World Report 2017: Russia
In Russia, the government in 2016 further tightened control over the already-shrinking space for free expression, association, and assembly and intensified persecution of independent critics.
(Berlin) – The German parliament should reject a proposed security agreement with the Egyptian Interior Ministry, Human Rights Watch said today. The agreement, which is scheduled for a vote on April 28, 2017, lacks human rights protections and would be with a security agency whose officers have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and most likely extrajudicial killings. As a result, it could make German officials complicit in serious human rights violations.
The agreement would establish cooperation in a number of fields, most importantly in combating terrorism. It obliges the authorities of both countries to cooperate in investigations, share information about suspects, and carry out joint operations. It includes only the vaguest reference to “upholding human rights” and lacks any effective guarantee that the major human rights abuses by Egyptian security agencies will end.
“If the German government wants to help protect German and Egyptian citizens from terrorism while respecting human rights, this is a terrible way of going about it,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should be getting cast-iron guarantees that Egypt is calling a halt to its abuses, not rushing to put its agents next to Egyptian forces on the front line of repression.”
Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar signed the agreement with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, in July 2016, but it remains subject to approval by the German Bundestag.
The agreement says it is aimed at combating terrorism and organized crime. It lays out 22 fields in which various German authorities, including the Interior Ministry and federal police, would cooperate with the Egyptian Interior Ministry. They include preventing and combating corruption, human trafficking, drug and weapons smuggling, and money laundering.
Under the agreement, Germany and Egypt would exchange experts on crime prevention, share information on suspects and the structure of criminal groups, carry out “operational measures” in the presence of the partner government’s agents, and share staff and material to assist “operational investigations.”
Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a decades-long history of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, in violation of both international and Egyptian law and with little or no accountability. Officers of the ministry’s National Security Agency, which has primary responsibility for countering terrorism, have committed most of these abuses, especially in cases in which detainees have been accused of terrorism, which Egyptian law defines broadly. The authorities regularly use allegations of terrorism to criminalize peaceful dissent.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency in response to two Islamic State church bombings on April 9 expanded the National Security Agency’s already wide powers.
It allows the authorities to arrest and search suspects without warrants, conduct limitless surveillance, censor any publication, seize property, restrict public meetings, and set opening and closing times for businesses. Perhaps most worrying, prosecutors can send cases to Emergency State Security Courts, whose trials do not meet international fair trial standards and whose rulings are not subject to appeal.
Egypt’s counterterrorism laws are drawn very broadly and used against peaceful protesters and other political opponents who have faced trial based on nothing more than the unsubstantiated testimony of National Security agents. Most recently, prosecutors used them against a human rights lawyer who represented clients of police abuse. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly making threatening posts on his Facebook page.
Egypt’s penal code defines terrorism broadly as “any use of force or violence or any threat or intimidation to disturb public order or jeopardize the safety and security of society, if it would harm or spread terror among individuals or expose their lives, freedoms or security to danger.” Terrorism can also include threats to “disrupt the implementation of the constitution or laws.”
The requirements of the proposed agreement aimed at guaranteeing cooperation in combating terrorism would almost certainly lead to German security agents assisting the Egyptian National Security Agency, Human Rights Watch said.
Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the systematic use of torture by police and National Security agents to elicit confessions and punish detainees. In 2011, Human Rights Watch determined that “the government is failing miserably to provide victims of torture and ill-treatment effective remedy, or to deter such abuses from occurring in the future.” Egypt’s inadequate legal framework for punishing torture, the lack of an independent body to investigate the police, and prosecutors’ near-total deference to National Security agents have all contributed to this impunity.
The number of enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial killings by National Security agents has risen sharply since al-Sisi appointed Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar as interior minister in March 2015. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented that National Security agents probably killed at least four and possibly as many as 10 men in North Sinai whom they had forcibly disappeared. The authorities then appeared to stage a fake counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.
The proposed agreement also runs counter to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions about Egypt in 2013, in the wake of the mass killings of at least 1,185 protesters by Egyptian security forces. The council suspended export licenses to Egypt for any equipment that might be used for internal repression and decided to review all security assistance to Egypt.
In August 2014, Human Rights Watch concluded that the mass killings of 2013, overseen by then-Defense Minister al-Sisi and primarily carried out by Interior Ministry forces, probably amounted to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch said that United Nations member countries should suspend all security assistance to Egypt until the government adopted measures to end serious human rights violations and hold violators accountable, and should avoid complicity in abuses committed by Egyptian authorities.
No government official or member of the security forces has been held accountable for the killings, and prosecutors have opened no investigation. An executive summary of a government fact-finding report released in November 2014 did not recommend charges. Hundreds of people arrested during the fatal protest dispersals in 2013 remain on trial on charges that include joining an armed group, killing security forces, and blocking roads.
The proposed agreement also contains troubling provisions on information sharing. It does set rules for protecting personal data and states that the agreement is not meant to provide information “to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” But the agreement would require the partner agencies to inform each other – verbally in urgent cases – when one agency requests information “about the particulars of those involved in criminal offenses, structures of offender groups and criminal organizations and the links between them” and to help “track down the offenders.” This provision raises the possibility that the Egyptian Interior Ministry will use its German partners to obtain information about political opponents who have not committed a crime.
The agreement also appears to encourage voluntary sharing of information “which may be of importance to track down” terrorism suspects in the absence of a request.
Despite the reference to “upholding human rights,” the agreement states clearly that cooperation will be governed by each country’s respective national law and makes no reference to international law regarding arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, or extrajudicial killings. The fact that no National Security officer has ever received a final conviction for torture or ill-treatment shows that Egyptian national law has proven inadequate for preventing these abuses.
(Seoul) – China should immediately disclose the whereabouts of eight North Korean refugees currently detained in China, publicly pledge that none of them will be returned to North Korea, and provide them with asylum or allow departure to a third country of their choice, Human Rights Watch said today. North Koreans who are forced back after fleeing their country face a real risk of torture, sexual violence and abuse, incarceration in forced labor camps, and public executions, making them refugees sur place in the need of urgent protection.
“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labor – and even worse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government in Beijing should respect its obligations under the Refugee Convention by protecting these eight North Koreans, and under no circumstances force them back to North Korea.”
Chinese government officials detained a group of eight North Koreans in mid-March 2017 during what appeared to be a random check on a road in northeastern China. A Christian pastor following the travel progress of the group told Human Rights Watch that the group had gathered in Shenyang city, in Liaoning province. Traffic police stopped their vehicle in the middle of the night, and after realizing the travelers did not have valid identification documents, took the group to a local police station.
While waiting inside their vehicle parked outside of the police station, they contacted the pastor, and sent him desperate voice messages and video recordings asking for help from Chinese President Xi Jinping and other world leaders. One of the members said, “Please, please help us. If we are sent to North Korea, we die. Please save us.” Soon after they sent those messages, the group was taken by police into the station for questioning.
Several hours later, refugees contacted “Kwon,” the pseudonym of one of the group member’s 18-year-old son, who has lived in South Korea since 2013. Then after another few hours, a member of the group contacted Kwon and told him his mother had collapsed under the pressure of the detention, and that the police had taken her to the hospital. Afterwards a Korean-speaking officer walked in and confiscated their cell phones. However, one group member hid a cell phone and later texted the pastor to tell him. The following day, the group contacted Kwon for the last time, and said the police had brought his mother back to the prison. At the beginning of April, the pastor heard from people he knows in China that the group was still in China, held close to the original location where they were detained, but he and Kwon could not get official confirmation of the exact whereabouts of the group. The pastor and Kwon fear the group could face immediate forced return to North Korea, saying they believe most repatriations happen within two months after detention.
The pastor said among the group are two women who said they had previously been sold to Chinese men and faced beatings at their hands. Those two women managed to escape their captors, but they had nowhere to go Two other women suffered injuries that they couldn’t treat in China because they couldn’t go to the hospital given their undocumented status: one woman had badly hurt her head, hip, and back in a recent traffic accident and the other is Kwon’s mother, who had been sick for several years with an unknown disease. Her health situation has worsened in the past few months.
