Philippine’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Cayetano gives a speech at Asia Society in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. 

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano on Saturday attacked Human Rights Watch for “deliberately misrepresenting” the scale of the killings of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” to create an “unfair and unjust image” of the country. Cayetano also accused Human Rights Watch of having “politicized the [drug war] issue for its own gain and has not done any real research, study or investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.”

Cayetano’s groundless accusations come as no surprise, given his record as Duterte’s chief denier of the growing evidence linking state-sanctioned killings to the anti-drug campaign. They are the latest manifestation of the government’s distraction strategy that appears aimed to sideline domestic and international demands for accountability for what nongovernmental organizations and media outlets estimate is a drug war death toll  of more than 12,000 people over the past 18 months. In September at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Cayetano  declared the “drug war” a “necessary instrument to preserve and protect the human rights of all Filipinos and was never an instrument to violate human rights.” That demonstrably false declaration did more than add gross insult to injury for family members of the anti-drug campaign’s victimsincluding children. It also airbrushed Watch and investigative journalists demonstrating that many of those deaths amount to extrajudicial killings by Philippine National Police personnel and their agents.

Human Rights Watch joins a growing list of institutions and people – including United Nations officials –  targeted for harassment and intimidation for demanding accountability for abuses linked to the drug war. The government has even jailed Senator Leila de Lima, who challenged the lawfulness of Duterte’s drug war, on politically motivated drugs charges. Last week, the government threatened to close Rappler.com, a start-up media platform that has published numerous investigative stories exposing Philippine National Police involvement in the summary killings.

What you won’t hear is Cayetano calling for justice for those thousands of deaths. The government has made no genuine efforts to seek accountability for drug war abuses. There have been no successful prosecutions or convictions of police implicated in the killings, despite compelling evidence. Duterte has publicly vowed to pardon, reinstate, and promote officers convicted of extrajudicial killings.

That hostility to accountability underscores the need for a UN-led international investigation of the killings to help expose the extent of the abuses and to determine possible targets for a criminal investigation, including possible prosecutions for crimes against humanity

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 10:38 pm

Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

This weekend’s attack on the Intercontinental Hotel was just the latest in a long string of incidents targeting civilians in Afghanistan. Those who ordered or carried out this serious violation of the laws of war are responsible for war crimes.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the hours-long attack on the hotel, during which gunmen killed at least 7 Afghans and eleven foreign nationals, most of them shot dead in their rooms or the hotel dining room. The attackers, who reportedly entered through the kitchen, worked their way through the hotel floors, blowing open guests’ rooms and shooting whoever was inside, or detonating grenades. Some people were injured or killed jumping out of windows while trying to escape. The death toll may rise further as some hotel guests are reportedly still missing, and fire has destroyed part of the hotel.

Attacks harming civilians in Afghanistan have increased sharply in the past year. The most recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan notes that in the first half of 2017, more civilian deaths and injury from suicide and complex attacks were documented than in any previous period.

The Intercontinental Hotel attack is a grim and unnecessary reminder of the increasingly routine carnage deliberately inflicted by combatants against civilians in flagrant violation of international law.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 7:46 pm

Writer and human rights activist, Nurcan Baysal, pictured in Diyarbakır, Turkey.

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

The Turkish government’s intolerance of criticism knows few bounds.

Police detained writer and human rights activist Nurcan Baysal from her house in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey, late Sunday. As I write this she remains in custody.

She has been detained in connection with her tweets calling for peace and condemning the Turkish government’s military incursion in the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin, her lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Afrin is under the control of Kurdish forces, which Ankara has long opposed.

Baysal is among 30 people detained in Diyarbakır for their social media posts. The city’s chief prosecutor’s office announced those tweeting had, “spread propaganda for armed terrorist organizations … and a call for provocative actions.”

Yet nothing in Baysal’s tweets advocates violence. If anything, it’s the opposite. As the Turkish government knows, Baysal, who is Kurdish, has long advocated for dialogue and political negotiations to end the decades’ long conflict between the Turkish state and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She has joined countless efforts to bring together government officials and civil society actors to that end, and is someone who believes communication should be kept open on even the darkest days.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday declared that those who protested the military operation on the streets would pay a “very heavy price.”

Police prevented an attempted street demonstration in at least one district of Istanbul, and the move against people who took to Twitter shows that Turkey’s government is determined to censor critical voices.

Prosecutors in Turkey have repeatedly misused articles of the law such as, “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and, “inciting hatred and enmity among the population,” to silence journalists, government critics, and activists. So far, three members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish opposition are also under investigation for their tweets criticizing the military operation. The Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office has stated that investigation into social media posts and the crackdown on street demonstrations will continue.

Turkey’s silencing of voices who speak out against war is in violation of its own laws and obligations under international human rights law. I hope that by the time these words are published, Baysal will be out of police custody and home, with no charges.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 6:00 pm

A member of the Palestinian security forces takes part in a training session to find and remove landmines, organised by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Jericho June 25, 2012.

© 2012 Reuters

Palestine has become the 164th state to ban antipersonnel landmines, another sign of the growing global stigma against these abhorrent weapons.

Palestine acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty following the treaty’s annual meeting in Vienna in December. Palestine has expressed support the treaty for the past two decades.

Despite the fact Palestine doesn’t possess these weapons, the move to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty helps to further stigmatize landmines – especially today, when the use of these deadly weapons by non-state actors appears to be on the rise. The latest Landmine Monitor report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported a significant increase in civilian casualties from landmines, particularly victim-activated improvised explosive devices in the Middle East and North Africa. The increase reversed a long, downward trend in new casualties from landmines.

The treaty came into force in March 1999 and provides the framework necessary to create a mine-free world. The treaty imposes a ban on antipersonnel mines, and requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims of the weapons.

According to a voluntary report it provided in 2012, Palestine does not possess antipersonnel mines and has never produced these weapons. There have been no allegations of use of antipersonnel mines or mine-like devices by any Palestinian entity in recent years.

According to Landmine Monitor, there are at least 90 minefields in the West Bank: 13 were laid by the Jordanian military in 1948-1967 and the rest were laid by the Israeli military along the Jordan River after Israel occupied the West Bank following the 1967 war. Since 2014, the UK-based demining organization the HALO Trust has worked to clear West Bank minefields in cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Jordan joined the treaty two decades ago, while Israel and nine other states from the Middle East and North Africa have yet to do so: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Israel rarely elaborates its position on the Mine Ban Treaty, but views antipersonnel mines as a legitimate means of defense. Yet it ceased production and imports of antipersonnel mines in the early 1980s and has observed a moratorium on all exports, sales, and transfers of these weapons since 1994. Since 2011, the Israeli government has been working to clear, “minefields not essential to Israel’s national security.”

If Israel and other non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty are serious about stopping non-state armed groups from using improvised landmines, these countries should lead by example and review their own policy and practice on landmines. Most critically, they should join the treaty, and become part of the solution rather than the problem.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 5:30 pm

Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe take part in a debate on the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, April 25, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Germany still does not have a new government, four months after the election, but that has not stopped parliament from making important decisions.

Last week the Bundestag sent a clear signal across Europe about its support to human rights and the institutions that protect them by dropping two controversial MPs from the German delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.

