Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice, Friday, July 13, 2018, in Washington.

© 2018 AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Regardless of how the scenarios for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein play out – whether he is fired, resigns, or is forced to leave –  his departure would be a threat to the rule of law in the US. It would open new avenues President Trump could exploit to curtail or even end an investigation that threatens his presidency.

Rosenstein has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to preserving the integrity of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with the Trump presidential campaign, an investigation that has already resulted in several convictions.

Rosenstein is under siege because of a story, first reported in the New York Times, that he considered secretly taping Trump and discussed ways to remove him from office. These allegations provide Trump with sufficient reason to do what he has long wanted to do anyway – get rid of Rosenstein. Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the Muller investigation, and has directed scathing criticism at Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from it. He has also made no secret of his contempt for the Southern District of New York investigation into possible violations by Trump’s personal attorney of campaign finance laws by paying “hush money” to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller and maintains authority over the investigation, as well as presumably the investigation in the Southern District of New York. Trump may not have the power to fire Mueller directly, but he does have the power to fire Rosenstein. If he is able to engineer Rosenstein’s replacement with someone more pliable, that would create a dangerous opportunity to derail Mueller’s investigation.

Regardless of Rosenstein’s fate, preserving the integrity of these investigations is crucial. The allegations at the center of both are serious – collusion with a foreign government to interfere in an election, and campaign finance violations aimed at hiding a scandal from the public to influence an election. Respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary are essential aspects of a functioning democracy.

At one point, the US Congress was considering passing legislation that would make it impossible for the president to unilaterally end the Mueller investigation. If there was ever a time for it to act on that idea, it’s now.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 5:27 pm

Rohingya refugees walk through rice fields after crossing the border from Burma into Palang Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, October 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Jorge Silva/Reuters

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should advance international justice and impose new targeted sanctions against those responsible for grave crimes against ethnic Rohingya in Burma, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 24, 2018, the US State Department issued a report documenting Burmese security force atrocities against the Rohingya, including murder, rape, and mass arson. The report determined that the violence was “extreme, large-scale, widespread,” but did not recommend action nor conclude that the abuses amounted to crimes against humanity or genocide.

At the United Nations Security Council in August, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, urged council members to hold perpetrators of abuses against Rohingya to account, stating, “The whole world is watching what we do next and if we will act.” The US government should follow up the State Department report by fulfilling its commitment to help victims of these atrocities pursue justice.

“The State Department’s report, confirming the systematic brutality of the Burmese military operations, should jolt the US into action,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director. “Now, having thoroughly documented the grave abuses against the Rohingya, the US should immediately move to build support for international measures to ensure justice and accountability.”

The US government’s 20-page report was based on more than 1,000 interviews with refugees in Bangladesh and other research. It adds to a growing body of evidence of grave international crimes by Burmese security forces against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, including the UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission report released in August that called for top Burmese military generals to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The State Department’s report, confirming the systematic brutality of the Burmese military operations, should jolt the US into action.

Sarah Margon

Washington Director

Beginning on August 25, 2017, following attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Burmese security forces carried out a campaign of killings, rape, and mass arson against the Rohingya population, which Human Rights Watch found amounted to crimes against humanity. The Fact-Finding Mission concluded that the “estimate of up to 10,000 deaths is conservative.” Since August 2017, more than 725,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where almost one million Rohingya refugees now live in precarious, flood-prone camps.

On August 17, 2018, the US imposed sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against four Burmese security force commanders and two military units for their involvement in rights abuses in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. Targets include Lt. Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw – who oversaw military deployments and operations in Rakhine State from 2015 to early 2018 as commander of the Bureau of Special Operations 3 – and the 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions. The Global Magnitsky Act, which the US Congress enacted in 2016, allows for travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals or entities responsible for gross human right violations or significant corruption.

In December 2017, the US sanctioned the former Western Command chief, Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe, who was primarily responsible for military operations in Rakhine State and a subordinate of Aung Kyaw Zaw. The US was the first country to impose targeted economic sanctions against Burmese military officials for abuses in Rakhine State, yet the Trump administration has weakly enforced existing sanctions on Burmese military commanders. The recent additions were an important but overdue step, and should be followed by further sanctions that reach the top of the military command, including commander-in-chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Despite broad bipartisan support, legislation proposed in both houses of congress to limit military cooperation, reinstate import restrictions on jadeite (a form of jade), and authorize targeted economic sanctions and visa bans on Burmese military officials responsible for human rights violations have stalled. Senator Mitch McConnell has blocked the measures, apparently to insulate Burma’s de facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from criticism. Even without strengthened legislation, the US can still impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act and rescind waivers granted by the Obama administration on the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008.

The Burmese government has repeatedly denied that any security force abuses took place, setting up successive investigations – none of which have been carried out credibly or impartially – to refute the growing body of evidence of military atrocities.

“The State Department report should be the catalyst for the US and other UN members to take broader action for holding those who committed grave crimes in Burma accountable,” Margon said. “The US, European Union, Japan, and others should also lead efforts to impose coordinated and comprehensive targeted sanctions against top Burmese military officials.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 2:00 pm

Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf addresses the supporters and the media before entering the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland, July 4, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The European Commission is usually pretty conflict averse. But after months of the Polish government ignoring calls from Brussels to halt its attempted takeover of the Supreme Court, the Commission yesterday finally referred the matter to the EU Court of Justice.

Since 2016, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has sought to undermine the independence of the judiciary. It has adopted laws obstructing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal, one of the country’s two top courts, and enabling political interference in appointing and dismissing judges to the other, the Supreme Court, as well as to the common courts.

The final straw for the Commission was a law that came into force in July, that led to the sacking of one-third of the Supreme Court judges and increased political interference in appointing and dismissing new judges.

In addition to referring the matter to the EU Court of Justice, the Commission asked the court to order interim measures, which can block the contested law until European judges decide the case.

In July, the court ruled that national courts in Ireland (and other member states) could stop extraditions to Poland if they determined there was a risk of unfair trial. That decision cited the European Commission’s triggering of political sanction proceedings under the EU treaty against Poland over the threat its persistent actions pose to the values of the EU.

More recently, the European Network of the Councils of the Judiciary suspended the membership of Poland’s National Council for the Judiciary.

The Commission’s referral to the court is a welcome move and sends a clear message it is willing to stand up for EU values and to recalcitrant member states if dialogue yields no results.

The Polish government has so far refused to engage meaningfully with the concerns of EU institutions and governments about its assault on the judiciary. It even suggested in August that it might ignore the EU Court of Justice if it took up the case.

Warsaw’s EU partners should make clear that Poland is to abide by whatever the EU Court decides and should refrain from appointing new judges and from appointing new judges to the Supreme Court.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 4:01 am

Yemen: Houthi Officials Kidnap, Demand Ransom Money

The Houthi armed group in Yemen has frequently taken hostages and committed other serious abuses against people in their custody.

(Beirut)The Houthi armed group in Yemen has frequently taken hostages and committed other serious abuses against people in their custody, Human Rights Watch said today. Houthi officials should stop taking hostages, free everyone arbitrarily detained, end torture and enforced disappearances, and punish those responsible for abuses.

Human Rights Watch documented 16 cases in which Houthi authorities held people unlawfully, in large part to extort money from relatives or to exchange them for people held by opposing forces. Hostage-taking is a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime. The United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which has a mandate to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses.

“The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”

Since late 2014, when Houthi forces occupied the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of the Houthis and forces loyal to the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh carrying out arbitrary and abusive detention, as well as forced disappearances and torture. Yemeni rights groups have documented hundreds more cases. Human Rights Watch recently interviewed 14 former detainees and relatives of two other men detained or disappeared.

Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often amounting to torture, Human Rights Watch said. Former detainees described Houthi officers beating them with iron rods, wooden sticks, and assault rifles. Guards whipped prisoners, shackled them to walls, caned their feet, and threatened to rape them or their family members, former detainees said. Several people described being hung from a wall by their arms shackled behind them as one of the most painful techniques. In many cases, Houthi officials tortured them to obtain information or confessions.

Former detainees described Houthi officers beating them with iron rods, wooden sticks, and assault rifles. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Former detainees said guards refused detainees medical assistance or treatment after abuse. Those released and their family members reported physical and psychological health complications from mistreatment.

Houthi officials regularly extort those detained and their relatives, said former detainees, family members, and Yemeni rights activists. In some cases, the Houthis ultimately released the detainee – often they have not.

The wife of a man arrested by unidentified men in late 2015 said: “At the beginning, I didn’t know that he was arrested. They kidnapped him, but my family and I were looking for him everywhere. We asked at hospitals, police stations.” They later learned he was held at the Houthi-controlled Political Security Office, a notorious intelligence agency, in Sanaa. “I was following up with Houthi mediators for five months, and they were taking money,” she said. “Every time they give me promises with no result. I spoke to many Houthis leaders …. They say they will do this and that, but they do nothing.”

She has paid Houthi officials about 1.5 million Yemeni riyals over the last three years. Her husband remains detained. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen found that Political Security Office members were “profiting from detentions.”

The sister of a man who disappeared in Hajjah governorate while looking for a job in 2016 said it was more than six months before a friend told her he had been detained. She contacted a Houthi official, who asked for “guarantees.” The family paid 100,000 riyals and her brother was released a month later. She said her brother had changed after his detention: “He is not as he used to be. Signs of psychological disturbance appeared on him, he talks to himself, sometimes he keeps saying ‘Why do they beat me?’, talking to himself. I don’t know what he saw, or what they did to him, during his disappearance.”

Former detainees described terrible conditions in Houthi custody: poor hygiene; limited access to toilets, causing some to defecate on themselves; and lack of food and health care. Former detainees and family members said many formal and all informal detention facilities refused access to family members. Detainees had no defined process for challenging their detention or reporting mistreatment. In many cases documented, Houthi authorities moved detainees between facilities – both formal and informal – without notifying family members.

The Association of Mothers of Abductees, Yemeni women who advocate for their detained or disappeared civilian relatives, sent Human Rights Watch accounts from 10 cases in which Houthi officials had demanded money as a condition for release. Nine families paid. Houthi officials released only three of the men, including one in a prisoner exchange for Houthi fighters.

When committed in the context of an armed conflict, cruel treatment, torture, and humiliating or degrading treatment are war crimes. Taking hostages – seizing someone or detaining them and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain them to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing something as a condition of release or for the person’s safety – is a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court.

The United Arab Emirates, UAE proxies, and Yemeni government forces have also arbitrarily detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared scores of people in the Yemeni conflict.

In 2018, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded the Houthis had “committed acts that may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity.” The experts documented the Houthis detaining students, human rights defenders, journalists, perceived political opponents and members of the Baha’i community, and mistreating and torturing detainees, including at the National Security Bureau and Political Security Office. The experts also found Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE forces credibly implicated in detainee-related abuse that might amount to war crimes.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Sanaa-based Interior Ministry on September 12 regarding preliminary findings and requesting further information on what steps, if any, the ministry had taken to hold people implicated in abuse accountable. The ministry has not responded.

Houthi authorities should promptly release those held arbitrarily, end forced disappearances, and credibly investigate and punish those responsible for torture and hostage taking. Should they fail to do so, the UN Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on people who bear the greatest responsibility for detention-related abuses, including as a matter of command responsibility.

Yemen should urgently join the International Criminal Court, which would allow for possible prosecution of serious crimes by all parties to the conflict.

“Yemenis taken into custody are suffering terribly, whether at the hands of the Houthis, the UAE forces, or government forces,” Whitson said. “UN officials and influential governments should press the warring parties to treat detainees humanely and release anyone being held arbitrarily.”

Houthi Torture and Hostage-Taking

Judge Abdo al-Zubaidi, Sanaa
In early 2016, armed masked men in civilian clothes surrounded Judge Abdo al-Zubaidi, a military court judge in his late fifties, as he left his office with his 17-year-old son, who had come to pick him up. The men took al-Zubaidi’s phone and put him and his son in a car. Another man drove their car, al-Zubaidi said: “I saw the car going through the concrete security barriers of the PSO [Political Security Office].”

The men separated father and son. A guard later told al-Zubaidi his son “was out.” He thought his son had been released. He later learned the Political Security officials had detained and tortured him.

Interrogators told al-Zubaidi to confess that he was the head of the anti-Houthi resistance in Sanaa and was planning a coup. He refused. He said he was blindfolded, handcuffed, dragged down stairs, and pushed into a tiny dark room. A guard said he would be allowed to use the bathroom once a day and gave him an empty water bottle to use in the meantime. “I was shocked, I am a judge,” he said.  “I uphold the law... I put guilty people in jail…This is not even a prison. It is a grave.”

The second day, al-Zubaidi was again interrogated. He told his interrogators he had nothing to confess, and if they didn’t believe him they could check his phone and belongings:

I guess they didn’t like my answer, I was cuffed…and they whipped me with thick, cable wire on my legs, my hands and my back… They threw me down on the ground first, then over a table, then they brought a rigid cushion and put it between my hands where the cuffs are, and they start pulling it. Then they started to beat me with a wire over my fingers. They whipped me around 50 times until I didn’t feel my hands. I still suffer from that until now. All that was bearable. But then they took off the cuffs and handcuffed me behind my back, and they hung the cuffs to one of the windows, I think – something higher off the ground – and they start pulling my handcuffed hands away from the back, and up. That was the worst thing I felt in my life.

Al-Zubaidi said he thought his hands, arms, and shoulders were going to be ripped from his body.  He said he would write and sign whatever they wanted. It was only a few minutes, al-Zubaidi said, “but the most difficult minutes ever of my life.” He made up stories that he was working with the Yemeni president and senior officials, telling the Saudi-led coalition supporting the government where to strike. “When they hung me, I felt I will die, so I told them what they wanted.” They interrogated him for a week but did not torture him again.

Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often amounting to torture. Former detainees described being hung from a wall by their arms shackled behind them as one of the most painful techniques. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

At one point, al-Zubaidi gave them the name of a man he had read about who he thought was in Saudi Arabia. Ten days later, the guards brought al-Zubaidi to an interrogation room, where they had the man, who was blindfolded. The guards ordered Al-Zubaidi to talk about the man’s involvement in anti-Houthi efforts. When he refused, they threatened to kill him. A few days later, al-Zubaidi again denied his previous “confession.” The men hung him for hours from a metal window with his arms cuffed in front of him. He said the position was slightly more bearable.

A few weeks later, Yemen’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered al-Zubaidi’s release due to lack of evidence. But the intelligence officers continued holding him and about a week later, took him to the prosecutor’s office, where he was shown a video of himself confessing. He said his confession was a result of torture. The court again ordered his release. The intelligence officials refused.

In June 2017, al-Zubaidi was taken out of his cell to meet Maj. Gen. Abdul Qader al-Shami, then the acting Political Security Office chief and now the chief of the agency. Al-Zubaidi’s relatives had blocked the roads to protest his detention, including stopping commercial trucks traveling to Sanaa. The officials wanted them to stop. A few days later, a prosecutor again recommended Al-Zubaidi’s release and a judge approved it. Then, “after over 450 days in detention,” al-Zubaidi was released. “I went home, ate a meal, and immediately fled the city.”

“Dr. Marwan,” Hodeida
In 2015 “Dr. Marwan,” in his late twenties, whose real name and some others are withheld for their safety, treated a man outside the hospital where he worked. He said the man was a prisoner with gunshot wounds whom the Houthis had left at the side of the road after he was refused medical treatment elsewhere.