Activists and family members have reported to Human Rights Watch at least 41 detentions of North Koreans in China over the past nine months, including a teenager, a 10-year-old child, and a woman who is seven-months pregnant. Based on information received from family members, Human Rights Watch believes at least nine of these people were forcibly returned to North Korea. However, Human Rights Watch does not have reliable estimates of the total overall number of North Koreans returned to North Korea by the Chinese government. Forcing North Koreans back to North Korea amounts to refoulement, or the sending of persons back to territory where they face serious human rights violations (persecution) or torture, a practice forbidden by international treaties to which China is a party.
According to testimonies received by Human Rights Watch from North Koreans who have been apprehended in China and returned to North Korea, the North Korean government treats those who leave the country without permission harshly upon repatriation.
In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013, or with contacts inside the country, have told Human Rights Watch that people repatriated by China, who were caught trying to go to South Korea, can face seven to fifteen years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso – re-education correctional facilities), incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), or even execution. Those who had been illegally living in China may be sentenced to more than two years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that they torture every single returnee to find out where they had been in China, who they had contacted, and what activities they had done.
Political prison camps in North Korea are characterized by systematic abuses and often deadly conditions, including meager rations that lead to near starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment – including sexual assault and torture by guards, and executions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high. Detainees in ordinary prison camps face forced labor, food and medicine shortages, and regular mistreatment by guards.
The 2014 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that those fleeing the country are targeted as part of a “systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK…to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.” It also found that “almost all of the repatriated people are subjected to inhumane acts. The torture, sexual violence and inhumane conditions of detention that victims endure during the search and initial interrogation phase appear to be based on standard procedures.”
China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a 1986 border protocol. However, regardless of the reasons they initially leave the country, North Koreans are virtually guaranteed extremely abusive treatment if forced back, qualifying them as refugees sur place or refugees because of circumstances post-dating their departure.
China, as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1984 Convention against Torture, is specifically obliged not to return refugees when that may put them at risk of persecution or torture. The same obligations bind China as a matter of customary international law.
Human Rights Watch calls on China to immediately stop forced repatriation of North Koreans, and to allow the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to exercise its mandate. China should provide asylum to North Korean refugees, give them the option to seek resettlement in a third country, or allow them to pass through Chinese territory without fear of arrest or forcible repatriation.
In December 2016, the Security Council discussed for a third year in a row the human rights situation in North Korea as a threat to international peace and security. Last month, the UN Human Rights Council passed without a vote a resolution that strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute the continued pervasive abuse of human rights by the North Korean government.
“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” said Robertson. “The world is watching to see whether Beijing observes its duty to protect these eight refugees or becomes complicit with North Korea’s abuses.”
(Beirut) – Police inaction, insufficient shelter space, and ineffective investigation and prosecution often leave domestic violence survivors in Algeria at risk of further mistreatment despite a new law criminalizing spousal abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 59-page report, “‘Your Destiny is to Stay with Him’: State Response to Domestic Violence in Algeria,” found that domestic violence survivors face an uphill struggle to obtain justice and personal security. They face social stigma, economic dependence on the abusers, a shortage of shelters, lack of an adequate response from the police, the prosecutors, and the judges in investigating abuse, and judicial hurdles such as unreasonable evidentiary requirements. Algerian authorities should increase support for domestic violence victims, including directing police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute cases, and increasing shelter capacity and protection orders to prevent abusers from inflicting further harm.
“Victims of domestic violence have long faced the double injustice of abuse at home and then a meager response from the government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Algeria’s new law on domestic violence is only a start.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 women survivors of domestic violence, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and service providers for survivors, including lawyers and psychologists. Human Rights Watch also requested meetings and specific information from the government but received no reply.
In December 2015, parliament adopted Law no. 15-19, amending the penal code to specifically criminalize some forms of domestic violence and increase penalties for those responsible. The penal code had previously treated domestic violence under general provisions on assault. Law no. 15-19 makes assault against a spouse or former spouse punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by a life sentence if the attack results in death. The law criminalizes other forms of domestic violence, including psychological and some economic abuse.
Survivors of domestic violence face various hurdles when they try to leave abusive relationships, including social pressure to keep their families together. Even though they have serious injuries, several women told Human Rights Watch that their relatives encouraged them to reconcile with their husbands. The police often gave them the same advice, telling them it is a “private matter” and ignoring the legal provisions criminalizing the abuse. Several lawyers told Human Rights Watch that because of these and other hurdles, most survivors either do not press charges or drop their complaints at the investigative stage.
Hasna, a 31-year-old mother of four, told Human Rights Watch that her husband started beating her when she was pregnant. In September 2014, during a dispute, he threw her against the wall, and slapped and punched her in the face. She went in her pajamas to a police station, where a policeman told her: “This is a family matter. This is not our business. This is your husband. Maybe he was angry. He will come back to his senses. Go and find some elders who can calm things down.”
Even when they record the complaint, police often follow up inadequately. Human Rights Watch found that the police often do not conduct on-site investigations or interview witnesses, and that the police give credence too readily to the husband’s account of the incident.
Salwa, 39, said she filed a complaint against her husband the day that he severely lacerated her breasts with scissors and beat her. When she went back to the police to inquire about the investigation, they told her: “We called your husband. He said you fell down, and this is why you have these bruises.” She said they told her they were closing the case.
When women decide to leave abusive husbands or partners, they usually have few if any places to go. While shelters should be a vital part of protecting victims of domestic violence, Algeria, a country of 41 million, has only three government-run shelters specialized in helping women victims of violence. Private shelters run by nongovernmental groups receive no government funding and struggle to provide services.
The new law criminalizing domestic violence is a positive step, Human Rights Watch said. Algerian authorities should now adopt comprehensive legislation and policies to prevent domestic violence and support victims. They should enact a new law giving victims the possibility to seek protective orders from both the police and the courts. The orders can, among other things, require the suspected offender to vacate the home, stay away from the victim and their children, surrender weapons, and refrain from violence, threats, damaging property, or contacting the victim. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women, considers such orders, which can be imposed before the suspected offender faces trial, among the most effective measures to fight violence against women.
Authorities should also ensure that police and prosecutors are directed to investigate domestic violence and bring cases to trial and get adequate training.
Given that oral testimony in domestic violence cases often provides an insufficient basis to convict, the authorities should develop guidelines on admitting other types of evidence in domestic violence cases, such as victim statements, expert witnesses, and medical, photographic, and physical evidence.
The government should increase the availability of essential services – including shelters – for domestic violence victims.
“Criminalizing domestic violence can only go so far in tackling a problem whose causes are deep and go beyond the criminal justice system,” Whitson said. “This is why adopting the 2015 Algerian law on domestic violence should jump-start a process of carrying out comprehensive measures to put an end to this plague."
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.
And the four NGOs which registered voluntarily:
Leader of at least 1 NGO faces criminal charges personally:
(Nairobi) – Gambia’s government should act to prosecute those responsible for grave crimes committed during the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh. Fair trials are crucial for victims and their families and for building respect for the rule of law in the country.
In a March 6, 2017 letter to Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou, Human Rights Watch encouraged the new government of President Adama Barrow to develop a strategy detailing how it intends to hold to account those implicated in the arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearances that were the hallmark of Jammeh’s rule.
“All Gambians deserve to see justice for the terrible crimes committed during Jammeh’s rule,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The new government needs to identify the concrete steps it will take to investigate past abuses and ensure fair trials.”
Barrow defeated Jammeh in the December 2016 elections and was sworn in on January 19, two days before Jammeh finally stepped down under threat of a regional military intervention. Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Since taking office, Barrow’s government has released dozens of political prisoners and has reversed Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. Barrow has promised that victims of the Jammeh era will “get justice.” But while the government has announced plans for a truth and reconciliation commission, it has yet to say how it will conduct judicial investigations into past crimes.
During Jammeh’s rule, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of torture survivors, former detainees, and family members of Gambians killed or forcibly disappeared, including people targeted as long ago as 1996 and as recently as January 2017. Many described the government’s failure to investigate and prosecute abusive officials.
Tambadou told Human Rights Watch by email on April 20:
We want to ensure first and foremost that there is social cohesion and national reconciliation; to establish the truth and document an accurate historical record of past abuses in order to learn appropriate lessons and prevent recurrence; and to rebuild our administration of justice system in order to ensure not only prosecutions should it be required but also safeguard the fair trial rights of the accused in accordance with minimum standards of international human rights norms.