Germany’s new 18 person-strong delegation to PACE does not include former PACE members, Karin Strenz and Axel Fischer. Both are MPs with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which decided against including them in its list of nominees. The decision has been linked in the German media to the MPs’ alleged roles in limiting PACE’s efforts to hold the Azerbaijan government accountable for human rights abuses.

Strenz has admitted receiving thousands of euros in 2014 and 2015 from a German lobby company that received funds from Azerbaijan, which has a track record of severe human rights abuses. According to documents leaked last year and widely reported, the government in Baku ran a US$2.92 billion secret fund between 2012-2014 – known as the ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’ –  to pay European politicians and others to help dilute human rights criticism of Azerbaijan in PACE and other bodies.

In a resolution adopted last year, PACE expressed “great concern” about Azerbaijan’s activities and launched an investigation. Fischer is accused by some PACE members of trying to block this investigation, according to media reports. Fischer’s exclusion from the delegation will not go unnoticed: He was leader of the German PACE delegation and head of the European People’s Party, the largest political grouping in PACE.

The Bundestag decision comes at an important time for PACE – which holds its first siting of 2018 this week – and the wider Council of Europe. Composed of 47 member states, the Council of Europe’s mandate is to uphold human rights standards based on the European Convention on Human Rights.

Yet it has been weakened in recent years, in particular by moves by authoritarian governments, such as Azerbaijan, to undermine its work.

Human rights are under attack in many countries belonging to the Council of Europe. The Bundestag’s action is an important step in ensuring this institution remains the strong, independent body needed to uphold international human rights standards.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 5:08 pm

(Beirut) – Algerian authorities have stepped up trials of members of the Ahmadiyya religious minority on charges related to the exercise of their religion, Human Rights Watch said today. Sentences range from fines to a year in prison.

Mohamed Fali. 

© Private

Human Rights Watch received information that, in December 2017 alone, there were at least eight new trials in Algeria involving at least 50 Ahmadi defendants. Since June 2016, 266 Ahmadis have faced charges, some of them in more than one trial. The president of the Ahmadyyia community in Algeria, Mohamed Fali, told Human Rights Watch that at least four new trials are scheduled for later in January 2018.

“Algerian authorities continue their unabated persecution of this minority, apparently for doing no more than exercising their freedom of religion,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The Ahmadiyya, a community founded in India in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and identifying itself as Muslim, is estimated to have about 2,000 adherents in Algeria, according to the community.

Algerian officials have denigrated the Ahmadis on more than one occasion. In October 2016, Religious Affairs Minister Mohamed Aissa described the Ahmadi presence in Algeria as part of a “deliberate sectarian invasion” and declared that the government brought criminal charges against Ahmadis to “stop deviation from religious precepts.” In February 2017, he stated that Ahmadis are damaging the very basis of Islam.

In April, Ahmed Ouyahia, then-chief of cabinet to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said that “there are no human rights or freedom of religion” in the matter of the Ahmadis, because “Algeria has been a Muslim country for 14 centuries.” He called on Algerians to “protect the country from the Shia and Ahmadiyya sects.”

Authorities are prosecuting Ahmadis under one or more of the following charges: denigrating the dogma or precepts of Islam, punishable by a prison term of three to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 Algerian dinars (US$908), under article 144 of the penal code; participation in an unauthorized association, under article 46 of the Associations Law, punishable by a prison sentence of three to six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 dinars; collecting donations without a license, under articles 1 and 8 of the decree 03-77 of 1977 regulating donations; conducting worship in unauthorized places, under articles 7, 12, and 13 of Ordinance 06-03 Establishing the Conditions and Rules for the Exercise of non-Muslim Religions; and possession and distribution of documents from foreign sources threatening national security, under article 96-2 of the penal code, punishable by up to three years in prison.

In a December 11 trial, the First Instance Court of Ain Mlila sentenced Karim Hadjaze, a 37-year-old doctor and secretary general of the Ahmadi community, in absentia to one year in prison and 20,000 dinar fine (US$175), on charges of collecting donations without a license and conducting worship in unauthorized places. Hadjaze remains free pending his retrial, which is scheduled for January 14. He has also two other pending detention orders from the Larbaa and Setif first instance courts, both for convictions on charges related to his religious faith. In the Ain Mellila case, 10 other defendants received sentences ranging from three to six months in prison.

Fali, who had been arrested and prosecuted in six separate cases in 2016 and 2017 and spent three months in jail in Chlef in 2017, said he has been on trial before a court in Kolea since December on charges related to denigrating Islam, an unauthorized association, and documents threatening national security and another case heard on December 28 before the Boufarik First Instance Court.

Y.M., 34, an information technology engineer who did not want to be named, said that he was first arrested in Hassi Messaoud on February 20, 2017. He said gendarmes had searched his office and confiscated books about Ahmadis. They took him for interrogation at the gendarmerie and released him late that night. He said the Hassi Messaoud First Instance Tribunal convicted him on charges relating to denigrating Islam, an unauthorized association, documents threatening national security, and worshipping in unauthorized places, and sentenced him on October 28 to six months in prison and 300,000 dinars fine (US$2,600). He has appealed his conviction.

On April 2, 2017, when Y.M. was in his home town of Boumerdès, gendarmes searched his house and told him and his wife, who is also Ahmadi, to come in for interrogation. In this second case, the First Instance Court of Boumerdès sentenced him, on December 17, to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 dinars (US$4,340) on charges similar to the Hassi Messaoud case. He said he received a summons to appear in a third case, along with Fali, in Boufarik.  They await the verdict.

During its Third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, on May 8, Algeria failed to accept many of the recommendations calling on the authorities to stop arresting and defaming the Ahmadis. In its response to other countries’ remarks and recommendation, Algeria denied that Ahmadis “were prosecuted on the basis of their faith, but rather because they breached the law.” It stated that “there are no prisoners of opinion in Algeria or persons persecuted for their beliefs.”

However, the judge’s reasoning in the case in Ain Mellila, similar to some earlier judgments against Ahmadis that Human Rights Watch reviewed for a September 2017 report, shows that the court convicted them on charges related to their faith.

The judgment states, “It appears that a group of people belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect have formed in Ain Mellila to disseminate beliefs that are alien to our religion...this movement appears to be based on religion and rites but, in reality, it has a hidden agenda and future strategies aiming at destabilizing the country and shaking its stability and security.” The judgment did not specify how the defendants were endangering Algeria’s security.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified, governments must ensure the right to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience of everyone under their jurisdiction, and in particular to religious minorities. This right includes the freedom to exercise the religion or belief of one’s choice publicly or privately, alone or with others. Algeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion but states that “this freedom must be exercised in respect of the law.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 7:00 am

Young people wave a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. Activist Ahmed Alaa confirmed that he raised a rainbow flag at the concert in a Buzzfeed video including this image prior to his arrest. 

© 2017 Private

Update: After this dispatch was published, Human Rights Watch learned that Ahmed Alaa was released on bail on the evening of January 21. The case against Alaa for allegedly waving a rainbow flag remains open, although no trial date has been set.

This week Egyptian police arrested 10 people in the latest assault on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the country under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But in the face of relentless persecution of sexual and gender minorities in Egypt, world leaders remain largely silent – or worse, praise al-Sisi as a “moderate” leader.

