Women gesture as people gather in an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration to protest against plans for a total ban on abortion in front of the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, October 3, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters/Kacper Pempel/File photo

(Warsaw) – Poland’s Parliament should listen to the voices of women across Poland and reject a regressive legislative proposal that would erode reproductive rights, more than 200 human and women’s rights groups from across the globe said in a statement issued today.

The Parliament is debating a draft bill entitled “Stop Abortion.” If adopted, this legislation will severely limit the already restricted grounds on which women can lawfully access abortion in Poland. It will place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations, the groups said.

The statement calls on Polish lawmakers to cease relentless attempts to roll back the reproductive rights of women in Poland and underlines the danger that will be posed to women and girls in Poland if the regressive law is adopted.

Read statement here.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2018, 3:13 pm

Lebanon’s public education system discriminates against children with disabilities. Children with disabilities are often denied admission to schools because of their disability. And for those who manage to enroll, most schools do not take reasonable steps to provide them with a quality education.

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s public education system discriminates against children with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Children with disabilities are often denied admission to schools because of their disability. And for those who manage to enroll, most schools do not take reasonable steps to provide them with a quality education. Instead, many children with disabilities in Lebanon attend institutions, which are not mandated to provide an education, or receive no education at all.
The 75-page report, “‘I Would Like to Go to School’: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Lebanon,” finds that although Lebanese law bars schools from discriminating against children with disabilities, public and private schools exclude many children with disabilities. For those allowed to enroll, schools often lack reasonable accommodations, such as modifications to the classroom environment and curricula, or teaching methods to address children’s needs. Schools also require the families of children with disabilities to pay extra fees and expenses that in effect are discriminatory.
“Discriminatory admissions practices are robbing Lebanese children with disabilities of an education,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Without any real option to get a quality inclusive education, thousands of children with disabilities are being left behind.”

School-age children in Lebanon.

Top photos, bottom left photo: © 2017 Amanda Bailly for Human Rights Watch. Bottom center and right photos: © 2017 Sam Koplewicz for Human Rights Watch
Under both Lebanese and international law, all children should have access to a quality education without discrimination. Lebanon’s Law No. 220, passed in 2000, guarantees everyone with a disability the right to education and other services, but it is not being put into practice, Human Rights Watch found. The educational path of children with disabilities in Lebanon is strewn with logistical, social, and economic pitfalls that mean they often face a compromised school experience – if they can enroll at all.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 200 children with disabilities and their families, government officials, disability rights experts, and education staff, and visited 11 public and private schools, 17 institutions, and 6 service providers.
Families said school officials gave various, sometimes brutal, reasons for denying their children admission. “While exclusion might not be a policy, it has become the custom,” said one disability rights expert.
Few schools in Lebanon are physically accessible and the government does little to provide accommodations children may need to succeed. Human Rights Watch found in nearly all cases that teachers and school administrators lacked training in inclusive education and that schools lacked funding to provide sufficient staff, in particular aides who can provide direct support to one or more children. Inclusive education involves children with disabilities studying in their community schools with reasonable support for academic and other forms of achievement.
“We are trying to do the best we can,” one teacher said. “We don’t have resources or the tools we need.”
For children who are not able to enroll in schools, 103 specialized institutions funded by the Social Affairs Ministry serve as the alternative for children with disabilities. Yet the educational resources at many of these institutions are of poor quality. And a lack of monitoring, poor evaluation mechanisms, and a dearth of appropriate resources raise serious concerns about whether these institutions fulfill children’s right to an education.
Conditions in some of the institutions are problematic, Human Rights Watch found. At two residential institutions visited, there was no separation between children and unrelated adult residents, providing inadequate privacy and supervision. In many cases, distance and the cost of transportation means that many children end up sleeping at institutions, effectively separating them from their families and communities for significant amounts of time.
There is no clear data on the total number of children with disabilities in Lebanon nor on how many are in school. Of the 8,558 Lebanese ages 5 to 14 registered with the Social Affairs Ministry as children with disabilities, 3,806 are in government-funded institutions, with a few others spread among public and private schools.
However other data raise concerns that tens of thousands of Lebanese children with disabilities may be excluded from Lebanon’s official disability registration. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization, and World Bank estimate that 5 percent of people under age 14 has a disability, which would put a conservative estimate of the number of Lebanese children ages 5 to 14 with a disability at 40,000.
In recent years, the Lebanese government has taken steps in the right direction. The Education Ministry has made some efforts to include children with learning disabilities in public schools. It is planning a 2018 pilot program under which 30 public schools will include children with learning disabilities and 6 will enroll children with visual, hearing, physical, and moderate intellectual disabilities.
The right to an education applies to all children, including those with disabilities. As a state party to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Lebanon is obligated to provide free compulsory primary education and access to secondary education without discrimination to all children. Inclusive education benefits all students, not only students with disabilities. A system that meets the diverse needs of all students benefits all learners and is a means to achieve high-quality education and can promote a more inclusive society.
The obstacles that children with disabilities face are not unique to Lebanon. The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that more than one-third of the 121 million children at the primary and lower-secondary level who are out of school worldwide are children with disabilities.
The Lebanese government should implement and enforce existing disability rights legislation, Human Rights Watch said. The Education Ministry should provide inclusive education in all its schools in a way that achieves maximum inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream public and private schools, including by adapting school curricula and hiring experienced personnel. The Social Affairs Ministry should create and implement a time-bound action plan for deinstitutionalization.
“Eighteen years after Lebanon passed a law ensuring children with disabilities could get an education, almost nothing has been done to make this a reality,” Fakih said. “Lebanon should urgently end its dependence on institutions, and ensure that children with disabilities can get a quality education in a classroom alongside their peers.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2018, 9:01 am

A Turkish soldier surveys the border line between Turkey and Syria near the city of Kilis, March 2, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Murad Sezer
(Brussels) – Turkish security forces have routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Turkish border guards have shot at asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey using smuggling routes, killing and wounding them, and have deported to Idlib newly arrived Syrians in the Turkish town of Antakya, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The Russian-Syrian military alliance’s December offensive against anti-government forces in Idlib has displaced almost 400,000 civilians, according to the UN. They have joined more than 1.3 million others trapped inside Idlib in insecure, overcrowded camps, and in makeshift camps in fields near the closed Turkish border where they are under constant threat of attack and lack food, clean water, shelter, health care, and aid. At a March 26, 2018 summit meeting in Bulgaria, the European Union should press Turkey to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection inside Turkey and pledge increased aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the region.

“As border guards try to seal the last remaining gaps in Turkey’s border, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trapped in fields to face the bombs on the Syrian side,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should press Turkey to open its border to those in need, and provide meaningful support, not silently stand by as Turkey ignores refugee law and pushes thousands back to face the carnage.”


Border area where Turkish security forces regularly carry out mass deportations of Syrian asylum seekers.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
In response to these allegations, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) in Turkey’s Ministry of Interior provided Human Rights Watch with a lengthy statement, which said, in part, that “while maintaining the security of borders against terrorist organizations, Turkey continues to accept Syrians in need coming to the borders, and never opens fire on or uses violence against them.”

The DGGM said that it registered 510,448 Syrians coming through the designated border gates in 2017, and 91,866 so far in 2018, and provided them with temporary protection. As seen from the numbers, the DGMM statement said, “allegations suggesting that Syrians are not registered are not true.” It does not appear that Turkish authorities conducted an investigation into Human Rights Watch’s specific findings.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with 21 Syrians about their repeated failed attempts to cross into Turkey with smugglers. Eighteen of them said that intensified Russia-Syrian airstrikes in Deir al-Zour and in Idlib had repeatedly displaced them until they finally decided they had no option but to risk their lives and flee to Turkey.

Those interviewed described 137 incidents, almost all between mid-December and early March, in which Turkish border guards intercepted them just after they had crossed the border with smugglers. Human Rights Watch spoke with another 35 Syrians stuck in Idlib who had not tried to escape for fear of being shot by border guards.

Nine people also described 10 incidents between September and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to cross, killing 14 people, including 5 children, and injuring 18.

Civilians in Idlib have also been caught in the crossfire between Kurdish and Turkish forces during the offensive by Turkey in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in Syria, north of Idlib, which began on January 20.

In November, the United Nations refugee agency said in its latest country guidance on Syria that “all parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts” and therefore maintained its long-standing call on all countries “not to forcibly return Syrians.”

Syrians who tried to enter Turkey said they were intercepted after they crossed the Orontes River or near the internally displaced persons camp in al-Dureyya. They said Turkish border guards deported them along with hundreds, and at times thousands, of other Syrians they had intercepted. They said the guards forced them to return to Syrian territory at an informal crossing point at Hatya or across a small dam on the Orontes River known as the Friendship Bridge that aid agencies have used.

Human Rights Watch obtained satellite images of both crossing points and of four security posts with large tents set up on basketball courts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they were held before being sent back to Syria. 

The findings follow a February 3 Human Rights Watch report on Turkey’s border killings and summary pushbacks of asylum seekers between May and December 2017 and similar findings in November 2015 and May 2016.

In response to the February 3 report, a senior Turkish official repeated his government’s long-standing response to such reports, pointing out that Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch described its latest findings in a letter on March 15 to Turkey’s interior minister, requesting comment by March 21.

Turkey is hosting over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency. Turkey deserves credit and support for its generosity and is entitled to secure its border with Syria.

However, Turkey is also obliged to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This includes a prohibition on rejecting asylum seekers at borders that would expose them to such threats. Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on the use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity.

Turkey insists that it respects the principle of nonrefoulement. “Syrians are accepted and taken under protection in Turkey and Syrians who have entered into Turkey somehow and demand protection are definitely not sent back and the reception and registration procedures are carried out,” the DGMM’s statement in response to this report said. “Syrians coming to Turkey are under no circumstances forced to go back to their own country; their registration is continuing and these foreigners can benefit from many rights and services in Turkey.”