He said in March that, until his ministry has the necessary capacity and resources, “no new criminal cases involving crimes allegedly committed by the former government will be handled.” Tambadou had earlier criticized the police for the arrest of nine former intelligence officials for the alleged murder of opposition activist Solo Sandeng in April 2016, stating that it occurred without his knowledge and that “criminal investigations must never be rushed.” The prosecution has since asked for more time to collect evidence in the case, while the accused remain in custody.
Human Rights Watch identified key reforms needed to bolster the capacity, independence, and impartiality of the justice system, which was both neglected and politicized during Jammeh’s time in power. Priorities include establishing an independent judiciary; creating a system to protect witnesses and judges; ensuring that accused receive access to effective legal representation; and identifying ways to incorporate victim participation into the proceedings, in addition to serving as witnesses.
The government should also support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases against Jammeh-era officials living outside of Gambia, Human Rights Watch said. Switzerland has already arrested and charged former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko with crimes against humanity for his role in torture during Jammeh’s time in power.
“The Barrow government has expressed a commitment to justice for Jammeh-era crimes,” Wormington said. “Now they need to promptly develop a strategy to ensure victims and their families have their day in court.”
(Nairobi, April 21, 2017) – Equatorial Guinean authorities should immediately release two men who head the country’s leading human rights organization, seven human rights and transparency organizations said.
The police detained Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, who head the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), on April 17, 2017, and have exceeded the 72-hour period that Equatorial Guinean law permits them to detain a person without charge.
“The authorities have a long history of harassing, arbitrarily detaining, and generally interfering with the work of human rights defenders in Equatorial Guinea,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, which monitors human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea. “This latest incident shows the authorities’ willingness to trample on the country’s due process laws to intimidate and silence dissent.”
The organizations raising their concerns about the detention are Human Rights Watch, EG Justice, Publish What You Pay, Transparency International, the UNCAC Coalition, Amnesty International, and the International Anti-Corruption Conference.
Asumu is the president, and Okenve vice president, of CEID. On April 16, authorities prevented Asumu from boarding a flight from the country’s island capital, Malabo, to the mainland city of Bata, claiming they were acting on the orders of the minister of national security, said a colleague of Asumu’s who was present and Asumu’s lawyer.
The following day, Asumu and Okenye visited the ministry’s offices, which are housed in same building as the Central Police Station in Malabo. The national security minister interrogated the two men in his office for more than five hours, said two colleagues who accompanied them to the meeting and waited outside. After the meeting ended, at about 6 p.m., the authorities prevented Asumu and Okenve from leaving the building, and they continue to hold them there.
The police have permitted the colleagues, as well as family members, to visit Asumu and Okenve, and have allowed them access to their lawyers. But the authorities have not brought them before a judge, which the law requires within 24 hours. Nor have the authorities charged them, which under Equatorial Guinean law must take place within 72 hours.
The Ministry of the Interior ordered CEID to suspend its activities indefinitely in March 2016. Colleagues who have spoken with Asumu and Okenve said that the authorities have threatened to fine them 10 million CFA francs (US$16,000) for violating this order.
The ministry issued the order after shutting down a youth meeting that it contends included statements by participants that constituted incitement, a charge CEID maintains is false and politically motivated. The organization appealed the suspension order, but received no response, a representative from the organization said.
The organization announced that it would resume its activities in September 2016. A representative of the organization contended that the April 2016 suspension of its operations was effective only for three months. Since then, it has organized events attended by representatives from various government ministries.
The government of Equatorial Guinea is applying to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an effort that brings together governments, companies, and nongovernmental groups to encourage better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about the use of oil, gas, and mining revenues. The EITI requires member governments to foster “an enabling environment for civil society” and to “refrain from actions which result in narrowing or restricting public debate in relation to implementation of the EITI.”
Equatorial Guinea has been dogged by corruption scandals exacerbated by the lack of transparency related to natural resource revenues. The suspension of the country’s leading organization promoting transparency and respect for human rights, and the detention of its leadership, send the wrong signal about the government’s commitment to combatting corruption, the groups said.
“These detentions make the government’s promises to respect civil society as part of its bid to join EITI ring hollow,” said Elisa Peter, executive director of Publish What You Pay. “They threaten to topple the country’s EITI candidacy and send the message that the government will not tolerate independent voices.”
When CEID resumed its activities in September 2016, it also resumed its role as a member of the national steering committee that involves government officials, oil companies, and civil society as the first stage in applying for EITI membership. The national steering committee last met on April 12, and the minister of mines attended an event the human rights group held on April 14 in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.
“The government works with CEID when it wants to feign respect for civil society, but then keeps this suspension order hanging over it like the sword of Damocles,” said Sarah Saadoun, a business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By bullying two of the country’s most respected human rights defenders, the government seems to be trying to silence civil society at a moment of rising anger over the country’s deepening economic crisis.”
(Beirut) – Egyptian military forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula executed at least two and as many as eight unarmed detainees and covered up the killings to make it appear that the victims were armed “terrorists” shot to death in a raid, Human Rights Watch said today. Video of the killings, aired by a television channel aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and based in Turkey on April 20, 2017, appears to show a man in a camouflage uniform executing the two men, one after the other, with an assault rifle.
Two Sinai sources identified the executioner as a well-known member of a local militia that works at the behest of the Egyptian military. The video also appears to show a member of Egypt’s military intelligence service observing and directing the first execution and that the soldiers used Humvee vehicles supplied by the United States to transport the detainees. Other videos and photographs Human Rights Watch reviewed corroborate the incident.
“These outrageous killings confirm that Egypt’s counterterrorism campaign in the Sinai is out of control,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt’s allies cannot claim ignorance about these deadly abuses.”
Countries that provide weapons, materiel, or training to the Egyptian military should suspend all such assistance as long as the Egyptian armed forces remain responsible for widespread and serious violation of human rights, Human Rights Watch said. International law obliges Egypt to apprehend and prosecute the men responsible for the killings.
Sinai News 24, an independent Facebook page that tracks events in the Sinai Peninsula, reported that the two victims were brothers from the Rumailat clan – Daoud Sabri al-Awabdah, 16, and Abd al-Hadi Sabri al-Awabdah, 19 – whom the army had arrested in the town of Rafah and forcibly disappeared on July 18, 2016. In the execution video, the militia member is shown briefly interrogating the second victim about his family and confirming that he is a member of the Rumailat before he and another soldier execute him.
Human Rights Watch was not able to immediately confirm the location or date of the killings, but the video appeared to be authentic.
Human Rights Watch reviewed an original version of the execution video and a separate video, posted on a pro-government Facebook page on November 20, 2016, that appears to show the same eight bodies seen in the execution video lined up next to a building that also appears in the execution video. In the second video, six soldiers stand next to the line of bodies. “This is the revenge for those who died,” one says.
In a photograph of the same scene obtained by Human Rights Watch, one of the soldiers can be seen lifting the head of one of the bodies by the hair as he looks at the camera. In a third video of the scene, also posted on the same pro-government Facebook page, a man can be heard saying, “Should I change the position of the gun?” The man who is filming the body replies, “Finish, finish.”
In addition, two bodies that appear in the execution video were also shown in official media releases published by the Egyptian armed forces on November 5 and December 6, 2016. In the December release, the armed forces spokesman described the operation that led to the victims’ death as “law enforcement forces” continuing to “tighten their security grip in the areas of countering terrorist activities in North Sinai, where they managed to eliminate eight armed terrorist elements.”
A representative for Mekameleen, the channel that obtained the execution video, told Human Rights Watch that according to their information, the incident took place sometime in October or November in al-Tuma, a village south of Sheikh Zuweid, a town where Egyptian forces have repeatedly fought elements of the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Residents of al-Tuma had previously abandoned the village due to the fighting, North Sinai residents told Human Rights Watch.
Two North Sinai sources told Human Rights Watch that the man seen executing both victims is a member of a local militia, colloquially called Group 103, which was formed by the Egyptian military in 2015 to assist in Sinai operations and which the military arms and oversees. The second source knew the man’s identity because they previously lived near each other in Sheikh Zuweid. Three other sources – the Mekameleen representative, an expert on Sinai affairs in Egypt, and an independent Sinai group – all independently identified the same man to Human Rights Watch.