In mid-2016, armed men came to the hospital asking for Dr. Marwan. The men pulled him away from a patient he was treating, blindfolded him, and drove him away. They put him in a room that smelled of urine. He said an interrogator pulled his tie, slapped him, and accused him of being a “Da’ashi [terrorist] doctor.” He told the guards to “take good care of him.”

The guards accused him of working with the opposition because he had treated the patient in 2015 and hit him with iron rods on the soles of his feet. Marwan told them that treating the patient was his duty as a doctor. One of the guards “kicked me in my face while I was talking. I was still wearing the white coat.”

The second day, the guards hung him by his cuffed arms and with pliers began removing his fingernails... He kept losing consciousness, but they poured water over him and continued.

He remained there for 20 days, then was transferred to the Hodeida citadel, which the Houthis used as an informal detention facility. The guards took him to a tiny room containing what he called “an aggregation of waste,” and left him shackled to the wall for many days. Even the guards who came to feed him hurried because of the smell, he said.

The guards eventually moved Marwan to a new cell, then used electro-shock on him. After about a week, he was put in a room with other detainees, including a 13-year-old boy. He saw that one had an infected leg wound and asked a guard if he could treat the man. The guards beat him and put him back in the small room with the waste for a day as punishment.

One day guards took him to the small room to check on another prisoner. “He was shackled to the chain on the wall,” Marwan said. “It was obvious he had been dead for a long time.” The guards beat Marwan, saying they would kill him if he spoke about what he had seen.

The Houthis transferred all the prisoners to the Central Prison in Hodeida. Officers told them they would be released, but they remained detained. They began a hunger strike. A few days later, a Houthi official came and his men began shooting at the detainees after one resisted being taken with them. Marwan said four were wounded, and one never returned to the cell. The Houthis claimed they had released him.

After about 15 months, Marwan was released in late 2017 after his family paid 3 million riyals to Houthi officials. His family only learned he was alive about five months after he disappeared, after another recently released detainee told them he had been held with Marwan. Marwan said he had stopped practicing medicine and joined the Yemeni government army.

“Saleem,” Hodeida and Sanaa
In early 2015, “Saleem,” a 45-year-old teacher, father of eight, and imam at a local mosque, went with his eldest son to pray. At least five vehicles, including three military trucks, surrounded the mosque. Two dozen men entered. One told Saleem the Houthis wanted to see him. He refused to leave. The men in the mosque and Houthi forces began fighting. The armed men beat people with the rifle butts. He said the men hit him in the back of the head and he fell unconscious.

His family did not know where he was. “We were very scared,” his wife said. After three days, the family learned he was at the Political Security Office in Hodeida. Guards initially refused to let his family visit, but later allowed them to visit twice a week.

At one point, an officer told them Saleem was very sick and was in a hospital. About 10 days later, armed men burst into the hospital room at night. His wife, who was with him, said:

I asked the hospital to call for the doctor to come urgently. The doctor came. He said to them the patient can’t tolerate being outside the hospital, it is risky. But the armed men said, “We are going to move [him] to another, better hospital.” They took him in a wheelchair, and we didn’t know where.

Hospital staff later told his wife the hospital had been surrounded by at least four military trucks and many armed men. A few days later, Saleem was moved back to the Political Security Office. In 2017, his wife said, “We paid money to mediators to speak to some Houthi leaders… We go from Abu Something to Abu Something … and we pay here and there, and all of it is debts… I have eight kids.” In early 2018, Saleem was released after his family paid 10 million riyals to the Houthis, a lawyer following the case said.

“Nasser,” Sanaa

Houthis arrested Nasser in late 2015.  He said he was mistreated and held at multiple locations but was never charged. He was first held at a military camp in Sanaa, where the guards beat him every day: 

I remember this way of beating, they tied my legs, and my hands, then they pulled me hanging from my hands, then three to four men started beating me. They used the cables and rubber pipe to lash me, [while] others used their fists and kicked with their feet.

The men ordered him to say where a prominent family he had worked for before the war had stored money and weapons. They tied him to a tree exposed to airstrikes and told him if he died, they would blame it on the Saudi-led coalition. They moved him to four more locations, one of which was hit by an airstrike. He ended up at al-Thawra pretrial detention center and was freed in early 2018, after his family paid one million riyals to Houthi mediators.

“Sahar,” Sanaa
“Sahar,” who worked with two aid groups in Sanaa during the conflict, said the Houthis often interfered with humanitarian assistance, including adding names to beneficiary lists, asking for hundreds of baskets of goods for officers or the families of deceased fighters, and occasionally trying to change “the entire program” of work. In 2017, a National Security Bureau officer summoned her to a meeting. 

She went because she did not “want to make them angry.” The officers took her to a largely destroyed building in Sanaa’s old city and took her cell phone and questioned her more and more aggressively about her organization’s activities.

They kept her there for three hours, telling her they wanted her to be an informant about aid agencies, threatening her and citing specific details about her family members. “I was sick and shivering on the floor,” she said.

The men finally made her sign a blank piece of paper: “Of course I signed, I wanted to go home.” She said the officers told her, “Everything is permitted. We can take you from your house at any point. It takes only one car [to take you away].” She fled Sanaa.

Yahiya al-Hayeg, Hodeida
In late 2016, armed Houthis arrested Yahiya al-Hayeg, a high-school teacher, in Hodeida. He said he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to the Officer’s Club, a damaged building once used for social events. He was held for about a month and a half in solitary confinement while he was interrogated.

He said the interrogator would order him to do painful exercises and beat him when he couldn’t continue and shackle him and hang him by his arms for extended periods “until my arms and body were extended to the roof, and my toes barely touched the ground.” The interrogators accused him of working with the Saudi-led coalition and anti-Houthi forces.

At the third interrogation session, he said, “I surrendered” and told them he would sign any statement they wrote. But the mistreatment and threats to kill him and harm his family continued. One time, a guard put a gun to his head while another said, “No, don’t kill him. He will talk.” He said that, “Those 15 days were the worst days of my life.”

A month later he was transferred to another Houthi informal detention center in the Hodeida citadel, but had to be carried there because of his injuries. A detained doctor came to examine him and said he needed medical treatment – he was wounded, malnourished, and dehydrated. The guards refused to let him leave the prison but brought in some fluids to treat him.

Al-Hayeg was not mistreated in the citadel, but he provided names of others who were. He saw guards beat people with cables and pull fingernails off. He saw one of his students, who had disappeared during his last year of high school, among the detainees.

In mid-2017, the Houthis took all the prisoners – about 140, according to two former detainees – from the citadel, releasing a few dozen and transferring the remainder. Al-Hayeg was in the last group and was taken to the Central Prison. A few days after guards opened fire on detainees, he was transferred to Sanaa Central Prison, where he remained for about five months, then was released in a prisoner swap. His family had no word of his whereabouts until he reached Sanaa, when he was allowed to call them.

No Justice for Mistreatment
The Houthi armed group, led by Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, has controlled the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s northwest since September 2014. Former president Saleh was allied with the Houthis, and forces loyal to him and members of his General People’s Congress shared responsibility for governance in these territories.

Houthi-Saleh joint control over Sanaa and other areas was formalized on July 28, 2016, when the Houthis and the General People’s Congress announced the formation of the Supreme Political Council to run the country. The council oversaw the Sanaa-based Interior Ministry, which in turn oversaw formal detention facilities in Houthi-Saleh-controlled Yemen.

In December 2017, fighting broke out between Houthi and Saleh forces, with the Houthis killing Saleh on December 4. The Houthis quickly consolidated control over Sanaa and surrounding governorates.

In late 2017, the Supreme Political Council appointed Maj. Gen. Abdulhakim Ahmed al-Mawri interior minister. The Vice Minister of Interior, reportedly responsible for detention facilities, is Maj. Gen. Abdulhakem Hashim al-Khaiwani, also known as Abu al-Karar. Formal detention facilities under Interior Ministry control in the cases Human Rights Watch documented include, in Sanaa: The Central Prison, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and al-Thawra and Habra pretrial detention facilities, and, in Hodeida: the Central Prison.

