they beat me. One day they beat me a lot. Even the neighbor came to the house and tried to stop them. When the neighbor stopped the mother, then the son beat me again. When the neighbor stopped the son, then the mother beat me…Every time I was beaten, I did not know what to do. I was bleeding from my nose and my mouth…No matter what, they beat me.” – Woman trafficked in 2011. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“I had to have sex with the man every night. If I denied him, he would threaten me with knives. …I had to do lots of housework. I had to wash their clothes, cook for them, give a bath to his parents.” – Woman trafficked in 2013. Myitkyina, July 2017.

Demand for Babies

“I was locked in the room for one year. …Before I had a baby, the family members – especially the mother-in-law – treated me badly. Her face was furious. Sometimes they didn’t feed me, because I didn’t get pregnant as soon as possible.” – Woman trafficked at 30. Myitkyina, July 2017.

“The Chinese man told me I would need to have a baby. I said I don’t want to have a baby. He pushed back and asked me to have a baby. [He said] ‘Normally after Myanmar girls in China have a baby they go home – maybe you’re like this.’ So, I decided to have a baby with him. The Chinese man told me that after the kid was 1-year-old then I could go back.” – Woman trafficked at 20. Myitkyina, April 2016.

“I gave birth…After one year, the Chinese man gave me a choice of what to do…It took a lot of negotiation, but then I got permission to go back home. But not with the baby. The family members didn’t allow me to take care of the baby – only give birth and give the baby milk. Breastfeed the baby – then the mother-in-law took the baby and cared for the baby. They would not let me be the mother.” – Woman who returned to China after escaping because she could not bear to be away from her child. Myitkyina, April 2016.

Weak Law Enforcement

“I really feel depressed for losing my daughter, and I feel really sad. We don’t have any money, so we don’t know how to look for her.” – Mother of a trafficked woman, who was turned away by Myanmar anti-trafficking police. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“We went about five times to the [Myanmar] police. Always they say, ‘Let’s look for them. We will reply if we have found them.’…We already informed as much as we know to the police, but they say nothing, [they have] no solution.” – Mother of a trafficked woman. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“We have an anti-trafficking law [in Myanmar], but we have corruption problems. Brokers are never arrested because they can pay a bribe and always escape. Police and courts and border guards are all accepting bribes.” – Expert on trafficking in Myanmar. Yangon, January 2018.

Stigma Against Survivors; Lingering Trauma

“Some escaped from China, but do not dare to come back home because they are ashamed about the situation and what happened to them…In our Kachin society, we look down on people who live together with another person and don’t get married or have sex with another person without being married. We came back home and were looked down on by our community. Even though we got married with a Kachin guy – in the future, [by] his relatives and his family I’m sure I will be condemned and looked down upon forever.” – Woman trafficked at about age 46. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“There was no physical damage to my body. But a man I didn’t accept had sex with me and that always remains with me and it’s really hard and it always has an effect on my life.” – Woman trafficked in 2011 and held for four months. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“Most victims face terrible situations. They come back, and they are totally different from us. They are just gazing, staring…People who just came back don’t even dare to go outside and show their faces…They feel guilty for being [trafficked].” – Kachin Women’s Association worker from Laiza, Myitkyina, January 2018.

Lack of Services

“Services are totally inadequate. [Myanmar Department of Social Welfare] is nice – everyone likes them. But they just don’t have the resources to do anything. They are under-resourced to the point of dysfunction.” – Foreign diplomat based in Myanmar, Yangon, May 2016.

“They need counselling and care – but we’ve been unable to provide for such needs.” – Kachin Women’s Association worker from northern Shan State, interviewed by phone, January 2018.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 4:00 am


Image of Sum Moeun (left) and Moeun Mean (right). 