Map of the Turkey-Syria Border.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
As of December, Turkey had completed almost 800 kilometers of a planned 911-kilometer border barrier with Syria, which consists of a rocket-resistant concrete wall and steel fence. The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained of the area where Syrians say they crossed with smugglers shows areas without a wall.

Turkey’s continued refusal since at least mid-2015 to allow Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border legally has been reinforced by a controversial EU-Turkey March 2016 migration agreement to curb refugee and migration flows to the European Union. The EU should instead be working with Turkey to keep its borders open to refugees, providing financial support for Turkey’s refugee efforts, and sharing responsibility by stepping up resettlement of refugees from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.

“The EU should stop ignoring Turkey’s mass refugee deportations,” Simpson said. “The meeting in Bulgaria is a clear opportunity for the EU governments and institutions to change course and ramp up efforts to help Turkey protect Syrian refugees including through increased refugee resettlement.”

For more details about Turkey’s mass border pushbacks and the situation displaced Syrians face in Syria’s Idlib governorate, please see below.

Turkey’s land borders are legally protected by army border units of the Turkish Armed Forces. Gendarmerie also on duty at the borders operate under the authority of the land forces command. There are also gendarmerie stations near the borders charged with regular rural policing activities. This report refers to border guards without specifying if they are soldiers or gendarmes since many of those interviewed did not provide or do not have such specific information.

Regular Mass Pushbacks at the Turkish Border

Between February 14 and 20, Human Rights Watch interviewed the 21 Syrian asylum seekers who had tried multiple times to cross the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed them by cell phone and explained the purpose of the interviews and gave assurances of anonymity. We also received interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

They described 137 incidents – 107 of them between January 1 and March 6 – in which Turkish border guards intercepted them at the border near the Syrian town of Darkush and held them at nearby security posts and then deported them back to Syria with hundreds, and at times thousands, of others.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate who fled Syrian government attacks on his village in September 2017 said border guards intercepted him nine times in January and the first half of February in border areas close to the al-Dureyya displaced people’s camp in Syria.

Describing three incidents in February, he said:

Each time they insulted the men, calling them “Syrian traitors.” They forced some of them to collect firewood. Then they took all of us in military trucks to a basketball court at a security post near the Hatya border gate. There was also a big tent there. They put us all in the tent and kept us overnight. They didn’t give us any food or water or let us go to a proper toilet. There were so many in the tent, that we were spilling out into the open of the basketball court. We were hundreds of people. The next morning, they took us all back to the border in buses.

A Turkish security base about 250 meters from the Turkey-Syria border, 2 kilometres south of the Turkish village, Saribük. The base has a basketball court and large tent, as described in statements by deported Syrian asylum seekers who said they were held in such a location before being deported.

© 2018 Digital Globe
Three Syrians said they were deported with thousands of others. A man from al-Hamediyah who said Turkish border guards intercepted him 11 times between September and January said that he was usually deported with about 500 other people. However, he said that on one occasion, in January, the border guards gave the people they had intercepted trying to cross from Syria numbers and his was 3,890. He said he was one of the last to be put on buses and taken to the border.

Many people referred to two deportation points that they said were between 10 and 30 minutes’ drive from the security posts where border guards had held them: one was an informal border crossing at Hatya, and the other was a small dam on the Orontes River called “Friendship Bridge.” Human Rights Watch obtained satellite imagery of both crossing points and of four security posts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they crossed into Turkey.

A woman from Hama governorate who repeatedly tried to cross the border said she was deported six times during the first two weeks of February with groups she estimated to be between 50 and 600 other Syrians:

The second time, on around February 4, the border guards took us to a military post and put us in a big tent with 200 other people they had already caught. Four hours later, at about 8 a.m., they put us in large buses and drove us to the Friendship Bridge. There they told us to get out and walk across the river back into Syria.

The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained confirms there are gaps in the wall the full length of the Orontes River, west of the Syrian town of Salkeen, and at various points between the southern tip of where the river meets the border and the Hatya border crossing.

Deportations from Antakya

Three Syrians said Turkish police had deported them or relatives from the town of Antakya, about 20 kilometers west of the Syrian border.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate said:

I crossed the border at night with my wife and two daughters and about 20 other people in late December 2017 near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp. The border guards didn’t find us. The smugglers took us to their house in Antakya, about two hours’ drive away. There were 20 other Syrians already there and they told us they had also crossed from Syria that night. Not long after that, Turkish police arrived at the house. They took all of us to a police station and held us there until the next morning. They took our fingerprints and photos. Then they took all of us in police vans to the border at Bab al-Hawa and sent us back to Syria.

A man from Hama governorate described what happened to his wife:

The Turks sent my wife back from Antakya twice. She told me everything that happened. The first time was a week ago [about February 10]. The smugglers drove her and about 10 other people from the border near the Orontes River up to Reyhanli and from there they drove to Antakya. They reached the edge of Antakya at about 6 a.m. Turkish police shot at the car’s wheels to force it to stop. They beat the driver and immediately put my wife and the others in a police van and drove them to the border at Bab al-Hawa.

My wife crossed again four days later. The smugglers took her and about 10 others to a small house in a Turkish village near the border and then drove to a house in Antakya where there were already about 50 other Syrians who said they had arrived that night. Suddenly Turkish police arrived, at about 7 a.m. They wrote down their names and took photos. They put them in a big truck and took them to the Bab al-Hawa crossing. They held them there for the whole day and then sent them back to Syria.

Shootings by Border Guards

Nine Syrians interviewed described a total of 10 shooting incidents by Turkish border guards between September and March in which they said 14 people were killed and 18 injured.

In mid-February, a man from Deir al-Zour governorate said that in the previous five weeks he had tried four times to reach Turkey with his wife and five children. The first three times, he said, Turkish border guards deported them. The fourth time they turned back because Turkish border guards shot at their group as they approached the border:

A few hundred meters from the border near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp the Turks suddenly started shooting at our group. They killed an 8-year-old girl and injured two men, one in a leg and the other in the stomach. I helped the man shot in the stomach turn back with the rest of us while the others carried the girl and helped the other man. Later the smugglers told us that a 13-year-old girl in another group trying to cross at the next time had also been killed during the shooting.   

A man evacuated with his wife and baby from Aleppo in late 2016 said he unsuccessfully attempted to cross with them to Turkey three times near the al-Dureyya camp in September 2017 and January 2018 and was deported with hundreds of others the first two times. During the third attempt, in January, he said:

The border guards shot at us and injured my wife in her stomach and leg. She was pregnant and the baby died. They also injured two men and a 5-year-old boy, who was shot in the leg. We took my wife to a hospital in Syria near the border. Her heart stopped twice, but she lived. They couldn’t operate on her, so they sent her to Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa gate for surgery. They amputated her leg and removed her womb. They didn’t let me cross with her but a few days later a smuggler helped me and my daughter cross to Turkey.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with a doctor in a Syrian hospital near the Turkish border west of the town of Idlib who said that between August 1 and February 16, the hospital had received 66 people with gunshot-related injuries who said they had been shot while trying to cross the Turkish border.

Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis in Idlib governorate

According to the UN, about 2.65 million people are currently in Idlib governorate, over 1.75 million of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in Idlib or other parts of Syria, including almost 400,000 displaced since December. Civilians in Idlib have faced years of conflict. In September, Russian and Syrian forces began a fresh offensive in Idlib, three days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire and “de-escalation” zone in the province and parts of Hama and western Aleppo. Human Rights Watch documented that attacks in September struck markets and populated residential areas and caused thousands of people to flee to displacement sites near the Turkish border.

Hostilities in Idlib halted on October 8 after Turkey deployed monitors there, but restarted in late December. In January, the Russian-Syrian military alliance carried out airstrikes to support Syrian ground troops. Some attacks involved prohibited weapons and targeted hospitals.

The Atma displaced persons camp on the Syrian side of Turkey’s border wall, where on February 6, 2018, during an exchange of fire between Turkish and Kurdish forces, a shell hit killing a girl and injuring seven others.

© 2017 Reuters/Osman Orsal
On January 21, Turkey started a military offensive in Kurdish-held Afrin, also putting displaced civilians at risk. Turkish and Kurdish forces have shelled each other on either side of Syria’s Atma displacement camp, on the Turkish border, which shelters 60,000 people.

Witnesses said that on February 6, during the fighting, shells hit the camp, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven displaced Syrians about the incident. They all said it left their children terrified of the shelling and unable to sleep.

A father of seven children from Hama who lived close to where the shell landed on February 6 said:

I was there when it happened and rushed to help. I heard a young girl had been killed, but I only saw two who were injured. One had lost an arm and a leg and the other was blinded. I was so scared the same might happen to my children, we fled the camp and went to live in a field near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. But we couldn’t stay there all alone, without help, so we had to come back to the camp. We are all scared now, all the time.

A father of four children said the incident had so shaken his family, he had returned to his still conflict-riven home town of Kafr Zita in Hama governorate because all other displacement camps in Idlib were full. As his house had been destroyed, he said, he was living in a field on the edge of the town and struggling to survive: “There is still shelling here but if we die, it’s better to die at home.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke with five Syrians who had been repeatedly displaced in recent months within Idlib to escape the shifting front line and who, as of mid-February, were living as close as possible to the Turkish border in the hope of escaping the fighting.

The UN says that since December, the violence has displaced at least 385,000 people who have joined 2.65 million other civilians, including 1.35 million civilians displaced in the past few years.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed two aid officials working in Idlib governorate. One summarized the dire humanitarian situation:

There is no more room anywhere for people displaced in the past few months. Displacement camps are completely full and we [humanitarians] do not have the resources to properly address basic needs of water, food, heating, health care, and education. Rent has skyrocketed so people end up living in the tens of thousands on the edge of towns and villages in fields in makeshift camps. There is simply no way the aid agencies can help all these people. At best they can give very limited help once in a while to some of them, and it is not done in an organized way. There is suffering everywhere, in every camp and in every village.