Former detainees, their relatives, and their lawyers have identified a number of informal detention facilities where people are detained, disappeared, mistreated, and tortured, including sites where Human Rights Watch has documented abuse: in Sanaa, the National Security Bureau, the Political Security Office, and Zain al-Abideen mosque; and in Hodeida, the Political Security Office, the Officer’s Club, and the Citadel. Some of these have since been shut down. The exact number of facilities or people detained in them remains unknown.

Houthi prison directors and guards use noms-de-guerre, making identification difficult. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented abusive detention by the Political Security Office and National Security Bureau, Yemen’s primary intelligence agencies, both of which had poor human rights records prior to the current conflict. A former detainee and a Sanaa-based lawyer identified the head of the PSO prison in Sanaa as “Abu Aqeel.” In January, the Supreme Political Council appointed Abdul Qader al-Shami, who served as acting director of the agency since late 2015, as the director. A Sanaa-based lawyer and a former detainee said that detainees at the NSB are overseen by “Abu Emad.”

In 2017, the UN Security Council Panel of Experts identified 11 members of the two agencies who either committed or held command responsibility in the Houthi-Saleh forces for arbitrary arrest and deprivation of liberty, torture (including of a child), denial of timely medical assistance, prolonged enforced disappearances, lack of due process, and three deaths in custody. The panel named “Abu Emad,” identified as Motlaq Amer al-Marrani, as involved in all 16 violations investigated.


Students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, including Zeineb Bouraoui, Danesha Grady, Tarek Zeidan, and Canem Ozyildirim, made valuable contributions to this research.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 4:00 am

Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid (3rd R) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (2nd L) walk near female members of the Bangladesh army at the national parade ground in Dhaka on December 16, 2015. 

© 2015 Ashikur Rahman / Reuters
(New York) – The Digital Security Act passed by the Bangladeshi parliament last week, despite vehement opposition from the country’s journalists, strikes a blow to freedom of speech in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, which replaces the much-criticized Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), retains the most problematic provisions of that law and adds more provisions criminalizing peaceful speech.

“The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “With at least five provisions criminalizing vaguely defined types of speech, the law is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices.” 

The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Several provisions violate international standards on free expression.

Section 21 authorizes sentences of up to 14 years in prison for spreading “propaganda and campaign against liberation war of Bangladesh or spirit of the liberation war or Father of the Nation.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a party, has expressly stated laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts are incompatible with a country’s obligations to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

Section 25(a) authorizes sentences of up to three years for publishing information that is “aggressive or frightening” – broad terms not defined in the law. The use of such vague terms violates the requirement that laws restricting speech be formulated with sufficient precision to make clear what speech would violate the law. The vagueness, combined with the harsh potential penalty, increases the likelihood of self-censorship.

Section 31 imposes sentences of up to 10 years for posting information that “ruins communal harmony or creates instability or disorder or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation.” With no clear definition of what speech would be considered a violation of the law, the provision leaves the government-wide scope to prosecute speech it does not like. Moreover, almost any criticism of the government may lead to dissatisfaction and the possibility of public protests. The government should not be able to punish criticism on the grounds that it may “disturb the law and order situation.”

Section 31 also covers speech that “creates animosity, hatred, or antipathy among the various classes and communities.” While preventing inter-communal strife is important, it must be done in ways that restrict speech as little as possible. UN human rights experts have stated that restrictions on public debate in the name of racial harmony must not be imposed to the “detriment of human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.” The law’s overly broad definition of “hate speech” opens the door for arbitrary and abusive application of the law and creates an unacceptable chill on the discussion of issues relating to race and religion.

Section 29, like the much-abused section 57 of ICT Act, criminalizes online defamation. While section 29, unlike the ICT Act, limits defamation charges to those that meet the requirements of criminal defamation in the penal code, it is nevertheless contrary to a growing recognition that defamation should be considered a civil matter, not a crime punishable with imprisonment.

Section 28 authorizes sentences of up to five years in prison for speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.” While this provision, unlike section 57 of the ICT, requires intent, it still fails to comply with international norms. As noted in the seminal Handyside case, freedom of expression is applicable not only to information or ideas “that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” A prohibition on speech that hurts someone’s religious feelings, reinforced by criminal penalties, cannot be justified as a necessary and proportionate restriction on speech.

The new law also grants law enforcement authorities wide-ranging powers to remove or block online information that “harms the unity of the country or any part of it, economic activities, security, defense, religious value or public order or spreads communal hostility and hatred,” and to conduct warrantless searches and seizures if a police officer has reason to believe it is possible that “any offense under the Act” has been or is being committed.

Journalists in Bangladesh also opposed section 32 of the law, which authorizes up to 14 years for gathering, sending, or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or other digital device, noting that doing so is a means to expose wrongful actions by officials. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has stressed the need to protect, not prosecute, those who disclose information in the public interest, and the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information make clear that journalists should not be prosecuted for receiving, possessing or disclosing even classified information to the public.

“I don’t know why our journalists are becoming so sensitive,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, asserting that the law was for the national good. “Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country.”

The Bangladesh Editors’ Council has said it will protest the passage of the Act as “against the freedom guaranteed by the constitution, media freedom and freedom of speech.”

“The passage of this law utterly undermines any claim that the government of Bangladesh respects freedom of speech,” Adams said. “Unless parliament moves swiftly to repeal the law it just passed, the rights of the country’s citizens to speak freely will remain under serious threat.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 3:50 am

Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Party, is surrounded by members of the media as he leaves the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) in Hong Kong on August 14, 2018. 

© 2018 PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images
(New York) – The Hong Kong government’s decision to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party is a grim sign for human rights in the territory, Human Rights Watch said today. It is the first time a political party has been banned since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

On September 24, 2018, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, John Lee, announced that “the operation or continued operation of the Hong Kong National Party in Hong Kong be prohibited,” effective immediately. Media reports say that Lee stated in a 20-page document to the party’s convener, Andy Chan, that the party’s promotion of Hong Kong independence was a “blatant violation” of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its functional constitution. The party’s activities, including efforts to work with groups that advocate Tibet’s or Taiwan’s independence, had gone beyond “ordinary political activity.” He also alleged that the party had “incited hatred” toward mainland Chinese in Hong Kong, calling them “enemies who invade and colonize.”

“Human rights in Hong Kong have been on the ropes in recent years, but this ban is a body blow to Hong Kong people’s ability to express their views, join with like-minded people, and run for office,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Authorities in Hong Kong should immediately reverse this small-minded decision that has far-reaching implications.” 

Human rights in Hong Kong have been on the ropes in recent years, but this ban is a body blow to Hong Kong people’s ability to express their views, join with like-minded people, and run for office.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

The government’s decision follows a police recommendation in July that the party should be disbanded under the Societies Ordinance. The police acknowledged that the party had not committed any violent acts but considered a ban necessary as “preventive measures” because “the possibility of HKNP using force to achieve its goal” could not be ruled out.

On September 24, Lee told the media that the Hong Kong National Party had called for “an armed revolution.” In April 2016, Chan had said he could not rule out the use of “armed revolution” in the future as a last resort. This August, Chan publicly condemned violence and said his party had never advocated violence.

The government disqualified Chan in 2016 from running for the Legislative Council (LegCo) because it had deemed his pro-independence stances “incompatible with the Basic Law.” In April 2017, the Companies Registry rejected the party’s application on the grounds that the promotion of “Hong Kong independence is against the Basic Law.” In August, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry officials demanded that the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club cancel a talk by Chan, and local authorities criticized the club when it refused to do so.

