(Phnom Penh) - Cambodia should continue to investigate the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in order to address key aspects of the case that appear to have been inadequately investigated, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch today.

A police officer stands guard in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court during the trial of Chuop Somlap, who is accused of murdering the political commentator and prominent government critic Kem Ley, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on March 1, 2017.
 

© 2017 Reuters

On 23 March 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oeuth Ang guilty of the premeditated murder of Kem Ley on 10 July 2016 and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Prior to the half-day trial, which took place on 1 March 2017, the authorities released almost no information about the investigation.

“The trial revealed that the investigation appeared to be deficient in several important respects,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser at the International Commission of Jurists who observed the trial.  “Until there is an independent, impartial and effective investigation to establish whether anyone else was involved in the killing, the victims of this serious crime, including Kem Ley’s wife and children, will be unable to obtain justice.”

Even the very identity of the defendant was at issue. At trial, Oeuth Ang maintained he is 39-years-old, unmarried, and named “Chuob Samlab” - which translates in English as “Meet to Kill” - from Banteay Meanchey province.  However, the prosecutor submitted that based on the fingerprint on the ID card of Oeuth Ang, he is satisfied that the defendant is in fact Oeuth Ang, married, born in 1972, from Siem Reap province.

“The proceedings may have established that Oeuth Ang pulled the trigger, but the investigation does not seem to have considered whether someone else loaded the gun”, said Champa Patel, the Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “It is clear that the authorities want to close the book on this case and move on but failures in the investigation of this heinous act can only serve to compound the injustice already suffered by the family of Kem Ley”.

The hearing commenced at 8:40 and concluded at 13:00.  After Oeuth Ang gave evidence, ten witnesses gave oral testimony including two Caltex workers, seven officials who were involved in the investigation in different capacities, and a doctor who examined Kem Ley’s body at the scene of death.  Official reports and the statements of several witnesses were also read into evidence, and the prosecution played eight videos from different locations, including one captured by a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera inside the Caltex station where Kem Ley was killed.  Kem Ley’s widow, who was named as a civil party, did not appear at the trial but her civil party statement was read into evidence.

“The authorities’ failure to investigate so many clear gaps in the defendant’s story and the court’s unwillingness to examine them suggest that a quick conviction rather than uncovering all involved was the main concern,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Kem Ley’s family have been outspoken in their disbelief that Oeuth Ang was solely responsible for the murder, and the trial’s conduct lends credence to their skepticism.”   

 

Eight issues that were not adequately addressed at trial

While at trial Oeuth Ang testified that he killed Kem Ley over a USD $3,000 debt and acted alone, the prosecution's presentation of the case – which is the only publicly accessible record of the investigation - appeared to reveal significant gaps in the investigation’s attempt to establish the truth, including:

  1. Oeuth Ang claimed he had the means to provide Kem Ley with $3,000 because he had sold a parcel of land he had possessed since he was young.  However, the prosecutor did not outline any efforts investigators had taken to verify this part of Oeuth Ang’s story, for example locating the land, obtaining any proof of ownership or sale, or interviewing the alleged purchaser to verify that the sale took place. No statement from the alleged purchaser was produced at trial and no one appeared as a witness on this issue.  The results of any financial or telecommunication inquiries, on any issue, were not produced at trial either.
  2. Oeuth Ang claimed he met Kem Ley only once in Phnom Penh after being introduced to him by an intermediary named “Pou Lis”.  At this meeting, he claimed he provided Kem Ley with $3,000 in exchange for the promise of a house and employment.  However, the prosecutor did not outline any attempts investigators had made to identify, locate and interview Pou Lis.  No statement from Pou Lis was produced at trial and he did not appear as a witness.
  3. The Prosecutor played video footage from only one CCTV camera from inside the Caltex station where Kem Ley was killed. The prosecutor claimed the video showed Oeuth Ang entering the station before allegedly killing Kem Ley.  Kem Ley could not be seen in the frame of the video.  While the Caltex station appears to have numerous CCTV cameras installed, including on the forecourt, the prosecutor did not outline what video footage investigators had been able to obtain from the different Caltex cameras, and provided no explanation for only playing footage from one Caltex camera.  This information could potentially be relevant to several issues, including whether Oeuth Ang acted alone, by shedding light on his movements before, during, and after the killing.
  4. The Caltex CCTV footage played at trial showed a man in a white shirt sitting with Kem Ley shortly before he was shot.  No evidence was produced showing whether investigators had attempted to identify the man and he was not called as a witness during the hearing.
  5. Oeuth Ang claimed someone whom he did not see fired a weapon at him while he was fleeing the crime scene.  The prosecutor did not address this issue adequately, including whether any attempts had been made to identify and interview the alleged shooter.  No statement from the alleged shooter was produced at trial and they did not appear as a witness.
  6. Oeuth Ang claimed he bought a Glock handgun he says he used to kill Kem Ley from an acquaintance in Thailand named “Chork”.  The prosecutor did not outline any efforts that had been made, if any, to identify, locate and interview Chork.  No statement from Chork was produced at trial and he did not appear as a witness.
  7. It is unclear what steps were made during the investigation to confirm important elements about Oeuth Ang’s background, including any links to military or official roles he has held in the past. According to statement of the defendant’s wife, who was not present at the hearing, Oeuth Ang was formerly a Khmer Rouge soldier. A statement by his mother, who was also not present during the proceedings, outlined that Oeuth Ang had worked for the “Environmental Department.”  At trial, Oeuth Ang stated that he had previously worked as a chef for soldiers but denied that he had been a soldier. He also maintained that he was named “Chuob Samlab” and was not known by another name.
  8. At trial, the prosecutor played a series of eight videos from different vantage points showing the man alleged to be Oeuth Ang fleeing the crime scene and running eastwards up Mao Tse Tung.  These videos, which were also published on a government aligned news website on the day of the trial, revealed that several vehicles, among them, a white SUV and two motorcycles, appear to have followed the fleeing man. A man seen riding pillion on one of the motorcycles appears to be holding an assault rifle.  The identity of these vehicles and men were not referred to during the trial and none of them was called as a witness.

 

Background

During the morning of 10 July 2016, Kem Ley was shot and killed at a petrol station cafe on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard.  Police arrested Oeuth Ang a short time later while fleeing the scene.  According to police, he later “confessed” to the killing claiming his motive was an unpaid debt of $3,000 Kem Ley owed him, a claim disputed by Kem Ley’s widow and Oeuth Ang’s wife.

Kem Ley’s killing occurred against a backdrop of escalating attacks on human rights defenders and the political opposition and Cambodia’s well-documented history of killings which are alleged to have had state involvement. 

On 13 July 2016, shortly after the killing, the ICJ made five concrete recommendations to the Cambodian authorities aimed at meeting its obligations under international law to promptly carry out an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the killing.

On 23 March 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oeuth Ang guilty of premeditated murder (Article 200 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and the unauthorized holding or transporting of weapons (Article 490 of the Cambodian Criminal Code). 

Today, it was reported in the media that, following the verdict, Oeuth Ang’s lawyer told journalists the court had created a new case-file to investigate two men named Pou Lis and Chak who may be relevant to the killing of Kem Ley.  This statement has yet to be officially confirmed and no further details of the identity of the men or how they may be related to the case has been made available.

Pursuant to international law binding on Cambodia, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Cambodia is a State Party, Cambodia has a duty to promptly, independently, impartially, and effectively investigate all deaths suspected of being unlawful.  Investigations must seek to identify not only direct perpetrators but also all others who may have been responsible for criminal conduct in connection with the death.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 23, 2017, 4:59 pm

(Nairobi) – Kenya should protect and assist Somali refugees and asylum seekers facing ongoing conflict and a humanitarian crisis in Somalia, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. In line with a recent High Court decision, the authorities should abandon their decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp and publicly declare that the more than 249,000 Somali refugees living there can remain in Kenya until conditions exist for them to return in safety and with dignity.

On March 24-25, 2017, Kenya will host an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit that will bring together Eastern African heads of state to discuss the situation of Somali refugees in the region, as the threat of pervasive drought and food insecurity in Somalia looms. Kenya’s role as host is marred by its continued insistence on closing Dadaab refugee camp, host to over 249,000 Somali refugees, by May.

Somali refugees waiting to board buses that will take them back to Somalia after the Kenya government annouced the closure of the Dadaab refugee camps in 2016. 

© 2016 Laetitia Bader/Human Rights Watch

“Kenya should demonstrate leadership by declaring that Dadaab will remain open and that it will resume prima facie recognition of Somali refugees,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya and neighboring Eastern African countries, supported by international partners, should urgently assist and protect refugees facing continuing conflict and drought in Somalia.”

In May 2016, the Kenyan government removed prima facie refugee status – meaning recognizing refugee status based simply on nationality – for Somalis and disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs, charged with processing asylum claims. It also announced plans to speed up the repatriation of Somali refugees, and to close Dadaab camp in north-eastern Kenya by November, subsequently extended to May.

On February 9, Kenya’s High Court ruled that the government’s May 2016 directives were unconstitutional and discriminated against Somalis. The High Court also ordered the Kenyan government to restore the administration of refugee affairs to the status quo prior to the government’s decision. The Kenyan government has not taken steps to carry out the ruling. On March 8, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya repeated that Kenya’s decision to close Dadaab camp was final.

In 2016, Kenyan authorities, with officials from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, stepped up a 2013 “voluntary” repatriation program. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International research in Dadaab and interviews with more than 100 Somali refugees found that Kenya had not given them a real choice between continuing to receive asylum in Kenya and returning to Somalia, and that the program violated the international principle of non-refoulement – forced return of people to places where they would face persecution, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, or other threats to their lives or freedom – which is binding on Kenya as party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 African Union Refugee Convention.

Registration of refugees in Dadaab has been sporadic since 2011 and has been entirely suspended, with some exceptions, since August 2015. In 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International spoke to many unregistered people in Dadaab, including new arrivals and people who had already returned under the repatriation program but then fled back to Dadaab. The people interviewed said they feel particularly vulnerable both due to their lack of legal status and because of their lack of access to food rations. Most recently, in mid-March, over 100 Somali refugees and asylum seekers were arrested in a security operation in Dadaab. According to a refugee agency, those with refugee documentation were released, while 28 Somali asylum seekers were charged with unlawful presence.

Under Kenya’s Refugee Act, the Commissioner of Refugee Affairs must recognize people as refugees if they meet the definition of the 1969 African Union Refugee Convention. The African Union definition includes people fleeing events seriously disturbing public order.

The lack of sufficient international support for Kenya, including through consistently underfunded UN humanitarian appeals and very limited refugee resettlement, has contributed to the appalling situation in Dadaab, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. The World Food Program has repeatedly cut food rations to people in Dadaab due to funding shortfalls. The most recent cut, in December, reduced rations by 50 percent. Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in 2016 who had signed up to return to Somalia often cited the ration cuts as a factor influencing their decision to return, and to accept a one-time UNHCR repatriation package – despite fears for their security and survival in Somalia.

An aerial picture shows a section of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border, May 8, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

UNHCR’s own assessments indicate that conditions in south-central Somalia are not conducive to mass refugee returns due to ongoing conflict, insecurity, and humanitarian conditions. In May 2016 UNHCR’s guidelines on returns to Somalia found that: “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

The humanitarian situation remains dire. According to the UN, half of Somalia’s population – 6.2 million out of 12.3 million people – are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of the communities affected by the 2011 famine are once again at risk.

More than 260,000 people have been displaced by the drought within Somalia since November, adding to the country’s 1.1 million internally displaced people, who live in deplorable and unsafe informal displacement camps in the country’s main towns. Most of those recently displaced in south-central Somalia have fled into Baidoa and Mogadishu, among the areas to which UNHCR is facilitating returns from Dadaab. The UN has also recorded an increase in displacement into neighboring Ethiopia, which currently hosts 245,500 registered Somali refugees. So far, contrary to the period leading up to the 2011 famine, very little movement into Kenya has been recorded.

According to UN data on returns, over half of those returning from Dadaab to Somalia said they would not return to their areas of origin. Returning refugees, especially those unable to return to their home areas or those who have been gone for many years, risk ending up internally displaced in Somalia, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, have continued to document serious abuses against internally displaced communities in Somalia at the hands of government and non-state actors, including sexual violence and violent forced evictions from their temporary shelters. According to a UN monitoring network, forced evictions increased in late 2016, with more than 60,000 new evictions since November alone.

“Given the ongoing drought and security crisis in Somalia, it’s high time Kenya’s international partners help to ensure that Somalis can find safety and humanitarian assistance in neighboring countries,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International. “International community and donor countries should guarantee adequate technical and financial support to the Kenyan government and civil society to come up with sustainable, long term durable solutions for refugee integration into the country.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 23, 2017, 4:36 pm

(Nairobi) – Armed groups in the Central African Republic have occupied, looted, and damaged school buildings, preventing children from getting an education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

UPC fighters outside a kindergarten in Ngadja, Ouaka province. The fighters have used the building as a base since October 2014. 

© 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch

The 39-page report, “No Class: When Armed Groups Use Schools in the Central African Republic,” documents how armed groups, and even soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSCA, have used school buildings as bases or barracks, or based their forces near school grounds. The government and the peacekeeping mission should increase protection for students and schools in areas of the country affected by armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

“Children have lost years of education in many parts of the Central African Republic because armed groups have failed to treat schools as places of learning and sanctuary for children,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “The government and the UN can do more to ensure that fighters stay away from classrooms, and that children can safely go to school.”

The report is released five days before the Second International Safe Schools Conference, hosted by the Argentine government in Buenos Aires. The conference will highlight the global problem of attacks on students, teachers, and schools, as well as the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment endorsed by the Central African Republic and 59 other countries.

 

Armed groups in the Central African Republic have occupied, looted, and damaged school buildings, preventing children from getting an education.