The 56 displaced Syrians in Idlib that Human Rights Watch interviewed, including 42 displaced by the recent violence, all described the extremely difficult conditions they had faced in Idlib in previous months. The newly displaced said they had heard that displacement camps were completely full and that they could not afford to pay the extremely high rents in the towns and villages in the area. They ended up living in waterlogged fields across Idlib governorate, often with other families in makeshift tents made from sacks and other material sewed together, because they could not afford to buy proper tents.

They said they struggled to find food and had to pay high fees for water, delivered by trucks. They either had seen no one from an aid agency, or those who had, said they were unable to help or had promised help but hadn’t returned.

Turkish authorities have allowed Turkish and international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians in camps in border areas. Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid is important, but does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.

EU Silence

Human Rights Watch has documented that, since at least mid-August 2015, Turkish border guards enforcing the country’s March 2015 border closure have deported Syrians trying to reach Turkey. In April and May 2016, Human Rights Watch documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and sending those who managed to cross back to Syria. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further killings, injuries and pushbacks that happened in the second half of 2017.

On May 20, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on UN member states and UN agencies attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to press the Turkish authorities to reopen Turkey’s border to Syrian asylum seekers. But neither the European Commission nor any European Union member state – or any other country – has publicly pressed Turkey to do so, while UN agencies have also remained publicly silent.

The world’s – and in particular the EU’s – silence over Turkey’s breach of the cornerstone of international refugee law condones Turkey’s border abuses.

The EU’s failure to take in more Syrian asylum seekers and refugees also contributes to the pressure on Turkey. The EU should swiftly fulfill its own commitments to relocate Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and, together with other countries, it should also expand safe and legal channels for people to reach safety from Turkey, including through increased refugee resettlement, humanitarian admissions, humanitarian and other visas, and facilitated family reunification.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2018, 4:01 am

Members of a “cow protection” group try to take the cows from the back of a truck that the group stopped on November 8, 2015, in Ramgarh, Rajasthan state, India. 

© 2015 Getty Images/Allison Joyce

A court in India yesterday sentenced 11 people to life in prison for beating to death Alimuddin Ansari, a Muslim, who his killers believed was trading in beef. Among those convicted was a local leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Many Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and in the past four years a violent vigilante campaign against beef trade and consumption has led to the killing of at least 29 people, mostly Muslims, across the country. Dalits, so-called untouchables, have also been targeted because they handle animal carcasses and leather.

The court, located in India’s eastern Jharkhand state, has handed down the first conviction since attacks by self-appointed “cow protectors” spiked after the BJP took office in May 2014.

Groups implicated in similar attacks also have links to the BJP. In several BJP-ruled states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, government policies or statements by elected leaders have led to mob violence by cow protection groups. Several senior BJP leaders have repeatedly instigated hate crimes against religious minorities, such as whipping up fear of Muslim men, who they baselessly claim kidnap, rape, or lure Hindu women into relationships as part of a plot to make India into a Muslim-majority country.

In September 2017, the Supreme Court directed state governments to take measures to prevent such vigilante attacks.

In cases involving killings in the name of cow protection, police have often failed to take prompt action against the accused, instead filing complaints against victims and their associates under laws banning cow slaughter.

The sentences imposed in Ansari’s case should not remain the exception. Indian authorities should immediately conduct credible investigations in all such pending cases, appropriately prosecute those responsible for hate crimes, and launch a public campaign decrying communal violence in all its forms. The authorities still have a long way to go before they can convince religious minorities and socially marginalized communities that justice can be assured.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 7:26 pm

A bride in traditional Japanese wedding attire poses for photos with her groom at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hatsukaichi, southwestern Japan April 16, 2008.

© 2008 Reuters

In the global push to end child marriage, Japan looks set to join the movement.

A proposed revision of Japan’s Civil Code would set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both women and men. At present, people must be 20 years old to marry without parental permission; with parental permission, men can marry from 18, and girls can marry as young as 16. If passed, the law, which the government supports, would take effect in 2022.

This step is long overdue. Different marriage ages for women versus men violate Japan’s obligations under international human rights law not to discriminate. Child marriage –  marriage before age 18 – is associated globally with girls dropping out of school, sinking into poverty, being at greater risk of domestic violence, and with serious health risks from pregnancy, including death.

That’s why under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which went into effect in January 2016, countries around the world, including Japan, agreed to a target of ending all child marriage by 2030. Countries including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Nepal, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden have recently revised laws to reduce child marriage. Many other countries have developed or are developing national action plans for ending child marriage by 2030.

Japan has a crucial role to play in this effort. The Japanese government is a major contributor of international development assistance and is active in many countries where child marriage is a serious problem. Of the 40 countries that, according to UNICEF, in 2017 had the highest rates of child marriage, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) works in 29 of them, across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, including hotspots for child marriage like Niger, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and India.

By ending child marriage at home, Japan makes itself a more credible partner in the global fight to end child marriage. The Japanese government should build on the new law by taking a more active role in the global effort to end child marriage, and by supporting reform in the many countries where far too many girls are getting married.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 2:47 pm

Jason (pseudonym), a 40-year-old gay man from Barbados. 

© 2017 Amy Braunschweiger for Human Rights Watch

(Bridgetown, Barbados, March 21, 2018) – Discriminatory laws in Eastern Caribbean countries make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people targets for discrimination, violence and abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 107-page report “‘I Have to Leave to Be Me’: Discriminatory Laws against LGBT People in the Eastern Caribbean” covers seven countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. All seven countries have versions of buggery and gross indecency laws, relics of British colonialism, that prohibit same-sex conduct between consenting persons. The laws have broad latitude, are vaguely worded, and serve to legitimize discrimination and hostility toward LGBT people.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost

LGBT people in the Eastern Caribbean face a toxic homophobic culture, intensified by laws that make same-sex conduct between consenting adults illegal. Despite this, each island has a core group of LGBT activists leading the fight for equality.

“While people are rarely prosecuted for these crimes, the laws single out a vulnerable social group,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The laws give social and legal sanction for discrimination, violence, stigma, and prejudice against LGBT people.”

The report is based on interviews with people from all seven countries during February 2017 with a total of 41 self-identifying LGBT people between the ages of 17 to 53 by Human Rights Watch researchers, working closely with the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE). All of those interviewed described being harassed by family members at some point in their lives because they are LGBT or were suspected to be.

“LGBT citizens contribute to the economic development, create homes, family, and safe spaces in home countries that hold on to colonial laws which discriminate against them and make their lives difficult,” said Kenita Placide, executive director of ECADE. Placide is based in Saint Lucia. “Some go to extreme lengths to protect themselves and maintain these safe spaces, including entering into heterosexual relationships. Fear of isolation, violence, and homelessness are the root causes of misery for many LGBT people living in the closet in the Caribbean.”

In the eastern Caribbean, family and church are cornerstones of social life. Interviewees said that they were afraid to come out in their typically close-knit communities, where social networks are tight and information travels fast. They also face the risk of being ostracized by their own families.

Some said they had been forced by their families to leave home or had been cut off from financial support. Many said that family rejection was often couched in moralistic terms, echoed in local church rhetoric. Many faced homelessness and life at the margins of society, leaving them vulnerable to violence and ill health.

“The fear of harassment, rejection, stigmatization, and even physical violence begins in the home and translates to key social spaces, including church and school,” said Richie Maitland, vice-chair of ECADE, who is based in Grenada.

Human Rights Watch and ECADE found that discrimination and stigma against LGBT people seeps into everyday activities, including access to services such as health care, school, or public transportation, or social activities such as going to the movies or shopping. Some said they had changed their lifestyle and behaviour to avoid contact with hostile members of their family, church, or community. Some opted to socialize only with a few trusted friends in the safety of their homes.

Verbal abuse and harassment can quickly escalate into physical assault. Interviewees described being stabbed, struck, pelted with bottles and bricks, beaten, slapped, choked and, in one instance, chased with a harpoon.

“People don’t understand how much pressure it is not to be your true authentic self and how that is such a mental strain – to the point where that is so detrimental to you as a person,” said Jason (a pseudonym), a 40-year-old man from Barbados. “It hinders our education opportunities, and work opportunities and taking part in your community.”

The English-speaking Caribbean is an outlier in the region. The fact that buggery and gross indecency laws are still on the books there is in stark contrast with recent developments in Latin America, where countries including Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay have been progressive in enacting non-discrimination policies and anti-bias legislation. Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Chile have taken an international lead advocating for the rights of LGBT people at the United Nations. Several, including Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay, are members of the Core Group of LGBT-friendly states at the United Nations in New York and of the Equal Rights Coalition, a group of 33 countries committed to the rights of LGBT people.

Local activists and their organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to advance the rights of LGBT people in the region, including by challenging discriminatory laws in court and exposing human rights violations. In some countries, activists have participated in LGBT awareness training for law enforcement agents. In others, advocates have challenged discriminatory legislation including by petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Groups in the region have participated in strategic litigation initiatives.

The governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should repeal all laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity among people of the same sex. They should pass comprehensive legislation that prohibits discrimination, including on grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, and that includes effective measures to identify, prevent, and respond to discrimination.

“Eastern Caribbean governments should provide LGBT people with the same protections the governments provide to everyone else,” Dittrich said. “The Eastern Caribbean governments should take the initiative to address the stigma that subjects LGBT people to discrimination and violence.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 2:00 pm

A house in a rural Wayuu community in La Guajira, Colombia, June 2016.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

Amelia sat on a bench outside her one-room straw-roofed hut knitting a handbag while her toddler grandsons played nearby in the dirt. They were skinny, and itchy-looking red rashes spread up their arms. “They spend days without eating,” said Amelia.

She told me she sold the colorful bags she knits for the equivalent of five US dollars each—though they are sold for as much as $50 online. But such handicrafts don’t go far to alleviate the dire malnutrition suffered by the Wayuu, Colombia’s largest indigenous group.