In the execution video, the militia member appears to be wearing an Egyptian army infantry patch on his shoulder. A second man in the video appears to be wearing a patch of the armed forces’ Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance Department. During the first execution, the intelligence officer stands mostly off screen to the right of the camera holding a mobile phone, and a voice can be heard directing the militia member: “Not just the head. Not just the head. Enough.” Soldiers can be seen placing and removing their assault rifles next to at least two of the eight bodies, apparently so that the bodies could be falsely photographed with weapons.
Since the military removed former President Mohamed Morsy in July 2013, violence has significantly increased in North Sinai, an underdeveloped and long-marginalized governorate that borders Israel and Gaza. The extremist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which pledged allegiance to ISIS and renamed itself Sinai Province in November 2014, has established a stronghold in the area and waged a series of attacks on Egyptian police and armed forces there, in addition to targeting Christians and suspected collaborators. Since 2013, North Sinai has experienced at least 1,500 armed attacks, which have killed dozens of civilians and hundreds of members of the security forces, according to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
In response, Egypt has deployed more forces to the Sinai than at any time since the country’s 1973 war with Israel. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as defense minister orchestrated Morsy’s ouster, has repeatedly stated that Egypt is in a “state of war” and compared recent operations to the previous conflicts with Israel, in 1973 and 1967.
The counterterrorism campaign in North Sinai has been rife with abuses. Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities destroyed around half of the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza Strip, evicting thousands of families and demolishing at least 3,255 buildings. Dozens of families Human Rights Watch interviewed in 2016 and 2017 reported numerous arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings by Egyptian military and Interior Ministry forces.
In January 2017, Interior Ministry counterterrorism troops most likely executed at least four and as many as 10 North Sinai men whom they had previously arrested. The Interior Ministry then apparently staged a fake raid to cover up the incident.
The killings shown in the video that surfaced on April 20 fit a pattern described by several North Sinai residents. At least two detainees formerly held by the army told Human Rights Watch that their guards would come at dawn, summon certain detainees, and take them away without telling them where they were going. These detainees did not return, said the former prisoners, who said they believed the men had been executed.
In one of two such cases in November 2014 that Human Rights Watch documented, the detainee discovered after his release that one of the men taken away by guards had been killed the same day. The man’s family found his body later in a deserted area.
Several North Sinai residents have told Human Rights Watch that when the army conducts regular arrest sweeps in villages, troops are usually accompanied by one or more militia members, sometimes referred to as “collaborators,” who play a leading role in identifying and arresting suspects. Other residents said that these individuals have threatened them or had their relatives arrested due to personal or business disputes.
Residents said that military “collaborators” have falsely identified numerous individuals as “terrorists,” leading army troops to arrest them. One former resident of Sheikh Zuweid said that members of these militias live in or next to the Zohor army barracks in Sheikh Zuweid. The army forcibly evicted residents of many buildings surrounding the base and allowed militia members to occupy them, this person said.
If the fighting in North Sinai has risen to the level of an “armed conflict” under international law, the conduct of both sides would be regulated by international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war. The willful killing of a civilian or prisoner of war constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which would be a further obligation on Egypt to arrest and prosecute those responsible.
(Moscow) – Russia’s Supreme Court ruled on April 20, 2017 that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization should be closed down and no longer allowed to operate legally in Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, which affects more than 100,000 Jehovah’s Witness worshippers across Russia, is a serious breach of Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom.
The Justice Ministry, which had petitioned the Supreme Court to close the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, should withdraw the case and refrain from taking further measures that violate its obligations to respect the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization’s right to freedom of religion and to association. The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said it will appeal the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling to shut down the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are now given the heartrending choice of either abandoning their faith or facing punishment for practicing it.”
The ruling declares the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closes the organization on those grounds, and bans all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center is the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia.
If the ruling enters into force, people who continue to be involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses organization or their activities in Russia could face criminal prosecution and punishment ranging from fines of 300,00 to 600,000 rubles (US$5,343 to $10,687) to a maximum of six to 10 years in prison. People found to be leading such activity would face a maximum 10 years. The organization’s property will be confiscated. Jehovah’s Witnesses will not be able to congregate for worship at their church or anywhere else.
In Russia, the government in 2016 further tightened control over the already-shrinking space for free expression, association, and assembly and intensified persecution of independent critics.
According to the Justice Ministry, since 2007, local courts have banned at least eight local Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations, and 95 pieces of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature have been banned and placed on the federal registry of banned extremist materials. In most cases the ban was triggered by claims in the literature of the superiority over other religions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of the Bible. Anyone found with large quantities of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ banned materials can be held responsible for the misdemeanor offense of distributing “extremist” materials.
The Justice Ministry case followed an unannounced inspection, started in February 2017, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in St. Petersburg. The inspection found that the Administrative Center had continued to fund branches that had been closed after a court banned them for extremism. It also found the organization had taken no action to change “extremist” literature and had continued to distribute it. Jehovah’s Witnesses have vigorously denied the latter allegation. The Justice Ministry suspended all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities when the ministry filed its lawsuit on March 15.
A member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is obligated to protect freedom of religion and association. It has previously been found in violation of multiple obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights for actions taken through the courts to dissolve communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, application no. 302/02).
The April 20 ruling to close the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a direct interference with freedom of religion, effectively denying its followers the right to worship, and cannot be justified as either necessary or proportionate. The closure order directly violates the pluralism of thought and belief that is foundational to a democratic society and as the court has repeatedly affirmed, is “at the very heart of the protection which [the convention] affords.”
“It’s not too late for the Russian authorities to make right this serious move against religious freedom,” Denber said. “The Justice Ministry should withdraw the suit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and stop interfering with group’s peaceful religious activity.”
“Ahmed Mansoor has an unimpeachable record as a defender of rights and freedoms, and every day he remains in prison will constitute a black mark on the UAE’s human rights record,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Informed sources have told rights groups that about a dozen security officers arrested Mansoor at his home in Ajman in the pre-dawn hours of March 20. They conducted an extensive search and took away all of the family’s mobile phones and laptops, including those belonging to his young children. His family had no information on his whereabouts until authorities issued an official statement on March 29, saying he was in detention in the Central Prison in Abu Dhabi.
The coalition understands that Mansoor’s family has been allowed only one short, supervised visit with him, which took place two weeks after his arrest on April 3, when authorities moved him from where he was being held, believed to be a detention facility adjacent to Al-Wathba Prison, to a prosecutor’s office in Abu Dhabi. Local sources told rights groups that Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement and has not seen a lawyer.
The UAE’s official news agency, WAM, said on March 20 that Mansoor had been arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and detained pending further investigation. It said that he is accused of using social media websites to: “publish false information and rumors;” “promote [a] sectarian and hate-incited agenda;” and “publish false and misleading information that harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation.” The statement classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him may be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s repressive 2012 cybercrime law, which authorities have used to imprison numerous activists and which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties.
In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had called for the release of Osama al-Najjar, who remains in prison despite having completed a three-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful activities on Twitter. Mansoor had also criticized the prosecution of Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith, a prominent academic and economist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on March 29, for charges that included speech-related offenses, including peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities.
Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the region, including in Egypt and those committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. He had also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab Summit in Jordan at the end of March to release political prisoners in their countries.
“Ahmed has worked tirelessly, at great personal cost to himself, to advocate for human rights in the UAE and the wider region. He should be immediately released and the authorities should end their harassment of him once and for all,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office.
The UN special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, along with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said in their March 28 statement that they regarded Mansoor’s arrest and detention “as a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They said that his “outstanding work in the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy, as well as his transparent collaboration with UN mechanisms, is of great value not only for the UAE but for the whole region.”
The UN experts said they feared that his arrest “may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter, as well as for being an active member of organizations such as the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and an active supporter of others, including Human Rights Watch.”
“Mansoor’s arrest and detention is extremely alarming because it represents a major assault on human rights defenders in the UAE and signals all-out repression in the country,” said Khalid Ibrahim, executive director at the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Mansoor is a member of GCHR’s Advisory Board.
On March 29, the UAE authorities responded directly to the UN experts’ statement, disputing the allegation that Mansoor’s detention was arbitrary, and stating that Mansoor “has the freedom to hire a lawyer and that his family has full access to the place of confinement and is allowed to visit him.” In 2015, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who visited the UAE in 2014, expressed concern that lawyers who take up cases related to state security “have been harassed, threatened and had pressure exerted on them,” and that “impunity surrounding such breaches of the independence of the legal profession has had a chilling effect on lawyers,” making it difficult for defendants in the UAE to secure a lawyer of their choice.