© 2019 VOD
(New York) – Cambodian authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of a land activist forcibly disappeared in Preah Vihear province, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 20, 2019, at about 5:30 p.m., soldiers from Battalion 261 of Army Command Intervention Division 2 of the Cambodian armed forces arrested Sum Moeun, 54, a community leader in a local land dispute, and his son, Moeun Mean, 26, in Yeang commune, Chaom Ksan district. Soldiers transferred them to Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary Headquarters, where they were detained overnight. On January 21, only Moeun Mean was taken before the provincial court prosecutor. The wildlife sanctuary headquarters said that Sum Moeun had escaped at around 8 a.m. that morning.

“The Cambodian government needs to produce Sum Moeun in court and lawfully charge him or return him home to his family,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “There should be an immediate, independent investigation of this case with full cooperation from the army, which is commanded by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Gen. Hun Manet.”

Relatives of Sum Moeun said they received information that soldiers allegedly hit and beat him with gun butts and slapped him when they arrested him. A photo taken while he was in custody appears to show bruises on Sum Moeun’s face.

In June 2013, Cambodia ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which defines an enforced disappearance as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Because they are outside of the protection of the law, a person who has been forcibly disappeared is at heightened risk of torture and extrajudicial execution.

The convention against enforced disappearances obligates the government to investigate allegations that a person was forcibly disappeared, even in the absence of a formal complaint. The authorities are also required to take appropriate measures to protect relatives from any ill-treatment, intimidation, or sanction as a result of the search for information about a “disappeared” person.

“Sum Moeun’s wife has not heard from him since his arrest and has made repeated public calls to the authorities to help find her missing husband,” Adams said. “His family has good reason to fear for his safety.”

Between January 16 and 27, security guards and soldiers arrested 15 villagers as part of a crackdown on villagers in Yeang commune accused of illegal clearing of state forest land. Fourteen villagers remain in pre-trial detention, including Moeun Mean, and face 5 to 10 years in prison.

The land dispute stems from a concession granted in June 2012 by the Environment Ministry to Metrey Pheap Kakse Usahakam Co. Ltd., an agro-industrial company. The 8,520 hectares in the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary prompted a dispute between Metrey Pheap and over 300 families who claim the right to ownership of farmland in the area. Local authorities said that Metrey Pheap should settle the land dispute with the villagers but also asserted that parts of the land claimed by villagers were within state forest land.

Protracted land disputes resulting from illegal land confiscations by large companies and powerful tycoons with government backing are a major human rights problem in Cambodia. Land seizures for development are carried out without due process or fair compensation for affected individuals and communities, which has spurred local protests. Soldiers, gendarmes, and police have frequently been used to clamp down on protests or arbitrarily detain peaceful protesters.

The European Union currently has a delegation in Cambodia looking into whether Cambodia is in compliance with its “Everything but Arms” program, which provides trade preferences for countries meeting the program’s human rights standards.

“Cambodia does not have a recent history of enforced disappearances, but one-party rule and an increase in land seizures raises alarm bells,” Adams said. “The Cambodian government should promptly produce Sum Moeun and show it is committed to addressing the human rights concerns of the European Union and other governments.”


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2019, 12:55 am

Paramilitary policemen march in formation in front of the Potala Palace during a parade around the March 10 anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, March 10, 2017.

Every year on March 10, Tibetans and supporters worldwide mark the anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa uprising. That was the moment when popular anger against eight years of Chinese control boiled over into protest, triggering the bloody imposition of direct rule by the Chinese Communist Party and the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile. For this year’s 60th anniversary, the exile community in India organized especially large demonstrations, as did diaspora communities stretching from Australia, the Americas, and Europe to Tokyo and Taipei.

In China, authorities responded, as they have for years, by closing Tibet to foreign tourists for the “sensitive” month of March and calling for intensified security, in a region already tightly surveilled. Provincial leaders exhorted their well-equipped security forces to “severely crack down on the threat of separatist destruction” through “preventive control” – despite a history of peaceful protest in Tibet. As has been evident in the past, the central leadership in Beijing has presumably ordered security forces to prevent any visible incident of dissent.