In recent years mainland and Hong Kong authorities have refused to take steps toward genuine universal suffrage, a right guaranteed in the Basic Law, and instead have encroached on those rights. Beginning in 2016, Hong Kong authorities have disqualified candidates from running for seats on the LegCo or unseated them after they were elected based on their peacefully expressed views. These actions were in violation of the basic right to seek political office, which is guaranteed under the Basic Law, and the territory’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In July 2016, Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission announced a new requirement that candidates running for the LegCo must formally declare their recognition of Hong Kong as an “inalienable part” of China. Election officers then disqualified six candidates who had advocated the territory’s independence, including Chan. Following the 2016 LegCo elections, in which a number of outspoken pro-democracy candidates won seats, Beijing issued an “interpretation” of the Basic Law that compelled the Hong Kong courts to disqualify two legislators who explicitly advocated independence for Hong Kong. That court decision later led to the disqualification of four more pro-democracy legislators. In January, the Hong Kong Electoral Affairs Commission disqualified a Demosisto Party candidate, Agnes Chow, stating that her promotion of “self-determination” for Hong Kong is “inconsistent” with the Basic Law.

The mainland and Hong Kong governments have harassed people for peaceful pro-independence speech. In March, they denounced a pro-democracy scholar, Benny Tai, equating his hypothetical discussion of Hong Kong independence with “a threat to national security.”

Hong Kong National Party officials have not yet announced whether they will appeal.

“To ban a group of people exercising their basic rights sadly parallels what has long happened in the mainland,” Richardson said. “Authorities have no business banning political parties simply because they disagree with their peaceful views.”




Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2018, 12:50 am

Members of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen present their report on abuses by parties to the conflict on August 28, 2018 in Geneva.

© 2018 Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen during its current session in Geneva, Human Rights Watch said today. The parties on both sides of Yemen’s armed conflict are committing laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses with impunity.

In their initial report published in August 2018, the experts found evidence that members of the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi armed group have been committing abuses, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, arbitrary and abusive detention, and recruitment of children. The experts flagged several areas for further investigation, including unlawful restrictions on humanitarian aid to civilians in Taizz, Yemen’s third largest city. They recommended the Human Rights Council renew their mandate, so investigations of the warring parties could continue. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have pressed the council, at the current session, to discontinue the group’s mandate.

“The UN Human Rights Council should act to ensure that abuses against Yemeni civilians get continued international scrutiny and that steps are taken to hold violators accountable,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Anything less would be an abdication of responsibility to the Yemeni people, who are caught between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group amid the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.”

The Human Rights Council in September 2017 adopted a resolution by consensus that created the Group of Eminent Experts. Their mandate is to “carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations” in Yemen’s conflict since September 2014 and to identify those responsible for abuses.

Serious violations of the laws of war in Yemen continue. On August 9, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 26 children and wounded more than 19 in or near a school bus in the busy Dhahyan market in northern Yemen. The Houthis have taken civilians hostage, as forthcoming Human Rights Watch research will show. The Houthis and local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are arbitrarily detaining, and have forcibly disappeared, civilians. Both sides have blocked or restricted humanitarian aid, attacked civilians and civilian structures, and harassed, intimidated, and detained human rights defenders. Many of these violations may amount to war crimes.

Despite mounting evidence of violations of international law by the warring parties, efforts toward accountability or providing redress to victims of abuses have been woefully inadequate, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2016, the Saudi-led coalition created the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) to investigate, collect evidence, and produce reports and recommendations regarding “claims and accidents” during coalition operations in Yemen. Human Rights Watch research found the body has failed to meet international standards for transparency, impartiality, and independence. It appears to have repeatedly failed to conduct a thorough laws-of-war analysis in its investigations and has reached flawed and dubious conclusions. Moreover, the body appears to have investigated only coalition airstrikes, but not other alleged violations of international law by coalition members, including UAE abuses against detainees.

The Houthis have also made no credible, discernable effort to punish forces under their control for alleged laws-of-war violations, including recruiting children under 15 and other war crimes.

“Human Rights Council member countries should not let the coalition bully its way out of accountability for abuses, or let the Houthis off the hook,” said Fisher. “More than ever, Yemeni civilians remain at grave risk from the fighting and aid cut-offs.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 24, 2018, 6:00 pm


Bangladesh: Poor Conditions for Rohingya Refugees with Disabilities (Accessible)

Bangladesh’s overcrowded, hilly, and rain-soaked mega camp for ethnic Rohingya refugees is precarious for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities. More than 700,000 people reside in the camp after fleeing the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing more than a year ago.  

(New York) – Bangladesh’s overcrowded, hilly, and rain-soaked mega camp for ethnic Rohingya refugees is precarious for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today in a new video. More than 700,000 people reside in the camp after fleeing the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing more than a year ago. 

“Walking through the camps, we found large numbers of Rohingya refugees with disabilities,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Many of the people in the camp had acquired their disabilities from brutal attacks by Myanmar’s military.”

Despite efforts by the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and the refugees themselves to build handrails, many walkways are impassable for people who have difficulty walking. Hussein Ahmad, whose 17-year-old son was shot in the neck during their escape from Myanmar and is now paralyzed from the waist down, said: “I thank the doctor who gave my son a wheelchair, but I can’t use it because the roads are very dangerous and keep getting worse. It is time for my son to study, but he can’t walk, and his life is being destroyed in front of me.”

Work to shore up the hastily and haphazardly built huts and other camp structures has been hindered by the Bangladeshi government’s insistence that the refugees are only staying temporarily and will soon return to Myanmar. The authorities have resisted developing camp infrastructure that would suggest a longer term stay. As a result, lighting, accessible toilets, and proper walkways with handrails that are critically important for people with disabilities have been slow to develop.

“With such widespread misery and obvious needs for the Rohingya refugees generally, there is a risk that refugees with disabilities will be overlooked,” Frelick said. “But this is precisely the time when the needs of people with disabilities ought to be a priority.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 24, 2018, 4:01 am

September 28 is the International Day for Universal Access to Information. As UNESCO frames it, “Universal Access” is bound up with the right to seek and receive information, an integral piece of the right to free expression.

In Venezuela, there will be very little to celebrate.

The Nicolás Maduro administration downplays egregious abuses by security forces and denies the existence of the country’s humanitarian crisis and the exodus of Venezuelans. It also fails to provide information of public interest, such as accurate statistics on the country’s health crisis. And it is doing its best to ensure no one else does, either.

The Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público, which monitors free speech, submitted 31 information requests to the government in 2017 under the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of access to information and implementing laws. The requests asked authorities for information on topics ranging from access to drinking water to the police’s budget and the environmental impact of oil spilling by the state-owned company. None have received a response. They have submitted 40 more requests this year, with no luck.

For more than a decade, the Venezuelan government has expanded and abused its power to regulate the media and worked aggressively to reduce the number of dissenting media outlets. Existing laws grant the government power to suspend or revoke concessions to private media if “convenient for the interests of the nation,” allow for shuttering of websites for the vaguely defined offense of “incitement,” and criminalize expression of “disrespect” for high government officials. While a few newspapers, websites, and radio stations continue to criticize the government, fear of reprisals has made self-censorship a pervasive problem.

Given the increasing difficulty independent media outlets face in operating, Venezuelans are turning to the Internet for news. But the state-owned company CANTV —the main internet provider in Venezuela— has in recent months repeatedly blocked access to key news outlets such as La Patilla, El Nacional, and El Pitazo, according to the Venezuelan NGO Redes Ayuda. Moreover, only half of Venezuela’s population has Internet access, says IPYS, another organization monitoring free expression.

The government’s grip is making it harder for the millions who remain in Venezuela to know what is happening in their country. That may not make international headlines, but it’s an important part of what’s made it possible for things to get as bad as they have.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 24, 2018, 4:01 am

Sign language is an essential tool of communication for tens of thousands of deaf and deafblind people around the world. But in some places, barriers to the use of sign language mean that many children and adults who are deaf or deafblind are deprived of communicating with others, and, therefore, from enjoying many of their rights, including to education and work. 