A gathering of officials this week in Paris could help bring them relief. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—a prestigious agency of mostly high-income countries that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world—is examining Colombia’s application to join.

Membership is one of President Juan Manuel Santos’s longstanding ambitions and few hurdles remain. But on March 22, the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee will scrutinize whether Colombia is doing enough to “assist people without work, and other vulnerable groups, to combat poverty.” In the case of the Wayuu, it is not.

The hunger crisis is rooted in government’s serious failures of governance—including extremely poor access to basic services, limited government efforts to root out local corruption, and an insufficient response to the crisis. Among the causes is limited access to food and water–made worse by the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela, just across the border.

Three of Amelia’s seven children died before reaching adulthood, she told me, and that devastating rate of loss is not so unusual among the Wayuu. Limited access to water and food has fueled the needless deaths of scores of Wayuu during the past two years, and it is eroding the health of thousands. The crisis is well-known in Colombia for its devastating effect on children. An average of almost one indigenous child under five has died of causes linked to malnutrition every week throughout the past two years, the government reports.

But the suffering of Wayuu women and children often goes unnoticed. On my recent visits, many stoic women like Amelia gave me a glimpse of their suffering and sacrifices. I found Marcela*, for example, a pregnant woman, sweaty and dusty, on the road to Luace, her tiny rural community. For prenatal checkups, Marcela has to ride a motor scooter for an hour over bumpy dirt roads—little more than rutted paths—to reach a clinic in the town of Paraiso. She had arrived for her latest appointment at 7 a.m. the previous day and waited seven hours to see a doctor—which was typical, she said. But poor access to medical care is only part of the problem for pregnant women like Marcela. “Sometimes we eat twice a day; sometimes once and that’s it,” she told me.

On the Guajira Peninsula, some pregnant or breastfeeding women have reportedly died of causes linked to malnutrition. Shipia Wayuu, an indigeous rights group, documented four cases in 2017. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the Colombian government to take immediate action to address the Wayuu women’s crisis.

The government has promised to act, but its efforts have fallen short, speaking volumes about Colombia’s commitment to the Wayuu. Government food programs for children in the villages I visited often ran short. Many doctors and nurses lacked medicine to treat children. And several wells dug by the government were not operating or provided only salty water.

In one community at the southern end of the peninsula, a woman and girl filled buckets from a mossy receptacle exposed to the elements at a newly-dug public well. They bathed, sluicing themselves with fetid, reeking water speckled with insects.

While Wayuu women suffer the lack of services and the ravages of hunger, they also serve in leadership roles in the fight for a decent life. Despite rigid traditional gender roles in Wayuu communities, it was often women—as teachers, community leaders, or nurses—who were doing the most, in the villages I visited, to help their neighbours. Dolores*, a cook for a government program that provides hot meals to poor children in a community at the eastern tip of the penninsula, was typical of these quiet heroes.

She struggles to feed her own family, but at times asks her daughter not to eat at the meal program. The rice, vegetables, and meat the private company that operates the program provides is often insufficient, she said, so she spends a chunk of her own $300 monthly salary to buy more. Many cooks and teachers on the peninsula told me that, like Dolores, they use their salaries to help feed the children of their villages.

I met Maria, 19, in the town of Manaure, and when I told her I couldn’t visit her home village of Camasia to do research, she decided to do her own reporting there. Through her cellphone recordings of relatives, I learned that Maria’s people generally eat only once a day and sometimes, day after day, drink only chicha–a corn gruel. The village goes weeks without access to water, and Maria’s relatives walk for more than an hour-and-a-half to fill their buckets.

Now is the time for the Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee of the OECD to shine a spotlight on the Wayuu crisis—and to examine the inadequate steps Colombian authorities have taken to address it. The committee should ask the Colombian goverment for a serious action plan to address the crisis, with concrete benchmarks and a vigorous verification system. Right now, the OECD has all the leverage it needs to press Colombia to alleviate the suffering of selfless women like Dolores and Maria—and help them save many more lives.

*Not her real name

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 1:30 pm

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. 

(Beirut) – Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s speaker of parliament, should schedule a vote on a draft waste management law before parliamentary elections on May 6, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The law has been stuck in parliament since 2012, but came before the joint committees of parliament in January, the final step before a vote by the full parliament.

Human Rights Watch has collected more than 12,000 signatures on a petition calling on parliament and cabinet to pass a national law and develop a strategy on waste management. Lebanon has made some progress on this issue in recent months, but passing a national law is a key step to ending the ongoing crisis. Human Rights Watch found in a December 2017 report that open burning at more than 150 open dumps across Lebanon was risking the health and violating the human rights of nearby residents, leaving Lebanon in breach of its obligations under international law.

“Time is quickly running out for parliament to pass a waste management law,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon’s residents have made it clear that they expect their elected representatives to take immediate and decisive action to end the ongoing waste crisis.”

Lebanon has never had a national waste management law. Cabinet approved a draft law in 2012 which would create a Solid Waste Management Board headed by the Environment Ministry, responsible for the national-level decision-making and waste treatment. The law would also set clear lines of authority over waste management, ban open dumping and burning of waste, and set penalties for violations.

The draft law came before the joint committees of parliament in January and was sent back to parliament’s environmental committee for further amendments with a three-week deadline. A member of that committee told Human Rights Watch that the amendments were completed, but the speaker of parliament has not referred it back to the joint committees, the final step before scheduling a vote by the full parliament.

Despite a decades long waste crisis, Lebanon has made some recent progress on this issue. In November 2017, the Environment Ministry sent letters to all municipalities in Lebanon, urging them to adopt sustainable waste management practices. In January, Cabinet passed a summary waste management plan, and the environment minister formed a committee on waste management, which includes a civil society representative. The ministry and committee are holding meetings with municipalities to discuss solid waste management options.

Human Rights Watch has urged Cabinet to build on the summary plan by developing a long-term strategy on waste management, outlining how Lebanon can comply with its international obligations to protect the right to a healthy environment.

In January, as part of a decision to expand two temporary coastal landfills, Cabinet approved a composting facility at one of the landfills. In February, the health minister ordered inspections of open dumps to identify violations such as open burning and held a news conference calling for an end to the open burning of waste and a health-conscious solution to the waste crisis. The ministry also created a mobile application to allow residents to report violations.

In February, Cabinet allocated US$20 million for the Environment Ministry to begin closing or rehabilitating the 941 open dumps across Lebanon. However, the decision focuses on Beirut and Mount Lebanon, some of the wealthiest areas in the country and the areas least affected by dangerous open burning. Cabinet and the Environment Ministry should take immediate action to end open dumping and burning across the country, including in poorer areas in Lebanon’s South and Bekaa Valley, some of the areas most affected by open burning of waste.

The government’s lack of effective action to address the issue violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law, including the government’s duties to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health. The Environment Ministry appears to lack the necessary personnel and financial resources for effective environmental monitoring.

“Lebanon urgently needs a national law on waste management to end this crisis, yet this bill has sat in parliament since 2012,” Fakih said. “It would be inexcusable for parliamentarians to end their 9-year term without tackling this issue.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 6:01 am

A woman votes at a polling station inside a school in Tripoli, Libya, June 25, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations should urge the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and competing authorities in eastern Libya to create conditions conducive to a free and fair vote before rushing to hold general elections in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

For elections to be free and fair, they need to be held in an environment free of coercion, discrimination, or intimidation of voters, candidates, and political parties, Human Rights Watch said. Three key elements should be respected: protection of free speech and assembly; rules that are neither discriminatory nor arbitrary in excluding potential voters or candidates; and the rule of law, accompanied by a functioning judiciary that is able to deal fairly and promptly with disputes concerning the elections. The judiciary should be prepared to fairly resolve disputes around campaigns and elections, such as on registration, candidacies, and results. Election organizers need to ensure that independent monitors have access to polling places.

“Libya today couldn’t be further away from respect for the rule of law and human rights, let alone from acceptable conditions for free elections,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to be able to guarantee freedom of assembly, association and speech to anyone participating in the elections.”

The UN has publicly supported holding elections in 2018. It is essential for UN officials and the Security Council to join forces to press all Libyan parties to ensure that the conditions for a credible nationwide election can be met before organizing one, Human Rights Watch said.

During a meeting brokered by President Emmanuel Macron of France in July 2017 between Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, of the Government of National Accord, and Khalifa Hiftar, commander of the Libyan National Army forces based in eastern Libya, both agreed in principle to hold speedy elections, within the first half of 2018. Currently, there is no comprehensive plan or guarantees, to secure protection for freedom of association and assembly and the rule of law.

Serraj later told the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a meeting in Tripoli that his government was “pushing ahead” for 2018 elections. Agila Saleh, head of the Libyan House of Representatives, based in eastern Libya, which supports Hiftar’s group, has called for parliamentary and presidential elections “as soon as possible to end disputes over the legitimacy and competition for political positions in Libya.”

The UN Security Council and the European Union back the Government of National Accord, which is supported by armed groups and militias in western Libya, but has limited control over territory. The other, rival, Interim Government based in the eastern cities of al-Bayda, Tobruk and Benghazi, is also supported by the Libyan National Army, which controls large swaths of eastern and southern Libya, with the exception of the eastern city of Derna.

Violence following the last Libyan general elections in 2014 led to the collapse of central authority and key institutions, notably law enforcement and the judiciary. The result was two opposing governments competing for legitimacy. Armed groups have, since then, kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, tortured, forcibly disappeared, and killed thousands of people, with impunity. The protracted conflicts have decimated the economy and public services, and internally displaced 165,000 people.

Jeffrey Feltman, under-secretary-general for political affairs, pledged the UN’s support for organizing “inclusive” elections in 2018. The special representative to the UN secretary general and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, has often publicly expressed his wish for general elections in 2018, while acknowledging the lack of a constitutional framework and suitable conditions in Libya.