To drive the message home, authorities staged mass rallies in Lhasa and other provincial cities on March 7. In Lhasa, thousands of armed police and other security forces from across the region gathered to “pledge” loyalty to the Party and its political objective of “comprehensive, long term stability.” In his address, head of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Stability Maintenance Command, Ding Yexen, called on them to “intimidate and terrify hostile forces and splittist forces, giving them nowhere to hide.” This was followed by a parade of armored vehicles and military hardware through a city that has not seen armed opposition to the state since the last members of Tibet’s disbanded national army were rounded up and imprisoned 60 years ago.

Meanwhile, Communist Party secretary Wu Yingjie and other TAR officials attending the National People’s Congress, the country’s annual legislative meeting in Beijing, insisted that Tibetans “love the Communist Party (for ‘liberating’ and ‘developing’ their country) more than the Dalai Lama.”  A new series of editorials in the flagship Party newspaper, Tibet Daily, denouncing the exiled Tibetan leader at great length as a “reactionary” and “lackey of hostile foreign forces” suggests that the Party remained concerned by his influence.

Despite the command of overwhelming force, China appears still to be struggling for the control of history in Tibet 60 years on.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 10:01 pm

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The US Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that immigrants with certain criminal convictions – even those who served their time decades ago for minor crimes – may be detained indefinitely without a hearing for bail.

Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in this 5-4 decision makes the issue sound like a purely technical one for grammarians and lawyers. But the issue in Nielsen v. Preap revolves around the right to liberty and to be free from arbitrary detention.

This is what mandatory immigration detention for people with an old criminal record looks like:

When Ricardo Fuenzalida was in his early 20s, he was arrested twice for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty, never spent a day in jail, and went on to become a family man who worked hard at his construction job and coached his twin girls’ soccer team. In 2013, over 13 years later, US immigration agents arrested him, locked him up, and tried to deport him.

As a lawful permanent resident, Fuenzalida fought deportation, but the US government argued he was subject to mandatory detention for his “controlled substance offense,” meaning he could not be released on bail (or “bond” in immigration parlance). After months of detention, at tremendous financial and emotional cost for his family – as well as financial cost to US taxpayers – Fuenzalida won his case and returned home.

In 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that people like Fuenzalida are not subject to mandatory detention if they were arrested years after being released from criminal custody. The court said that the federal statute on mandatory detention allows for immigrants with certain criminal convictions to be taken into custody “when…released” – but not beyond that time.

The Supreme Court in Nielsen v. Preap reversed this decision, holding that “when…released” meant any time after the immigrant left custody, affirming an expansive and arbitrary interpretation of mandatory detention.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, makes clear that what is at stake is not a narrow question of law to be decided on grammar alone. Rather, the issue cannot be decided “without bearing in mind basic American legal values: the Government’s duty not to deprive any ‘person’ of ‘liberty’ without ‘due process of law,’… and more directly, the longstanding right of virtually all persons to receive a bail hearing.”

This decision will deprive immigrants like Ricardo Fuenzalida of their freedom without due process, contrary to basic American values, and in violation of international human rights law.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 9:15 pm

Worshippers pray for victims and families of the Christchurch shootings during an evening vigil a the Lakemba Mosque, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Wakemba, New South Wales, Australia.

© 2019 Mark Goudkamp via AP

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, known in Australia as Harmony Day. It’s especially relevant given last Friday’s attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, where an Australian right-wing extremist gunned down at least 50 people and wounded dozens more in two mosques. The attacker livestreamed the shootings and published a manifesto of hate.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has shown leadership with compassion and integrity in standing with victims and speaking up against hateful and xenophobic rhetoric.

In neighboring Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison also strongly condemned the attack and inflammatory statements by a far-right senator. But many Australians have questioned the sincerity of Morrison’s response on Christchurch, especially given the record of senior Australian government officials in scapegoating Muslims and conflating Islam or refugees with terrorism for political gain.