UAE authorities have harassed and persecuted Mansoor for more than six years. 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 marred by serious legal and procedural flaws. The UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pardoned Mansoor on November 28, 2011, but authorities never returned his passport, imposing a de facto travel ban. He has also experienced physical assaults, death threats, government surveillance, and a sophisticated spyware attack.
People in the UAE who speak about human rights abuses are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture, and many are serving long prison terms or have felt compelled to leave the country. To the coalition’s knowledge, Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been able to criticize the authorities publicly.
The authorities should release Mansoor immediately, since the charges against him relate to his human rights work and his criticism of the authorities, the groups said. They should give him immediate and regular access to his family and a lawyer of his choosing, and end the harassment of rights defenders and critics of the authorities.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Electronic Frontier Foundation
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute
International Service for Human Rights
Martin Ennals Foundation
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Scholars at Risk
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, Tunisia
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The coalition consists of Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, IndustriALL Global Union, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the International Labor Rights Forum, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Maquila Solidarity Network, UNI Global Union, and the Worker Rights Consortium.
|Current/Anticipated Disclosure by December 31, 2017 vs. Pledge Standards|
|Company||Headquarters||Published supplier factory--cut-make-trim (CMT) and subcontractor-- information prior to Pledge Letter?||Supplier factory information published meets or will meet Full Pledge by December 2017?||Names and street addresses of CMT factories and their subcontractors||Worker numbers||Product types||Parent company information||Frequency of disclosures||Time Frame to Implement Pledge|
|Abercrombie & Fitch||US||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names of tier-1 factories (CMT for woven, denim, knit, sweater, intimates,and accessoroies) with country of manufacture, but without street address.||No||No||No||2 times per year||2017|
|Adidas||Germany||Names of all tier-1 factories, including those used by licensees as well as authorized subcontractors, by country and city. Names of all tier-2 wet process suppliers, by country and city. Separate lists of supplier factories used for the Olympic Games.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|ALDI North and ALDI South||Germany||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses of tier-1 (CMT) factories but not their subcontractors.||No||No||No||1+ times per year||2017|
|American Eagle Outfitters||US||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Arcadia Group||UK||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses of tier-1 (CMT) factories but disclosure of authorized subcontractors will need more time.||No||No||No||1+ times per year||NA|
|Armani||Italy||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|ASICS||Japan||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||1 time per year||2017|
|ASOS||UK||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||6 times per year||2017|
|Benetton||Italy||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses of tier-1 (CMT) factories but not their subcontractors.||No||Yes||No||1 time per year||NA|
|BESTSELLER||Denmark||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Company stated that tier-1 (CMT) factories will be published but did not provide more information about what precisely will be disclosed for each factory.||No information||No information||No information||No information||2017|
|C&A||Netherlands||Names and addresses of all CMT factories. Excluded: Brazil, Mexico, and processing factories.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|Canadian Tire||Canada||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Carrefour||France||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Carter's||US||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Clarks||UK||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||A vast majoirity of the supplier factory information will be published in 2017. Five percent of non-footwear accessories to be published in 2018.|
|Coles||Australia||Names and addresses of CMT factories, but not subcontractors. Company states that its supplier factories use minimal subcontracting.||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Names and addresses of CMT factories, but not subcontractors. Company states that its supplier factories use minimal subcontracting.||No||No||No||1 time per year||NA|
|Columbia Sportswear||US||Names and addresses of factories from which they directly source and any external subcontractors engaged to perform finishing processes (mostly limited to collegiate suppliers since the others have in-house capacity).||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Yes||No||No||No||1 time per year||NA|
|Cotton On Group||Australia||Names and addresses of CMT factories used by top 20 suppliers.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Multiple||2017|
|Debenhams||UK||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses of tier-1 factories which includes all CMT factories; some external processing such as embroidering and washing may not be included.||Yes||No||No||No information||2017|
|Decathlon||France||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Company did not provide more information about what precisely will be disclosed for each factory.||No information||No information||No information||No information||2017|
|Desigual||Spain||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|DICK'S Sporting Goods||US||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Disney||US||Names and addresses of all facilities part of Disney's vertical supply chain and any facility in its vertical supply chains where Disney intellectual property is located, which includes any laundry, printing, embroidery facility if Disney intellectual property is incorporated into that finished product or component.||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Names and addresses of all facilities in its vertical supply chain, including subcontractors, where Disney intellectual property is located.||No||No||No||1 time per year||NA|
|Esprit||Germany||Names and addresses of CMT factoriesand their authorized subcontractors.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|Fast Retailing||Japan||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Published name and addresses of "Core Factories"producing for UNIQLO brand, representing 80 percent of the total volume of orders for UNIQLO brand. Plans to publish a list of GU's "major partner factories" in 2017. No clear commitment to publish subcontractors in 2017.||No||No||No||1 time per year||2017|
|Foot Locker||US||Previously disclosed names and addresses for suppliers of collegiate apparel line that is currently inactive.||No commitment to publish current own-brand supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Forever 21||US||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|G-Star RAW||Netherlands||Names, addresses, product types, parent company, and worker numbers for CMT factories.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|Gap||US||Names and addresses of CMT factories and their authorized subcontractors.||Almost full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||2 times per year||Gap did not make any new commitments to align with the Pledge by December 2017. The company updated its supplier factory information to be more closely aligned with the Pledge.|
|H&M Group||Sweden||Names and addresses of supplier factories and vendors (suppliers), processing factories, and some fabric suppliers.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||4 times per year||2017|
|Hanesbrands||US||Names and addresses of collegiate suppliers and owned factories.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||4 times per year||2017|
|Hudson's Bay Company||Canada||Names and addresses of some, but not all, supplier factories.||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Names and addresses of some, but not all, CMT factories.||No||No||No||1 time per year||NA|
|Hugo Boss||Germany||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Inditex||Spain||CMT factories not published. Names and addresses of direct and indirect wet processing factories published.||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|John Lewis||UK||None||Almost full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||2 times per year||2017|
|KiK||Germany||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Kmart Australia||Australia||Names and addresses of factories in "high risk" countries.||No response to coalition letter.||Names and addresses of factories in "high risk" countries.||No||No||No||No information||NA|
|Levi Strauss||US||Names and addresses of CMT factories and authorized subcontractors.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|LIDL||Germany||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses of tier-1 factories which includes all CMT, but does not include all processing facilities.||No||No||No||2 times per year||2017|
|Lindex||Sweden||Names and addresses of CMT factories.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||1 time per year||2017|
|Loblaw||Canada||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names of all factories where they Òsource apparel and footwear directlyÓ with country of manufacture but not street address.||No||No||No||2 times per year||2017|
|MANGO||Spain||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Marks and Spencer (M&S)||UK||Names and street addresses, worker numbers, gender breakdown, and product types.||Almost full Pledge alignment. M&S will continue with its Plan A disclosure commitments and add processing factories and also make its existing disclosure available in a searchable format.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||2 times per year||2017|
|Matalan||UK||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Mizuno||Japan||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names along with country of manufacture of "Core Suppliers," that is, 125 factories disclosed of 464 tier-1 suppliers as reported on Mizuno website.||No||Yes||No||No information||Began disclosure in 2017.|
|Morrison's||UK||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)||Canada||Names and addresses of all CMT factories and some processing facilities.||Almost full Pledge alignment.||Names and addresses of all CMT factories and some processing facilities.||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||Additional details for CMT factories to meet Pledge standards will be published in 2017. Names and other details of authorized printers will be added subsequently.|
|New Balance||US||Names and addresses of direct supplier factories, excluding US wholly-owned facilities.||Not full Pledge, but will add product type, and update annually in searchable format.||Names and addresses of direct supplier factories, excluding US wholly-owned facilities.||No||Yes||No||1 time per year||2017|
|New Look||UK||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||At least annual||2017|