Police arrested the 10 in Alexandria on January 14, accusing them of “debauchery,” the Egyptian authorities’ catchall term for anyone suspected of homosexual conduct or of simply being gay or transgender. According to media, police claimed they received reports of, “weird” men visiting an apartment – apparently reason enough to conduct a raid.

The latest arrests bring to more than 85 the number reported to have been caught up in a massive crackdown on LGBT people since several young people waved a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert in September. Many of those targeted are gay men and transgender women, or men perceived to be effeminate. More than 40 have received prison sentences, with some subjected to forced anal exams, a form of torture. One, Ahmed Alaa, remains in pretrial detention after more than three months, activists say, despite a January 2 court order for his release on bail.

Since al-Sisi took power in 2013, more than 230 people have been prosecuted on “debauchery” charges, according to a November 2017 report from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The report details horrific police abuse. “They hit our faces and they electrocuted our private parts,” said a trans woman arrested in 2014. A man arrested in 2013 said: “They stripped us and made fun of us and were trying to insert batons in our rear ends.”

With 10 suspected gay and trans people in the hands of Alexandria police, such torture could be happening now. Governments in Europe and North America that provide police and military aid to Egypt maintain a deafening silence about the crackdown, apparently unwilling to offend a partner in the “war on terrorism.” Who will speak up for the victims of Egypt’s state-sponsored homophobia and demand an end to these abuses?

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 5:01 am

Oby Theodora Nwankwo, a Nigerian activist who tirelessly advocated for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and women’s rights, died on December 9, 2017. She was 61 years old.

I got to know Oby through our common work to push back against unprincipled attacks by some African leaders on the ICC. The attacks surged after the ICC issued arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

 © Oby Nwankwo/Facebook

At the time, people had limited knowledge of the ICC’s role as a court of last resort, and many did not know that several African governments had requested the ICC to investigate crimes in their countries. The court’s critics exploited this, spreading false information about the court being biased and targeting Africa.

Oby stood out as someone willing to jump in and speak up on behalf of victims, whether in Nigeria or around the world, countering the prevailing narratives in African media. “It is high time African governments and the AU [African Union] put themselves on the right side of history and support justice for victims, not abusive leaders,” she said.

Over the years, Oby was a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and she led the Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center. Oby also helped guide the work of the global Coalition for the International Criminal Court through its steering committee.

Oby encouraged strategic activism. When al-Bashir turned up in Nigeria after the ICC issued warrants against him, Oby went to court to insist on his arrest – after which al-Bashir hightailed it out of the country. Activists in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa have taken up similar efforts, campaigning on the streets and in the courts for al-Bashir to be arrested when he arrives or threatens to arrive in their countries.

I looked to Oby for guidance, sound advice, and the passion needed to keep at it even when the landscape was challenging. Her efforts have made a difference. In the past year, some of the worst attacks on the ICC emanating from Africa have ebbed, and more than a dozen countries stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to the ICC.

Nigeria – and Africa – lost a tremendous activist. Oby’s energy for the cause will remain in my heart as the work continues.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 5:00 am

African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards them, at Holot, Israel's southern Negev desert detention centre February 17, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities should abandon a new policy that could lead to the indefinite detention of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals for refusing to leave Israel for Rwanda or Uganda, Human Rights Watch said today. The policy is the latest in a series of coercive measures against these groups aimed at thwarting their legitimate right to seek protection and would almost certainly result in mass unlawful asylum seeker detention.

Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel have been unable to obtain protection because, according to the United Nations refugee agency, Israel’s unfair asylum system has either prevented or discouraged them from lodging asylum claims or has unfairly dismissed their claims. Israeli authorities categorize them, along with all irregular border-crossers, as “infiltrators” and have recognized fewer than 1 percent of asylum applicants as refugees, compared with acceptance rates in the European Union of 90 percent for Eritreans and 60 percent for Sudanese.

“In the latest chapter of its longstanding quest to dodge its refugee protection duties, Israel is threatening to lock up thousands of asylum seekers who refuse to leave,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of jailing them, Israel should fairly identify and protect refugees among them.”

On January 1, 2018, Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA), under the Interior Ministry, announced plans to indefinitely detain thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese men if they refuse to leave for Rwanda or Uganda by March 31. Although the first phase applies only to some men, later phases could extend the policy to others and to women and children.

There were 27,018 Eritreans and 7,731 Sudanese in Israel as of March 2, 2017, according to the PIBA. Since 2013, about 14,000 have left Israel, including as a result of government measures against asylum seekers involving prolonged or indefinite detention, which Israel’s High Court has twice ruled unlawful.

The detention policy is based on the 1952 Law of Entry into Israel, which says prospective deportees can be detained beyond two months if their lack of cooperation has prevented or delayed their deportation.

However, to date, Rwanda and Uganda have only accepted people who voluntarily agreed to leave Israel, and neither country has confirmed any agreement to accept anyone deported from Israel, meaning anyone removed from Israel against their will. As a result, the Israeli High Court said in August that Israel could not deport Eritreans and Sudanese to Rwanda and Uganda and could therefore not justify detaining them for refusing to cooperate with efforts to deport them there.

Detention is arbitrary under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) if a country detains someone for deportation when there is no realistic prospect of deporting them. Arbitrary indefinite detention may also constitute inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Israel’s obligations under the ICCPR and the UN Convention Against Torture. Detention Guidelines by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, say asylum seekers should be detained only “as a last resort” as strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate legal purpose and that countries should not detain them simply for deportation purposes. Detention is permitted only briefly to establish a person’s identity or for longer periods if it is the only way to achieve broader aims, such as protecting national security or public health.

The government’s plan states that all Eritrean and Sudanese “infiltrators” should leave for “their country or … a third country” by the end of March. It promises US$3,500 to those who agree to leave, less if they leave voluntarily after March.

The same day, the authorities published procedures for some of those who do not leave by March 31. Men who apply after February 1 to renew their permit to stay in Israel will be told to leave Israel within 60 days if their asylum applications are rejected, if they have not applied for asylum, or if they registered as asylum seekers after 2017. Only men with children in Israel or who have been identified as victims of trafficking or slavery are exempt.

The procedures say that an “infiltrator” who “does not voluntarily agree to leave” will face “enforcement and deportation proceedings.” They also say the procedures may be applied later to other Eritrean and Sudanese “infiltrators,” including, but not limited to, asylum seekers who lodged claims before January 2018 that are still pending.

In March 2014 Israeli High Court proceedings, the State Prosecutor’s Office told the court that Israel had “begun to implement … two [transfer] agreements” with African countries, but the authorities have not confirmed the countries’ identities or published the agreements.

Rwanda and Uganda deny any agreements exist. However, nongovernmental organizations and journalists have interviewed dozens among an estimated 1,500 Eritreans and Sudanese who agreed in 2014 and mid-2015 to leave Israel and who were flown to Rwanda or Uganda. UNHCR says that “some 4,000” people were relocated under the program between December 2013 and June 2017.

About 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese entered Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula between 2006 and 2012, when Israel sealed off its border with Egypt. Israeli officials have said they cannot deport Eritreans and Sudanese home because of human rights abuses in Eritrea and because Israel has no official diplomatic relations with Sudan, which also criminalizes visiting Israel with up to 10 years in prison.