 
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 40 people for the report, including school-age children, parents, teachers, and armed group commanders in the provinces of Lobaye, Nana-Mambéré, Nana-Grébizi, Ouham-Pendé, Ouham, and Ouaka.
 
“It is not normal for a child to lose this much time, it has blocked my future,” said an 18-year-old man in Ouaka province who had lost four years of schooling because fighters for the Seleka, an armed group in the country’s ongoing conflict, have occupied his school. “I wanted to be a doctor, but that is impossible without school.”
 
The Central African Republic has been in crisis since late 2012, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels opened a military campaign against the government. The Seleka seized the capital, Bangui, in March 2013, in a period marked by widespread human rights abuse. In mid-2013, Christian and animist anti-balaka militia organized to fight the Seleka. The anti-balaka have also committed widespread abuse, especially in western parts of the country.
 
Violence by armed groups and attacks on civilians have risen sharply since October 2016, particularly in the center of the country. Fighting between two Seleka factions in the Ouaka and Haute-Kotto provinces has led to increased attacks on civilians and displaced tens of thousands of people.
 
The Seleka are responsible for eight of the cases documented in the report, but anti-balaka fighters have also occupied and damaged schools. In two cases, UN peacekeepers used a school as a base, in violation of UN regulations, but the forces left both schools after Human Rights Watch informed UN officials.
 

All photos © 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch 

 
The use of schools by armed forces deteriorates, damages, and destroys the country’s already insufficient and poor-quality education infrastructure. Fighters who occupy schools frequently burn furniture and books for cooking fuel. In one case Human Rights Watch documented, an anti-balaka fighter struck a teacher on the head with a knife when the teacher tried to stop him from burning a desk.
 
Even after fighters have vacated a school, their proximity to school grounds can frighten students and teachers into staying away. “The Seleka are just next to the school and the parents are too scared to send their kids,” a teacher from Nana-Grébizi province said. “The Seleka think it is normal to be based in schools.”
 
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in November 2016 that 2,336 schools across the country were operational but that at least 461 were not. The key reasons schools are closed, the UN said, are insecurity, a lack of teachers, displacement caused by fighting, the destruction of school property, or the occupation of schools by armed groups.
 

The Central African Republic signed the Safe Schools Declaration in June 2015, committing itself to protect schools from attack and military use. This important step spurred MINUSCA to begin clearing schools that were occupied by militias. The UN mission made progress in 2016, but was undermined when peacekeeping forces themselves used schools as bases and barracks.

“By endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, the government demonstrated the value it places on education for the development and stability of the country,” Mudge said. “Armed groups and UN peacekeepers should respect the declaration’s call to protect schools and help children get the education they want and deserve.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 23, 2017, 6:00 am

(Tunis) – Libyan National Army (LNA) forces may have committed war crimes, including killing and beating civilians, and summarily executing and desecrating bodies of opposition fighters in the eastern city of Benghazi on and around March 18, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The army forces allegedly intercepted civilians trying to flee a besieged neighborhood, some accompanied by opposition fighters, and the whereabouts of some civilians are unknown.

A member of the Libyan National Army, the armed forces allied with the Interim Government in al-Bayda, stands next to a hole on a wall during clashes with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an Islamist militia alliance, in Benghazi, Libya. 

© 2015 REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Khalifa Hiftar, the commander of the LNA forces in eastern Libya, should order a full and transparent investigation into recent alleged crimes by forces under his command, including attacks on civilians, alleged summary executions, and the mutilation and desecration of corpses, and hold those responsible to account.

“The LNA leadership needs to respond urgently to these deeply disturbing allegations by investigating the suspected perpetrators, including senior military commanders who may bear individual responsibility,” said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

Relatives, activists, and local journalists told Human Rights Watch by phone that dozens of civilians unexpectedly fled the besieged Ganfouda neighborhood in the eastern city of Benghazi on March 18, 2017, after a nearly two-year stand-off between LNA forces and fighters of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a coalition of armed groups opposing the LNA. About half of the civilians, some accompanied by BRSC fighters, fled to al-Sabri and Souq Elhout neighborhoods in downtown Benghazi, which remain under BRSC control. LNA fighters intercepted about seven families after one of their cars broke down and attacked and killed some of them and arrested others, the relatives said.

Human Rights Watch reviewed videos and photos shared by family members of victims, local journalists, and activists that purport to show bodies of BRSC fighters in Benghazi that LNA fighters allegedly desecrated and mutilated during or after the March 18 evacuation of Ganfouda residents.

 
In a letter sent to Hiftar on March 8, 2017, Human Rights Watch raised concerns for the safety of Ganfouda residents trapped by the fighting and said that LNA leaders should ensure safe passage for civilians and unimpeded delivery of aid. The LNA should also provide detailed information about the screening procedures for civilians and fighters who evacuated the besieged neighborhood, and about the arrest of some of them, Human Rights Watch said in the letter. The LNA has yet to respond.
 

The LNA announced on March 18, that its forces had evacuated seven families who had remained in buildings no. 12 in the Ganfouda neighborhood, the last bastion of fighting between the LNA and BRSC in the neighborhood. But the LNA has not provided information on the whereabouts of the civilians, whether it has finished screening them, and whether any civilians have been detained or charged with a crime.

On March 20, 2017, the LNA leadership issued a statement decrying incidents in which members of the LNA were caught on video and photos committing serious violations, including desecration, burning, and mutilation of corpses. The statement said that the LNA would arrest those suspected of the violations and bring them before an investigative committee. On March 21, the spokesperson of the army special forces, Saiqa, which is a part of the LNA, issued a statement that appears to defend some of the violations. But a statement later that day by the special forces commander pledged to hold those responsible for the desecration of BRSC fighters’ remains to account.

One video shared with Human Rights Watch appears to show the exhumed remains of the BRSC commander, Jalal Makhzoum, local journalists told Human Rights Watch. In the video, LNA fighters are seen cheering and accompanying the body, tied to a car hood, as they parade through the streets of Benghazi. The BRSC issued a statement announcing Makhzoum’s death on March 18, 2017.

A separate video purportedly shows the body of a BRSC fighter hanging from a concrete barrier at the entry to an army camp as LNA fighters cheer and pose for photographs with the corpse. In another photo, the body of a dead fighter is seen lying on the back of a truck as an unidentified man cuts off the ears and hands. In yet another photo, an unidentified fighter in military fatigues poses for a photograph next to a burning corpse.

Activists and local journalists said that these photos were taken during or after the LNA’s operation to retake the Ganfouda neighborhood on March 18, 2017. Human Rights Watch researchers were unable to verify the date and location of the incidents.

Desecration of the bodies of fighters is prohibited by Libyan and international law. Articles 292 and 293 of the Libyan Penal Code prohibit the desecration of corpses. International humanitarian law obligates all conflict parties to take all possible measures to prevent bodies of the dead from being despoiled.

In an undated video, widely shared over social media, Mahmoud al-Warfalli, a captain in the LNA special forces, is seen shooting three men in the back of the head with a machine gun as they kneel facing a wall with their hands tied behind their backs. Local journalists told Human Rights Watch that the executions took place in Benghazi during the final battle for Ganfouda on or around March 18, 2017.

The LNA special forces spokesman issued a statement on March 21, defending al-Warfalli’s actions as having occurred “within the battlefields.” Activists told Human Rights Watch that the three victims were Tuareg fighters from Ubari who appeared on photos, while alive, apparently in detention by LNA forces.

In another undated video, a man in military fatigues is seen being chased out of a building by a mob of more than a dozen fighters, most dressed in army fatigues. They beat, insult, and throw him to the ground, then line up in a row facing him and several summarily execute him with machine guns. Benghazi activists say that this incident took place in the Qwarsha district of Benghazi. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the exact circumstances of this incident.

Relatives of families who held out in Benghazi also shared a video of two sisters, both children, who had been caught by LNA soldiers as they attempted to flee the Ganfouda siege on March 18, 2017. In the video, an LNA fighter interviews both girls, who allege that an LNA fighter beat them and their mother during the evacuation. Relatives of Ganfouda residents believed both girls to be 14 or 15-years-old. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Other relatives shared with Human Rights Watch information and photos of their family members who they said were killed attempting to flee Ganfouda on March 18, 2017. The victims included an unidentified girl, a 75-year-old woman, and a 47-year-old man. Relatives said that LNA forces killed all three as residents attempted to flee. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify these claims or exact circumstances of their deaths.

By issuing statements justifying these barbaric acts, the LNA leadership is implicating themselves in what appear to be war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

“Forces under the Libyan National Army have been committing serious human rights violations for some time, unchecked, and with impunity,” Stork said. “Senior military commanders need to know that they too can be held accountable unless they actively do something to stop these violations.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2017, 6:00 am

(Erbil) – The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) executed and dumped the bodies of possibly hundreds of detainees at a site near Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today.

Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the bodies of those killed, including bodies of members of Iraqi security forces, were thrown into a naturally occurring sinkhole at a site known as Khafsa, about eight kilometers south of western Mosul. Local residents said that before pulling out of the area in mid-February, ISIS laid improvised landmines at the site, which are sometimes referred to as improvised explosive devices or booby traps.

“This mass grave is a grotesque symbol of ISIS’s cruel and depraved conduct – a crime of a monumental scale,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Laying landmines in the mass grave is clearly an attempt by ISIS to maximize harm to Iraqis.”
 

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) executed and dumped the bodies of possibly hundreds of detainees at a site near Mosul.

 

Iraqi authorities should make it a priority to mark and fence the site for the protection of the mass grave and those in the area, until deminers can clear the site, Human Rights Watch said. Residents said that water runs through the bottom of the sinkhole, which may make it difficult to exhume the human remains there. If exhumation is possible, the process should be carried out under international standards. Authorities should turn the site into a memorial and support families of victims seeking justice for the executions.

The site is one of dozens of ISIS mass graves found between Iraq and Syria, but could be the largest discovered thus far, Human Rights Watch said. While it is not possible to determine the number of people executed at the site, the estimates of residents, based on executions they witnessed and what ISIS fighters in the area had told them, reaches into the thousands.

Iraqi forces seized control of the site in mid-February 2017. Human Rights Watch visited the site on March 7, but did not inspect the sinkhole closely due to the landmines. An improvised explosive device left at the sinkhole killed a journalist and at least three Iraqi security forces on February 25.

Residents said they had seen multiple mass executions at the 35-meter-wide sinkhole, sometimes on a weekly basis starting in June 2014 until May or June 2015. They said they heard ISIS fighters talking about other executions, including of former police, former Iraqi Security Force members, and members of the Awakening Force (Sahwa), the Sunni force that fought extremist fighters from 2007 to 2008.

Some of the victims may also have been detainees at Badoush Prison, 10 kilometers west of Mosul, which ISIS captured on June 10, 2014. On that day, ISIS fighters executed about 600 prisoners at a ravine in the nearby desert, nine survivors told Human Rights Watch.

On March 11, 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces announced that they had found another mass grave, about two kilometers from Badoush prison, that held between 500 and 600 men – though it is unclear how they determined these numbers. On March 13, Human Rights Watch spoke to an Iraqi military commander who had visited the site four days earlier and had witnessed Iraqi forces exhuming bodies there. On March 15, a general in the Iraqi military’s 9th division told Human Rights Watch that under the division’s supervision, medical experts from Baghdad had exhumed about 400 bodies from the site.

 
Fawaz Abdulameer of the International Committee for Missing Persons, an international organization working to establish effective procedures for protecting mass graves and conducting exhumations, told Human Rights Watch: “These excavations are unacceptable. They must be carried out by trained teams with sufficient experience, because they are dealing with human remains at a crime scene.”

This is the second report of ad hoc and unprofessional exhumations taking place without authorization.

Widespread or systematic murder carried out by a state or organized group as part of an attack against a civilian population – as part of a policy to commit murder – constitutes a crime against humanity. The deliberate killing of civilians and civilian or military prisoners during an armed conflict constitutes a war crime.

To facilitate accountability for these crimes, Iraq should ratify the Rome Statute, giving the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity there, and should incorporate the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide into its domestic law.

All parties to the conflict in Iraq should respect the 1997 Ottawa (Mine Ban) Treaty, which Iraq has ratified.

 A marked and fenced ISIS mass grave in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, discovered in November 2016.

© 2017 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

“The strong desire to exhume the remains of loved ones from ISIS mass graves is perfectly understandable, but hastily conducted exhumations seriously harm the chances of identifying the victims and preserving evidence,” Fakih said. “While exhuming the remains of those killed at Khafsa may be difficult, authorities should do what they can to make sure that those who lost their loved ones there have access to justice.”

 
The Killings at Khafsa

Five residents from villages near Khafsa told Human Rights Watch that on June 10, 2014, they saw ISIS fighters bring four large trucks filled with blindfolded men, with their hands bound, to the sinkhole. Two residents of al-Athba, a village three kilometers from Khafsa, two residents of Swada, a neighboring village, and a resident of Irbid, three kilometers away, who were able to see the site, described what they saw.

The witnesses said the fighters unloaded the men, lined most of them up on the edge of the sinkhole, and opened fire so that the bodies fell in. Fighters shot a smaller number of people a short distance away and threw their bodies into the hole, the witnesses said. One of the men from al-Athba and the man from Irbid said ISIS fighters later told them that the men they had executed were prisoners from Badoush.

The killings at the Khafsa sinkhole apparently continued regularly from late 2014 to mid-2015. One of the residents from Swada, a shepherd, said that in September 2014, he was near Khafsa and saw male ISIS fighters arrive in a pickup truck with at least 13 women, all with full face coverings and cloaks and blindfolds, with their hands bound. He said the ISIS fighters shot the women on the precipice of the pit. He said he witnessed three more group executions subsequently, including the execution of three of his relatives.