|Next||UK||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|Nike||US||Names, addresses, product category, worker numbers, gender and migrant worker breakdown, and authorized subcontractor.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||4 times per year||2017|
|Patagonia||US||Names, addresses, product category, worker numbers, gender breakdown, and parent companies of CMT and authorized subcontractors. Some fabric suppliers indicated. One cotton farm also disclosed.||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||1 time per year||2017|
|Pentland Brands||UK||None||Full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||2 times per year||2017|
|Primark||UK||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Puma||Germany||Name of factory by country, city for tier-1 "core suppliers" and tier-2 material and component suppliers.||Almost full Pledge alignment for tier-1 "core suppliers" factories.||Names and addresses of tier-1 "core suppliers" amounting to 80 percent of their total business volume. But authorized subcontractors (if any) are not included in the definition of "core suppliers."||Yes||Yes||No||1 time per year||2017|
|PVH Corporation||US||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names of CMT factories along with country of manufacture but without street address.||No||No||No||2 times per year||2017|
|Ralph Lauren Corporation||US||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Rip Curl||Australia||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|River Island||UK||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Sainsbury's||UK||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Shop Direct||UK||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Sports Direct||UK||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Target Australia||Australia||Based on information on its website, Target Australia appears to disclose the names and addresses of CMT factories.||No response to coalition letter.||Names and addresses of CMT factories appear to be disclosed. The coalition has no information about percentage of supplier factories disclosed or other exclusions, if any.||No||No||No||Company website says "regular basis."||NA|
|Target USA||US||Names and countries of CMT suppliers, textile and wet processing factories.||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Names of CMT factories along with country of manufacture but without street address.||No||No||No||4 times per year||NA|
|Tchibo||Germany||None||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses for CMT factories.||Yes||Yes||No||No information||NA|
|Tesco||UK||Names and addresses of Bangladesh supplier factories only.||Almost full Pledge alignment.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||2 times per year||2017|
|The Children's Place||US||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Under Armour||US||Only suppliers factories for collegiate apparel.||Not full Pledge, but will begin publishing supplier factory information in 2017.||Names and addresses for all CMT factories (but not embellishers or subcontractors).||Yes||Yes||Yes||No information||Pledge details for CMT factories will be published in 2017.|
|Urban Outfitters||US||None||No response to coalition letter.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|VF Corporation||US||Names of factories by country for all VF brands of all VF-owned and operated, and direct sourced, tier-1 supplier factories.||Not full Pledge, but will include street addresses to align more with the Pledge.||Names and addresses of all CMT factories but not those used by licensees and subcontractors.||No||No||No||Regular||2017|
|Walmart||US||None||No commitment to publish supplier factory information.||No||No||No||No||NA||NA|
|Woolworths||Australia||Names and addresses of all sites in Bangladesh are disclosed, and overall more than 40 percent of the supply chain (for apparel and footwear) is published.||No additional commitments to meet Pledge standards; maintaining status quo.||Names and addresses of all sites in Bangladesh are disclosed, and overall more than 40 percent of the supply chain (for apparel and footwear) is published.||No||No||No||4 times per year||NA|
(Beirut) – The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Yemen has caused numerous civilian casualties and hindered the safe return of civilians displaced by fighting, Human Rights Watch said today. The Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh should immediately cease using these weapons and observe the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998.
Houthi-Saleh forces have used landmines in at least six governorates since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition began military operations in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in March 2015. Mines appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and disrupted civilian life in affected areas. Landmines continue to pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.
“Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,” Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, said. “Yemen prohibited antipersonnel mines nearly two decades ago and no authorities should tolerate their use.”
Human Rights Watch researchers visited the southern port city of Aden in early 2017, and interviewed and collected data from mine clearance experts, local security officials, landmine victims, and activists, and interviewed victims and activists in other governorates by phone. Human Rights Watch investigated 10 incidents where landmines laid by Houthi-Saleh forces in Sanaa, Marib, Aden, and Taizz governorates exploded, killing two people and wounding eight.
While comprehensive landmine casualty figures are not available, health professionals and local activists provided lists of people wounded by landmines in several governorates. The Center for Prosthetic Limbs and Physiotherapy in Aden provided the names and ages of 24 people who had recently lost limbs to landmines. Against Mines National Organization reported that landmines killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 39 in two districts of Taizz governorate between May 2015 and April 2016. And the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) documented cases in which more than 80 people were killed and 136 wounded by landmines in Marib and al-Jawf governorates since the conflict began.
The Landmine Monitor initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that at least 988 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2015.
Human Rights Watch previously documented Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of antipersonnel mines in Aden, Abyan, Marib, Lahj, and Taizz governorates in 2015 and 2016, as well as their indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines.
Houthi-Saleh forces have also made and used improvised antipersonnel mines, Human Rights Watch said. In Yemen, antivehicle mines or other explosives are sometimes triggered by an individual using a pedal a few meters away. In February 2017, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) found and cleared improvised mines on civilian roads near the port city of Mokha in Taizz governorate, from which Houthi-Saleh forces had recently withdrawn.
The Houthi-Saleh forces use of antipersonnel landmines violate the laws of war and individuals involved are committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. Houthi-Saleh forces have also used antivehicle mines indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war and failed to take adequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
In an April 2 response to a Human Rights Watch letter regarding recent landmine use, Yemen’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in Sanaa, controlled by the Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party, said the Sanaa-based authorities are “vigilant in abiding by [their] commitments” under the Mine Ban Treaty. The ministry denied that Houthi-Saleh forces had used antipersonnel landmines or that the Sanaa-based Defense Ministry stockpiles antipersonnel mines. It said that “armed factions and terrorist groups” have produced and used improvised landmines, often referred to as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or booby traps. Victim-activated IEDs fall under the definition of an antipersonnel landmine and are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.
The ministry also said that after the conflict ends, the Sanaa-based authorities are prepared to create a committee to investigate the use of landmines in Taizz and to investigate any new information or documentation on the use of antipersonnel mines elsewhere, and to “take the necessary steps in accordance with national laws and regulations and its international obligations.”
The Houthi-Saleh authorities should take immediate steps to ensure that affiliated forces cease using antipersonnel mines, destroy any antipersonnel mines they possess, and appropriately punish those using these indiscriminate weapons, Human Rights Watch said.
International assistance is urgently needed to equip, train, and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey, clear, and destroy Yemen’s mines and explosive remnants of war, Human Rights Watch said. International donors should also urgently assist victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war in Yemen. Appropriate compensation, assistance, and support should be provided to those wounded by mines, or to the families of those killed. Assistance should include medical care, prosthetics, and ongoing rehabilitation.
Houthi-Saleh forces are not the only party to the Yemen conflict using landmines. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has used landmines, particularly improvised mines. After the Saudi-led coalition captured the eastern port city of Mukalla from AQAP in April 2016, large stocks of explosives were found, including 116 antipersonnel mines in Hadramawt, which were believed to have belonged to the armed group. Mine clearance personnel also told Human Rights Watch that AQAP laid landmines in Abyan governorate.
The Yemen Executive Mine Action Center’s southern branch reportedly found and destroyed 65,272 landmines, including 20,807 antipersonnel landmines, between July 21, 2015 and March 2, 2017 in Aden, Abyan, Lahj, al-Dhale, and Taizz. These include both landmines cleared by demining personnel and stocks found in weapons stores.
Since 2015, about 20 YEMAC staff members have been wounded or killed during clearance operations. Brig. Gen. Sheikh Zaid Thabet, who heads demining efforts in Marib, said his team lacks proper equipment: “Some of them work without shoes, barefoot… We lost six members of our team and more than 10 were wounded in different accidents.”
In Aden, YEMAC and the Yemen Society for Landmine Survivors said that all support from YEMAC’s Sanaa headquarters ceased when the Houthis took control of the capital.
“The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned landmines is only going to prolong Yemen’s eventual recovery from this bloody conflict,” Goose said. “Governments should condemn antipersonnel landmine use and work with Yemeni officials to ensure that those who used them are held accountable.”
Human Rights Watch documented 10 incidents in which landmines killed or wounded people in Sanaa, Marib, Aden, or Taizz governorates.
Houthi-Saleh forces control most of Sanaa governorate. The eastern Nihm district, on the border of Marib governorate, has been one of the conflict’s static front lines. Brig. Gen. Thabet, who heads demining efforts in Marib and nearby areas under Hadi government control, said that his team began demining efforts in Nihm in March 2016, gradually expanding their operations as Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from different areas.