Until early 2013, Israeli immigration authorities blocked almost all Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applications. Between then and mid-2017, 12,295 people managed to lodge asylum claims, of whom 7,437 were awaiting decisions as of June. Almost all the rest were rejected. UNHCR says the low number of asylum claims also reflects widespread distrust in the asylum system and a failure of the Israeli authorities to inform Eritreans and Sudanese of their right to claim asylum or to accord registered asylum seekers more rights than people given “conditional release permits” from detention, the status Israel gives to all Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who entered the country irregularly.

In late December, an Israeli judge heavily criticized the authorities for forcing asylum seekers to overcome significant procedural obstacles to lodge claims, including “lengthy waits in line,” sometimes overnight, characterized by “irregularities, violence and bullying.” The judge said some asylum applicants “wait …in vain because only a few are allowed entry and even for them some … are not allowed to submit their request.”

UNHCR says that Israel has not processed Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applications fairly, which is starkly reflected in the fact that Israel has granted only 10 Eritreans and 1 Sudanese refugee status since 2009. Israeli asylum lawyers have told Human Rights Watch that about 700 Sudanese from Darfur have obtained humanitarian status, a status granted on a purely discretionary basis outside the asylum system.

UNHCR has stressed that a person is a refugee as soon as they fulfill the requirements under the 1951 Refugee Convention, that a country recognizing that fact is “merely declaratory of an existing status,” and that “this is particularly valid in the Israeli context where lack of formal recognition of refugee status of … ‘infiltrators’ is linked to shortcomings in the asylum procedure.”

UNHCR also says that “the protection needs of the majority of Eritreans and Sudanese [in Israel] … are akin to the protection needs of refugees” and that UNHCR “considers them to be in a refugee-like situation.”

The Israeli authorities should urgently carry out a full review, with UNHCR support, of how Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been blocked from seeking asylum and how current procedures prevent a fair assessment of their claims, Human Rights Watch said. Those who have not previously filed asylum claims or who were previously denied a fair hearing should be allowed to file claims or have their claims reviewed afresh.

“Now that the UN refugee agency has confirmed that Israel’s asylum procedures for Eritreans and Sudanese are deeply flawed, the Israeli authorities should drop their charade and urgently and fairly re-review all their claims,” Simpson said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 22, 2018, 5:00 am

People protest in Heroes’ square against a new law that would undermine Central European University, a liberal graduate school of social sciences founded by U.S. financier George Soros in Budapest, Hungary, April 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Hungary’s government announced a new draft law ostensibly aimed at curbing “illegal migration” on Wednesday. This in itself isn’t unusual for a European Union government.

But a deeper reading of the bill makes clear that the government’s intent is to impede migration by cracking down on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The draft law requires the registration of any foreign-funded organization deemed to be, “supporting illegal migration,” and would permit authorities to tax their foreign income and even restrict the movement of people associated with them. Given that the government has already accused NGOs working with refugees and migrants of breaking the law, the risk of this law to NGOs is significant.

What’s more, the bill includes provisions that could lead to NGOs – even ones not working with refugees and migrants – losing their public benefit status if they receive more funding from abroad than from Hungary.

The government justifies the bill on the results of its, “national consultation on the Soros plan,” a hatemongering questionnaire that contained lies and distorted half-truths about immigration in Hungary.

A headline in the materials promoting the bill says “Stop Soros” in English, a reference to the Hungarian-born philanthropist whom the government portrays as Hungary’s public enemy number one, claiming he and the European Union want to bring millions of immigrants to Europe.

Last June, Hungary passed a law forcing NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as a foreign-funded organization or face sanctions. The law was criticized by the Council of Europe and is now the subject of European Commission enforcement action as a breach of EU law.

The new measures could further stigmatize NGOs and discourage support for them locally. It could also limit their ability to seek and receive funding at home and internationally. And even if the bill never becomes law, it can serve a different purpose – to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment and mistrust against NGOs critical of the government’s stance on immigration and other issues in the run-up to Hungary’s elections this April.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 20, 2018, 6:00 am

Human Rights Watch launched a public campaign on January 19, 2018, calling for an end to Lebanon’s waste crisis.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Human Rights Watch will launch a billboard and online campaign on January 19, 2018, to end the waste management crisis in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said today. The campaign calls for an end to the dangerous practice of open burning of waste and for parliament and the cabinet to adopt a national waste management law and strategy that cover the entire country and comply with environmental and public health best practices and international law. The petition is online here.
 
 
In December 2017, Human Rights Watch issued a 67-page report, “‘As If You’re Inhaling Your Death’: The Health Risks of Burning Waste in Lebanon,” finding that authorities’ lack of action to end open burning of waste across Lebanon is posing serious health risks for nearby residents, violating their right to health under international law. Children and older people are at particular risk. Open burning of waste is a dangerous and avoidable consequence of the government’s decades-long failure to manage solid waste in a way that respects environmental and health laws designed to protect people.
 
“Through this campaign we want to raise awareness about the ongoing danger open burning poses to families across Lebanon, and of the need for urgent action to stop open burning and adopt a sustainable long-term strategy,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Open burning is one symptom of the larger waste management crisis in Lebanon and is a serious threat to public health.” 
 
On January 9, the health minister ordered the inspection of open dumps across Lebanon for violations, stressing the prohibition on open burning. On January 11, the cabinet approved a waste management plan, presented by the Environment Ministry, that outlines a decentralized waste management system; stresses reduction, sorting, and recycling; and calls for gradually closing and rehabilitating open dumps. The Environment Ministry is developing a detailed national strategy on the basis of this plan. 
 

People living near open burning said they were unable to spend time outside, had difficulty sleeping because of air pollution, or had to vacate their homes when burning was taking place. 

 
Lebanon does not have a solid waste management law or strategy for the entire country. In the 1990s, the central government arranged for waste collection and disposal in Beirut and Mount Lebanon but left other municipalities to fend for themselves without adequate oversight, financial support, or technical expertise. As a result, dumping flourished across the country, with open burning of waste taking place at 150 dumps every week according to the Environment Ministry. The open burning disproportionately takes place in lower income areas, Human Rights Watch found.
 
Lebanon’s cabinet approved a draft law in 2012 that would create a single Solid Waste Management Board, headed by the Environment Ministry, responsible for national-level decision-making and waste treatment, while leaving waste collection to local authorities. However, parliament has not passed the bill. The joint committees of parliament considered an amended draft of that law on January 9, and returned it to the environment committee for further amendments.
 
The Environment Ministry says that open burning violates Lebanon’s own environmental protection laws. The government’s lack of effective action to address the issue also violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law, including the government’s duties to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health. Human Rights Watch found that the Environment Ministry lacks the necessary personnel and financial resources for effective environmental monitoring.
 
According to researchers at the American University of Beirut, 77 percent of Lebanon’s waste is either openly dumped or sent to landfills even though they estimate that more than 80 percent could be composted or recycled.
 
Recent discussions around a long-term plan for waste management in Lebanon have focused on the use of incineration plants. Human Rights Watch does not take a position on the particular waste management approach that Lebanon should pursue so long as it complies with environmental and public health best practices and international law. But some public health experts and activists in Lebanon have opposed the use of incineration, citing concerns about independent monitoring, potential emissions, and high costs. 
 