Over the last two years, I witnessed many of these cases in Brazil

Many people with disabilities in Brazil live in institutions for long periods of time, some for their entire lives. All the deaf and deafblind people I met in residential institutions in Brazil were unable to use sign language. They were never taught sign language and were unable to meaningfully communicate with the institution’s staff, other residents, and the outside world.

The staff at these institutions wrongly claimed that deaf and deafblind residents, as well as other people with “severe disabilities,” could not be educated. But examples around the world show that by learning sign language, deaf and deafblind people can find access to education, professional development, and political life.

Moreover, governments and organizations around the world should consider opportunities to include sign language in their materials. This would allow deaf and deafblind people access to information. For example, Human Rights Watch recently edited a video about people with disabilities living in residential institutions to include Brazilian sign language on the screen. We showed it at an August session of Brazil’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities in Brazil (CONADE).

Language should be inclusive to everyone and using sign language more often can help us ensure everyone understands. On the International Day of Sign Languages, it’s important to remember that without education and inclusion, we’re missing out on the valuable contributions all people with disabilities can make to society.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 23, 2018, 4:01 am

(New York) ­ – Access to sign language, including in education and public services, is critical for the human rights of deaf people, Human Rights Watch said today. On the first International Day of Sign Languages, Human Rights Watch is trying to make its work more accessible to deaf communities by translating its publications into sign language, and making them available through videos.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed September 23, 2018 as the first International Day of Sign Languages, to raise public awareness of sign languages and their vital importance to fundamental rights. This is a symbolic victory for deaf communities worldwide, commended by the World Federation of the Deaf and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“For deaf people, access to sign language is key to breaking down communication barriers and participating in society just like anyone else,” said Lea Labaki, junior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The right of deaf people to access schools, medical treatment or courts hinges on their opportunity to use their own language.”

On September 23 and 24, Human Rights Watch publications will be made accessible in sign language to promote the inclusion of deaf people and raise awareness of their rights. This will include certain news releases, multimedia and key parts of  the  website. This initiative also recognizes the importance of informing deaf communities about human rights and ensuring they have access to global news. Human Rights Watch is committed to making  its work accessible for everyone with disabilities, for example through sign language and easy-to-read formats for Human Rights Watch  materials. 

Realizing the rights of deaf people starts with ensuring that deaf children have access to education in sign language. Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential. Worldwide, deaf children and young people are often denied an education, including in sign language. There is a lack of teachers well-trained in sign language, and in many cases, parents do not know that their children have a right to go to school and that they can learn if given the right support.

Lack of awareness of sign language also means that deaf people struggle to access public services, including the services mandated to assist them. A deaf woman in Iran told Human Rights Watch that when she visited the State Welfare Organization to get a reference for genetic counseling before having a baby, she faced what she described as “insulting and heartbreaking behavior” from a social worker: “The lady working there literally got mad at me. I’ll never forget that day. I tried to talk to her by writing on a piece of paper, but she started shouting, and I could tell she was insulting me. I cried so much.”

In Russia, Iran, Zambia and Uganda, Human Rights Watch documented that communications barriers  interfered with deaf people’s right to health, starting with the difficulty in getting health information in an accessible format. In addition, when medical staff rely on family members or friends to communicate effectively with deaf people, this affects their right to privacy.

The consequences can be dramatic. In South Africa,  a deaf gay man went for an HIV test,  but the clinic staff could not communicate with him in sign language, he told Human Rights Watch. The doctor completed a blood test, showed him a piece of paper that said, “YOU ARE HIV POSITIVE,” and then asked him to leave. He did not receive any counseling or support in a language he understood.

A deaf woman in Uganda said that she could not communicate with her nurses effectively while giving birth. The woman was not aware that she was having twins and stopped pushing after the birth of the first child. “[The nurse] was very rude to me, and she didn’t know sign language,” the woman said. “She couldn’t even tell me to push. She wasn’t guiding me. One of my children died.”

Inaccessible health care is just one of the hurdles faced by deaf women who have experienced violence. In India, Human Rights Watch found that deaf women face high risk of sexual violence. They may not be able to call for help or easily communicate abuse, or may be more vulnerable to attacks simply due to the lack of ability to hear what is happening in their surroundings. Deaf victims of violence also struggle to navigate the services to support survivors of sexual abuse and as well as the judicial system.

In consultation with deaf and hard of hearing people and organizations representing them, governments should provide access to professional sign language interpretation in using public services, such as health care, education or the justice system.

In the prison system, deaf offenders also have a right to reasonable accommodations to meet their needs. In Australia, out of the 14 prisons visited by Human Rights Watch, only 3 had proper provisions for deaf prisoners to communicate with their families, over video calls. The communication barriers lead to misunderstandings with staff and feelings of isolation among prisoners, and undermine the ability to maintain family ties that will help prisoners reintegrate into the community after their release.

In times of conflict, displacement, and other humanitarian emergencies, the barriers faced by deaf people are compounded. Deaf people who manage to flee violence and find refuge in displacement camps are isolated and have limited access to aid. A 24-year-old deaf man from Syria who was in a camp near Thessaloniki, Greece said he rarely left this tent for months because he did not have hearing aids, which were damaged on his journey to Greece. Many aid groups need to do more to address the needs of deaf people and ensure that information and services are available in sign language.

“Worldwide, the dearth of information in sign languages marginalizes deaf people and hinders their access to services,” Labaki said. “Making human rights news accessible in sign language is part of a much-needed global effort to give people who are deaf the access to community life and services that many other people take for granted.”  


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 23, 2018, 4:00 am

A young girl ties tobacco leaves onto sticks to prepare them for curing in East Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

Of the products we use, wear, or consume every day, how many are made with child labor? Perhaps quite a few. A new report from the US Department of Labor identifies 148 different consumer goods produced with child or forced labor around the world. The list includes clothing, beef, sugar, bricks, coffee, and other products originating from 76 countries.

Gold tops the list. The report found that in at least 21 countries, children help mine gold, climbing into unstable shafts, carrying and crushing heavy loads of ore, and often using toxic mercury to process the gold. My colleagues and I have seen how dangerous this work can be, documenting the risks child miners face in Ghana, Philippines, Tanzania, and Mali.

Tobacco produced with child labor originates from at least 16 countries, placing it in the report’s top five. Child tobacco workers often labor in extreme heat, are exposed to dangerous pesticides, and risk nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco plants. In our investigations, children in the United States, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe have described nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness while working in tobacco fields.

Governments, companies, and consumers share responsibility to end child labor. Governments should monitor and enforce their labor laws and provide children with good-quality, free education.

For children old enough to work, both governments and companies should ensure their jobs do not risk anyone’s health or safety. Companies should also monitor their supply chains, report on their efforts, and when child labor is found, transition these children to school or safe alternatives. Our report on the jewelry industry outlines steps companies should take.  

Consumers can ask retailers and manufacturers about their child labor policies and practices.

Ending child labor is possible. Since 2000, the number of children involved in it has dropped by a third ‒ from 245 million to 152 million. In the last two years, the Department of Labor found that 17 governments have made “significant” advancement in ending child labor, and another 60 have made “moderate” advancements. It noted particular progress in ending child labor in Panama’s sugar production, and cotton harvesting in Paraguay and Uzbekistan.

Still, we have a long way to go. Products that are part of our daily lives shouldn’t come at the expense of children’s health, safety, and education.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 21, 2018, 5:35 pm

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has recently made moves likely to appeal to the country’s Shia minority. This includes neutering the country’s once-powerful religious establishment, which has spewed anti-Shia vitriol and demonized Shia religious practices for decades, as well as changes to the 2018-19 Saudi school curriculum to remove some anti-Shia images and rhetoric.

But some of the worst abuses of the Saudi state of its Shia citizens and their ability to practice their religion remain unchanged.