January 22 and 23, 2017, Nihm District
In January, Thabet’s demining team conducted clearance operations in Nihm district, Sanaa, in an area from which Houthi-Saleh forces had only recently withdrawn. On January 22, a team member, Muhammad Abo A’lba, stepped on a landmine and was killed. The next day, his colleague, Abo Mursi, stepped on an antipersonnel landmine and lost both his legs. The area was not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
May 24, 2016, Al-Saad Village, Nihm District
On May 23, 2016, Saleh Ahmad, in his mid-forties, returned to his home in Al-Saad village in Nihm district, Sanaa with his wife, two daughters, and two sons. His entire village, about 60 families, were displaced from the area in 2015 when Houthi-Saleh forces advanced, he said. He and his family returned the day after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew “because we couldn’t afford to stay out of our home anymore.”
The next day at about the time of the early evening prayer, his wife, Rawiya al-Dahak, 30, went to bring back the sheep from grazing. Ahmad said he heard an explosion:
I ran to the place [about 300 or 400 meters from our home], and found my wife with her right leg completely missing. She was unconscious and bleeding. Her clothes were torn. ... I carried her to the closest health center.
When Ahmad’s eldest son, Muhammad Saleh, 23, heard about the accident, he went to check the area on foot. Another mine exploded. “I was not there,” Ahmad said. “The neighbors called me and they told me that I lost my beloved son.”
A few days later, a demining team cleared about 13 antivehicle mines from around Ahmad’s home. Saad believed a mine attached to a large explosive charge wounded his wife and that another killed his son, due to the severity of the burns on his son’s body and the force of the explosion that wounded his wife. Antivehicle mines that have been modified to explode when a person is nearby are considered antipersonnel mines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.
In 2017, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen reported that Houthi-Saleh forces were using victim-activated IEDs that deployed antivehicle mines as the main charge in Taizz. The UN Panel found that until these mines were defused, they prevented civilians from returning.
Displaced people have a right to return home safely as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist. The laws of war obligate warring parties to facilitate their safe return.
Two days after Saad’s son was killed and his wife wounded, another man living near the village of Al-Saad detonated an improvised mine, losing both his legs, Ahmad said. About a week later, a few kilometers from the village, 10 sheep were killed by an improvised mine, according to Ahmad.
Houthi-Saleh forces controlled most of Marib between May and October 2015, laying landmines as they withdrew, deminers and local activists said.
General Thabet said that he and several other deminers had destroyed 510 antipersonnel mines on February 6, 2016, and another 350 about a month later, in addition to 3,390 improvised landmines. Marib remains heavily contaminated with mines, he said.
Ali Al-Tam, director of the Civil Protection Organization, a Marib-based group that has documented civilian victims of landmines, said antipersonnel mines, including improvised mines, had been found in civilian-populated and agricultural areas after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew, including the districts of Marib City, Harib, al-Abadiya, Sarwah and Majzer. These areas were not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
Saleem Allaw, the HOOD Team Coordinator in Marib, al-Jawf and al-Bayda, shared a list of names, ages, and dates of people killed or wounded by landmines in Marib and al-Jawf governorates since October 2015. HOOD reported that 80 people were killed, including two women and eight children, and 136 wounded, including four women and 14 children, by landmines in the two governorates.
March 1, 2016, Al-Jufina Farming Area, Marib City District
At about 1:30 p.m. on March 1, 2016, Ali al-Ansi, 35, stepped on a landmine while he was working in an orange grove in Marib, which Houthi-Saleh forces had controlled before withdrawing in late 2015. He said he was returning from lunch with his wife and two daughters: “I walked inside [the grove]. Then, suddenly I heard the blast. I didn’t see anything except the dust flying over my head. I looked at my legs, and saw my right leg had been blown apart.”
Other farm workers took al-Ansi to a hospital, where a doctor amputated his right leg. He stayed at the hospital for four days. Hospital staff then asked al-Ansi to return home as they needed space for other patients.
A few days later, al-Ansi guided deminers to the location where he was wounded. The team cleared four small mines. Al-Ansi said they were “black-greenish” and about “the size of a can.” Human Rights Watch researchers showed Al-Ansi a selection of photos depicting landmines used recently in Yemen, and he said they looked like a GYATA-64 antipersonnel mine.
Al-Ansi has been unable to work since his injury and depends on support from family members.
The orange grove was not known to be mined before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied it.
In March 2015, Houthi-Saleh forces entered Aden, eventually occupying nearly half of the city’s districts, including Sheikh Othman, al-Buraika, Krater, Khormaksar, and Dar Saad. They laid antivehicle and antipersonnel landmines as they withdrew from the city in July 2015, according to YEMAC and security officials.
Two fighters from Aden lost limbs after stepping on antipersonnel mines in the Khormaksar and al-Basateen neighborhoods in July 2015, soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew. They said the areas were heavily mined when the forces entered. The neighborhoods were not known to be mined before the current conflict.
Yemeni mine action officials began emergency clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war almost immediately after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from Aden. YEMAC officers and a demining activist said that since that time antipersonnel mines have been cleared from 11 neighborhoods: Al-Basateen, Green City, and Al-Luhoom neighborhoods in Dar Saad district; al-Emad and al Masa’abi neighborhoods in Sheikh-Othman district; Bir Fadhl and Ja’ulaa neighborhoods in al-Mansoora district; Bir Ahmad and Ras Amran in al-Buraika district; and al-A’areesh and al-Nasser neighborhoods in Khormaksar district.
Since Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew more than a year-and-a-half ago, YEMAC has been clearing landmines from the city. The National Demining Training Center showed Human Rights Watch photos of an antivehicle mine and two PPM-2 antipersonnel mines discovered and cleared from a heavily frequented road in al-Emad, north of Sheikh Othman district, on February 1. On March 29, YEMAC removed six more PPM-2 antipersonnel mines next to one of Aden’s main highways in Khormaksar, which they said were laid by Houthi-Saleh forces.
Yemen’s Health Ministry, currently based in Aden, told Human Rights Watch in February that soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from the city, Aden’s hospitals were receiving about seven to eight people wounded by landmines each week and that they have continued to receive landmine victims.
February 6-8, 2016, Al-Naser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
On February 6, 2016, a car carrying a family of four struck a landmine, killing the father and two children, according to YEMAC.
YEMAC sent a team to the site, which cleared three antipersonnel mines and an antivehicle mine on the first day and eight “German-made” antipersonnel mines on the second.
On the third day, Abdo al-Ashwal, a 45-year-old YEMAC deminer, was working in the area:
“I took out a mine, but we had a technical problem with the detector [that YEMAC was using] … The detector didn’t detect the mine that was under a [cylinder] block. I stepped on the block. Then I lost my consciousness.”
Team members took al-Ashwal to a nearby hospital. He lost one leg and stayed in the hospital for 22 days. Al-Ashwal, who is married with five children, said he can no longer work and has been unable to provide an income for his family. He has not received any compensation.
September 17, 2015, Bir Ahmad Neighborhood, Al-Buraika District
At about 10 a.m. on September 17, 2015, Yassin Omar, a 33-year-old from Aden, drove a construction vehicle over a small dirt mound at a farm where he was working. The farm was near Bir Ahmad military camp, which had been controlled by Houthi-Saleh forces prior to their withdrawal from Aden. His vehicle triggered a landmine explosion that threw him out of the vehicle: “I tried to run, but I couldn’t, I didn’t know that I had lost my right leg, so I crawled for five or six meters. Then I lost consciousness.”
Omar, who has three children, said he had been worried about taking the job at the farm because he had heard people had been wounded by landmines in the area after Houthi-Saleh forces left. He said he had been assured the area was safe.
July 24, 2015, Al-Basateen Neighborhood, Dar Saad District
At about 9 a.m. on July 24, 2015, Muhammad Hansh, 43, entered al-Basateen neighborhood with other men from Aden fighting Houthi-Saleh forces. He stepped on a landmine: “I saw my leg at that moment – fragmented, chopped off.” He was taken to a hospital in Sheikh Othman, where his right leg was amputated.
July 14, 2015, Al-Nasser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
Sameer Derwish, 42, a plumber and a builder, joined local forces fighting Houthi-Saleh forces after they entered Aden. On July 14, 2015, he and a group of fighters came under fire in Khormaksar district. He said: “[The Houthis] forced us to take a path which is for civilians. There were some houses there, but they were empty because people left when the Houthis were controlling the area, so I walked and stepped on a landmine.”