On Monday, a Liberal Party senator, Linda Reynolds, cited the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed 202 people to explain her opposition to a bill to allow urgent medical evacuations of refugees from the islands of Manus and Nauru. Were asylum seekers responsible for the Bali attack? No. Is there any connection? None.

But if politicians and media say the words “refugee,” “Muslim,” and “terrorist” together enough, people start to internalize it. As immigration minister, Morrison insisted people seeking asylum be referred to as “illegal maritime arrivals.” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has suggested that visas for white South African farmers be fast-tracked on humanitarian grounds while castigating past governments for allowing refugees from Lebanon to come to Australia, which he linked to terrorism. Tabloid media in Australia have time and again painted a picture of refugees as potential terrorists. 

And it’s not just the governing coalition. On Tuesday, leaked footage emerged of past remarks by New South Wales opposition leader Michael Daley telling a pub audience that educated Asians are “moving in and taking their jobs.”

These are not the loony fringe nationalistic politicians that proudly preach Islamphobia and racist policies. These are mainstream Australian political parties.

What Christchurch tells us is that the short-term political gain in stirring up fear and anxieties around foreigners is not just wrong, but dangerous. On Harmony Day, Australia’s leaders should pledge to call out xenophobic and racist rhetoric, so as to prevent however inadvertently sowing the seeds of discrimination and violence against Muslims or any other minority.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 8:57 pm

Nasrin Sotoudeh. 

© 2019 The Center for Human Rights in Iran

(Beirut) – The prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh’s draconian sentence for her peaceful activism shows the threat posed by Iran’s revolutionary courts to human rights work, the Center for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch said today. Iran should immediately and unconditionally release Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders who are unjustly spending Nowruz, the Persian New Year, behind bars.

On March 11, 2019, Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband, announced that authorities had formally communicated to her that they had added another 33 years in prison and 148 lashes to Sotoudeh’s existing five-year sentence. According to Khandan, based on Iran’s penal code, if confirmed, Sotoudeh must serve 12 years in prison.

“Nasrin Sotoudeh joins the large number of activists in Iranian prisons who are there solely for their lawful activism,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director. “This reflects the depth of repression in Iran, where the most peaceful activities are criminalized, and the authorities disregard even the most minimum standards of law and justice.”

In the past four years, human rights groups have documented an increase in the length of prison sentences handed down to human rights activists. Under article 134 of Iran’s penal code, which went into force in 2014, each defendant will only serve the harshest sentence among all, but the sentencing pattern suggests a significant increase in the criminalization of free speech and peaceful assembly.

On March 18, 2019, Khandan published a detailed note taken from the verdict showing that Sotoudeh had been sentenced solely for her peaceful activism. According to the published verdict, branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary court sentenced Sotoudeh on the charges of: “assembly and collusion to act against national security” (7.5 years in prison); “propaganda against the state” (1.5 years in prison); “membership in illegal group of LEGAM” (Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty) (7.5 years in prison); “encouraging (moral) corruption and prostitution” (12 years in prison); “appearing without a headscarf in public” (74 lashes); “publishing false information to disturb public minds” (3 years in prison and 74 lashes); and “disrupting public order” (2 years in prison). The Revolutionary court has reportedly refused to provide Sotoudeh with a copy of the verdict.

According to article 134 of Iran’s penal code: “if the number of offenses that are committed are more than three, the penalty shall not be more than the maximum prescribed punishment provided that it shall not exceed 1.5 times the longest sentence. In these cases, only the harshest prison sentence shall be served.” Based on the information that Sotoudeh’s family has received regarding her case, that would be 12 years.

Branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary court deemed Sotoudeh’s peaceful activities, such as “publishing a statement along with several prominent anti-revolutionary figures… [and] calling for a referendum under the supervision of the United Nations” as sufficient evidence for the charge of “assembly and collusion to act against national security.” The verdict also cites her other activities such as “conducting interviews with foreign media and against the Islamic Republic,” as well as participation in three “illegal” demonstrations, one of them by the local civil society group LEGAM in front of the United Nations Office in Tehran on October 12, 2017, as evidence against her.