In an effort in September to reinvigorate a stalled political process amid violent conflicts, Salamé announced a new Action Plan for Libya. The plan included consensus for limited amendments to the existing Libyan Political Agreement, followed by a national conference, a constitutional referendum, and legislation to provide for parliamentary and presidential elections. The EU, EU member states – including France – and the United States, have all endorsed the Action Plan. No date has been announced for these steps.

Restrictive laws have undermined freedom of speech and association in Libya, and armed groups have intimidated, harassed, threatened, physically attacked, and arbitrarily detained journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders. The penal code stipulates criminal penalties for defamation and for “insulting” public officials and the Libyan nation or flag and imposes the death penalty for “promoting theories or principles” that aim to overthrow the political, social, or economic system.

Laws on peaceful assembly unnecessarily limit citizens’ ability to freely express themselves through spontaneous and organized demonstrations and protests, with unduly harsh penalties. Authorities should ensure that any restrictions on public gatherings are strictly necessary for protecting public order.

The criminal justice system has all but collapsed. Civilian and military courts in the east and south remain mostly shut, while elsewhere they operate at reduced capacity. Armed groups have threatened, intimidated, and attacked judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and government officials. Law enforcement and criminal investigation departments around the country are only partially functional, often lacking the ability to execute court-issued summons and arrest warrants. Libya’s courts are in no position to resolve election disputes including on registration and results.
Prison authorities, often only nominally under the Ministries of Interior, Defense, and Justice of the two rival governments, hold thousands of detainees in long-term arbitrary detention without charges. Armed groups operate their own informal detention facilities. Under article 44 of the Libyan Political Agreement, the Government of National Accord should ensure that the authority to arrest and detain anyone is strictly limited to statutory law enforcement bodies, in compliance with Libyan and international law.

The High National Elections Commission, responsible for organizing elections, was established in January 2012 by the National Transitional Council. It announced the official start of the election process on December 7, with voter registration. By February 15, more than 2.4 million people had registered, its statistics show. As of March 8, 6,267 Libyans living abroad had registered. The commission extended the deadline several times, most recently until March 31. The International Organization for Migration estimates that at least 141,000 Libyans lived in the diaspora in 2015, although recent figures could be much higher.

Voter registration should be inclusive, accessible, and ensure that the largest number of eligible Libyans inside and outside the country can register, Human Rights Watch said. Provisions should also be made to register people held in long-term arbitrary detention without a criminal conviction since there is no legal basis for disqualifying them. The elections commission should also ensure regular transparent audits of its voter register to rule out any inaccuracies.

The legal framework for holding elections remains opaque. The election commission can only hold elections if the House of Representatives passes an elections law. Libya has only an interim Constitutional Covenant, adopted in 2011. A draft constitution proposed by the Constitution Drafting Assembly in July has yet to be put to a national referendum. The election commission has yet to clarify the legal framework for participation by political parties, and how independent and international monitors can be brought safely to all areas where voting is planned.

As a party to international human rights treaties, Libya is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee freedom of speech, expression, and association. Libya is also bound by the 2002 African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, which state that democratic elections must be held under “democratic constitutions and in compliance with supportive legal instruments,” and under a “system of separation of powers that ensures in particular, the independence of the judiciary.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2018, 4:00 am

Jewelry companies scrutinized by Human Rights Watch.

© 2016 Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Vera Wang LOVE; © 2013/Alamy;  © 2014 Michael Nagle/ Bloomberg via Getty Images; © 2017 Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images; © 2011/Alamy; © Noebse / Wikimedia Commons;  © 2013 Waring Abbott/Getty Images; © 2014/ Alamy; ©Tony Latham/LOOP images via Getty Images; © 2011 Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic; © 2008/SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

(Basel) – Jewelry and watch companies exhibiting at the Baselworld jewelry and watch fair should disclose their sourcing practices and supply chains, Human Rights Watch said today. Baselworld, one of the world’ largest jewelry and watch fairs, will take place from March 22 to 27, 2018 in the Swiss city of Basel.

“Baselworld is a glamorous event displaying stunning new jewelry and watches,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Companies should give just as much attention to responsible sourcing of their precious minerals and stones as they do to beautiful design.”

Human Rights Watch has documented how precious minerals, such as gold and diamonds, are sometimes mined under abusive conditions. Communities near mines have faced ill-health and environmental harm as mines have polluted waterways with toxic chemicals. Civilians have suffered in armed conflict situations when armed groups have fought over access to mines. And children have risked their lives when working in small-scale mines in Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the gold and diamond sourcing policies and practices of 13 well-known jewelry brands. It found that most companies do not do enough to trace their gold and diamonds back to the mines of origin, address human rights concerns in their supply chains, and share information with the public about their supply chains and efforts to source responsibly. It also found that many jewelers rely on their certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an industry body with weak standards and an audit process that lacks transparency.

Jewelry and watch companies need to do more to ensure that their supply chains are free of human rights abuse.

However, Human Rights Watch also found that the practices of companies differ significantly, and that some companies are taking important steps in the right direction. Tiffany stands out for its ability to track its gold back to the mine, and for its thorough assessments of human rights impacts. Two jewelers with weaker sourcing approaches, the UK jeweler Boodles and the German jeweler Christ, recently pledged to strengthen their practices. The Responsible Jewellery Council, which has over 1,000 members, has signalled openness to strengthening its standard.

Among the businesses scrutinized by Human Rights Watch that exhibit at Baselworld are:

  • The Italian jeweler Bulgari (ranked “moderate”): Bulgari checks human rights risks in its supply chain by visiting suppliers and, occasionally, mines. The company takes extra steps to ensure it tracks its gold through the supply chain. Unfortunately, it does not trace its diamonds back to the mines of origin and does not publish details about its sourcing efforts or the names of its suppliers.
  • The Swiss jeweler Chopard (ranked “weak”): Chopard stands out as a company that sources part of its gold from Fairmined certified mines – small-scale mines with that adhere to a rigorous, regularly checked standard. Unfortunately, Chopard does not say publicly what percentage of its gold originates from these mines, and what it does to source its other gold and its diamonds responsibly.
  • The US jeweler Harry Winston (ranked “weak”): Harry Winston states that it adheres to industry standards on ethical sourcing but provides little information on its suppliers or how it monitors human rights risks in its supply chain.
  • The Swiss watchmaker Rolex (no ranking due to non-disclosure): Rolex does not provide any information publicly on its sourcing practices or its suppliers.

Companies should ensure their supply chains are traceable, transparent, and regularly assessed for human rights conditions, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch and 28 nongovernmental organizations and trade unions have also jointly published a Call to Action for the jewelry industry, calling for robust human rights safeguards in their supply chains. In addition, Human Rights Watch has a digital campaign, #BehindTheBling, calling on jewelers to adopt responsible sourcing policies and practices.

For its report, Human Rights Watch approached 13 jewelry and watch brands, selected to include well-known brands from various geographic areas and markets. The brands collectively generate more than US$30 billion in annual revenue – about 10 percent of global jewelry sales. Ten of the companies responded to the Human Rights Watch request for information: Boodles, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Christ, Harry Winston, Pandora, Signet (parent company of Kay Jewelers, Zales, Ernest Jones, and H. Samuel), Tanishq, and Tiffany. Three did not respond: Kalyan, Rolex, and TBZ.

Human Rights Watch assessed 13 companies against seven criteria for responsible sourcing, using information they provided directly and publicly available information.

Based on information publicly available or provided by the companies, Human Rights Watch ranked the 13 companies according to specific responsible sourcing criteria, including efforts to assess and respond to human rights risks, establish traceability, and publicly report about the company’s actions.

“The time has come for the jewelry and watch industry to put responsible sourcing at the heart of its business,” Kippenberg said. “Customers should know that no one was harmed in producing the beautiful jewelry and watches they buy and enjoy.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2018, 4:42 pm

Oyub Titiev, Grozny, 2018. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Yesterday I went to Chechnya for the first time since the terrible war in 1999. It was my first time in Grozny, the capital, which has long been rebuilt and whose skyline now features modern high rises.

Yesterday was also the 70th day that Oyub Titiev has spent in jail. Titiev is the Grozny director of Memorial, the Russian human rights group that seeks justice for civilian victims of the Chechnya wars. It’s the last remaining human rights group that works openly in Chechnya, after Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, turned this republic of Russia into an enclave of fear, where even the mildest criticism of him or his government’s policies carries risk of public humiliation, enforced disappearance, or worse.

I was in Grozny to attend a hearing in which Titiev appealed the extension of his pretrial custody. Police arrested Titiev on January 9 on ludicrous marijuana possession charges. Titiev insists police planted the drugs. It’s not the first time Chechen authorities have used bogus drug charges to lock up their critics.

The judge rejected the defense’s motion to allow Titiev to sit with his lawyers instead of in the defendants’ “cage” because, well, that’s the norm, he said. The defense made numerous arguments as to why Titiev should be released prior to trial, chiefly the lack of any evidence that he would obstruct justice, abscond, or threaten public security

No one was surprised when the judge ruled against Titiev. But it was still a dramatic moment and a massive injustice. It’s also hard to swallow that while Titiev unjustly sits behind bars in Grozny, the Egyptian national football team is slated to treat it as their home for Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup. FIFA, the global footballing body, recently announced a robust new human rights framework, including a focus on human rights defenders, that applies to all its operations. One way to put this policy into practice, and address the unjust and unseemly juxtaposition of Titiev in jail and FIFA enjoying the embrace of Kadyrov, would be for them speak up for Titiev at the highest level and seek his release.

As we left Grozny, a colleague pointed out where Natalia Estemirova, one of Chechnya’s top human rights activists, had lived until her murder in 2009. Natalia had encouraged Titiev to join Memorial, and he took over after her killing. I couldn’t help feeling her presence all day.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2018, 4:09 pm

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

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC) should come as no surprise. The ICC – a court of last resort to try those most responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – inevitably runs up against political interests opposed to accountability.