One of al-Athba residents, also a shepherd, said he witnessed one execution at the end of 2014, after ISIS fighters called on the residents of al-Athba to come to the sinkhole over the mosque loudspeaker. Fighters brought three of his friends and his cousin to the site because they were accused of having shared GPS coordinates of ISIS positions with the Iraqi forces, he said. The fighters beheaded the men on a wooden block in front of the town residents, and then threw the bodies into the pit. He said fighters told him they had killed another of his cousins, an army officer, and dumped him in the pit.

The shepherd from al-Athba said that at another time, at the end of 2014, he was with his sheep in the area and saw ISIS fighters arrive in two cars and drag out a very large, strong man. They walked him up onto the precipice of the sinkhole, and as they were about to shoot him, he grabbed one of the fighters and jumped into the hole, holding him. Two witnesses of multiple executions said that fighters started carrying out executions further from the precipice after that because of the fighter they had lost.

Another shepherd from al-Athba said that in February 2015 he was about 30 meters from Khafsa with his sheep when he saw six ISIS fighters arrive in a large bus and march at least 20 men to flat ground near the sinkhole. They lined the men up and shot them, then threw their bodies in, he said. In March 2015, the man said, he was again in the area with his sheep and saw two fighters pull up in a car, take four prisoners out, and shoot them near the pit, then throw their bodies into the sinkhole.

Human Rights Watch interviewed a family from Kudila, 60 kilometers southeast of Khafsa, who had fled their home in March 2016. The husband, a former Iraqi soldier, said that ISIS had imprisoned him for 18 days in Qayyarah in March 2015 for selling cigarettes. He said that fighters took several prisoners from the facility while he was there, and he overheard guards saying they were taking them to Khafsa for execution. The prisoners did not return.

Another man from Sawda said that in early 2015, he saw fighters driving 11 freezer trucks toward the sinkhole, and heard from local ISIS fighters that as many as 1,000 people transported to the site in those trucks had been executed that day.

The five people living near Khafsa said they had heard estimates of between 3,000 and 25,000 people executed at the site. They said they often heard screams and gunfire. By early 2015, the stench from the bodies had become unbearable and families were telling ISIS fighters that they would need to move to Mosul if it persisted. One of al-Athba residents said: “It was summer so we had to sleep on the roof, but we were not able to sleep because the stench of the dead was so strong. The smell was overwhelming.” Another said, “The smell was disgusting, we were inside our houses but the smell still reached us.”

In response to the complaints, fighters brought several cranes and dumped the contents of several large trailers into the hole then filled the rest of the pit with earth using several excavators, according to two of the residents Human Rights Watch interviewed. One said, “They [ISIS] told us the trailers were also full of bodies.” ISIS did not carry out any more executions at the site after it was filled in, all the locals said. They said the smell of decomposing bodies diminished after that.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows that the sinkhole was filled in sometime between March and June 2015.

 

Satellite imagery showing the Khafsa sinkhole being filled in by June 2015.

 
 

 
© 2017 DigitalGlobe

By the time Iraqi government forces retook the area around the sinkhole in February 2017, the filled-in earth had started to subside. Images taken then by international journalists show the remains of what look like two cars in the middle of the filled-in pit.

The location was already labeled on the open-source online map, Wikimapia, as an ISIS mass grave in April 2014 by an unnamed user, before the area had fallen to ISIS-control, but when there was already a strong ISIS presence in the area. The two shepherds from al-Athba and a federal police officer said that as early as 2004, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor group to ISIS, had used the sinkhole to dump bodies of people they executed for allegedly collaborating with the Americans or the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 22, 2017, 4:00 am

(New York) – The Bangladesh government should immediately halt the imminent execution of three men convicted of a May 2004 grenade attack, which targeted the then British High Commissioner, Anwar Choudhury. Chowdhury survived the attack that took place outside the Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet district, but was among dozens injured by the blasts. Three police officers were killed.

Police escort Mufti Abdul Hannan (3rd L), alleged leader of the Bangladesh chapter of the Islamist militant group Harkatul Jihad, to court in Dhaka October 2, 2005.

© 2005 Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman

On March 19, 2017, the country’s apex court rejected the final review application of the three men on death row, all alleged members of the banned militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad (HuJI). The three men are: Mufti Abdul Hannan, HuJI founder, and two activists in the group, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain Ripon.

“Criminals need to be punished, but Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction by invoking the death penalty,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Bangladesh should instead initiate an immediate moratorium on capital punishment because it is inherently cruel and irreversible, and should never be used, regardless of the crime.”

The evidence against the three men is primarily based on their confessions, statements that magistrates say were freely given in front of them but that the men have said were forcibly extracted through torture in police custody. Human Rights Watch has previously documented numerous cases of torture to coerce confessions, and due process violations in the Bangladesh criminal justice system that have made it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial, including in capital cases.

Noting that "custodial torture has become a persistent trend in Bangladesh," the country’s National Human Rights Commission recently said that, "Indiscriminate order of remand for extracting confessions immensely contributes to a culture of custodial torture."
 

Criminals need to be punished, but Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction by invoking the death penalty.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Court documents show that Hannan had spent 77 days, and Bipul and Ripon 40 days each, in police custody prior to giving their confessions. During this time and throughout their interrogation, the accused were not provided access to any legal representation. All three confessions were made during this period.

Bangladesh courts have accepted allegations in previous cases that torture takes place in police custody, and local, and international human rights organizations contend that the practice is widespread. Nevertheless, the appeals court stated that, “These confessions are natural, voluntary, inculpatory, and corroborative to each other,” and were not “procured from them by means of coercion, duress, or torture.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a signatory, has stated that there must be no “direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure from the investigating authorities on the accused, with a view to obtaining a confession of guilt. That all three convictions are based on interrogations without a lawyer present strongly suggests that they violated article 14 of the ICCPR on the right to a fair trial.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition.

“Delivering justice requires adhering to the highest standards, particularly when a life is at stake, and there can be no room for doubts or mistakes,” Adams said. “Human Rights Watch has long supported justice and accountability for militant attacks, but we have also stated repeatedly that these trials have to meet international fair trial standards, and call upon Bangladesh to reject the death penalty.”
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2017, 10:52 pm

(Washington, DC) – Members of the Global Coalition against Daesh (another name for the Islamic State) meeting in Washington, DC, on March 22 should make protecting civilians and justice for victims priorities in their ongoing battle against the group, Human Rights Watch said today in a memorandum to the participants. Based on violations documented, Human Rights Watch highlighted five key areas that coalition members need to improve in their conduct of operations.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host the foreign ministers of the Global Coalition working to defeat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). It will be the first meeting of the full coalition, now at 68 members, since December 2014. The aim of the meeting, according to a coalition press release, is “to accelerate international efforts to defeat Daesh in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria and maximize pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks.” ISIS has carried out war crimes and atrocities amounting to crimes against humanity, including systematic rape.

“In fighting ISIS, coalition members should not lose sight of the fact that their aim should not just be to retake territory but to make sure they take all precautions to protect the people still living in these areas,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “A victory against ISIS that does not address the security needs of civilians and leaves them at the mercy of revenge attacks will ring hollow.”

Human Rights Watch urges coalition members to make the following commitments:

  1. Take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigate potentially unlawful strikes: Given the discrepancy in reporting of the various coalition members, the coalition should establish baseline public reporting and investigation standards for all coalition members.
  1. Cease support for any abusive groups: Human Rights Watch has documented widespread violations by ground forces battling ISIS. These violations include summary executions, beatings, and torture of men in custody, as well as arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, destruction of civilian objects, use of child soldiers, and mutilation of corpses. Despite these reports, the coalition has yet to develop procedures for robust vetting and investigations of allegations of abuse by local partners.
  1. Provide safe passage to fleeing civilians and provide sufficient support to displaced people: Aid agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks from western parts of Mosul during the Iraq operation. People fleeing have reported grave dangers in trying to escape. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq has reported that aid agencies are operating “at their limit.” Aid workers have expressed similar concerns regarding any future offensive on Raqqa in Syria. Coalition members should ensure that there is a clear and coordinated plan for civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to get the aid they need once they have reached safety.
  1. Clear commitment to justice for victims: There has been considerable media attention surrounding the grave crimes committed by ISIS in violation of international law, but few concrete plans to provide justice for these crimes. Many ISIS victims are left without any access to justice or assistance. Coalition members should make justice a key pillar in its fight against ISIS by adopting concrete measures to assist victims, collect and preserve evidence, and support efforts to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Beyond the crimes that ISIS has committed, other actors who have committed grave crimes should also be held to account.
  1. Increase efforts to survey and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war: Improvised mines laid by ISIS have killed and injured hundreds of civilians returning to their homes, including children. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) officials have estimated that it could cost $50 million to remove mines, which are often referred to as victim-activated improvised explosive devices or booby traps, from in and around the Iraqi city of Mosul. In Syria, UNMAS estimates that more than 6.3 million people including 2 million children live in contaminated areas after nearly six years of war. Mine clearance efforts should be a priority to ensure the safe return of civilians.

“What happens after ISIS is defeated is in many ways as important as the actual defeat of ISIS,” Houry said. “The coalition will not be able to say, ‘Mission Accomplished’ without addressing justice, governance, and displacement.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2017, 6:52 pm

(Tunis) -- A police union leader jailed since July 13, 2016 has been sentenced to two years and eight months  in prison for defaming government officials.  

A general view of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in Tunis, Tunisia, May 2016.

© 2016 Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

A Tunis court sentenced Walid Zarrouk, a former prisons officer and member of the Union for a Republican Police, on November 23, to one year in prison  for a television interview in which he accused Tunisian authorities of bringing trumped up charges against those who criticize them. The same day, another chamber of the same court sentenced Zarrouk to eight months for his quote in a daily newspaper criticizing the interior minister. And on February 7, 2017, a Tunis court sentenced him to one year in prison for Facebook posts that criticized an investigative judge and a judiciary spokesperson.

No one is safe from prosecution under Tunisia’s overly broad laws criminalizing free speech. Six years after Tunisians ended Zine Abadin Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule, prosecutors and courts still subject Tunisians to trials for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Amna Guellali, Tunisia director

“No one is safe from prosecution under Tunisia’s overly broad laws criminalizing free speech,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch. “Six years after Tunisians ended Zine Abadin Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule, prosecutors and courts still subject Tunisians to trials for exercising their right to freedom of speech.”

The Tunisian parliament should urgently reform all the laws that lead to prison terms for defamation offenses and insulting state institutions, Human Rights Watch said. 

Human Rights Watch reviewed the judgment in the first case, in which the court said that Zarrouk’s characterization of judicial authorities as “stupid” constituted defamation “because the accused intentionally degraded the reputation of the judicial institution during a prime time TV show.” The tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison under article 128 of the penal code, which punishes “accusing, without proof, a public agent of violating the law” with up to two years in prison. 

In the second case, responding to a complaint by former Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou, after Zarrouk accused him of hiding information about alleged involvement of political parties in terrorist networks, a tribunal sentenced Zarrouk to eight months in prison under article 128 of the penal code.

In the third case, Zarrouk was originally indicted by the counterterrorism judicial unit. The indictment, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, accused Zarrouk of publishing Facebook posts that constituted defamation and slander against the head of the National Guard counterterrorism unit, as well as the prosecutor and a judge in the unit. The indictment charged Zarrouk under article 78 of the 2015 counterterrorism law, which provides for up to 12 years in prison for anyone who “endangers the lives of protected people” under the counterterrorism law by revealing their identity. During the trial session on February 7, the judge dropped the charges under the counterterrorism law but sentenced Zarrouk under article 128 of the penal code, his lawyer, Abdennacer Aouini, told Human Rights Watch.

In 2011, Tunisia’s transitional authorities liberalized the press code and the law pertaining to the broadcast media, eliminating most of the criminal penalties for speech offenses. Nevertheless, prosecutions and convictions for nonviolent speech continued, on thebasis of repressive articles in various legal codes that Tunisia’s interim legislative bodies did not modify.

Since December 2011 authorities have prosecuted at least 16 people for speech deemed defamatory toward individuals or state institutions, or “liable to disturb the public order.” These include a television station director, for airing a film seen as defaming Islam; two atheists, for mocking the Prophet Mohamed; two sculptors, for art work deemed “harmful to public order” after it provoked the ire of Salafists and religious groups; two rappers, for a song insulting the police; five journalists for criticizing public officials, and three others  -- a blogger, a former advisor to the president of the republic and  another police union leader  -- for speech criticizing the army and its high command.

Zarrouk had faced several earlier prosecutions. On September 9, 2013, an investigative judge ordered his detention for a Facebook post criticizing the politicization of prosecutions. He spent four days in jail and was released provisionally. He was sentenced in October 2015 to three months for Facebook posts against a public prosecutor, and served two months in jail.

The UN Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts who interpret the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, has said that all public figures are legitimately subject to public criticism, and that there should be no prohibition of criticism of public institutions. Defamation should be treated as a civil, not a criminal, issue and never punished with a prison term, the committee said.

The committee said “that in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high. Thus, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.

Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.

 

Zarrouk’s appeal for the first conviction is scheduled for March 22.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2017, 11:01 am

(Beirut) – Authorities in the United Arab Emirates should immediately release leading human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, Human Rights Watch said today. He was arrested in the early morning hours of March 20, 2017, and accused of alleged crimes that appear to violate freedom of expression.

The UAE authorities have not revealed where they are holding Mansoor or allowed him access to his family or a lawyer. Mansoor is the 2015 Laureate for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and a member of the Middle East and North Africa advisory committee at Human Rights Watch.

Ahmed Mansoor speaks to Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 30, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

“The charges against Ahmed Mansoor clearly violate his right to free expression, and if the UAE has any concern about its reputation it will release him immediately,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Arresting a prominent rights defender on these charges is yet another demonstration of the UAE’s complete intolerance for peaceful dissent.”