Saudi Shia in the Eastern Province town of Qatif observed this stark reality first-hand over the past week, as authorities banned certain public aspects of their annual Ashura commemoration. Activists told Human Rights Watch that this year Shia cannot broadcast rituals inside some of their Husseiniyas (religious gathering spaces) via loudspeakers, and Saudi authorities have removed food stands and vendors that sell clothes, books, and flags. It also appears that public mourning rituals have been restricted to certain hours.

Saudi Arabia’s education reforms also did not remove all anti-Shia rhetoric in textbooks, especially at the secondary school level. One secondary textbook, for example, contains a section that condemns “building mosques and shrines on top of graves,” a common Shia and Sufi practice. The same text also refers to Shia using the derogatory moniker rafidha, meaning “rejectionists.”

Furthermore, dozens of Saudi Shia remain in prison, merely for participating in protests since 2011 calling for full equality and basic rights for all Saudis. Prosecutors recently filed charges and requested the death penalty against five Eastern Province activists, including female human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham. While there are many Shia on death row accused of acts of violence but convicted in patently unfair trials, authorities have alleged no such acts against al-Ghomgham and the other four. Rather, they are seeking to execute them on charges such as “incitement to protest” and “chanting slogans hostile to the regime.”

Saudi Arabia cannot solve its Shia discrimination problem with baby steps. Rather, authorities should allow Shia to build houses of worship and freely engage in their traditions and practices, remove all demonization of Shia in textbooks, and release all Shia languishing in jail on protest-related crimes convicted in unfair trials.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 21, 2018, 5:00 pm

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including 7 children, and wounding another 17, including 8 children. After an international outcry, the coalition said that it carried out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition forces involved.  

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi
The United Nations Human Rights Council cannot afford to falter on Yemen.

This month, as the council debates the fate of a UN investigation into abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict, the warring parties continue to indiscriminately bomb and shell civilians, abduct people from their homes, and interfere with the delivery of food and medicine in a country where millions are hungry and sick.

For too long after the Yemen war began, the Human Rights Council was silent. Last year, the council finally acted, adopting a resolution by consensus – with the support of the Yemeni government and coalition members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – to empower a group of experts to investigate abuses since September 2014 and identify those responsible.

In August, the Group of Experts presented their first report, describing horrific war crimes and other abuses that the coalition, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi armed group committed. Given the severity, breadth, and scope of abuses, the experts asked for more time, urging the council to renew their mandate.

The coalition, unhappy with the findings, has sought to quash the inquiry. Human Rights Council member countries should not give in to this pressure.

Last year’s resolution brought an unprecedented level of scrutiny to the warring parties’ horrendous conduct. It was a testament to activists across Yemen and around the world who pushed for the inquiry’s creation, and to the core group of governments – the Netherlands, Canada, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Ireland – who took up the call and made it possible.

The Human Rights Council’s message to the warring parties in Yemen last year was clear: The world – at long last – is watching.

If the council folds to pressure and fails to renew the mandate, the opposite message will be sent this year: the world no longer cares. Yemeni civilians will continue to suffer without the scrutiny that only an independent international monitoring body can provide.

The Group of Experts has much more work to do to ensure investigations into the numerous abuses that have already occurred—and continue to occur—are completed. Members of the Human Rights Council, entrusted with standing up for victims of grave violations, should ensure that work can continue.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 21, 2018, 5:00 am

On recent Turkish Airlines flights, after passengers watch the usual safety video they are also shown a short film lauding the virtues of Istanbul’s gigantic new third airport, expected to open in October.

Construction workers at Istanbul’s new third airport protest working and living conditions on the building site, September 14, 2018.

© 2018 Private

But, according to accounts by construction workers struggling to finish the airport on time, conditions at the site couldn’t be further from the harmonious and sparkling world the video portrays.

On September 14, thousands of airport construction workers protested poor working and living conditions on the site, with a long list of demands, including an end to alleged arbitrary dismissals and late pay, and action to address workplace safety, and a bedbug infestation in workers’ sleeping quarters.

At least 38 workers have died in preventable work-related accidents and many more have been badly injured, the head of the construction workers’ union Dev Yapı-İş told Human Rights Watch. The deaths and injuries raise serious questions about whether the project has been carried out in accordance with Turkey’s legally-binding health and safety standards.

Employers called in police and gendarmerie to respond to the protest, who used batons and teargas to disperse workers and later detained more than 500 of them for four days, restricting access to lawyers and parliamentarians and providing no information to families.

While most were ultimately released without charge, on September 19, an Istanbul court ordered 24 of the men held in pre-trial detention – among them union representatives – and released 19 on bail.

All 43 – the vast majority Kurdish – may face trial for downing tools and staging a protest. Charges against the men include damaging public property, resisting police, possessing weapons, violating the law on public assemblies, and disrupting the freedom to work.

The treatment of the airport construction workers shows clearly that when it comes to protecting projects close to President Erdogan’s government, authorities have no compunction in cracking down brutally and trampling over the rights to protest, organize, and participate in trade union action.

Any charges against the workers should be dropped, those in detention unconditionally released, and authorities should focus on improving working conditions rather than using the police and courts to stifle workers’ demands. No one should be prosecuted or lose their job for non-violent protests about questionable work conditions. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 21, 2018, 4:01 am

Relatives of detained activist Abdallahi Yali gather at their home in Nouakchott, Mauritania, September 2018. 

© 2018 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – A Mauritanian criminal court has charged an activist with incitement to violence and racial hatred for social media messages decrying racial discrimination in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should drop any charges against the activist, Abdallahi Salem Ould Yali, that relate to his peaceful speech on behalf of his marginalized community, and ensure he has speedy access to all the evidence against him.

Yali has been in pre-charge detention in Nouakchott prison since his arrest on January 24, 2018. He faces a long prison sentence if convicted as charged under the penal code, the cybercrimes law, and the counterterrorism law.

“No one should be put on trial simply for pointing out the plight of their own community,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the authorities are alleging actual incitement to violence, they should give Yali and his representatives timely access to the evidence they are using against him.”

The referral order, issued by an investigating judge in the West Nouakchott Court’s anti-terrorism branch on September 3, indicates that the charges are based solely on Yali’s WhatsApp messages. It does not specify the number or the dates of those messages but says Yali was active in a WhatsApp group that included some 250 participants.

In WhatsApp messages that Human Rights Watch has heard and that are seemingly Yali’s, the 43-year-old activist decries the lot of his marginalized Haratines community. Haratines are the dark-skinned, Arabic-speaking descendants of slaves who constitute about one-third of the country’s population. In those clips, the speaker calls on the Haratines community to stand up for their rights and resist “the system,” elites, and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The referral order said that Yali also declared, in a WhatsApp group, “these dogs must be shown their limits,” and “bring weapons from outside and I will stand with you.” Yali’s lawyer, Ahmed Ely Messoud, told Human Rights Watch that he could not confirm these quotes because the court had not yet made available to the defense any voice recordings that may be part of the case file

Even if it were to turn out that Yali had made such remarks in a WhatsApp group, prosecutions for incitement to violence or racial hatred should be conducted under an overall framework of respect for freedom of speech, as set out by United Nations and other experts in the Rabat Plan of Action. Detention before trial should be the exception, not the norm, Human Rights Watch said.

Yali is charged under article 83 of the penal code for “inciting citizens to arm themselves against the authority of the state or against one another.” The articles of the cybercrime law that he allegedly violated punish “incitement to violence or racial hatred” and “insult[ing] a person by reason of his belonging to a race or color, or ancestry, or national or ethnic origin, or a group that is defined by any of these characteristics.” He is also charged under the 2010 counterterrorism law, which includes in its definition of a terrorist act “an appeal to incite ethnic, racial or religious fanaticism.”