The public campaign launched today was made possible by generous support from Pikasso.
 
“Although the government moved the garbage off the streets of Beirut, the more than 900 open dumps across the country continue to pose environmental health risks,” Fakih said. “The government needs to show leadership on this issue and put in place a solution that respects people’s right to health.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 19, 2018, 5:01 am

Several hundred thousand people march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, during the Women's March, January 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – The first year of US President Donald Trump’s administration was marked by a sharp regression in government efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. The Trump administration made policy changes that have harmed refugees and immigrants, undermined police accountability for abuse, and rolled back women’s rights, including access to important health services.

“The Trump administration has promoted policies that put vulnerable people in increased danger and undermine constitutional protections for everyone’s human rights,” said Alison Parker, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “The people most likely to suffer abuses are often least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process and should be protected, not targeted by abusive policies."

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Trump’s policies have made all deportable immigrants targets for deportation. The administration expanded abusive fast-track deportation procedures and criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses and moved to increase the prolonged detention of immigrants. Trump also repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the US as children at risk of deportation. In October, the White House released immigration principles and policies that would weaken protections for child migrants and refugees.

The administration also issued new, harsh screening measures for the refugee program and set the annual cap for refugee admissions for 2018 at 45,000, the lowest annual limit since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980.

The White House and Justice Department have scaled back efforts to monitor local police departments engaged in systemic abuses, including discontinuing investigations and monitoring of local police departments reported to have patterns and practices of excessive force and constitutional violations. The Trump administration has signaled an intent to re-escalate the disastrous and ineffective war on drugs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Smart on Crime initiative, which prioritized federal prosecutions of people accused of high-level drug offenses, reduced racial disparities in federal drug sentencing, and improved reentry opportunities for people leaving prison.

The Trump administration rolled back important women’s rights protections with an executive order that enabled more employers and insurers to assert objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The White House also announced that it would scrap an equal pay initiative, which was to go into effect in 2018. The initiative would have required large employers and federal contractors to provide information about employee compensation broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender to civil rights enforcement agencies. The Education Department announced its intention to review and change guidelines on campus sexual assault.

The Trump administration’s policies and statements also threatened or undermined human rights in other ways:

  • Trump’s reluctance to repudiate hate groups risks fueling discriminatory and racist conduct and abdicates his responsibility as president to uphold the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.
  • Trump’s repeated denunciations of journalists as dishonest and biased against him, and comments and videos denigrating them prompt concerns over a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
  • Trump’s sudden firing of James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his criticism of judges who have blocked some of his administration’s actions, risked undermining the rule of law and checks on presidential power.
  • The administration’s actions affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people undermines their rights. The changes include Trump’s unexpected and sudden decision to ban transgender people from serving in the US military and the Justice Department directive reversing the position that the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity.
  • The Trump administration’s reported revision of the policy for drone strikes outside conventional war zones allows attacks on lower-level terrorism suspects in more countries, with less oversight, and greater secrecy.

“Trump should abandon his abusive and discriminatory policies and respect everyone’s rights,” Parker said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 11:00 am

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:44 am

(Beirut) – Middle East and North Africa (MENA) governments can respond to the popular demands of the region’s youth for reform by implementing five changes in 2018 to arbitrary, outdated legal systems that infringe upon citizens’ rights and liberties, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2018. Some governments in the region have already embarked on important progress, but most remain hostage to rigid mentalities.

Demonstration outside Parliament on December 6, 2016, with women in white dresses and wrapped in bandages, calling for the repeal of article 522 of the penal code.

© Patrick Baz / AFP

“The people of the region are sick of their governments’ tired excuses for failing to make basic reforms that will dramatically improve everyone’s quality of life,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “While the region is reeling from the untold destruction from armed conflicts in four countries and heightened repression elsewhere, there’s a lot that governments can do to give the young generation a reason to believe that progress is possible in the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Here are the top five reforms MENA governments can move to make this year:

  1. “Don’t Want to Marry My Rapist #MeToo!”: Women in MENA made clear that it is not OK to let a rapist escape prison by marrying his victim, a legal loophole that dates to Napoleonic times. Families who agree to such judicially sanctioned marriages do so largely to escape the stigma of a daughter “stained” by rape. Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon abolished these horrific laws in 2017, following Morocco and Egypt, which did so in years past; seven other countries in the region where this provision remains – Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, and Palestine – should immediately abolish it.

“Shame on every legislator who still thinks they’re doing a rape survivor a favor by allowing her rapist to escape punishment by marrying her,” Whitson said. “The only dishonor that persists when a woman is raped is when governments and societies fail to punish the rapists and provide real support to their victims.”  

  1. “I’m Not Any Man’s Property”: MENA women made some advances on nationality issues in 2017: Tunisia repealed a decree that prevented Muslim women – but not men – from registering marriages with non-Muslims; it also passed a landmark law on violence against women, instituting measures to prevent violence, protect survivors, and punish their abusers. In response to Qatari women’s demands to pass nationality onto their children like Qatari men, Qatar pledged to grant residency to children of Qatari women, providing most but not all rights that non-citizen children have. This half-baked measure still means children of Qatari mothers and foreign fathers won’t have a right to a passport and to travel as Qatari nationals. Saudi Arabia promised that government agencies would end “arbitrary” applications of its male guardianship system, which deprives adult women the ability to apply for a passport or travel without a male guardian’s consent, but has yet to dismantle the entire system; it also promised to finally lift the ban on women driving in June 2018. Fortunately, female legislators in Iraq were able to stop some legislators from undermining women’s rights in Iraq’s personal status laws, including reducing the permissible age for marriage to 8. Even the invisible women in the region – the migrant domestic workers who hail mostly from Asia and Africa – are starting to gain recognition of their rights, with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates passing laws on domestic workers. In 2018, MENA governments should act rapidly to allow women equal rights with men to pass on nationality to their children; abolish whatever remnants remain of the guardianship system; and enact and implement laws on violence against women and domestic workers’ rights. Ending systemic discrimination in divorce, child custody, and inheritance should come next.

“Most MENA women are at the bottom of the global barrel of rights and equality, with governments manipulating stale justifications based on culture and religious interpretations,” Whitson said. “2018 should be the year when women in the Middle East are finally heard and can enjoy the rights and protections like women around the world.”

  1. “Get Out of Our Bedrooms”: Despite urgent problems of poverty, unemployment, failed infrastructure, and crippled economies, many MENA governments nevertheless devoted extensive resources to prosecuting people for their adult, consensual bedroom activities. While nearly every MENA government retains laws that criminalize sex outside marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sex, Egypt stood out during 2017 by targeting the LGBT community with sweeps of arrests of suspected gay men. Police in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Tunisia, among others, arrested or harassed people for adultery, kissing, and other so-called “morality” offenses. Survivors of sexual violence can be convicted under such charges if police or prosecutors don’t believe their claims of rape, discouraging reports of sexual assault. Iran and Saudi Arabia enforced strict codes on women’s hair covering and dress.

“Plenty of young people in the Middle East know well that when governments profess to enforce morality, they are hiding behind a hypocritical façade to cover up their critical failures in governance,” Whitson said. “What might have worked to placate the masses in the past won’t work anymore, and governments would be wise to bring their out-of-date notions on morality into the 21st century.”