A March 20 statement by WAM, the UAE’s official news agency, stated that authorities detained Mansoor on suspicion of using social media sites to publish “flawed information” and “false news” to “incite sectarian strife and hatred” and “harm the reputation of the state.”

A source close to the situation told Human Rights Watch that at about 12 a.m. on March 20, a group of 10 uniformed police officers came to Mansoor’s home in the city of Ajman and conducted an extensive search for electronic devices. At about 3 a.m., the officers took Mansoor away, along with all the family’s mobile phones and laptops, even those belonging to Mansoor’s children, the source said.

It was unclear whether officials had a warrant to search Mansoor’s home or detain him, or which social media activity led to the accusations against him. On March 20, Gulf News cited official statements and reported that Mansoor had used social media “to publish false information, rumors and lies about the UAE and promoted sectarian feelings and hatred that would  damage the UAE’s social harmony and unity…published false information to damage UAE’s reputation abroad and encouraged his followers on social media not to follow the UAE laws and portrayed the UAE as a lawless land.”

The report classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him will be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s 2012 cybercrime decree, which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties for individuals who criticize the country’s rulers.

In the days leading up to his detention, Mansoor had posted numerous links covering a range of topics to his Twitter feed. These included articles criticizing the UAE’s failure to release Osama al-Najjer, an Emirati who has served a three-year sentence on charges that included “communicating with external organizations to provide misleading information,” articles critical of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of force in Yemen and its impact on the Yemeni population, and an article that derided the Egyptian government.

UAE authorities should immediately reveal Mansoor’s whereabouts and allow him access to family members and a lawyer, Human Rights Watch said.

The UAE is on an unrelenting campaign to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent. Just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing peaceful political opinions?

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Human Rights Watch

UAE authorities have harassed Mansoor for six years. In April 2011, UAE authorities detained him over his peaceful calls for reform. Before that arrest, Mansoor was one of 133 signatories to a petition for universal and direct elections in the UAE and for the Federal National Council, a government advisory board, to have legislative powers. Mansoor also administered an online forum called Al-Hewar al-Emarati that criticized UAE government policy and leaders.

In November 2011, the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison for insulting the country’s top officials in a trial deemed unfair and marred by legal and procedural flaws. Authorities also accused Mansoor of using Al-Hewar Al-Emarati to “conspire against the safety and security of the State,” inciting others to break the law, and calling for an election boycott and anti-government demonstrations.

Although the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pardoned Mansoor on November 28, 2011, authorities never returned his passport, subjecting him to a de facto travel ban. He has also been subjected to physical assaults, death threats, government surveillance, and a sophisticated spyware attack.

In August 2016, the Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab reported that Mansoor received suspicious text messages on his iPhone promising information about detainees tortured in UAE jails and urging him to click on an included link. Citizen Lab discovered that clicking on the link would have installed sophisticated spyware on his iPhone produced by an Israeli spyware company that allows an outside operator to control his iPhone’s telephone and camera, monitor his chat applications, and track his movements. Similar methods for breaking into iPhones have been valued at US$1 million, leading Citizen Lab to call Mansoor “the million dollar dissident.” Mansoor is the 2015 Laureate for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, but authorities did not allow him to travel to Geneva to collect his award.

Article 14 of the Arab Charter for Human Rights, to which the UAE is a party, prohibits arbitrary arrest. In line with the mandate of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, detentions are arbitrary if there is no clear legal basis for the arrest or if the person is arrested for exercising the human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, among others.

Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights also guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to impart news to others by any means. The only restrictions allowed on the practice of this right are those imposed for “respect for the rights of others, their reputation, or the protection of national security, public order, public health, or public morals.” Article 13(2) of the charter also requires that judicial hearings be “public other than in exceptional cases where the interests of justice so require in a democratic society which respects freedom and human rights.”

On January 16, authorities detained Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati academic and vocal supporter of the government, for 10 days after he posted a tweet that praised the UAE as the “Emirates of tolerance” but bemoaned the authorities’ lack of respect for freedom of expression and political liberties.

“The UAE is on an unrelenting campaign to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent,” Stork said. “Just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing peaceful political opinions?”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2017, 4:00 am

(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately and transparently investigate the shooting death of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist who had been detained by the military, Human Rights Watch said today. Chaiyaphum Pa-sae, 17, was shot to death on March 17, 2017 after soldiers apprehended him for alleged drug possession in Chiang Dao district of Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province.

Prominent ethnic Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pa-sae, 17, was shot dead by Thai soldiers during an anti-drug operation on March 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Private

Soldiers from the army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment Task Force and the Pha Muang Task Force reported to the district police that they stopped a car at Ban Rin Luang village checkpoint in which Chaiyaphum was a passenger. Soldiers claimed that a search found 2,800 methamphetamine pills hidden in the car’s air filter. Chaiyaphum and the driver, Pongsanai Saengtala, were detained while the soldiers continued to search the car.

The soldiers said that Chaiyaphum escaped from the soldiers, pulled a knife out of the car’s trunk, fought his way past them, and ran into the nearby jungle. Soldiers claimed that they pursued him and when Chaiyaphum was about to throw a hand grenade at them, shot him in self-defense. They have not explained how a detained person obtained the knife or grenade. The coroner confirmed that Chaiyaphum was struck by an M16 assault rifle round that pierced his left arm and struck his heart.

“The claim that soldiers killed an outspoken young ethnic activist in self-defense after he had been held by soldiers sets the alarm bells ringing,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of accepting at face value the account of the soldiers who shot Chaiyaphum, the authorities need to thoroughly and impartially investigate this case and make their findings public.”

Chaiyaphum was a well-known activist from the Young Seedlings Network Camp in Chiang Dao district. He was involved in numerous campaigns to promote the rights of ethnic Lahu and other vulnerable ethnic minorities in northern Thailand to gain citizenship, health care, and access to education. He also spoke out against abuses by Thai security forces against his community during anti-drug operations. In addition, Chaiyaphum was a documentary producer and music composer. Several of his short films, including “A Comb and A Buckle,” were shown on the Thai PBS channel.
 

Ethnic minorities in Thailand will never have full equality so long as those acting on their behalf face grave risks every day and killings such as this are not investigated properly.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which apply to soldiers acting in a law enforcement capacity, state that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life. In cases of death or serious injury, a detailed report shall be sent promptly to the competent authorities responsible for administrative review and judicial control.

In addition, the Thai government has an obligation under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to ensure that any individual or group working to protect and promote human rights is able to work in a safe and enabling environment.

The Thai army has a longstanding practice of dismissing allegations of serious abuses committed by its troops. Despite numerous complaints about human rights violations by soldiers and army-affiliated militia groups during anti-drug operations, the army has rarely prosecuted military personnel for such offenses.

Human Rights Watch documented numerous extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations during then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “war on drugs” in 2003 and 2004. Abusive anti-drug operations by the armed forces and police continued across Thailand under successive governments after Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Many of those killed were members of ethnic populations in northern provinces who were known to have disputes with local authorities and who had consequently been blacklisted as suspected drug traffickers. Many of them were killed at checkpoints or soon after being summoned to report to local military bases or police stations for questioning.

Human Rights Watch’s findings were echoed by the 2007 Independent Committee for the Investigation, Study and Analysis of the Formation and Implementation of Drug Suppression Policy (ICID), chaired by former Attorney General Khanit na Nakhon, and in National Human Rights Commission reports.

The government should immediately direct the Department of Special Investigation to investigate Chaiyaphum’s death, and also request the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the case. Human Rights Watch also urged the government to ensure the safety of witnesses in this case, including the driver of the car, Pongsanai, who is now detained at Mae Taeng Prison in Chiang Mai province.

“Abusive officials have long used anti-drug operations to cover their attacks on activists who exposed official wrongdoing or defended minority rights,” Adams said. “Ethnic minorities in Thailand will never have full equality so long as those acting on their behalf face grave risks every day and killings such as this are not investigated properly.”
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 21, 2017, 1:34 am

(New York, March 20, 2017) – The Pakistani government should withdraw its proposal to restore military courts empowered to try civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The government is introducing a bill to amend the Constitution of Pakistan and the Army Act, 1952 to reinstate and expand the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offenses.

A Pakistan Ranger gestures to stop members of the media from taking pictures at an anti-terrorism court in Karachi, Pakistan on March 12, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

Following the attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the Army Public School in Peshawar that killed 148 people, nearly all children, the Pakistani government created military courts on January 7, 2015, for a two-year period, as part of its 20-point National Action Plan against terrorism. United Nations bodies, human rights organizations, and the political opposition raised serious concerns about trying civilians before military courts, the secrecy of military court trials, and other fair trial issues.

“The Pakistani government has a responsibility to prosecute those committing violent attacks, but secret, rights-violating military courts raise serious questions as to whether justice is being done,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Generating confidence in Pakistan’s criminal justice system and abiding by the rule of law means bringing those responsible for militant attacks before independence and impartial civilian courts.

Pakistan’s military courts are empowered to try individuals who have committed offenses including abduction for ransom, waging war against the state, causing any person injury or death, creating terror or insecurity, and various other offenses. The draft law seeks to expand the jurisdiction of the military courts to individuals who commit, “grave and violent acts against the State.”

In January 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government promised to reform the civilian criminal justice system and presented the military courts as a temporary solution. Since then, the government has not taken any significant measures to reform the judiciary. From January 7, 2015 to January 6, 2017, military courts convicted 274 individuals and handed down 161 death sentences. At least 17 people have been executed after being convicted by a military court.

By claiming that the military courts serve as an “effective deterrent,” the government will continue to deny citizens the right to a fair trial and undermine the role of the civilian courts, Human Rights Watch said. The government has not made public any criteria for the selection of case for the military courts, the location and the times of trials, and the details of the charges against the accused. No independent monitoring of military trials has been allowed. There is no right to appeal military court decisions. Defendants have often been denied the copies of a judgment with the evidence and reasoning.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has reported that defendants facing military tribunals have been allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment. These allegations have not been adequately investigated, giving rise to concerns about convictions based on unlawfully obtained confessions. In at least two cases, suspects claiming to be under age 18 at the time of arrest were convicted without the military court providing any special protections due children.

Reinstating military courts would violate Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan ratified in 2010, guarantees everyone the right to timely trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body authorized to monitor compliance with the covenant, has stated that civilians should be tried by military courts only under exceptional circumstances and only under conditions that genuinely afford full due process.

According to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, “using military or emergency courts to try civilians in the name of national security, a state of emergency or counter-terrorism … runs counter to all international and regional standards and established case law.” 

“Denying citizens a fair trial is not the silver bullet to solve Pakistan’s complex security challenges,” Adams said. “Strengthening the civilian courts and upholding the rule of law is the message the Pakistani government should send as an effective and powerful response to militant atrocities.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2017, 11:00 pm

(New York) – Countries around the world are taking measures to protect students, teachers, and schools from the harmful consequences that can result from the use of schools for military purposes during times of armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 101-page report, “Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine,” contains examples of law and practice from 40 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen, instituting some level of protection for schools or universities from military use. Many of the examples come from countries currently or recently involved in armed conflict, indicating that governments and armed forces are recognizing the negative consequences of military use of schools and have found practical solutions to deter such use. Examples of these measures can be found throughout the world, in legislation, court decisions, and military policies and doctrine. Governments should adopt and follow protections for schools, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2007, the military use of schools or universities has been documented in at least 29 countries with armed conflict or insecurity.

 

“In most countries enduring armed conflict, schools have been turned into part of the battlefield, as classrooms have been converted into military bases, bunkers, and weapons caches,” said Bede Sheppard, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet increasing numbers of countries are making a commitment to keep the conflict out of their schools, and they’re providing examples of measures to protect schools from military use.”

On March 28 and 29, 2017, Argentina will co-host the Second International Conference on Safe Schools, which will bring together government representatives from around the world in Buenos Aires to discuss the global problem of attacks on students, teachers, and schools, and the related issue of military use of schools.

Students and teachers from around the world call for schools and universities to be protected from military use. 

© 2015 Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch also reviewed the various protections for schools from military use under international law and standards, including the Safe Schools Declaration, adopted in 2015. The Safe Schools Declaration is a political commitment for countries to take certain concrete steps to make students, teachers, and schools safer during times of armed conflict, including by agreeing to refrain from using schools for military purposes.

It was drafted under the leadership of Norway and Argentina in 2015. To date, 59 countries have endorsed the declaration, and more are expected to join at the upcoming conference in Argentina.

“Hundreds of thousands of children worldwide find their schools under attack or used by fighting forces to wage war,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Safe Schools Declaration provides a concrete way for countries to commit to protecting children’s education, even during armed conflict.”

Since 2007, the military use of schools or universities by government armed forces and non-state armed groups has been documented in at least 29 countries with armed conflict or insecurity, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, of which Human Rights Watch is a member. That number represents the majority of countries experiencing armed conflict during the past decade.

Schools and universities have been taken over either partially or entirely to be converted into military bases and barracks; used as detention and interrogation facilities; for training fighters; and to store or hide weapons and ammunition.

Since 2009, Human Rights Watch has investigated the military use of schools in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, and Yemen.

The use of schools for military purposes endangers students’ and teachers’ safety, can lead to the damage and destruction of important education infrastructure, and can interfere with students’ right to education, Human Rights Watch said.

“When government leaders know that they can take practical steps to keep students safe during war, they should feel morally obliged to take them,” Sheppard said. “All countries should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and acknowledge that the military use of schools is a global problem, needing international attention and response.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 20, 2017, 4:01 am

(Beirut) – The Iraqi parliament should set penalties for the crime of domestic violence, remove provisions that prioritize reconciliation over justice, and improve victim protections in a domestic violence bill, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter and memorandum to the speaker of parliament.