Human Rights Watch researchers met with Yali’s family during a visit to Nouakchott on September 6. His relatives said he had no prior criminal record and was the sole breadwinner for his family, including his six children.

No trial date has been set; the courts are still in their summer recess.

Ethnicity and discrimination are politically sensitive issues in Mauritania and form the basis for many laws that contain broad provisions used to punish peaceful critical speech, Human Rights Watch said.

Mauritanian authorities should review the penal code, the cybercrime law, and the counterterrorism law, Human Rights Watch said. They should eliminate overbroad and sweeping articles that fail to meet international human rights norms for defining such offenses as incitement to commit violence or racial hatred clearly and narrowly.

In December 2014, a court sentenced a popular blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir, to death for apostasy, because of a blog post criticizing caste discrimination. Although an appeals court commuted his sentence to two years in prison, making him eligible for immediate release, he remains in arbitrary detention in an unrevealed location.

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

A giant rainbow flag is displayed during Hong Kong's annual pride parade on November 25, 2017.

© 2017 Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

The Hong Kong government has implemented a court order to recognize same-sex spouses of residents in visa proceedings.

The case that led to the order, QT v Director of Immigration, began in 2011. “QT,” a female British expatriate was the legally recognized partner of “SS,” another woman, who moved to Hong Kong for work. The Immigration Department only allowed QT to enter Hong Kong on a tourist visa, saying their same-sex union in the UK was not recognized in Hong Kong.

In July, following several hearings before the courts, the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court, ordered the government to recognize same-sex spouses for visa purposes, ruling that immigration officials had committed unlawful discrimination by disallowing QT to join her spouse on a dependent visa as can other expatriate couples in Hong Kong.

As of this week, immigration authorities are carrying out the order—the protections cover expatriate dependents who have had their relationships legally recognized abroad.

The outcome is a major boon to a city that promotes itself as a cosmopolitan international business hub. Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games, the first time the international competition will take place in Asia.

The government’s implementation of the court ruling offers a glint of hope, but Hong Kong officials have in recent months also censored LGBT-themed children’s books. The government has yet to introduce legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation despite an independent government-funded body’s recommendations to do so, or to recognize same-sex unions for marriage, taxation, property, inheritance or other legal purposes.

“It hardly needs to be pointed out that unlawful discrimination is fundamentally unacceptable,” the court’s judgment in QT stated. The question for Hong Kong’s authorities is whether they’re listening and prepared to take the next steps toward fundamental rights for all LGBT residents. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 21, 2018, 12:00 am

Journalists and human rights defends wait on the doorstep of a Chechnyan court building after the judge closed the hearings for human rights defender Oyub Titiev to the public.

©2018 Private
Today, the courtroom in Chechnya where Oyub Titiev is on trial on bogus drug possession charges in retaliation for his human rights work was packed to the brim. His friends and relatives attend every hearing, along with journalists, and human rights defenders from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even European diplomats traveled to Chechnya to observe it.

But shortly after the hearing started the prosecutor requested to close the trial to the public, supposedly to protect the policemen summoned for questioning. He argued that public exposure of their names, titles, and faces jeopardized their security– a peculiar stance, since over the past two months dozens of police officers have already testified in court with no such concerns raised and no adverse consequences to our knowledge.

Inside the Shali, Chechnya courtroom during Oyub Titiev's trial, before it was closed to the public, September 20, 2018.

© 2018 Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

Nevertheless, the judge granted the request.

Four weeks ago, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, pledged to bar human rights defenders and independent press from what he called “his territory.”

“Let them walk around [here for now], let them come to [Titiev’s court hearings],” he said. “But once the trial is finished – no [more]… I’m officially telling human rights defenders: once the court delivers its ruling… Chechnya will be a forbidden territory for them, like for terrorists, extremists, and others because they’re provocateurs themselves…”

Last month, Human Rights Watch and two other groups published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chechnya being one of Russia’s regions and therefore its responsibility, they stressed that Kadyrov’s remarks showed an intent to carry out unlawful actions, since banning human rights defenders and journalists is unlawful under Russian and international law. Kadyrov might think he can get away with thumbing his nose to international law, but it might be harder for him to dismiss Russian law.

After the letter gained media attention, Chechnya’s information minister said Kadyrov had been misunderstood, that human rights defenders were welcome in Chechnya, and the authorities were ready to answer their questions. Today’s move to close Titiev’s hearings to the public, even if temporarily, belies the minister’s remarks and undermines Titiev’s right to a fair and public hearing. International law allows for closed trials under special circumstances, but it’s not evident such circumstances were met in the case today.

Tomorrow, we will go the courthouse again for the hearing to support Titiev; standing outside if forced to show the authorities we won’t be discouraged by closed doors, and that we’ll continue to demand justice for one of Russia’s great human rights defenders.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland meets High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Council Federica Mogherini during the EU-Canada joint ministerial committee meeting at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, November, 2017.

© 2017 Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In a first-of-its-kind summit, the world’s female foreign ministers will meet in Montreal today and tomorrow to discuss a range of global challenges, from advancing peace and security to eliminating violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings.

The meeting, jointly hosted by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, and her European Union counterpart, Federica Mogherini, comes at a critical time globally. Despite great strides in human rights protections, women and girls remain targets of egregious rights violations for which those responsible are rarely held to account.

Sexual violence against women and girls as war crimes and crimes against humanity remains pervasive. In Myanmar in late 2017, security forces raped and sexually assaulted thousands of Rohingya women and girls. Nearly every sexual assault described to Human Rights Watch by survivors involved a gang rape. But for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes, as well as the full range of grave crimes committed in Myanmar, the United Nations Security Council needs to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC.  The foreign ministers at the summit should call on the council to do just that.

Rohingya refugees line up at an aid relief distribution center at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 12, 2018.

© 2018 Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

While the ICC’s current prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has made prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes a priority, progress so far has been limited. The summit provides a crucial opportunity for foreign ministers to boldly reaffirm their government’s commitment to justice and accountability for these grave crimes.

The foreign ministers should call for greater support to the ICC and other accountability mechanisms. Holding abusers to account for their crimes will deter further atrocities, help create the conditions for durable peace, and ultimately advance the lives of women and girls around the world.

Throughout history, women have often been excluded from conflict prevention and resolution efforts, even though the participation of women can lead to a more stable peace. This group of women foreign ministers have a platform and opportunity in Montreal today to rewrite this narrative.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 20, 2018, 11:55 am

(New York, September 18, 2018) – The prominent Kenyan human rights activist Maina Kiai has joined Human Rights Watch to launch a new partnership initiative aimed at building alliances and engaging communities to promote human rights for all. With authoritarian populists gaining power and influence across the globe, social justice, the rule of law, and democratic values are under attack from leaders who tolerate no dissent.

Maina Kiai, photographed in Nairobi, Kenya, November, 2013.

“Human Rights Watch recognizes that lasting change in the struggle for basic rights and dignity can best be achieved by more directly enlisting those most affected,” Kiai said. “We want to engage communities to foster broader and more effective support for human rights and human dignity.”

Kiai was the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association from 2011 to 2017, chair of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, Africa director at Amnesty International, Africa director at the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington DC, founding executive director at the NGO Kenya Human Rights Commission, and most recently co-director of InformAction, a grassroots community organizing group in Kenya. Prior to returning to Kenya in 1992, Kiai was a research fellow at TransAfrica Forum, an African-American foreign policy organization working on US policy toward Africa. Throughout his career, Kiai has seen firsthand the challenges to human rights from governments that crack down on dissent by stifling civic groups and the media.

The initiative aims to enlist communities who suffer human rights violations but have not adopted rights-based approaches to find solutions, and will start in selected pilot countries

“We’re excited to welcome Maina and his vision of creating innovative alliances and strategies to reinvigorate human rights and civic engagement,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “We look forward to harnessing his expertise, creativity, and passion to bring lasting improvements in people’s lives.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 20, 2018, 8:00 am