  1. Stop Jailing People for “Insults”: Many MENA government officials jailed people for alleged insults to them or to loosely defined notions of the country’s “reputation,” “national interest,” “culture,” or “religion.” Saudi Arabia went so far as to define “insulting the king,” crown prince, or head of state as a terrorist offense for which the punishment is five to 10 years imprisonment. Bahrain jailed human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab for an “insulting” tweet. Kuwait sentenced a writer to seven years in prison for insulting the state of Qatar. MENA governments should abolish any law that even uses the word “insult” in its definition of a crime.

“It’s the right of people to criticize their government officials on whatever grounds they wish, and officials with a life tenure to power are entitled to no special protections,” Whitson said. “Politics is a tough business, and thin-skinned government officials who can’t stand to be criticized should pitch a tent in some remote corner of an uninhabited desert instead and consider a new line of work.”

  1. “Let me in! Let me out!”: Many MENA governments have treated their countries – and sometimes the countries of others – as massive jails, arbitrarily denying people the right to leave or the right to enter. Saudi Arabia has imposed arbitrary travel bans on many Saudis, and reportedly detained visiting foreign government officials like Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while Israel has refused to allow Gazans to exit even for urgent medical treatment or education abroad. Bahrain stripped hundreds of its nationals of their citizenship to punish families of activists. Israel refused entry to people – including Jews – whose political views it doesn’t like, and blocked human rights workers and journalists from accessing Gaza. Saudi Arabia also has banned human rights workers and journalists from traveling to war-torn Yemen.

“The temerity of governments that treat their citizens like property to be held on to or disposed at whim is an insult, to say the least,” Whitson said. “And they only embarrass themselves with what they are trying to hide when they block entry to journalists and human rights workers – because the truth always comes out.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:44 am

A delegate attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(Johannesburg) – Southern African governments clamped down on vocal journalists, activists, and opposition politicians in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

South Africa, which chairs the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between August 2017 and August 2018, should play a leadership role in placing human rights issues on the regional agenda. Southern African countries whose human rights records raised serious concern in 2017 include Angola, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

“Southern Africa’s leaders should do more to uphold and protect human rights and meet the basic needs of all the people,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Improvements in fundamental freedoms are vital to the betterment of people’s lives across Southern Africa.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Angola

Angola elected a new president, João Lourenço, in September, ending almost four decades of José Eduardo Dos Santos’ repressive rule. Voting was peaceful, but marred by severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. President Lourenço has made significant changes in the state media, opening space for diversity of opinions and political views. However, freedom of the press and expression remains under threat after parliament approved and the president signed a problematic new media law despite opposition from the journalists’ union and other groups.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The year was marked by political violence and government repression as President Joseph Kabila held on to power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended on December 19, 2016. As authorities stalled plans to organize elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, government officials and security forces systematically sought to silence, repress, and intimidate the political opposition, human rights and pro-democracy activists, journalists, and peaceful protesters.

A power-sharing agreement mediated by the Catholic Church and signed in late 2016 called for elections by the end of 2017 and for steps to de-escalate political tensions, including the release of political prisoners. Yet many of the main tenets of the so-called New Year’s Eve agreement were ignored, as government officials continued to delay elections and repression continued.

In November, the national electoral commission published a calendar setting presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. Opposition leaders and activists denounced the calendar as a new delaying tactic and called for Kabila to step down immediately and for a citizens’ transition to be organized to restore constitutional order and organize credible elections.

Security forces shot peaceful demonstrators, jailed activists and party leaders, and shut down media outlets as the government increasingly resorted to violent repression. On December 31, security forces fired live bullets and teargas within church grounds during mass and at crowds of worshippers in peaceful protest marches against the unfulfilled New Year’s Eve agreement. Priests and other church officials were among the dozens arrested or wounded in Kinshasa and other cities.

Security forces killed at least 90 people in a crackdown on the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) political religious sect in Kinshasa and Kongo Central province between January and March, and in August. Some BDK members also used violence, killing at least five police officers.

Between August 2016 and September 2017, violence involving Congolese security forces, government-backed militias, and local armed groups left up to 5,000 people dead in the southern Kasai region.

In eastern Congo, the security situation remained volatile. Numerous armed groups carried out deadly attacks on civilians, while government security forces committed serious abuses. From June to November, at least 526 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu provinces, and at least 1,087 people were abducted or kidnapped for ransom.

Mozambique

A ceasefire in December 2016 ended armed clashes between the Mozambique government and the former rebel group, now a political party, Renamo. But there has been complete impunity for abuses by both sides since late 2014, including killings, enforced disappearances, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, and destruction of property.

The authorities also failed to prosecute government officials implicated in the debt scandal, in which state-owned companies took out loans in 2013, ostensibly to set up a state-backed tuna fishing company, but did not disclose the debts to the IMF and donors. There was no accountability despite an international audit that detailed the transactions and identified the people involved.

South Africa

Despite having built a robust and independent judiciary essential to protect rule of law, in 2017, South Africa’s record on human rights and respect for the rule of law remained poor. Corruption; poverty, compounded by high unemployment and limited opportunities to generate income; and crime significantly restricted South Africans’ enjoyment of their rights.

On October 13, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) upheld a High Court decision to prosecute President Jacob Zuma on 18 charges and 783 counts of fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. Zuma called the SCA decision disappointing, and the National Prosecuting Authority has yet to reinstate the fraud and corruption charges against him.

The government still has significant progress to make to ensure that many of South Africa’s children and young adults with disabilities are not denied their right to education. The absence of a national strategy to combat the high rate of violence against women and the continued underreporting of rape remained a concern. The government sent mixed signals about its support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and global justice following a decision by domestic courts that the government’s notice of withdrawal from the court was unconstitutional and invalid. At the end of the year, the government indicated it would pursue the withdrawal in the parliament.

In August, South Africa assumed the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for a year but has not used the role to promote and support human rights improvements in the region. The election in December of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new ruling ANC party president presents opportunities for South Africa to place human rights at the center of its domestic and foreign policy agenda.

Swaziland

Ruled by an absolute monarch, King Mswati III, since 1986, Swaziland represses political dissent and disregards human rights and rule of law. Political parties have been banned since 1973; the judiciary is severely compromised; and repressive laws are used against critics despite basic rights guarantees in Swaziland’s 2005 constitution. During 2017, Swaziland struggled to uphold the rights of its estimated 1.4 million people amid numerous political and socioeconomic challenges, including the highest HIV infection rate in the world, at 26 percent, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In September, King Mswati told the UN General Assembly in New York that his government grants every citizen an opportunity to contribute to the country’s social, economic, cultural, and political development.

But recent amendments to the Public Order Act allow prosecution of critics, with fines and imprisonment for inciting “hatred or contempt” against cultural and traditional heritage. The amendments grant sweeping powers to the police commissioner to arbitrarily halt pro-democracy meetings and protests and crush any criticism of the government.

Zimbabwe

In November, the military ousted President Robert Mugabe and replaced him with his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a military leader with his own long record of bloodshed. Mugabe had presided over intensified repression of peaceful protests against human rights violations and the deteriorating economic situation.