Parliament is completing its review of the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which was introduced in 2015. Parliament should make key amendments and then urgently approve the bill.

Demonstrators in Baghdad call International Women's Day a “day of mourning” in protest of Iraq's new draft Jaafari Personal Status Law, which would restrict women's rights in matters of inheritance, parental and other rights after divorce, make it easier for men to take multiple wives, and allow girls to be married from age 9. March 8, 2014. In March 2016, the Iraqi government told a UN treaty body that the draft Jaafari law “has been withdrawn and the Iraqi Government has no plans to resubmit it, let alone adopt it.”

© 2014 Iraqi al-Amal Association

“A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi women’s lives,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers.”

Domestic violence is a global phenomenon and remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent reported verbal abuse, 6 percent reported physical violence, and 9 percent reported sexual violence. While more recent national studies are not available, women’s rights organizations continue to report a high rate of domestic violence.

The strengths of the draft bill include provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders) and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence. However, the memorandum identifies several gaps and approaches in the bill that would undermine its effectiveness.

A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi women’s lives. The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers.

Rothna Begum

Middle East women’s rights researcher

The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached. But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence. United Nations guidance provides that mediation should be prohibited in all cases of violence against women and at all stages of legal proceedings because mediation removes cases from judicial scrutiny. Promoting such reconciliation incorrectly presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties may be equally at fault for violence, and reduces accountability for the offender.

“By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors,” Begum said. “The government should send a message that beating up your wife won’t be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime.”

While the draft law defines domestic violence as a crime, it fails to set penalties. It also does not repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that condone domestic violence. These include provisions that husbands have a right to punish their wives and that parents can discipline their children. Those responsible for “honor” violence or killings can benefit from reduced sentences as the Penal Code provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called “honourable motives” or if a man catches his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage.

Other recommended changes include:

  • Setting out specific duties for both the general police and specialized police officers in responding to domestic violence. Police play an important role in responding to domestic violence and can help determine whether a victim is able to pursue remedies through the justice system.
  • Outlining various types of evidence that can be considered in domestic violence cases. Attacks tend to happen in homes behind closed doors where often there are no witnesses other than children, who typically cannot testify.
  • Distinguishing between short-term emergency orders and longer-term protection orders, including making clear that short-term orders can be issued without all parties present on the basis of a victim’s testimony, whereas a longer-term order would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.

The bill provides for the establishment of government shelters, but it should require coordination with local women’s rights organizations on the administration, training, and operation of such shelters, and permit privately run shelters for survivors of domestic violence. This is particularly important given that women’s rights nongovernmental organizations, which have provided such shelters, have often been subject to physical attack and threats by offenders and have faced hostility by some government officials, Human Rights Watch said.

Women’s rights groups in Iraq have campaigned for years for legislation on domestic violence. The Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family.” But only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence. Iraq’s Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, call for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women.

Iraq has international human rights obligations to prevent and respond to these abuses. Several international treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, have called for states parties to pass violence against women legislation. Iraq ratified the treaty in 1986.

Some members of parliament have voiced concerns that the bill might be against Islamic principles. However, women’s rights organizations and some parliament members met in February 2017, with prominent clerics in Najaf, south of Baghdad, the capital, and found that they had no objections to the bill. Moreover, most Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East and North Africa region have adopted such legislation.

In recent years, several countries and autonomous regions in the Middle East and North Africa have also introduced some form of domestic violence legislation or regulation, including Algeria, Bahrain, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. These laws vary in the degree to which they comply with international standards. Several other countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are considering draft legislation on domestic violence.

“Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is in line with international standards, as a model for the region,” Begum said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 19, 2017, 4:01 am

(Johannesburg) – The Angolan government must allow protesters to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of a planned demonstration in Luanda for a woman’s right to have an abortion.

A general view of Luanda, Angola, where organizers are planning a demonstration for women’s right to have an abortion on March 18, 2017. 

© 2014 Reuters

The protest, scheduled for March 18, 2017, is in response to the new draft penal code currently before parliament, which punishes, without exceptions, those who have or perform an abortion with up to 10 years in prison.

“We have often seen Angolan police use unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa.

Parliament approved an amendment on abortion on February 24, as part of the process of replacing Angola’s penal code from the 1886 colonial-era version. The government had proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, except in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is in danger. But parliament rejected that proposal and made abortion, without exceptions, illegal. The final vote on the draft penal code is slated for March 23.

Under the current penal code, abortion is also illegal. The organizers of the protest want the new code to end the ban on abortions. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call for the decriminalization of abortion in all circumstances.

The protest organizers informed the Office of the Governor of Luanda Province, Gen. Higinio Carneiro, of their intention to march at 10 a.m. Central African Time from Santa Ana Cemetery to the Heroines Monument (Largo das Heroinas). As of March 17, the group had not received a reply.

“The right to protest is protected both under the constitution and international law, so the Angolan authorities have a duty to ensure that these protesters can march freely and without any intimidation,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Especially as elections approach, authorities should show that they will tolerate dissenting views.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 17, 2017, 5:06 pm

(Beirut) – A United Arab Emirates court sentenced a Jordanian journalist on March 15, 2017, to prison and a large fine for “insulting the state’s symbols,” Human Rights Watch said today. The sentence against Tayseer al-Najjar was related to Facebook posts in which he criticized Egypt, Israel, and Gulf countries.

Tayseer al-Najjar.

© Private

UAE authorities held al-Najjar without access to a lawyer for more than a year before bringing him to trial in January. WAM, the UAE’s official news agency, reported that the Abu Dhabi Federal Appeals Court convicted al-Najjar under article 29 of the country’s cybercrime law, sentencing him to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 UAE Dirhams (US$136,000).

“Jailing a journalist on spurious charges does far more to ‘insult’ the UAE and its symbols than anything Tayseer al-Najjar ever wrote,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE’s president should immediately vacate this senseless sentence and allow al-Najjar to return to his wife and family in Jordan.”

On December 3, 2015, UAE authorities at Abu Dhabi airport prevented al-Najjar from boarding a flight to Jordan to visit his wife and children, al-Najjar’s wife, Majida Hourani, told Human Rights Watch. On December 13, the UAE authorities summoned al-Najjar to a police station in Abu Dhabi and detained him.

Al-Najjar’s wife said he had been a journalist for more than 15 years, and had been working in the UAE since April 2015, when he became a culture reporter for the UAE-based newspaper Dar.

Hourani said that during al-Najjar’s detention, authorities questioned him about comments he made on Facebook during Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2014, before he had moved to the UAE. He expressed support for “Gazan resistance” and criticized the UAE and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt. She said that investigators also questioned him over two 2012 Facebook posts in which he apparently criticized the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, but al-Najjar denied writing those comments. The comments were the evidence against al-Najjar at his trial, she said.

The Jordan Press Association (JPA), which appointed al-Najjar’s lawyer, said that it would work to appeal the verdict. Tariq Momani, the head of the group, told the AFP that “[the JPA] truly believed he would be found innocent.”

Article 29 of the UAE’s 2012 cybercrime law provides for prison sentences of between three and 15 years for publishing information online with the “intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or any of its institutions.”

The UAE has ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which in article 32 protects the right to freedom of expression and in article 13 protects the right to a fair trial.

“There’s no chance at a fair trial when vague charges are designed specifically to limit free speech and harshly punish peaceful criticism,” Stork said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

For the past four years, the Kremlin has sought to stigmatize criticism or alternative views of government policy as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, or even traitorous.  It is part of a sweeping crackdown to silence critical voices that has included new legal restrictions on the internet, on freedom of expression, on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and on other fundamental freedoms.   

An enduring, central feature has been the 2012 law requiring independent groups to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined “political activity.” In Russia, the term “foreign agent” can be interpreted by the public only as “spy” or “traitor.” To date, Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated 158 groups as “foreign agents,” courts have levied staggering fines on many groups for failing to comply with the law, and about 30 groups have shut down rather than wear the “foreign agent” label. 
Organizations targeted  include groups that work on human rights, the environment, LGBT issues, and health issues,  groups that do polling about social issues. A court forced the closure of AGORA Association, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations , in response to a  Justice Ministry suit alleging that the group violated the “foreign agents” law and carried out work beyond its mandate.
 
The ministry has removed its “foreign agent” tag from over 20 groups, acknowledging that they had stopped accepting foreign funding. Accordingly, as of March 17, 2017, the official list of active “foreign agents” consisted of  100 groups. 
 
 
The ‘Foreign Agent’ Law
Under the 2012 law, groups must register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents” if they receive even a minimal  amount of  funding from any foreign sources, governmental or private, and engage in “political activity.” The definition of political activity under the law is so broad and vague that it effectively extends to all aspects of advocacy and human rights work. Initially, the law required all  nongovernmental organizations that met these criteria  to register with  the ministry and to identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials, with  legal consequences for failure to comply.  
 
Russia’s human rights groups resolutely boycotted the law, calling it “unjust” and “slanderous.” In 2013, Russia’s then-federal ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, challenged the law in Russia’s Constitutional Court. In 2014, the court upheld the law, finding that there were no legal or constitutional grounds for contending that the term “foreign agent” had negative connotations from the Soviet era and that, therefore, its use was “not intended to persecute or discredit” organizations. The court also found that the “foreign agent” designation was in line with the public interest and the interest of state sovereignty.
 
Two years of mounting pressure by the authorities, court proceedings, and massive fines did not succeed in forcing groups to voluntarily register as foreign agents.  In May 2014 Russia’s parliament amended the “foreign agents” law to authorize the Justice Ministry to register groups as “foreign agents” without their consent. 
 
In May 2016, parliament adopted another set of amendments to the law, expanding the controversial definition of “political activity” to include, among other things, any attempt by an independent group to influence public policy, regardless of the group’s mandate. 
 