But Duterte’s angry rejection of the court should be a reminder to all that the ICC’s ability to give some victims a path to justice ultimately rests with governments. As the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, nears its 20th anniversary in July, ICC member countries should take every opportunity to voice support for the court’s essential role.

That support was on display last week when members of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Washington, DC, the tenth time the OAS has held a session on the ICC. The region has been a strong supporter of the court: 29 out of 35 OAS members are also ICC countries. This was evident in the statements of the many countries that spoke up about the ICC at the meeting.

The OAS session focused on strengthening cooperation with the court, which, in additional to political backing, relies on governments for help in investigations and arrests. The meeting also commemorated the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, signed on July 17, 1998. Mexico and Ecuador each announced special initiatives planned for the year.

ICC member countries in all regions should make the most of this anniversary year by voicing their support, particularly at the highest levels of government, and through concrete steps that can assist the court, for example, by bringing attention to the need for cooperation in arrests. These countries should highlight the ICC’s role in providing an important counterpoint to the impunity for grave international crimes that persists in much of the world.

The OAS’s focus on the ICC treaty’s 20th anniversary will hopefully be followed by many other initiatives this year.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2018, 3:59 pm

Sri Lankan Tamil women hold up photographs of their missing family members as they wait to hand over a petition to the UN head office in Colombo on March 13, 2013.

© 2013 Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters

(Geneva) – The Sri Lankan government should announce a time-bound plan to carry out its pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council since October 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. At an interim update before the Council this week on progress towards fulfilment of its human rights commitments, UN member countries should press Sri Lanka to ensure justice and accountability for the tens of thousands of victims of the country’s brutal civil war.

In October 2015, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 30/1 by consensus in which Sri Lanka pledged to set up four transitional justice mechanisms to promote “justice, reconciliation and human rights” in the country. These included an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, and investigators; a truth and reconciliation mechanism; an office of missing persons; and an office for reparations. Thus far only the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has been set up – just ahead of the current session in Geneva. The high commissioner for human rights, in a report to the Council, expressed similar concerns. The Council will discuss the high commissioner’s report this week.

“The Human Rights Council needs to make it clear to the Sri Lankan government that it expects it to stop playing games and start delivering on its commitments,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The Sri Lankan government needs to move beyond pre-session PR and present a meaningful and concrete plan to deliver results for the victims who have been awaiting justice for far too long.”

Human Rights Watch welcomed the December action by the government to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Creating the Office of Missing Persons, while a positive step, is just the latest body set up in Sri Lanka to look into enforced disappearances. Reports of prior government-established commissions, some of which have been made public in recent years, have not led to accountability.

“The Office of Missing Persons now represents their last best hope to learn the fate of their loved ones,” said Fisher. “It must do its work quickly and properly. Families of the disappeared have appeared before commission after commission, and many have camped out in the open over the past year in protest of government inaction.”

The justice and accountability mechanism in the 2015 resolution is a key demand from victims and families affected by Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both sides to the conflict, which ended in May 2009 with a decisive government victory, committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, enforced disappearances, and torture. The government should publicly set out when this mechanism will be set up instead of hiding behind various politically expedient excuses, Human Rights Watch said.

The government has also failed to deliver on its other pledges under the 2015 resolution. A government-commissioned task force led by independent activists carried out a nationwide consultation down to the grass-roots level and delivered a detailed report on the expectations of victims and affected communities. However, the report and its recommendations have languished and it is unclear whether the government will take them into account in either the Office of Missing Persons or the other transitional justice mechanisms.

Another key outstanding pledge, namely security sector reform including the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), also remains unfulfilled. Sri Lanka has a long history of abuses by security forces, both during and after the civil war. The security forces have long used the PTA to detain suspects for years without charge, facilitating torture and other mistreatment. The government’s claims to be working on repealing and replacing the PTA with a rights-respecting law have yet to come to fruition.

Additionally, Sri Lanka’s state of emergency laws and regulations under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) create a legal framework for abuse by the security forces in the name of national security interests. The government recently resorted to emergency rule in response to anti-Muslim riots in the Kandy district. The government was largely successful in quelling the riots, arresting dozens of people suspected of instigating and participating in the violence, but the episode highlighted the lack of action in limiting the PSO’s broad powers. The government had pledged to review these regulations under Resolution 30/1 but they still permit the authorities to detain people for up to 14 days before being produced in court.

“A lack of justice and impunity for past abuses fuels current abuses in Sri Lanka,” Fisher said. “The government’s delay in undertaking promised reforms is a slap in the face to the victims and their families who have waited for years for answers. The government should stop hiding behind politically expedient excuses and act on its pledges.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2018, 7:45 am

Security guards wave to urge Hong Kong fans stop booing and turning their backs during Chinese national anthem, at the Asian Cup preliminary match between Hong Kong and Lebanon in Hong Kong, China November 14, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Hong Kong people have seen their right to free expression increasingly threatened under Chinese Communist Party rule, but soon they are likely to have even more to worry about. This week Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, will officially kick off discussion on a proposed law that could criminally punish – with up to three years in prison – anyone who “insults” the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”

If enacted, the bill will penalize anyone who “performs or sings” the anthem “in a distorted or derogatory manner,” or “publicly and willfully alters the lyrics or the score.” Schools will be required to teach students to sing and “understand the history and spirit” of the national anthem.

But what would constitute an “insult” to the song? Unnamed government sources say it will depend on the person’s “intent,” encouraging political interpretations by the authorities.

As with other vague bans on free speech, discussions about what is allowed have quickly brought out the absurdity of the bill. One Hong Kong newspaper tried to clarify the bill by positing different scenarios in a “question and answer” format: in one, the paper asks whether people at a restaurant could face prosecution if they fail to stand when the anthem is played on television. Citing “official sources,” the paper reassures those who do not stand because they are eating, but suggests that other gestures – such as flipping a middle finger – might not earn similar leniency.   

International human rights law permits restrictions on speech to protect national security or public order, but only when absolutely necessary and strictly proportionate to the risk of harm to those interests. The proposed law does not meet this requirement and would violate such rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s functional constitution, the Basic Law.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has played down fears the bill could be politicized, saying it merely aims to encourage “respect” for the anthem. Yet she has not acknowledged citizens’ concerns about forcing their political loyalty to Beijing, or how mainland authorities’ frequently jail people for peaceful criticism. Enacting this law will merely remind Hong Kong people just how tenuous their rights to free speech are.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2018, 12:00 am

Proactiva’s rescue ship Open Arms on mission in November 2017. 

© 2017 Pau Coll
(Milan) – Italy has impounded a rescue ship and threatened criminal charges against two members of its crew and the coordinator of the organization after they refused to turn migrants over to Libyan forces, fearing that they would be abused.
On March 18, 2018, an Italian prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, impounded the Spanish rescue group Proactiva’s ship Open Arms and is considering levelling charges of criminal association for the purposes of facilitating irregular migration after Proactiva refused to transfer people rescued in international waters to a Libyan patrol boat. Everyone intercepted by Libyan forces or handed over to them is taken to Libya and placed in detention.
“Proactiva acted to save migrants’ lives and then prevented them from being abused in indefinite detention,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director for Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is perverse to try to characterize as criminal a refusal to hand victims to Libyan coast guard forces knowing they could face possible torture and rape in Libyan detention centers.”
International human rights and refugee law prohibits returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment – the nonrefoulement principle. Empowering Libyan forces to capture people on the high seas, when it is known that they will return them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in arbitrary detention exposes Italy and other European Union (EU) states involved to charges of aiding and abetting in serious human rights violations in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
Italy’s strategy to reduce boat arrivals is in line with the EU’s approach to migration cooperation with Libya. The EU is supporting training and technical assistance to Libyan coast guard forces nominally under the United Nations (UN) and EU-backed Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and wants to expand those efforts. Despite EU insistence, the International Maritime Organization has not yet recognized a Libyan search-and-rescue zone, and Libya does not yet have a fully functioning maritime rescue coordination center.
Italy has delivered four patrol boats to Libyan coast guard forces. The Libyan forces included patrol boat 648, which was involved in this incident as well as a deadly intervention in November 2017 that cost the lives of at least 50 people, according to the German nongovernmental group Sea-Watch.
Based on a detailed incident report provided by Proactiva, the Open Arms responded on March 15 to an overcrowded rubber dinghy in international waters, 73 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) informed the Open Arms after it reached the rubber boat that Libyan forces had command over the operation, but told the Open Arms crew to use their judgment. For the security of the people on board the rubber dinghy, Proactiva decided to provide everyone with life jackets and to transfer all the women and children to Proactiva’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats and stayed nearby.
Libyan coast guard patrol boat 648 reached the scene approximately 30 minutes later. Anabel Montes, the search-and-rescue coordinator on board Open Arms, told Human Rights Watch that coast guard officers threatened via megaphone and radio, in English, to kill the crew on the Proactiva boat holding women and children if it did not turn them over. Eleven men jumped out of the rubber boat into the water and were also taken on board by the Proactiva boats. At one point, the Libyan patrol boat and its own rubber dinghy sandwiched one of the Proactiva boats, and an unarmed Libyan officer boarded to convince people to transfer to the patrol boat. He desisted in the face of everyone’s refusal to cooperate.
After a three-hour stand-off, the Proactiva crew were able to safely transfer all women, children, and men to the Open Arms ship and proceed north. For more than 24 hours, the crew was unsure where they would be able to disembark the rescued people. The Italian Maritime rescue coordination center told them Italy had not coordinated the rescue and was therefore not responsible.
The national coordination center in Madrid, Spain, the ship’s flag state, told them they couldn’t help because Proactiva had performed a rescue in “Libya’s SAR zone.” Malta agreed to evacuate an infant and her mother for medical reasons. The Spanish government interceded on Proactiva’s behalf, and Italy eventually allowed disembarkation in Pozzallo, Sicily, on the morning of March 17.
The prospect of charges against Proactiva is the latest in a series of measures to discredit nongovernmental rescue groups, Human Rights Watch said. Anti-immigrant groups and some media carried out a concerted smear campaign in 2017. Carmelo Zuccaro, the Sicilian prosecutor who opened the investigation against Proactiva, made the news last year with broad accusations of complicity between rescue groups and smuggling networks, even though Zuccaro later confirmed to a parliamentary inquiry he had no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Another Sicilian prosecutor sequestered the Iuventus, a ship operated by the German group Jugend Rettet in August and is still pursuing an investigation into alleged facilitation of irregular migration. The Italian government imposed a code of conduct in July on rescue groups that serves a dual purpose of implying they need management and of restricting their ability to operate effectively.
“It is shocking that Europe has reached the point of criminalizing rescue at sea,” Sunderland said. “Europeans should support, not smear, people saving lives in the Mediterranean, and remember that EU and Italian policies are propping up a cycle of detention and violence in Libya, while groups like Proactiva are saving lives.” 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 19, 2018, 8:34 pm

Members of civil society organizations chant slogans during a protest to condemn the killing of 27-year-old woman, Farkhunda, who was beaten with sticks and set on fire by a crowd of men in central Kabul in broad daylight on Thursday, in Kabul March 24, 2015.