His administration disregarded the rights provisions in the country’s 2013 constitution and implemented no meaningful human rights reforms. Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to grant Mugabe powers to appoint senior members of the judiciary, further eroding the judiciary’s independence. Police used excessive force to crush dissent and harassed and arbitrarily arrested human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and government opponents. The police and state security agents have widespread impunity for abuses.

Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold national elections in 2018, but the authorities have not introduced any meaningful security sector, media, or electoral reforms to ensure that citizens can participate in credible, free, and fair elections. The new Mnangagwa government has yet to ensure the independence and enhance the professionalism of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and update the voters’ roll, which is under ZEC’s exclusive control.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:30 am

Indian demonstrators hold placards as they take part in a rally in New Delhi on July 18, 2017, in protest over a spate of assaults against Muslims and low-caste Dalits by Hindu vigilantes in India. 

 

© 2017 Sajjad Hussain/Getty Images

(New York, January 18, 2018) – The Indian government failed to stop or credibly investigate vigilante attacks against minority religious communities during 2017, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing its World Report 2018. Many senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) publicly promoted Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism at the expense of fundamental rights for all Indians.

Extremist Hindu groups, many claiming to be affiliated with the ruling BJP, committed numerous assaults against Muslims and other minority communities in response to rumors that minority group members sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter. There were at least 38 such attacks in 2017, and 10 people were killed.

“Indian authorities have proven themselves unwilling to protect minority religious communities and other vulnerable groups from frequent attack,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There needs to be a serious effort to prevent future attacks and to prosecute all those responsible for the violence.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In August, India’s Supreme Court declared the right to individual privacy “intrinsic” and fundamental under the country’s constitution, and emphasized the constitution’s protections, including free speech, rule of law, and “guarantees against authoritarian behavior.”

However, Indian authorities also harassed and brought charges, including for sedition and criminal defamation, against activists, academics, journalists, and others critical of government actions or policies. Threats of legal action and arbitrary corruption investigations put increasing pressure on journalists and media outlets to self-censor.

State governments resorted to blanket internet shutdowns in misguided attempts to prevent violence or social unrest, or to maintain law and order. By November, they had imposed 60 internet shutdowns, 27 of these in Jammu and Kashmir state.

The government also used the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which governs access to foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations, to cut off funds and harass activists and human rights defenders.

Nearly five years after the government amended laws against sexual violence, girls and women still faced barriers to reporting such crimes, including humiliation at police stations and hospitals; lack of protection; and degrading “two-finger tests” by medical professionals to make characterizations about whether the victim was “habituated to sex.”

As in previous years, India passed up chances to demonstrate leadership on human rights issues at international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:30 am

A demonstration outside a courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey in solidarity with the staff of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on trial over alleged support to terrorist groups, July 24, 2017.

 

© 2017 Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkey increased restrictions on the media, political opposition, and human rights defenders during 2017, on the back of a very narrow referendum, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Turkey also introduced a presidential system with insufficient democratic checks and balances against the president’s abuse of power.

“Everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The move to a presidential system, the ongoing state of emergency, and charges against opposition lawmakers have all weakened parliament, the courts are under ever tighter government control, and the crackdown on media and civil society deepens.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held a constitutional referendum in April under restrictions on rights, including those imposed during a state of emergency that had been in place for nine months, undermining its fairness. Voters narrowly approved the changes.

The government exerted enormous pressure over Turkey’s courts and prosecutors. Legitimate efforts to prosecute those responsible for the 2016 coup attempt were undermined by widespread misuse of counterterrorism laws. Several major politically motivated trials of journalists on terrorism-related charges began in 2017, and the government also targeted human rights defenders.

The chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kilic, remains in detention facing a trumped up prosecution for membership in a terrorist organization. And a businessman and civil society leader, Osman Kavala, remained in pretrial detention and under investigation for bogus allegations of involvement in the coup attempt.

The government deepened its assault during 2017 on the Kurdish political opposition in parliament, and on local government in the southeastern part of the country. Members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including party leader, Selahattin Demirtas, remain jailed for over a year, pending trial on terrorism charges. The government has taken over almost all municipalities in the southeast, depriving people in the region of their chosen representatives.

Under the state of emergency, the government has failed to provide redress for the over 100,000 civil servants dismissed, as well as hundreds of media outlets, associations, and other institutions closed down. Also covered in the chapter is the rise in allegations of torture in police custody, the human rights implications of continuing conflict in the southeast, Turkey’s role as the host of the highest number of refugees in the world and the role of human rights in its relations with the EU.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:27 am

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk arrive for a joint news conference following the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev, Ukraine, July 13, 2017. 

© 2017 REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
(Kyiv) – Ukrainian authorities backtracked on important human rights pledges during 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Holding accountable people responsible for torture and enforced disappearances, and for attacks on journalists and anti-corruption and rights groups should be priority issues for the Ukrainian government and its international partners during 2018.

“For the last year, Kyiv has been treating its human rights obligation as though they were optional,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are carrying out some deeply undemocratic practices and proposing new laws that that undermine Ukrainians’ fundamental freedoms.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In recent months, Ukraine’s government took several steps to restrict freedom of expression, media freedom, and freedom of association, invoking as justification the need to counter Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine and anti-Ukraine propaganda. In March, the Ukrainian government adopted legislation imposing criminal penalties on anti-corruption activists who fail to publicly report their personal assets. In July, President Petro Poroshenko proposed draft legislation to introduce burdensome and excessive public online reporting requirements for all nonprofit organizations.

Throughout 2017, all sides to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine endangered civilians and civilian infrastructure, as they continued hostilities.

The authorities have brought almost no one to justice for torture in custody, unacknowledged detention, and other armed-conflict-related abuses. The leadership of the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) denied its responsibility for secret detention and enforced disappearances, despite numerous, well-documented allegations by former detainees. The military prosecutor’s investigation into these practices yielded no meaningful results.

In August, SBU officials unlawfully detained and tortured a woman, later charging her with treason for allegedly working as a Russian agent. The authorities did not investigate her torture allegations.

In the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) Russia-backed de-facto authorities arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared people, with utter disregard for the rule of law.

Justice for crimes committed during the 2014 Maidan protests, which led to the ouster of the Ukrainian government, and for mass disturbances in Odesa remained elusive. Four years after Maidan, authorities appear unwilling to pursue meaningful prosecutions of those responsible for more than 100 deaths and numerous other crimes.

The human rights crisis in Crimea that began with Russia’s occupation of the peninsula in 2014 persisted. Russian authorities thoroughly suppressed public criticism of Russia’s actions there, including through criminal prosecution. They also targeted Crimean Tatars for their pro-Ukraine position, using criminal prosecutions for separatism and baseless terrorism-related charges. Authorities in Crimea also detained and imposed fines on Crimean Tatars who peacefully staged single-person pickets to protest the arrest and prosecution of others.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:26 am

Abdul Kareem, a Rohingya Muslim, carries his mother, Alima Khatoon, to a refugee camp after crossing from Burma into Bangladesh on Sept. 16, 2017.

© 2017 Dar Yasin/AP

(Paris) – Political leaders willing to fight for human rights principles showed that they could limit authoritarian populist agendas, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018, reviewing events of the past year. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that when leaders push back strongly against politicians who demonize minorities, attack human rights, and undermine democratic institutions, they can limit the advance of populists. But where mainstream politicians capitulate to a message of hate and exclusion, the authoritarian populists flourish.