According to the verdict, “after women appeared in the street and took off their headscarves, in order to promote corruption and prostitution in the society and in support of women who took off their hijab, [Sotoudeh] published a video of herself on social media without a headscarf in public and with the cooperation of her husband, Reza Khandan, and some other anti-government figures and to encourage people not to wear hijab went to the location the women had taken their headscarf and put a flower bouquet on the utility box and distributed badges that said, ‘I oppose compulsory hijab.’”

Khandan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that Sotoudeh was tried in absentia in Tehran on December 30 at branch 28 of the revolutionary court, with Judge Mohammad Moghiseh presiding. She refused to appear in court because she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer and wanted to protest the unjust judicial process.

On March 11, Moghiseh told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that his court had sentenced Sotoudeh on the charge of “assembly and collusion against the state” to five years in prison and to two years on the charge of “insulting the supreme leader.” Sotoudeh’s family is not aware of this sentence and she does not face the charge of insulting the supreme leader, according to Sotoudeh’s family.

“On top of its shameless criminalization of human rights activism, the Iranian judiciary is further eroding justice through its lack of transparency in the judicial process and the sentence itself,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Journalists and the international community should challenge the Iranian authorities with respect to the charges and evidence they used to sentence Sotoudeh, a well-known and respected human rights defender.”

Iranian authorities arrested Sotoudeh on June 13, 2018 to serve a five-year sentence issued against her in absentia on September 3, 2016. She was arrested shortly after she filed a case on behalf of a woman who was arrested for removing her headscarf. The authorities had neither previously informed Sotoudeh of this sentence nor publicly announced the 2016 conviction or sentence.

Sotoudeh’s previous verdict said, citing Intelligence Ministry reporting, that she carried out:

Activities against national security in collaboration with domestic and foreign anti-revolutionary elements, including [by] participating in meetings with foreign diplomats suspected of having ties to intelligence services, and these meetings have taken place with a human right cover to increase pressure of enemy governments [on Iran] and to condemn Iran as a human rights violator…

The verdict also cites her public support of the “illegal” group Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing executions in Iran. The verdict claims that Sotoudeh’s support for this group reveals “her strategy in opposing the Islamic rulings and abolishing death penalty and qisas,” a retributive punishment under Sharia law.

Scores of human rights defenders are behind bars in Iran for their peaceful activism, including Narges Mohammadi, Atena Daemi, Arash Sadeghi, Gholrokh Iraee, Ismal Abdi, and Mohammad Habibi. The Iranian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all these rights defenders as Iranians celebrate the new year (Nowruz) in Iran, Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights in Iran said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 6:55 pm

(Almaty) – The Tajik government should immediately and unconditionally release a seriously ill political activist who says he has been tortured, nine human rights groups said today. The prisoner, Mahmadali Hayit, is deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country’s largest opposition party, which was banned by the government in late 2015.

During a visit on March 9, 2019, Hayit showed his wife, Savrinisso Jurabekova, injuries on his forehead and stomach that he said were caused by beatings from prison officials to punish him for refusing to record videos denouncing Tajik opposition figures abroad. Jurabekova said that her husband said he was not getting adequate medical care, and they both fear he may die in prison as a result of the beatings. Hayit has spent more than three years in prison and is currently being held at detention center (SIZO) number 1 in Dushanbe.

Mahmadali Hayit, deputy head of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, lies in his hospital bed at the National Medical Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on April 20, 2013 after being beaten outside his home by unknown assailants the night before. Hayit, suffered severe wounds to the head, face, eyes, ribs, back, and stomach. Hayit is well-known for his outspoken criticism of the policies and human rights record of the current Tajik government, which has been ruled by President Emomali Rahmon continuously since 1994.