To date, the registry of “foreign agents” includes the following organizations:
  1. Association of NGOs in Defense of Voters’ Rights “Golos” (Moscow) – June 5, 2014 
  2. Regional Public Association in Defense of Democratic Rights and Freedoms “Golos” (Moscow) – June 5, 2014
  3. Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (Saratov) – June 5, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  4. Women of Don (Rostov region) – June 5, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 29, 2016)
  5. Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives (Kostroma) – June 5, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – June 19, 2015)
  6. Interregional Human Rights Association “Agora” (Kazan) – July 21, 2014 (the organization was shut down – December 29, 2016)
  7. Regional public organization “Ecozaschita! – Womens’ Council” (Kaliningrad) – July  21, 2014
  8. Public Verdict Foundation (Moscow) – July 21, 2014
  9. Human Rights Center “Memorial” (Moscow) – July 21, 2014
  10. Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms / JURIX (Moscow) – July 21, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 26, 2015)
  11. Soldiers’ Mothers (Saint Petersburg) – August 28, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 23, 2015)
  12. Freedom of Information Foundation / Institute for Information Freedom Development – August 28, 2014
  13. PIR Center – September 3, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 24, 2016)
  14. Association “Partnership for Development” (Saratov) – October 2, 2014 (the organization was shut down – November 6, 2015)
  15. “News Agency MEMO.RU” (Moscow) – November 20, 2014
  16. Regional Press Institute (St. Petersburg) – November 20, 2014
  17. Moscow School of Civic Education – December 9, 2014
  18. Rakurs, Arkhangelsk regional non-governmental LGBT organization – December 15, 2014
  19. All-Russian movement "For Human Rights" – December 22, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 30, 2015)
  20. Human Rights Center (Kaliningrad) – December 25, 2014
  21. Krasnodar Regional Social Organization of University Alumni – December 25, 2014 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – April 22, 2016)
  22. Regional social organization "Public Commission for Academic Sakharov's Heritage Preservation" – December 25, 2014
  23. Resource Human Rights Center (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – November 3, 2015)
  24. Regional Public Organization "Man and the Law" (Republic of Mari El) – December 30, 2014
  25. Center for Social Development "Vozrozhdeniye" (Pskov) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – January 31, 2017)
  26. Public Human Rights Organization "Civil Control" (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014
  27. The League of Women Voters (St. Petersburg) – December 30, 2014 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  28. Free Press Support Foundation – December 30, 2014
  29. Interregional Non-Governmental Organization "The Committee Against Torture" – January 16, 2015 (the organization was shut down – September 13, 2016)
  30. Educational Center "Memorial" (Sverdlov region) – January 16, 2015
  31. Autonomous non-profit human rights organization "Youth Center for Consulting and Training" – January 20, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – July 22, 2015)
  32. "Information Bureau of the Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg" – January 20, 2015 
  33. Jewish regional branch of the Russian public organization "Municipal Academy"– January 26, 2015 (the organization was shut down – May 22, 2015)
  34. The noncommercial partnership "Press Development Institute - Siberia" – January 30, 2015
  35. Center for social, psychological and legal help to victims of discrimination and homophobia “Maximum” (Murmansk) – February 4, 2015 (the organization was shut down – October 28, 2015)
  36. Interregional public fund for civil society development “Golos-Povolzhye” (Samara) – February 6, 2015
  37. Interregional charity organization “Siberian Environmental Center” (Novosibirsk) – February 12, 2015
  38. Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research / GRANI (Perm) – February 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – June 19, 2015)
  39. Municipal public organization “Samara Center for Gender Studies” (Samara) – February 16, 2015
  40. Regional Fund "Center for Defense of Mass Media Rights" (Voronezh) – February 26, 2015
  41. Regional Charitable Social Foundation "For nature" (Chelyabinsk) – March 6, 2015
  42. Regional Ecological Social Movement "For nature" (Chelyabinsk) –  March 6, 2015
  43. Humanist Youth Movement (Murmansk) – March 13, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 25, 2015)
  44. Regional Social Organization for Contribution to Harmonization of Interethnic Relations "Azerbaijan" – March 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – July 22, 2016)
  45. Regional Social Environmental Organization "Bellona-Murmansk" – March 19, 2015 (the organization was shut down – October 16, 2015)
  46. "Educational Center for Environment and Security" (Samara) – March 20, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 8, 2015)
  47. Foundation "Migration XXI Century" – March 27, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – November 25, 2016)
  48. Eco-logika (Rostov) – April 3, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – March 30, 2016)
  49. Transparency International Russia - April 7, 2015
  50. Social Environmental Organization "Planeta Nadezhd" – April 15, 2015
  51. Foundation for Consumers' Rights Defense (Novosibirsk) – April 17, 2015 (the organization was shut down – May 12, 2016)
  52. Civic Assistance Committee – April 20, 2015
  53. Foundation 19/29 -  Foundation for Support of Investigative Journalism – April 24, 2015 
  54. Commemorative Centre of History of Political Repressions "Perm - 36" –  April 29, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 18, 2016)
  55. Women's League (Kaliningrad ) – April 29, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 16, 2015)
  56. Legal Expert Partnership "Soyuz " – May 7, 2015 (the organization was shut down – 25 August 2015)
  57. Center for Development of Non-Commerical Organizations – May 13, 2015
  58. Club of Accountants and Auditors of Non-Commercial Organizations – May 13, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – March 30, 2016)
  59. Informational Bureau of the Council of Ministers of Northern Countries (Kaliningrad) – May 13, 2015
  60. Sutyajnik (Yekaterinburg) – May 15, 2015
  61. Human Rights Academy (Yekaterinburg) – May 15, 2015
  62. Ecological Center "Dront" (Nizhny Novgorod) – May 22, 2015
  63. The non-profit organization "Liberal Mission" Scientific Foundation of Theoretical and Applied Research – May 25, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 11, 2015)
  64. The non-profit Dynasty Foundation – May 25, 2015
  65. Union of Employers (Tula region) – May 28, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 13, 2016)
  66. Youth organization "Nuori Karjala/Young Karelia" – June 19, 2015 (the organization was shut down – March 25, 2016)
  67. Siberian Center for Support of Social Initiatives – June 19, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  68. Interregional Social Foundation for Peace in the South and in the Northern Caucasus – June 19, 2015
  69. Informational Center "Free Inform" – June 22, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 21, 2016)
  70. Center for Independent Sociological Studies (St. Petersburg) – June 22, 2015
  71. Regional Organization for Population and Development  – June 23, 2015
  72. Geblerov Ecological Societ (Barnaul) – June 23, 2015 
  73. Association “Legal Basis” (Yekaterinburg) – July 3, 2015
  74. Interregional Non-governmental Organization "Northern Environmental Coalition" (Petrozavodsk) – July 8, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 1, 2015)
  75. Komi Human Rights Commission "Memorial" (Syktyvkar) – July 21, 2015
  76. Altai Regional Public Fund for 21st Century Altai (Barnaul) – July 22, 2015 (the organization was shut down – March 28, 2016)
  77. Interregional Public Foundation for Civil Society Development "GOLOS-Ural" (Chelyabinsk region) – July 22, 2015
  78. SREDA Foundation – July 28, 2015
  79. Non-governmental environmental organization "Green World" (Nizhny Novgorod) – July 29, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 28, 2016)
  80. Civic Action Foundation (Perm) – August 5, 2015
  81. Alliance of Funds of Local Communities of the Perm territory – August 11, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – October 26, 2016)
  82. Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Center – regional branch of the “For Human Rights” All-Russian movement (Nalchik) – August 18, 2015 (the organization was shut down – November 6, 2015)
  83. The Human Rights Center of the Chechen Republic (Grozny) – August 21, 2015
  84. Interregional Social Ecological Foundation "ISAR-Siberia" (Novosibirsk) – August 26, 2015
  85. Perm Regional Human Rights Center (Perm) – September 3, 2015
  86. Siberia's lifeline (Novosibirsk) – September 3, 2015
  87. Golos Foundation in Support of Democracy – September 4, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 21, 2016)
  88. Jewish Cultural Center "Hesed-Teshuva" (Ryazan) – September 11, 2015 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – December 13, 2016)
  89. Sakhalin Environment Watch (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) – September 18, 2015
  90. Yasavey Manzara Information and Research Center (Naryan-Mar) – September 23, 2015 (the organization was shut down – June 15, 2016)
  91. Consumer Rights and Environment Protection Association "Princip" (Moscow region) – October 5, 2015
  92. Far East Center for the Development of Civil Initiatives and Social Partnership (Vladivostok)– October 13, 2015
  93. Russian Research Center for Human Rights – October 20, 2015
  94. Women of the Don (Rostov region) – October 27, 2015
  95. Friends of the Siberian Forests (Krasnoyarsk) – October 28, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 6, 2016)
  96. Photography Club "Sobytiye" (Omsk) – October 28, 2015 (the organization was shut down – December 16, 2015)
  97. Research and Information Center "Memorial" (St. Petersburg) – November 6, 2015
  98. Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk) – November 10, 2015 (the organization was shut down – August 1, 2016)
  99. Glasnost Defense Foundation – November 19, 2015
  100. Human Rights Institute – November 20, 2015
  101. Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North – November 27, 2015
  102. Green World (Leningrad region) – December 2, 2015
  103. Mashr (Republic of Ingushetia) – December 8, 2015
  104. Woman's World (Kaliningrad) – December 11, 2015
  105. Panorama Information and Research Center (Moscow) – December 18, 2015
  106. Dauria Ecological Center (Chita) – December 30, 2015 (the organization was shut down – September 1, 2016)
  107. Yekaterinburg Memorial Society (Yekaterinburg) – December 30, 2015
  108. Bureau of Public Investigations (Nizhny Novgorod) – January 14, 2016
  109. Committee for the Prevention of Torture (Orenburg) – January 14, 2016
  110. Institute of Forecasting and Resolving of Political Conflicts (Nizhny Novgorod) – January 22, 2016
  111. Ryazan Historical, Educational and Human Rights Center "Memorial" (Ryazan) – February 1, 2016
  112. Society of Assistance to Social Protection of Citizens "Peterburgskaya EGIDA" (Saint Petersburg) – February 2, 2016 (the organization was shut down – April 26, 2016)
  113. Center for Health and Social Support "SIBALT"  (Omsk) – February 15, 2016
  114. Chelyabinsk Regional Organ of Public Independent Action "Ural Human Rights Group" (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  115. Women of Eurasia (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  116. Ural Democratic Foundation (Chelyabinsk) – February 15, 2016
  117. Legal and Social Support Charitable Foundation "Sphere" (Saint Petersburg) –  March 1, 2016
  118. Centre for Civic Education and Human Rights (Perm) – March 3, 2016
  119. The International Development Fund for Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation "Batani" (Moscow) – March 11, 2016
  120. Center for Social and Labor Rights  (Moscow) – March 21, 2016
  121. Arkhar (Gorno-Altaysk) – April 5, 2016 (the organization was shut down – October 6, 2016)
  122. Publishing House "Valentin Manuylov" – April 15, 2016
  123. Tengri School of Soul ecology (Altay) - May 17, 2016
  124. Hanse Buero / Information Bureau of Schleswig-Holstein in Kaliningrad (Kaliningrad) - May 24, 2016 (the organization was shut down – December 30, 2016)
  125. Krasnoyarsk Regional Public Organization «Agency of public initiatives» (Krasnoyarsk) - May 27, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  126. Saratov Regional Public Organization "Socium" (Engels) - May 30, 2016
  127. Perm regional non-governmental organization "Perm Civil Chamber" (Perm) - June 9, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – September 21, 2016)
  128. Regional non-governmental organization Integration center "Migration and Law" (Moscow) - June 16, 2016
  129. Non-Profit Partnership “ESVERO” (Moscow) - June 22, 2016
  130. Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (Moscow) - June 29, 2016
  131. Altai regional sport and patriotic youth public organization "Arctica" (Biysk) - July 6, 2016 (“foreign agent” status was suspended – February 8, 2017)
  132. Autonomous non-governmental organization "Free Word" (Pskov) - July 13, 2016
  133. The Institute of Economic Analysis (Moscow) - July 22, 2016
  134. Penza regional youth civic organization for prevention of negative phenomena among youth "Panacea" (Kuznetsk) - August 15, 2016 (the organization was shut down – December 8, 2016)
  135. Samara regional, civic organization "American alumni club" (Samara) - August 26, 2016
  136. Autonomous non-for-profit organization "Publishing house 'Park Gagarina'" (Samara) - August 31, 2016
  137. Levada Analytical Center (Moscow) - September 5, 2016
  138. Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (Maikop) - September 13, 2016
  139. Autonomous non-for-profit human rights organization "Draftee's school" (Chelyabinsk) - September 21, 2016
  140. Foundation for support of civil freedoms "Legal mission" (Chelyabinsk) - September 21, 2016
  141. International Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society Memorial (Moscow) - October 4, 2016
  142. Sverdlovsk regional non-profit foundation "Health Era" (Ekaterinburg) - October 11, 2016
  143. Chapaevsk non-profit organization "Chapaevsk city medical personnel association" (Chapaevsk) - October 21, 2016
  144. Regional charity foundation "Samarskaya gubernia" (Samara) - November 2, 2016
  145. Non-profit partnership "Internet Community" (Samara) - December 13, 2016
  146. Autonomous non-profit organization for social support "Project April" (Tolyatti) - December 19, 2016
  147. ANNA Centre for the prevention of violence (Moscow) - December 26, 2016
  148. Southern Human Rights Centre (Sochi) - December 26, 2016
  149. Sverdlovsk branch of the International Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society Memorial (Ekaterinburg) - December 29, 2016
  150. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (Moscow) - December 30, 2016
  151. Sverdlovsk civic organization for assistance to legal migration "Nelegalov.Net [No Illegals]" (Ekaterinburg) - January 10, 2017
  152. Environmental human rights center Bellona (Saint Petersburg) - January 16, 2017
  153. Youth civic organization "Pro-movement" (Altay region) - January 25, 2017
  154. Kaliningrad regional civic organization "Society for German culture and Russian Germans Eintracht - Soglasie" (Kaliningrad) - January 31, 2017
  155. Foundation for development assistance to mass communication and legal education "Tak-Tak-Tak" (Novosibirsk) - February 20, 2017

And the four NGOs which registered voluntarily:

  1. Non-commercial Partnership “Supporting Competition in the CIS Countries” – June 27, 2013 
  2. "The Union of Young Political Scientists",  Karachay–Cherkess Republican Youth Social Organization – December 15, 2014
  3. Regional Social Movement "Novgorod Women's Parliament" (Veliky Novgorod) –  March 6, 2015
  4. Center of Independent Researchers of the Altai Republic –  June 10, 2015

 

Leader of at least 1 NGO faces criminal charges personally:

  1. Women of Don (Rostov region) - criminal proceeding is in process. Chair Valentina Cherevatenko faces up to two years in prison for “malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of nonprofit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 17, 2017, 8:11 am

(Paris) – Human Rights Watch has sent 11 key questions about human rights that France’s next president will face to all candidates for the May 2017 presidential election. At a time when universal human rights and the principles of the rule of law are under attack around the world, including in France and other European countries, this initiative aims to encourage candidates to make their positions and policies known to voters on crucial issues.

#UrgenceDroitsHumains

#UrgenceDroitsHumains

11 questions to the candidates for human rights to be at the heart of the presidential campaign.



Human rights issues have been virtually invisible in the French presidential campaign, but are essential for the country’s future, both in terms of national policy and diplomacy, Human Rights Watch said.

“The next president of the French Republic will need to be a guardian of the founding values of democracy and the rule of law, for everyone living on French territory and for France’s relations with other countries,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “French voters deserve to know whether those who seek the nation’s highest office are committed to those values and how they intend to defend them.”

The questionnaire is divided into four subthemes: human rights in France, Europe, and the rest of the world, and international justice. The first theme covers the protection of fundamental rights and individual freedoms in France while combatting terrorism; the need to tackle racially biased police identity checks; and the protection of the right to asylum. The second addresses France’s role in defending human rights and the rule of law in Europe. The third section addresses the conflict in Syria; the place of human rights in France’s relations with Russia, the United States, and China; the sales of French arms to Saudi Arabia in the context of violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen; and external military interventions of France in the Sahel region. The final section addresses the fight against impunity and international justice.

The answers should help give voters a sense of the candidates’ commitment to preserve human rights in their national and international policies, Human Rights Watch said. These commitments will be especially important in a global context of rising nationalism and xenophobia, repression of nongovernmental groups, and large-scale abuses in conflict areas.



The topics covered in the questionnaire are at the heart of Human Rights Watch’s work. The questions are published on a dedicated page (in French) and sent to the candidates through social media via the #UrgenceDroitsHumains (#HumanRightsEmergency) campaign. Candidates’ responses will be made public before the first round of the presidential election.
 

 



Here are the 11 questions that Human Rights Watch asked the candidates:

When you are president,

Will you defend universal human rights values in your national and international policies, in a context of xenophobia, rejection of foreigners and rise of national extremism?

In France

1.     Identity checks and police violence 

Will you undertake a reform of identity checks and introduce systematic recording of police stops, to fight ethnic profiling by police forces in France?

2.     Counterterrorism

What strategy will you implement to lead France out of the state of emergency in place since November 2015, and to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law while combating terrorism?

3.     Asylum

How will you ensure that France shows greater leadership within the European Union and internationally in welcoming and protecting refugees fleeing violence and persecution?

What will you do to strengthen the protection of unaccompanied minors in France?

In Europe

4.     European Union

What steps will you take to ensure that the European Union lives up to its founding values of respect for human rights in the current context of skepticism toward European institutions and the rise of extreme nationalism? 