© 2018 Reuters

More than 8 out of 10 Afghan women and girls will suffer domestic and other violence in their lifetime. Before 2001, they had nowhere to run. These days there are some safe havens: the country’s tiny, but desperately important, network of women’s shelters.

But these shelters are now under attack – and not for the first time – by Afghanistan’s own government. Last month, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) announced plans to seize control of shelter funding provided by foreign donors, and instead require shelter operators to seek funding through the ministry. This might sound reasonable – a hallmark of President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been a push for greater government control over donor funds in the name of anti-corruption.

But we’ve seen this before. In 2011, MoWA also pushed for control of the shelters and used the same rhetoric as this time – alluding to “problems” in the refuges and suggesting – falsely – that shelters are brothels. But these abusive lies have been spread for years by opponents of women’s rights, who believe that women should have no safe haven from their husband no matter how violent and that a father or brother should have total control over the life – or death – of a woman.

In 2011, I was one of several lawyers who spent many hours reviewing the regulation MoWA sought to impose on shelters. It was clear that it intended to deprive women of refuge. Under the regulation, women would have been forced to convince a panel that they deserve shelter, and to undergo humiliating and medically meaningless “virginity tests.” Worst of all, they would have been turned over to their families at the relatives’ request – although nearly all were fleeing abuse from their own family.

In 2011, and in 2013 when MoWA tried again, international donors who fund the shelters fought back.

But foreign donor interest in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically. It is far from clear that they will fight again to save the shelters.

I have met Afghan women whose lives were saved by these refuges. I remember the fear in their eyes. If donors don’t act – and fast – they will have even more to fear. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 19, 2018, 8:17 pm

(Kyiv) – Victims of arbitrary detention in government-controlled secret prisons in eastern Ukraine face new, serious obstacles to justice, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.

At least five detainees held in secret facilities run by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in 2015 and 2016 filed complaints against the authorities for their enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment used to extract forced confessions, and subsequent unlawful detention. An appeals court will issue a ruling on March 27, 2018, on an appeal of a complaint that had been dismissed.

“People held for months in Ukraine’s secret detention sites endured serious abuse,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Almost two years later, facing a wall of denial from the authorities, they are as far from justice as when they were detained.”

In July 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a report documenting nine cases of arbitrary, prolonged detention of civilians by Ukrainian authorities, including some enforced disappearances. The groups also documented nine cases of arbitrary, prolonged detention of civilians by Russia-backed armed groups. Most of the cases took place in 2015 and 2016.

Soon after the release of the report and after representatives of both groups met with Ukrainian officials, the Kharkiv SBU released 13 of the people whose cases Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had been aware of. By the end of 2016, the Kharkiv SBU had released three of the others and two men whose cases were unknown to the two groups at the time.

The SBU leadership never acknowledged the detentions or releases and has continued to deny secretly detaining civilians, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others.

Five of those released have filed complaints against the Ukrainian authorities. One of them is Kostyantyn Beskorovaynyi, who spent 15 months between December 2014 and February 2016 in unacknowledged and unlawful detention in three SBU facilities – in Kramatorsk, Izyum, and Kharkiv. In June 2016, Beskorovaynyi filed a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office, alleging that he was the victim of an enforced disappearance, torture, and ill-treatment and subsequent unlawful and secret detention.

Beskorovaynyi’s lawyer told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that the authorities have still not carried out an effective investigation into his case. On March 10, 2017, an investigator from the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Kramatorsk re-designated Beskorovaynyi a witness instead of a plaintiff, allowing the investigator to promptly close the case. As a witness, Beskorovaynyi was not entitled to appeal the investigator’s decision.

On February 26, 2018, an appeals court restored Beskorovaynyi’s status as a plaintiff. On March 27, the appeals court will decide whether to order the criminal investigation reopened.

By the end of 2016, four other people that the SBU had held unlawfully in the same facility during the same period had also filed complaints about their enforced disappearance, torture, and ill-treatment and subsequent unlawful detention between December 2015 and August 2016. They told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that an investigator from the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Kramatorsk interviewed them toward the end of 2016, but they have heard nothing further.

An investigative report, aired by the Ukrainian independent TV company Hromadske on March 15, documents the secret detention of several people by the SBU in Kharkiv. Hromadske journalists interviewed Beskorovaynyi and three other detainees, as well as the SBU leadership in Kharkiv and Kyiv.

The Hromadske investigation was prompted by the allegations documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Ukraine’s international partners should urge the country’s leadership to conduct effective investigations and end impunity for enforced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, and other ill-treatment by government forces. The authorities should acknowledge the SBU’s secret detention and ensure that any remaining secret sites are closed, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

“Instead of addressing past injustices, the Ukrainian authorities are denying the truth, denying justice to victims, and stalling and obstructing effective and thorough investigation of these grave human rights violations,” said Oksana Pokalchuk, director of Amnesty International Ukraine. “Instead of cornering themselves in this way, the Ukrainian authorities should take responsibility for these abuses and identify and bring those responsible for all aspects of the secret detentions to justice.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 19, 2018, 1:51 pm

(Beirut) – Algerian authorities sealed the premises of two women’s rights associations on February 27 on the grounds that they were not registered, Human Rights Watch said today. The groups were allowed to reopen “temporarily” on March 5.

Seals on the locks of the association Algerian Women Claiming their Rights (Femmes Algériennes Revendiquant leurs Droits, FARD). 

© 2018 Private

While the two organizations registered legally, one in 1989 and the other in 1996, authorities have since required associations to re-register under a 2012 law and refused to renew their legal status, without providing an explanation. Under the restrictive 2012 Law on Associations, Algerian authorities have broad discretion to withhold legal recognition from nongovernmental associations, keeping them in legal limbo.

“Algerian authorities should stop using the association law as a Damocles sword hanging over independent associations that they dislike,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The 2012 law, in article 70, requires organizations that were legally registered under the previous law to resubmit their bylaws or face dissolution. The two Oran-based groups, the Feminist Association for Personal Development and Exercise of Citizenship (Association Féministe pour l’Epanouissement de la Personne et l’Exercice de la Citoyenneté, AFEPEC) and Algerian Women Claiming their Rights (Femmes Algériennes Revendiquant leurs Droits, FARD) sent their new registration documents to the authorities in 2012 and 2014 respectively, but never received a registration receipt despite several efforts to follow up.

On February 25, the Oran governor issued a written decision, based on “reports that FARD and AFEPEC, two unlicensed associations, are pursuing their activities,” to close their premises “until they straighten out their legal situation.”

Fatma Boufenik, director of FARD’s counseling center for women victims of violence, told Human Rights Watch that the association received no prior notice of the closure.

“On February 27, colleagues and I were on duty assisting women at the counseling center,” Boufenik said. “We left at about 1 p.m. I live in that same neighborhood. When neighbors informed me that the police had come and sealed our office and the office of AFEPEC, I went and discovered that they had put seals in our lock.”

Boufenik said that FARD had been legally registered since 1996, under the 1990 law on associations. After legislators replaced that law in 2012, FARD held a general assembly on January 9, 2014, as mandated by the new law, and deposited the required documents with the Direction de l’Action Sociale (DAS), the local branch of the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family and Condition of Women, on January 29, 2014. On March 30, the group received a “deposit receipt” proving that the Wali of Oran had received the file. Human Rights Watch has reviewed that receipt. Since then, the authorities have not responded.

Malika Remaoun, vice president of AFEPEC, told Human Rights Watch that to comply with the 2012 law, the association held a general assembly on February 22, 2012 and deposited the required documents on February 29. “But we did not receive our deposit receipt until 2014, even though it was dated March 2012,” she said. “Since then, we have been asking for the normalization of our legal status, to no avail.”

On March 5, the governor of Oran allowed FARD and AFEPEC to reopen. His decision, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, stated that the reopening was only temporary, pending “the normalization of their legal status.”

Human Rights Watch has urged the Algerian government to revise the law on associations to make it consistent with international standards governing the right of association.

The 2012 law requires associations to obtain a registration receipt from authorities before they can legally operate. Authorities can refuse to register an association if they decide that the content and/or objectives of a group’s activities are contrary to Algeria’s “fundamental principles (constantes nationales) and values, public order, public morals and the applicable laws and regulations.” These vague criteria give authorities broad leeway to block a group’s legalization.

Article 8 of the new law states that the relevant administrative authority will issue a “mandatory deposit receipt” “on the spot” after checking the documents submitted by the association. The law gives the authority no discretion to refuse to accept the documents or to refuse to issue the receipt. The administration then has 30 to 60 days to decide whether to allow the registration to take effect.

The law states that “at the expiration of the deadlines mentioned above, the administration’s silence is tantamount to agreement. In this case, the administration is obliged to deliver the registration receipt.”