© 2013 Human Rights Watch

“These disturbing revelations about Mahmadali Hayit’s ill-treatment should jolt all of Tajikistan’s international partners into action,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “We ask diplomatic representatives on the ground in Dushanbe to seek permission to visit Hayit and other prisoners of concern and press for their immediate release.”

The groups are the Association for Central Asian Migrants, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Global Advocates, Human Rights Vision Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Hayit, 62, was arrested in September 2015 on politically motivated charges and sentenced to life in prison in June 2016 following a closed trial. The government banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and then designed it a terrorist organization in 2015.

Following her March prison visit, Jurabekova told journalists and rights groups that her husband is very ill. Hayit told her that he is held in a “tiny, dirty cell” with other prisoners, and that prison officials have beaten him repeatedly during his three years of incarceration. Hayit said they beat him for refusing to participate in videos falsely incriminating the IRPT chairman, Muhiddin Kabiri, who lives in exile. Hayit named one of his former torturers as Nuriddin Rahmon, who had been the deputy head of the prison system until he was transferred in mid-2018 to another post in the prison’s administration.

Hayit suffers from liver and kidney problems. Hayit also told Jurabekova the prison authorities had denied him access to heart medication that she had brought to the prison and that he thought he had suffered a heart attack on February 6 but received no medical care. He told his wife that he had not reported his treatment earlier because had thought it might be better for him not to speak publicly about it, but he asked her to make it public now because he believes he may not survive another six months if the abuse continues.

In an opinion released in May 2018, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Hayit’s immediate release because his detention violated Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations. Tajik authorities currently refuse the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisoners and detainees in the country. Tajik authorities should urgently act on the UN Working Group’s call, allow Hayit access to independent medical assistance. and release him, the organizations said.

The United States, the European Union, and other key international entities should make unequivocal calls for Hayit’s release and for the release of all others imprisoned in Tajikistan on politically motivated charges, the groups said. They should also request access for diplomatic representatives, including from the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to visit Hayit in detention.

International entities should press the Tajik government to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion and impose targeted punitive measures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik government officials responsible for imprisoning peaceful activists, torture, and other grave human rights violations.

“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 rapidly, and Washington, Brussels, and all actors should consider enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 7:30 am

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, right, shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 1, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

This week the European Union began a series of high-level discussions with and about China on a range of issues. But these talks got off on the wrong foot when the EU’s high representative, Federica Mogherini, soft-pedalled EU concerns over China’s abysmal human rights record at an opening press conference.

Just last week, a number of human rights organizations cautioned her against such an unassertive approach. Yet Mogherini, referring to the Chinese foreign minister as her “dear friend,” only managed to say that human rights was “one of the areas where [their] points of view might differ.” That won’t be very reassuring to the Chinese government’s many victims who hope for tough EU action on these issues.

Mogherini’s meek statement is all the more disappointing coming just days after the EU’s tough remarks at the United Nations Human Rights Council that called for China to allow meaningful access for independent observers in Xinjiang. There are credible estimates that up to one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in the region. The EU also denounced torture, abuses against ethnic and religious minorities, and called for the release of numerous human rights defenders, lawyers, and perceived critics unjustly jailed, including EU citizen Gui Minhai.

Several of these issues were also mentioned in the joint communication for the 10-point strategy proposed by the European Commission last week, where the EU for the first time described China as a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

Mogherini also insisted on the importance of holding yet another round of the EU-China human rights dialogue, an exercise that, despite commendable efforts by the European External Action Service, has failed to produce any tangible results. This might be because EU leaders continue to relegate human rights issues to that low-level forum rather than publicly challenging Chinese leaders at high-level meetings.

Perhaps Mogherini raised human rights concerns in private discussions. But if EU leaders genuinely seek a Chinese government that respects and promotes universal human rights, they should take their cue from those who are courageously paying a high price for their human rights work on China, and fiercely, unapologetically, stand by them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2019, 5:01 am