Around the world

5.     United States

How do you propose to engage with President Trump, when he acts in ways that threaten human rights and basic democratic principles, including his attacks on the media?

6.     Syria

How would you lead France in ensuring that human rights priorities, the protection of civilians, and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria are part of any agreed upon peace deal?

7.     Russia

How do you envisage building relations with President Putin, given Moscow’s human rights record, its positions on issues such as Syria at the Security Council, and its lack of respect for international law?

8.     Saudi Arabia

Will you cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia and to the countries of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, as long as the bombings targeting civilians have not ceased and are not investigated in an independent and credible manner?

9.     China 

Will you publicly and personally call for the immediate release of Liu Xiao Bo, the Nobel Peace Laureate in 2010, and call for an end to arbitrary detention, despite the economic and political links between France and China?

10.  Africa

How will you ensure that military interventions abroad, in particular in the context of counter-terrorist cooperation in countries of the Sahel region, do not contribute to violations by the armed forces backed by France, or by French forces themselves? 

International justice

11.  Fight against impunity

Will your government fight impunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by ensuring strong political and financial support for the International Criminal Court?

Will you support ongoing efforts by French judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute serious crimes committed abroad, in places such as Syria?    

French election, not without human rights! @hrw_fr asks the candidates 11 questions https://t.co/kPc1WXzAyd Follow @hrw_fr for updates pic.twitter.com/1DlVE1rMCv

— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) 18 mars 2017
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 17, 2017, 7:00 am

(São Paulo) – The Saudi-led coalition launched Brazilian-made cluster munition rockets that struck a farm in northern Yemen in late February 2017, wounding two boys, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The Saudi-led coalition’s continued use of widely banned cluster munitions in Yemen shows callous disregard for civilian lives,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the international coalition of groups working to eradicate cluster munitions. “Saudi Arabia, its coalition partners, and Brazil, as a producer, should immediately join the widely endorsed international treaty that bans cluster munitions.”

Cluster munitions are delivered from the ground by artillery and rockets, or dropped from aircraft and contain multiple smaller explosive submunitions that spread out indiscriminately over a wide area. Many fail to detonate and leave unexploded submunitions that become de facto landmines, posing a threat long after a conflict ends.

Part of the bursting mechanism from an ASTROS cluster munition rocket lies where it was reported to land in Qahza, Saada governorate on February 22, 2017.

© 2017 Private

On February 22, at about 3 p.m., Muhammad Dhayf-Allah, 10, and Ahmad Abdul-Khaleq, 12, were working at their relatives’ farm at Qahza, in the al-O’albi area of northern Saada governorate, when it was attacked. Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone two men who witnessed the strike. One witness provided photographs taken at the attack site shortly afterward that show remnants of part of a cluster munition rocket. Both witnesses said they heard a loud explosion followed by several smaller explosions, consistent with a cluster munition attack.

Muhammad Hunish Hawza, 60, an uncle of the boys, was in Qahza that day. “We heard blasts in the air, dozens of multiple small blasts together,” he said. “The small bombs fell over us.”

One of the farm owners, Tareq Ahmad Saleh al-O’airi, 25, said he had been in a greenhouse with the boys pruning cucumber and tomato plants. They heard a blast, went outside, and saw a bomb explode about 50 meters away. He said he told the frightened children to lie down.

“One of the bombs fell five meters away and exploded over us, wounding the two children,” he said. “Two or three bombs exploded inside the greenhouses [and] around 60 bombs exploded in the area. It was like Judgment Day.”

Dhayf-Allah was wounded in his left forearm, and Abdul-Khaleq in his right thigh and back. Relatives took the boys to al-Jumhouri Hospital for treatment.

Part of the bursting mechanism from an ASTROS cluster munition rocket lies where it reportedly landed at Qahza, Saada governorate on February 22, 2017.

© 2017 Private
Photographs that al-O’airi provided show part of the bursting mechanism from an ASTROS II cluster munition rocket lying where witnesses said it landed, near a greenhouse at the farm. Other photographs show solar panels damaged by fragmentation consistent with submunitions from a cluster munition attack. Hawza, the boys’ uncle, said that the attack destroyed more than 30 solar panels.

Al-O’airi said that the farm is three to five kilometers north of al-Saifi military camp, which is controlled by the Houthi-Saleh forces fighting the coalition. Both witnesses said this was the second time coalition attacks have hit the farm since the coalition began its aerial campaign in Yemen in support of the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi against the Houthi-Saleh forces in March 2015.

ASTROS cluster munition rockets have been used on at least three previous occasions since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, killing two civilians and wounding at least 10.

ASTROS II surface-to-surface rockets are delivered by a truck-mounted, multibarrel rocket launcher. Each rocket contains up to 65 submunitions. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have purchased ASTROS cluster munition rockets from Brazil, where they are manufactured by Avibrás Indústria Aeroespacial SA.

Solar panels damaged by the February 22 attack on Qahza, Saada governorate. The fragmentation damage is consistent with impact caused by submunitions from cluster munitions.

© 2017 Private

On March 9, 2017, the Brazilian arms manufacturer Avibras stated that it could not confirm its cluster munitions had been used in Yemen, but claimed that since 2001, its ASTROS cluster munition rockets have been equipped with a “reliable self-destruct device that complies with humanitarian principles and legislation” of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Cluster munitions are prohibited by a 2008 treaty ratified by 100 countries and signed by another 19, though not by Yemen, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, and its coalition partners Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.

The back of solar panels after the Februry 22 attack on Qahza Saada governorate. The fragmentation damage is consistent with impact caused by submunitions from cluster munitions.

© 2017 Private

The treaty prohibits all cluster munitions and does not exempt “self-destruct” variants, which leave explosive remnants that must be considered hazardous and not be handled or approached by anyone other than a trained technician. At least 14 countries that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions have destroyed cluster munitions equipped with “self-destruct” features, including Chile, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Members of the Saudi-led coalition and other parties to the conflict, including the United States, should promptly join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and abide by its provisions, Human Rights Watch said. Brazil should end its production and transfer of cluster munitions. In February 2017, Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights told Human Rights Watch during a visit to Aden that Yemen was ready to sign the treaty when parliament reconvened.

“The Brazilian government’s silence is a wholly inadequate response to mounting concerns over civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition’s use of Brazilian cluster munition rockets in Yemen,” Goose said. “Brazil should recognize that cluster munitions are prohibited weapons that should never be manufactured, transferred, or used because of the harm inflicted on civilians.”

Coalition Use of Cluster Munitions

Since March 26, 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab states has conducted military operations in Yemen against the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented the use of seven types of air-delivered and ground-launched cluster munitions made in the US, the UK, and Brazil.

Human Rights Watch has documented the coalition’s use of cluster munitions in 18 unlawful attacks in Yemen that killed at least 21 civilians, wounded 74 more, and in some cases, struck civilian areas.

The coalition has acknowledged using US- and UK-made cluster munitions in Yemen, but claims to have done so in compliance with the laws of war. In a January 11, 2016 interview with CNN, the coalition military spokesman said the coalition used CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons in Hajjah in April 2015 “against a concentration of a camp in this area, but not indiscriminately.” He said that the US-made cluster munitions were used “against vehicles.”

In May 2016, the US suspended transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. In December, the coalition announced it would stop using a UK-made cluster munition, the BL-755, but left open the possibility it would continue using other types of cluster munitions in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch previously documented Saudi Arabia’s use of ASTROS cluster munition rockets in Khafji, Saudi Arabia, in 1991, during the First Gulf War. The munitions left behind a significant number of unexploded submunitions.

The three earlier attacks in Yemen where the Saudi-led coalition used Brazilian-made cluster munition rockets during the current conflict include:

·       Amnesty International reported an ASTROS cluster munition rocket attack on February 15, that hit the residential areas of Gohza, al-Dhubat, and al-Rawdha, wounding two civilians.

·       Human Rights Watch documented an ASTROS cluster munition rocket attack by the Saudi-led coalition near two schools in the al-Dhubat neighborhood of Saada’s Old City on December 6, killing two civilians and wounding at least six, including a child.

·       Amnesty International found remnants of ASTROS cluster munition rockets remaining after an attack on Ahma in Saada on October 27, 2015, that wounded at least four people.

A crater from the February 22 attack on Qahza, Saada governorate is consistent with damage caused by a submunition from a cluster munition attack.

© 2017 Private
 
Civilian harm from the coalition’s use of cluster munitions in Yemen since 2015 has received worldwide media coverage, provoked a public outcry, and been condemned by dozens of countries as well as by a European parliament resolution. In September 2015, more than 60 nations at the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions expressed deep concern at the use of cluster munitions in Yemen and issued a declaration condemning “any use of cluster munitions by any actor.”

In December 2016, 141 countries voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution on cluster munitions that urged countries that have not yet done so to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Russia and Zimbabwe voted against it, while 39 states abstained, including Yemen, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. Germany’s Ambassador Michael Biontino will preside over the next annual meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva on September 4-6, 2017.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 17, 2017, 4:01 am

(New York) ­– The Chinese authorities’ failure to release details about terrorism convictions heightens concerns that the country’s counterterrorism law is being used to prosecute nonviolent activity, Human Rights Watch said today. The 2017 Supreme People’s Court (SPC) report, presented on March 12, 2017, departs from past practice by excluding details on 2016 terrorism cases, such as the number of individuals convicted. China’s new Counterterrorism Law took effect in January 2016.

Human Rights Watch said that China’s terrorism prosecutions, primarily in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, are subject to politically motivated abuse because of the expansive definition of terrorism, lack of transparency, and violations of fair trial rights.

Zhou Qiang, president of China’s Supreme People’s Court, gives a speech during the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

“The Chinese government claims it’s combating terrorism threats, particularly in Xinjiang, but gives scarce details about these incidents while strictly controlling access of journalists and other independent monitors,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “By refusing to provide information on terrorism cases, Beijing can easily suppress rights to peaceful criticism and religious identity.”

The 2016 SPC’s annual report to the National People’s Congress stated that in 2015, Chinese courts convicted 1,419 people for threatening state security, inciting “splittism,” and taking part in terrorism – nearly double the numbers of the previous year’s report. But the court’s 2015 and 2016 reports did not disclose a breakdown of these numbers, so it is unclear how many people were convicted for terrorism and precisely for which offense.

Human Rights Watch examined available data from China Court Net, a general news site run by the SPC, and the Peking University Law Database for information on terrorism-related cases in 2016. Only four court verdicts related to terrorism prosecutions from 2016 are publicly available. These two sources may only contain a small percentage of terrorism-related verdicts in 2016. The SPC decision that required court verdicts be posted online provides exemptions for cases that involve state secrets or personal privacy, and cases that are otherwise “not suitable for making public,” which gives the courts wide latitude to withhold information.

The four cases involved seven people – all but one ethnic Uyghurs from Xinjiang. Five received prison sentences from eight months to three years, while one was given a suspended sentence and one was exempted from criminal penalties.

In all four cases, the individuals were convicted of possessing, accessing, and distributing terrorism-related videos or audios. Three of the verdicts gave details about these materials:

  • Yu was convicted for clicking on weblinks that contained images of flags of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and of jihad, masked men with guns, and masked women, as well as essays “that encouraged people to join jihad.” Yu forwarded some of these materials to a relative.
  • Duo was convicted for distributing to a WeChat public group of 62 people a short video of a beheading by two masked men.
  • Abdusemet Halik (阿卜杜塞麦提•哈力克), one of a group of four convicted, possessed over 100 e-books, 100 audio clips, and 346 videos, most of them produced by ETIM and focusing on waging jihad in China, including on how to make bombs. Memet Rishit (麦麦提•热西提) possessed 11 news videos about Rebiya Kadeer, leader of exiled Uyghurs; 3 videos by ETIM promoting a holy war against “the blood-sucking atheist Communists” who “have occupied the East Turkestan and call it Xinjiang”; and 53 e-books on “religious extremism.” Yunus (玉奴斯) had 16 videos and audio recordings produced by ETIM on “religious extremism.” In addition to possessing and distributing these videos to their classmates, the three – plus the fourth defendant, Rizwangul Halik (热孜宛古丽•哈力克) – were also convicted of organizing others and participating in “physical training in imitation of the violent videos” in a park in Changchun City, Jilin Province, and of attempting to travel via Hong Kong to join Al-Qaeda, according to the verdict. During the trial, three of the four defendants told the court that they were tortured to confess.

In addition to these cases, Human Rights Watch learned about a dozen other individuals who were punished with days of detention and fines under administrative laws for watching, downloading, or storing audio, videos, and pictures related to extremism and terrorism during this period, but which were not severe enough to constitute criminal acts.

State media reports about the implementation of the new Counterterrorism Law, in effect since January 1, 2016, show a similar focus of the authorities to punish, through fines or days of administrative detention, possession or distribution of materials that the authorities consider as “terrorist” or “extremist” in nature, as well as distributing “fake terrorism information.” The Counterterrorism Law gives expansive definitions of “terrorism” and “extremism,” and does not clearly articulate what constitutes “fake terrorism information.”

Governments may prosecute speech that incites criminal acts – speech that directly encourages the commission of a crime, is intended to result in criminal action, or is likely to result in criminal action – whether or not criminal action does, in fact, result. But laws that impose criminal punishment for what has been called “indirect incitement” – for example, justifying or glorifying terrorism – encroach on expression protected under international human rights law.

The implementation of China’s Counterterrorism Law has also focused on punishing hotels and courier services for failure to comply with the government’s “real name registration” requirements, in which individuals staying in hotels or sending courier posts must use their identification cards.

None of the publicly available information about the people who received administrative or criminal punishments on terrorism-related charges in 2016 indicates they perpetrated or were linked to violent acts. The last two state reports about violence in Xinjiang, for example, suggested that those who committed violent acts were killed at the scene by security forces.