In practice, however, the administration has refused in some cases to issue the receipt.

Human rights organizations such as the Algerian League for Human Rights (Ligue Algérienne des Droits de l’Homme, LADDH), the Youth Action Rally (Rassemblement Action Jeunesse, RAJ,), and the Algerian chapter of Amnesty International, all previously registered associations that re-submitted their documents in compliance with the 2012 law, still await their legal recognition.

The lack of legal registration hobbles associations in Algeria in many ways, including preventing them from opening a bank account or renting an office in the association’s name or renting a public hall for a meeting. Moreover, members of an association that is “non-accredited, suspended, or dissolved” risk prison sentences of up to six months for conducting activities in its name.

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

Zahra Mosawi, 28, from Afghanistan is trapped on Lesbos, Greece. Despite being a survivor of gender-based violence and in need of psychosocial support, she’s been unable to find help in the camp.

© 2017 ZALMAÏ for Human Rights Watch

Deadly, abysmal, dire, fear-inducing, insecure, cold, violent, humiliating, unfair…

I’ve used these words often over the past two years to describe the situation for thousands of asylum-seeking women, men, and children trapped on Greece’s islands. They are pawns in a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey that empowers Greece to try to force most asylum seekers back to Turkey without first hearing their claims.

Over these two years, Human Rights Watch has gathered hundreds of statements from victims describing the misery of their indefinite confinement. Some of their stories, combined with photos and videos, are featured in “Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Greece.” Here, we take viewers on a journey of the islands though the eyes of asylum-seekers – you see into their lives, their overcrowded and sagging tents, and psychological distress.

Their lives are on hold: Women, men, and children live crammed together. There isn’t enough food, water, shelter, or health care. The state of the few toilets and showers are abysmal, and particularly difficult for people with disabilities to use. Children don’t go to school and adults live out the days with nothing to do. Security has increasingly deteriorated, putting people in danger.

For most, there is no end in sight. Many people have attempted to end their lives due to the distress they experience.

“There is no peace, no safety, no dignity in Moria. It’s worse than jail,” Roula, a Syrian mother of two told me. “We are not treated as human beings.”

Women and girls say they experience sexual harassment and threat of violence daily, deterring them from leaving their shelters or going to the bathroom alone. They have little confidence that Greek authorities would help them if they report incidents.

On this grim anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, Greece and its EU partners should work to restore the dignity and humanity of people seeking protection, and start by scrapping the containment policy, which confines people to these islands. It is not necessary for migration control or the administration of the asylum system.

With the EU’s support, Greece should rapidly expand safe accommodation and services on the mainland and create a system to move people there quickly.

For thousands of asylum seekers trapped here, Greece’s beautiful islands are places of misery and fear. No one should live in these conditions. It is time they end this inhumane containment and #OpenTheIslands.

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

People walk with their belongings as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

(Beirut) – With Russia’s continued support, the Syrian government is using unlawful tactics in its assault on Eastern Ghouta, including what appears to be the use of internationally banned weapons, Human Rights Watch said today. There are significant concerns about how government forces will treat residents in areas that come under its control, given past reports of reprisal executions.

The UN Security Council should urgently demand a United Nations monitoring team be granted immediate access to areas of Eastern Ghouta, now under government control. The team should document any crimes already committed; their presence may deter further violations. They should also visit sites to which the government is transferring Eastern Ghouta residents, as there are significant concerns about their treatment. If Russia again vetoes council action, the UN General Assembly should call for the immediate deployment of monitors.

“Instead of just watching while the Syrian-Russian military alliance annihilates Eastern Ghouta, the UN Security Council should act to put a stop to these unlawful attacks,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Russia again tries to protect the Syrian government by preventing council action, the General Assembly should demand monitors for Ghouta’s residents. For weeks these people endured starvation and bombardment and now they’re at risk of detention and even execution.”

Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus, and home to an estimated 400,000 civilians, has been under attack by the Syrian-Russian military alliance since February 19. Syrian government forces have besieged Eastern Ghouta since 2013, severely restricting humanitarian aid in violation of the laws of war and preventing civilians from leaving. The alliance has bombarded Eastern Ghouta, failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets, hitting residential areas, hospitals, schools, and markets. According to the Ghouta United Relief Office, at least 1,699 residents have been killed since February 19.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch received a distress call from a member of the Syrian Civil Defense who told Human Rights Watch that he and 19 colleagues, five of whom are wounded, have been surrounded by government forces. According to him, in addition, there are 90 members of the Syrian Civil Defense and their relatives trapped in a second location, and they are all requesting safe passage to non-government-held areas. He said they fear retaliation, including summary execution, when the government takes the area.

After government forces retook Aleppo, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations received reports of reprisals and mass executions. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify the Aleppo reports and has not yet documented reprisals against Eastern Ghouta residents who have come under government control, but it has previously reported mass executions of civilians by Syrian government forces in areas that have come under their control.

The UN General Assembly’s landmark decision in December 2016 to establish a quasi-special prosecutor mechanism for Syria was prompted by outrage at the way Russia prevented the council from taking action to protect civilians during the brutal Syrian-Russian operation to retake Aleppo.

On February 24, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, to allow in humanitarian aid and stop indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as required by international law. But the resolution was never fully implemented and the council has taken no action. Russia, which shares responsibility for violations committed by joint operations of its military alliance, has used its veto 11 times to shield Syria from accountability.

There is evidence that Syria’s operation with Russia in Eastern Ghouta involves the use of internationally banned weapons, including cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and chemical weapons.

Human Rights Watch spoke to three witnesses who said that on March 7, 2018, the military alliance attacked residential areas in al-Hammouriyeh with ground-launched and air-dropped cluster munitions, among other munitions. According to local doctors and first responders, at least 20 residents died in the attack. Human Rights Watch examined photos of weapon remnants taken by a local media activist at one of the strike sites and identified the munition as an OTR-21 “Tochka” surface-to-surface, short-range tactical ballistic missile. A first responder told Human Rights Watch that there were several consecutive attacks with cluster munitions that day, including in al-Hammouriyeh, but that he could not recall precise details of their location because he had responded to many such attacks. He said the Syrian Civil Defense rescued more than 40 victims that day.

There is evidence that cluster munitions have been used in several attacks on Eastern Ghouta in March. Photographs shared by Syria Civil Defense of weapons remnants from a reported attack on March 11 show unexploded AO-2.5RT submunitions delivered in RBK-500 cluster bombs. A witness to an air attack on Hammouriyeh on March 7 gave Human Rights Watch a photograph of a AO-2.5RT submunition he said was left over from the attack. Human Rights Watch has documented Syrian government use of banned cluster munitions since 2012.

Syria Civil Defense reports that at about 11:48am on March 16, air-dropped incendiary munitions were used on the Eastern Ghouta residential area of Kafr Batna, killing at least 61 and wounding more than 200. It said that most victims were women and children who were burned alive. Photographs and video provided to Human Rights Watch by doctors, and publicly available, show at least 15 bodies with serious burns.

Photographs reported by the Syrian Civil Defense to have been taken immediately after the attack show multiple small fires burning brightly, indicating the possible use of ZAB submunitions which are delivered by Soviet or Russian-made RBK-500 bombs.

Since November 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented civilian harm from Syrian government use of air-dropped incendiary weapons. Attacks using air-delivered incendiary weapons in civilian areas are prohibited under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which Syria has not ratified.

Doctors in Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch that they have treated symptoms of chlorine use from multiple attacks, including on February 25 in Chifouniya, March 7 in al-Hammouriyeh, and on March 11 in Arbin. Human Rights Watch has not independently corroborated the use of chlorine in these strikes but has previously documented use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria, including during the government’s operation to re-take Eastern Aleppo. Syria acceded to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.

As Syrian government forces entered the town of al-Hammouriyeh on March 14, there was a frenzied aerial bombing campaign, witnesses said. Among the casualties was Ahmad Hamdan, a media activist and resident of al-Hammouriyeh, reported to have been killed by an airstrike. One witness told Human Rights Watch that on March 14: “I was trying to escape with my family, and I saw an entire family get blown up in front of my very eyes. I immediately turned back and took my children back to the basement.”

As government forces retake territory in Eastern Ghouta, civilians have started to evacuate. On March 15, Syrian and Russian media livestreamed the evacuation of what was claimed to be 12,000 residents from al-Hammouriyeh crossing to government-held areas. Human Rights Watch reviewed the footage which showed many people leaving. According to one witness and media reports, residents who have moved into areas under government control are being transported to sites around the enclave, including camps and schools, where they are being screened.

International law unequivocally prohibits summary and extrajudicial executions. In situations of armed conflict, combatants are legitimate targets as long as they take part in hostilities, but deliberately killing injured, surrendered, or captured soldiers (those hors de combat) would constitute a war crime. Any evacuation must be safe and voluntary, and protected by guarantees of security and non-reprisals. Civilians are entitled to protection whether they choose to leave or stay in an area, and parties to the conflict should not block civilians from leaving. Parties must allow impartial humanitarian relief reach civilians in need, regardless of whether the civilians have an option to leave.

The Syrian government should verifiably guarantee that the fundamental rights of individuals who were living under the control of non-state armed groups in Eastern Ghouta will be respected and protected, in particular when they are subject to security screenings and in detention. Authorities should ensure that the screening process is limited to a period of hours rather than days, and that anyone held longer is treated as a detainee and afforded all protections to which detainees are entitled under international law. No one should be presumed to be a combatant based on age or gender absent individualized evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The authorities should allow UN and other independent monitors access to all screening and detention centers.

“For every hour that a potential Russian veto prevents any decisive action by the UN Security Council, civilians on the ground in Eastern Ghouta are facing a real threat of reprisals,” said Fakih “The least the Security Council can do now is to deploy monitors to offer some protection for civilians. If the council can’t do so, the General Assembly should act as it did for Aleppo.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 18, 2018, 4:00 am