World Report 2018

“The past year showed the importance of pushing back against the threat posed by demagogues and their abusive policies,” Roth said. “As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, the best way to honor its principles is to vigorously defend them against those leaders who seek political advantage by depriving marginalized groups of the rights guaranteed for all.”

Roth said demagogues have used economic dislocation and inequality caused by globalization and technological advances, the fear of cultural shifts in an increasingly mobile world, and the threat of terrorist attacks to fuel xenophobia and Islamophobia. They launched a frontal assault on the values of inclusivity, tolerance, and respect that are at the heart of human rights. These authoritarian populists seek to replace democracy – elected government limited by rights and the rule of law – with their self-serving interpretation of what the majority desires.

Political leaders willing to fight for human rights principles showed that they could limit authoritarian populist agendas, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018, reviewing events of the past year.

France represented the most prominent example of successful resistance to xenophobic populism. In Austria and the Netherlands, by contrast, leaders of center-right parties competed by adopting xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim positions, thereby mainstreaming abusive populist policies. President Emmanuel Macron took a different approach, embracing democratic principles and firmly opposing the National Front’s campaign of hatred against Muslims and immigrants. His resulting victory showed French voters reject overwhelmingly the National Front’s divisive policies. The challenge now for Macron is to govern according to the principles he preached. His first months in office showed a mixed record, both internationally and at home, with his counterterrorism policies and muted visit to China causes for concern.

The election of President Donald Trump in the United States and his anti-immigrant, racially divisive, and pro-drug-war policies were met with a broad reaffirmation of human rights and widespread resistance against such policies by popular organizations, civic groups, journalists, lawyers, judges, and even elected members of Trump’s own party.

In Central Europe, authoritarian populist governments have also encountered resistance. In Poland, large public protests and strong criticism from the European Union and Council of Europe met attempts to undermine the rule of law and judicial independence. In Hungary, the threat of EU legal action and international condemnation complicated the government’s plans to close Central European University, a bastion of independent thought that stands in opposition to the “illiberal democracy” championed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

People also took to the streets to protest President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to eviscerate Venezuela’s democracy and economy. Many Latin American countries shed their traditional reluctance to criticize a neighbor, raising the pressure for human rights reforms in Venezuela.

The Women’s March in the US morphed into a global phenomenon, with millions gathering in support of women’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement, Canada made gender equality a central part of its aid programs, and France announced new measures to combat gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon repealed provisions allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. The Dutch, Belgian, and Scandinavian governments led efforts to establish an international fund to replace anticipated US funding cuts to reproductive health programs, and Sweden pursued a feminist foreign policy.

By contrast, where governments repressed domestic resistance and international concern flagged, the populists and other anti-rights forces prospered, Roth said. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decimated Turkey’s democratic system as the EU focused largely instead on enlisting his help to stem the flight of refugees to Europe and security cooperation. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi crushed public dissent in Egypt with little interference from the US or the EU, which accepted his claim that he was providing stability. In China, President Xi Jinping carried out an intense crackdown on independent voices with other nations afraid to jeopardize lucrative contracts by speaking out.

Roth warned about the retreat of governments that might champion human rights, including the US, a UK preoccupied with Brexit, and European countries grappling with the influence of xenophobic populists. Their hesitancy has left a vacuum in which mass atrocities proceeded, often unchecked, in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Burma, and South Sudan.

However, Roth noted that several small and medium-sized countries have jumped into the fray. When the major powers continued to support the abusive Saudi coalition in Yemen, where civilians pummeled by Saudi-led aerial attacks and a blockade faced cholera and acute malnutrition, the Netherlands stepped in to lead the demand for a UN investigation. Supported by Canada, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg, they forced Saudi Arabia to accept an inquiry that will increase pressure for better behavior in the conflict. The Netherlands and Norway also imposed an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.

Since Russia refuses to allow the UN Security Council to act for justice in Syria, Liechtenstein built a broad coalition in December 2016 to seek a resolution in the UN General Assembly. By a vote of 105 to 15, they established a mechanism to collect evidence and build cases for prosecution, an important commitment to see justice done for war crimes in Syria.

“The central lesson of the past year is that human rights can be protected from populist challenge,” Roth said. “What’s needed is a principled defense rather than surrender, a call to action rather than a cry of despair.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:25 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including seven children, and wounding another 17, including eight children. After an international outcry, the coalition admitted to carrying out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition members involved in the attack. 

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi
 
(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition involved in the conflict in Yemen repeatedly attacked populated areas and deepened Yemen’s humanitarian crisis through its blockade in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Houthi-Saleh forces also blocked humanitarian assistance to some Yemeni cities and committed serious laws-of-war violations.

The Saudi-led coalition, with military backing from the United States, carried out its aerial and ground campaign in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi with little let-up. In December, after clashes broke out between formly allied Houthi and pro-Saleh forces in Sanaa, Houthi forces killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“For nearly three years Yemen’s warring parties have committed war crimes with little fear that other governments will hold them to account,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “United Nations Security Council sanctions on Houthi leaders should be extended to senior coalition military leaders, including Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, for their role in obstructing aid  and other abuses.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The conflict has taken a terrible toll on Yemen’s civilians. The Saudi-led coalition has used cluster munitions and carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that have killed thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war, with munitions that the US, United Kingdom, and others supply. Saudi Arabia pledged in December to reduce civilian harm. Since then, Human Rights Watch documented six coalition attacks that killed 55 civilians, including 33 children.

Formerly allied Houthi-Saleh forces have repeatedly fired artillery indiscriminately into Yemeni cities and southern Saudi Arabia, with a particularly heavy impact on Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz. The UN human rights office called the shelling of Taizz “unrelenting.”

Houthi-Saleh forces have also used antipersonnel landmines, killing and wounding civilians and posing a threat to civilians long after the conflict ends. The Houthis have also blocked and confiscated food and medical supplies and denied access to populations in need, in violation of international law.

The coalition has stopped goods from entering seaports controlled by the Houthis, closed critical ports, destroyed essential infrastructure, and restricted humanitarian workers’ access. Coalition military actions have violated laws-of-war prohibitions on restricting humanitarian assistance and on destroying objects essential to the survival of the civilian population. These violations, as well as the coalition’s disregard for the reported suffering of the civilian population, suggest that the coalition may be violating the prohibition against using starvation as a method of warfare, which is a war crime.

Houthi-Saleh forces, the Yemeni government, and the United Arab Emirates and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained people, including children; abused detainees and held them in poor conditions; and forcibly disappeared people perceived to be political opponents or security threats. The number of the “disappeared” grew over the past year. US forces may be complicit in detainee abuse by UAE forces.

None of the warring parties credibly investigated their forces’ alleged laws-of-war violations. In September, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution creating a Group of Eminent Experts to conduct an international investigation and to identify those responsible for abuses in Yemen.

“The US, UK, France, and others are risking complicity in unlawful coalition airstrikes by continuing to provide weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Whitson said. “Faced with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, governments should be urging the UN to enact sanctions against Saudi leaders, not selling them more bombs to use on Yemeni markets, schools, and hospitals.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 18, 2018, 8:25 am