China’s terrorism convictions will generate disbelief as long as the criminal process remains opaque and so little information reaches the public.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

Xinjiang, home to 10 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, is a site of pervasive discrimination, repression, and restriction on fundamental human rights including freedom of religion. Opposition to central and local policies has been expressed in peaceful protests, but also through bombings and other acts of violence.

A 2015 report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project documented more than 600 casualties in violent incidents in Xinjiang between 2013 and 2014, which included people killed by criminal offenders and state security forces.

The Chinese government has often blamed attacks on “foreign” forces including ETIM, an alleged separatist organization founded by Uyghurs which has been on the United Nations list of terrorist organizations since 2002, though the group’s existence has been debated. The government has not offered invitations to independent monitors to investigate such incidents, including the UN special rapporteur on torture and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“China’s terrorism convictions will generate disbelief as long as the criminal process remains opaque and so little information reaches the public,” Richardson said. “The government needs to open up the system to independent monitors from China and abroad, including the UN.”
 

Abuses of Individuals Suspected of Terrorism, Extremism

China’s laws on terrorism and extremism open the door to abusive treatment of suspects accused of such crimes.

Under the Counterterrorism Law, police are empowered to impose far-reaching restrictions on individuals they merely suspect of being involved in terrorism, even if they have little or no evidence (articles 39, 53). If police “receive a report of suspected terrorist activity, or discover suspected terrorist activity,” they can “order” the suspects to comply with “one or more of these restrictive measures” (article 53).

The restrictions include bans on traveling outside the suspect’s area of residence or the country without police approval, bans on taking public transportation or entering specified venues without police approval, as well as ID and passport confiscation.

The decision to impose these restrictions is an entirely internal procedure within the police system. Because there are no clear criteria in the Counterterrorism Law on imposing or withdrawing any of the restrictions, they can be imposed arbitrarily and, for some of the restrictions, indefinitely. Moreover, these restrictions apply prior to the stage of a police investigation, effectively giving police the power of preventive detention before a decision is made whether to file a case (ch: li’an). This means that the legal guarantee of the right to legal counsel, or any procedural rights stipulated in China’s Criminal Procedure Law, do not apply throughout this process.

Some of the suspects subjected to this preventive detention will proceed to pretrial proceedings under the Criminal Procedure Law, but pretrial proceedings in terrorism cases are opaque: the Criminal Procedure Law denies terrorism suspects basic defense protections, including access to family members and lawyers, and allows suspects to be held for months in undisclosed locations. The Counterterrorism Law states that terrorism suspects and prisoners “may be” subjected to solitary confinement (article 29); the Xinjiang Implementing Measures state those who are “major ringleaders” will always be subjected to solitary confinement because of their crime (article 40). The same applies to those who commit or incite others to commit crimes while in confinement, or refuse to be “re-educated” and show “violent tendencies.” The Implementing Measures do not outline any review mechanisms for imposing solitary confinement, or conditions for lifting it. This is contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules), which prohibit the use of indefinite solitary confinement as it amounts to torture. China is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified in 1988.

Under the Counterterrorism Law, prior to release, prisons or detention centers are empowered to conduct an assessment of the “danger … posed to society” by these individuals when they complete their sentences (article 30). The assessment is sent to the intermediate people’s court of the region where the sentence was served.

If the court finds that the convict is a “danger to society,” it should “order” the person to receive an “educational placement” (ch: jiaoyu anzhi), a measure undertaken by provincial governments, even after a sentence is completed. Yet there are no clear criteria for such an assessment, or clear explanation whether this “educational placement” involves deprivation of liberty. The Counterterrorism Law also does not provide a time limit for this “educational placement” measure. The Implementing Measures state that it is the “education placement” institutions that can make a recommendation to the local court to remove such measures, but do not explain how the individual being subjected to the measure can apply to have it removed.

These provisions mean that even after someone has served a full sentence they can remain effectively indefinitely detained, with little or no recourse.
 

Vague, Overbroad Definitions of Terrorism in Chinese Law

Since 2014, the Chinese government has revised or drafted new legislation to combat terrorism. Taken together, these laws criminalize a wide range of activities. They restrict participating, abetting, organizing, or funding terrorism, as well as possessing, publishing, printing, or distributing content that contains terrorism, including digital content. They encourage “the masses” to report on terrorists and terrorism activities, and they set out penalties for those who withhold such information.

Xinjiang is the only region in China that has a set of Implementing Measures on the Counterterrorism Law (Xinjiang Implementing Measures), which have been in effect since August 1, 2016. Two recently revised regional regulations – one on religious affairs and one on prevention of juvenile crimes – also mention prohibitions against terrorism. The National People’s Congress is also drafting a new Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Anti-Religious Extremism Law, according to state media.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised human rights concerns in China’s approach to terrorism and extremism. Chinese laws define terrorism in an overly broad and vague manner, and do not necessarily require actual action or violence to prompt prosecution, deprivation of liberty, or other restrictions:

  • Article 3 of the Counterterrorism Law includes in the definition of “terrorism,” “advocacy” (ch: zhuzhang) or “behavior” (ch: xingwei) that “elicit panic in society, endanger public security, infringe upon personal and property rights, or threaten state agencies or international organizations through violence, destruction, intimidation, or other means to achieve its political aims.” The term “advocacy” could apply to proposed policy changes or criticism of government policy, or conduct that is within the boundaries of freedom of expression as set out under international human rights law. This article also notes that mere possession of “terror publicity materials” is considered a “behavior” that constitutes “terrorism,” yet there is no clear definition of “materials that promote terrorism.” This article also defines “terrorist incident” (ch: kongbu shijian) as an episode that is “in the process of occurring or which has already occurred and which has caused or may cause significant harm to society.” The open-ended nature of the last clause provides authorities with a legal basis to abuse their power on occasions they deem as constituting a “terrorist incident.” The Chinese government has, in the past, labeled the Dalai Lama’s prayers for self-immolations as “terrorism in disguise,” and Tibetans who self-immolate in protests against Chinese government rule as “terrorists.”
  • Article 4 of the Counterterrorism Law defines “extremism” as “the ideological basis of terrorism,” and elaborates by saying that “the state opposes all forms of extremism, such as inciting hatred, discrimination, or agitating violence through distorting religious doctrines or other means.” This vague and overly broad definition provides the authorities with a legal basis to violate freedom of religion; allegations of “religious extremism” have been routinely employed to limit and often prosecute religious activities that merely take place outside state-controlled religious institutions.

Under these expansive definitions of terrorism and extremism, a large range of activity relevant to ethnic and religious expression and custom are punishable and are being prohibited, including:

  • “Exploiting religious teaching, sermons, exegesis, study, weddings, funerals, gathering and cultural or recreational activities and so forth to advocate terrorism or extremism” (article 50(1), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Making, downloading, storing, reproducing, reviewing, or copying audio, video, images or print materials or network links with terrorist, extremist or other such contents” (article 50(2), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Illegally possessing printed or electronic products with terrorist, extremist or other such content” (article 50(3), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Designing, making, distributing, mailing, selling, or displaying clothing, symbols, flags, badges, utensils, souvenirs and so forth that have terrorist or extremist content (article 50(4), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Using clothing, symbols, and so forth to advocate terrorism or extremism in a public place or compelling others to wear or don terrorist or extremist clothing or symbols (article 50(5), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Organizing, forcing, instigating, encouraging or enticing a minor to participate in religious activities” (article 51(2), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Exploiting religion to obstruct or interfere with others’ activities such as weddings and funerals or inheritances” (article 51(3), Xinjiang Implementing Measures)
  • “Distorting the concept of ‘halal,’ or generalizing the concept of ‘halal,’ expanding and mutating it into social life and other areas” (article 51(4), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Intimidating or inducing others to boycott national policy measures, or destroy state documents prescribed for by law, such as resident identity cards, household registration books, and marriage certificates, or currency” (article 51(5), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Deliberately sensationalizing, fabricating or distorting socially sensitive cases (incidents), or intentionally starting rumors or spreading false information, undermining the implementation of social management” (article 51(6), Xinjiang Implementing Measures);
  • “Using extremism to incite or coerce the masses to undermine the implementation of legally established systems such as for marriage, justice, education or social management” (article 120(4), Chinese Criminal Law); and
  • “Where methods such as violence or coercion are used to compel others to wear or adorn themselves with apparel or emblems promoting terrorism or extremism” (article 120(5), Chinese Criminal Law).
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 16, 2017, 11:45 pm

UPDATE:

Kurdish media reported that starting on March 3, after clashes in Sinjar began, the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party's (PYD) security forces in northern Syria began detaining over 40 members of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), a party affiliated with the KRG’s President Masoud Barzani. These arrests began one day before the planned Erbil protest. 

 

(Erbil) – Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces and local police detained 32 unarmed protesters in Erbil on March 4, 2017, at a peaceful demonstration against recent clashes in Sinjar. According to three protesters who were arrested, 23 were released that same day, and three more within four days, but six, all foreign nationals, are still being held. A police chief ordered one protester who was released to permanently leave Erbil, where he was living.

A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier on the outskirts of the Kurdish city of Erbil, Iraq on January 2, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

© 2017 Reuters

Local media reported that on March 6, the Director General of Erbil Police, Abdulkhaliq Talaat, stated that the protesters “were arrested by a court order,” and would be released based on a court decision. He did not elaborate on the reasons for the arrests. No media coverage of the arrests alleged any use of violence or other acts that disrupted the peace.

“KRG authorities appear to be detaining protesters for no good reason,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They are also using threats and retaliation to discourage future protests, undermining freedom of expression and assembly in the Kurdish region.”

On March 4 at about 2 p.m., several dozen unarmed protesters attempted to gather near Sami Abdulrahman Park in western Erbil to peacefully protest against recent clashes between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq's Rojava Peshmerga and PKK-affiliated Shingal Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şingal, or YBŞ) in Sinjar, three protesters told Human Rights Watch. They had posted the event on Facebook.

One protester said he was about 300 meters away, walking to the demonstration site where a handful of people had already gathered, just before 2 p.m., when a group of local police stopped him and said he should not join the demonstration. He said that he ignored them and kept walking but that when he was about 50 meters from the demonstration, they stopped him again, demanded his identity card, and told him to board a nearby bus without telling him why. He said that 10 other protesters whom he recognized and two armed police guards were on the bus.

Swara Hassan, a journalist for the pro-PKK RojNews, said that at 2 p.m. he and two local activists parked their car about 500 meters from the demonstration. They headed to the protest, which Hassan said he was planning to cover for RojNews, when a protester who was leaving the area, warned them that people were being arrested. Hassan said he and the two activists decided to leave but that as they headed for their car, an officer ordered them into the bus.

The police took them to Erbil central police station, and held them with nine others. At about 3:30 p.m., he said, guards moved him and another protester into another room holding eight female detainees. He said that two told him they were children, ages 13 and 15.

Another protester, Muhammad Kiyani, director of the Leadership Committee of the People’s Democracy Front, a minority political party, and former member of parliament with the Change Movement (Gorran), said that he was one of the first protesters to arrive, at about 1:50 p.m., and that many Asayish officers of the Kurdish security forces and police were already there. He said that he saw a police officer slap and push one woman to the ground after she ignored an order to leave. Then an Asayish officer ordered him to get into one of their vehicles, which held another protester, without giving any reason. Kiyani said he was taken to the central police station, where he was held with the other men.

The three protestors interviewed said that all those they saw at or near the protest were unarmed, including those detained. The police released the 23 protesters, including the eight women and girls, between 10 and 11 p.m. Hassan and Kiyani said they were transferred with seven others to the police pretrial detention facility, where each was placed in a separate cell that was already holding other detainees.

Kiyani said he and another protester were released on March 6 without charge. He was never questioned, brought before a judge, or allowed to contact his family or a lawyer, Kiyani said. Before he left, guards took him before Talaat, who warned that he risked being detained if he participated in further protests.

On March 7, Hassan said police took him and the remaining six other detained protesters to the Bakhtiari neighborhood police station for individual interrogations. Hassan said officers asked him why he wanted to participate in the protest. Then they brought him and the others before an investigative judge in Erbil court, where they were asked the same questions. After the hearings, a police officer told Hassan that the judge had ordered the release of all except one of the protesters, without saying why. The police returned them to the central station, and released him the next day, but not the five others allegedly ordered to be released. The six protestors still being held are Turkish and Syrian nationals.

While in detention, Hassan was not allowed to contact anyone or have access to a lawyer. Before he was released, Hassan, an Iraqi, said a guard took him to see Talaat, who told him that he was no longer allowed to live in Erbil, providing no reason or paperwork. Hassan has left the city.

Erbil authorities have arbitrarily banned workers from nongovernmental groups and even the Kurdistan Region’s parliament speaker, Yusuf Mohammed, a member of the Gorran party, from entering Erbil.

Security forces have an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said. While the organizers of the protest on March 4 had not sought permission, as local law requires, international law protects the right to peaceful assembly without restrictions, except in very limited circumstances. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has stated that freedom is to be considered the rule and its restriction the exception. He has also said that protest organizers should not be required to get authorization from the state authorities, but at most be required to give notification in advance, as long as such rules are straightforward and necessary to preserve national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Law no.11/2010 For the Organization of Demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq states that all protests require advance permission from the Ministry of Interior or in some cases other local authorities. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iraq ratified in 1971, states that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized,” and that “no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and that are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Iraq’s Criminal Procedural Code (no. 23/1971) states that all detainees must be brought before an investigative judge within 24 hours of their detention.

The three protesters who are closely following the cases of those still detained said they had not been able to obtain any information about them, including whether they had been charged.

“If the only crime these men are being charged with is participation in an unregistered protest, authorities should drop all charges and release them immediately,” Fakih said.
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: March 16, 2017, 6:00 am