Derwish said the mine was an antipersonnel mine, and that he saw other mines next to it after it exploded, including two small antipersonnel mines and “one big one, for tanks”. “I didn’t lose consciousness. … I was asking those around me, ‘What happened? What happened?’ They already saw that my leg was gone completely, but they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want to tell me.”
Derwish was kept in hospitals in Aden for about three months before being transferred abroad for rehabilitation and to get a prosthetic limb. Derwish, who is married and has six children, said, “I was working [before the war], my income was great, I was healthy, but now, I have no work.”
The area where Derwish was wounded is not believed to have been mined before the current conflict.
In September 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the use of landmines by Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen’s third-largest city, Taizz, investigating the cases of five people who had been maimed by antipersonnel mines between March and June 2016.
Taizz city and Taizz governorate have had heavy ground fighting throughout Yemen’s two-year-long war. In late 2016 and early 2017, coalition-backed forces affiliated with the Hadi government began advancing up Yemen’s western coast, eventually pushing the Houthi-Saleh forces out of the port city of Mokha in Taizz governorate.
YEMAC quickly began demining areas in Mokha from which Houthi-Saleh forces had retreated. YEMAC said that in February it had cleared and destroyed 770 mines from Bab al-Mandab district, about 75 kilometers south of Mokha, including about 150 mostly PPM-2 antipersonnel mines.
In December 2015, a 12-year-old boy and his sister were grazing the family’s sheep near a site held by Houthi-Saleh forces since early 2015, his family said. His family had taken their livestock to graze in that area without incident before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied the area.
After the mid-afternoon prayer, he stepped on a landmine. He lost both his legs and now has prosthetic ones. He said: “I was awake when that happened. I didn’t cry. My sister rescued me, she carried me out of there… I want better legs. I want to walk and play football.”
Yemen and the Mine Ban Treaty
A total of 162 countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. In keeping with the international norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch condemns any use of antipersonnel mines by any party at any time.
Yemen ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 1998 during the rule of former President Saleh. In April 2002, Yemen reported to the UN that it had finished destroying its stockpile of antipersonnel mines. Yemen subsequently found additional stocks in 2006 and destroyed those in December 2007.
The Houthi-Saleh forces have deployed at least two types of blast antipersonnel mines: GYATA-64 made in the 1980s in Hungary and PPM-2 manufactured in the 1980s in the former East Germany. A Claymore-type directional mine with Chinese-language markings has also been used, but it is unclear if it was victim-activated, i.e. triggered by an individual and thus an antipersonnel mine, or command-detonated, i.e. detonated via remote control. Yemen did not report these mines among the four types of stockpiled antipersonnel mines it declared to the UN secretary-general in 2002.
The evidence of further use of antipersonnel mines during the current conflict, including types that Yemen did not report as stockpiled, suggests either that the 2002 declaration was incorrect, or that these mines were acquired from another source after 2002.
An army officer assisting demining efforts said the army conducted a number of public displays after Yemen signed the Mine Ban Treaty in which they destroyed 70,000 antipersonnel mines previously stored in Aden and Taizz, primarily POMZ-1 and POMZ-2 types. The officer said that other antipersonnel mines were rerouted to Sanaa and never sent to Aden for destruction. The Ministry of Human Rights in Aden has alleged that the Houthi-Saleh forces acquired mines when they looted the stores of YEMAC, as well as arms stocks of the Yemeni military.
In September 2016, YEMAC found and destroyed about 16,729 landmines, including 6,135 antipersonnel mines, on Mayoon (Perim) Island in the Mandab strait. YEMAC said about 1,700 antipersonnel mines were planted around a fort on the island, while the rest were stockpiled in warehouses. Before the current conflict, the Yemeni army had officers stationed on the island, residents said.
Human Rights Watch has also documented Houthi-Saleh forces’ apparently indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines, including TM-62 and TM-57 mines manufactured in the former Soviet Union, and UKA-63 antivehicle mines manufactured in Hungary. Antivehicle mines, while not internationally banned, are often used in violation of the laws of war, for example when used indiscriminately or when inadequate precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of and chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.
On April 16, 2017, the Kavre district court sentenced three army officers to life imprisonment for the murder of Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl who was tortured in army custody and died as a result in February 2004. Sunuwar’s killing took place during the decade-long armed conflict between the Maoists and government forces that ended in 2006. A court martial in 2005 found that Sunuwar had died in army custody and convicted the three officers of torture and murder, but only sentenced the three perpetrators to six months’ imprisonment for minor offenses, and promptly released them on grounds that they had already served the six months while confined to army barracks during the period of investigation.
“These convictions are an important development in Nepal’s slow-paced justice system’s ability to deal with grave conflict-era human rights abuses,” said Sam Zarifi, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists. “What we need now is for the government to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law to enforce them.”
The trial before the Kavre district court took place in the absence of any of the four accused, despite repeated court summonses, including an arrest warrant, to notify them of the charges and compel them to appear in court. The three accused army officers who were convicted of Sunuwar’s murder, Bobi Khatri, Amit Pun, and Sunil Adhikari, are no longer in the army and are believed to have fled abroad after the court martial proceedings. The fourth accused, who was acquitted, Major Niranjan Basnet, is still in the army and was repatriated to Nepal from a United Nations peacekeeping assignment in Chad in 2009 due to the indictment against him.
Sunuwar’s case has become emblematic of the shortcomings in Nepal’s justice system that have repeatedly frustrated efforts of Nepali conflict victims to secure justice for wartime abuses. Sunuwar’s mother first filed a report with the police in November 2005. Since then, there have been numerous procedural and political hurdles, and a lack of cooperation by the military as it sought to protect its own. An arrest warrant issued in 2008 was never enforced by Nepali authorities, with the police telling the court they were unable to trace them.
“Maina Sunuwar’s case was a true test case for the Nepal criminal justice system, but the government has a habit of simply ignoring court orders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is the first sign of hope for victims after more than 10 years since the end of the conflict – and now we need to see all those convicted of murder behind bars.”
The human rights organizations expressed concern that the government might refuse to seek to take measures to enforce the Kavre court’s verdict given its prior record on this and thousands of other conflict-era cases. In a disturbing example, the police have yet to implement an April 13, 2017 Supreme Court order to arrest Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist politician convicted of a 1998 murder. Dhungel has yet to serve out his life sentence handed down by the courts. The court gave the police a week to execute its order and present Dhungel before it.
“The Kavre district court has done its job, reaffirming the independence of the judiciary from political and military pressure, and holding perpetrators of serious crimes committed during the conflict to account,” said Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International South Asia regional office director. “Now the authorities must do their job by breaking with the practice of successive past governments that ignore and undermine the courts’ decisions. We expect the government to promptly implement this week’s ruling.”
(Brussels, April 19, 2017) – The European Union foreign policy chief should speak out publicly and privately about the deteriorating human rights situation in China, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
During her visit to China from April 19 to 20, 2017, Mogherini will co-chair the 7th EU-China Strategic Dialogue with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and meet with senior Chinese officials, including Premier Li Keqiang and business leaders.
“During her China visit, High Representative Mogherini needs to act on the EU’s pledge to promote human rights, democracy, and rule of law abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Mogherini should strongly and clearly denounce the Chinese leaders’ increasingly heavy-handed repression of civil society activists.”
Human Rights Watch urged Mogherini to publicly call for the immediate release of all detained peaceful government critics, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and Martin Ennals Award winner Ilham Tohti.
She should also strongly express the EU’s concerns about a slew of new legislation that violates human rights and imposes harsh restrictions on civil society groups, such as the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybersecurity Law, and the Foreign NGO Management Law, and urge the Chinese government to stop suppressing religious teaching and expression, Human Rights Watch said.
“EU officials should demonstrate their seriousness about promoting human rights in the EU’s foreign policy by speaking out publicly about Beijing’s rampant abuses,” Richardson said. “Mogherini should seize this opportunity to press China’s leaders to end the crackdown.”
(Washington, DC) – A high-level international meeting on sanitation should address barriers to realizing the human right to sanitation with privacy and dignity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The United Nations and Sanitation and Water for All, a global public-private-civil society partnership to make water and sanitation accessible to everyone, will convene a meeting of finance and water and sanitation ministers on April 19 and 20, 2017 in Washington, DC, on global sanitation and drinking water challenges.
The 46-page report, “‘Going to the Toilet When You Want’: Sanitation as a Human Right,” is based on more than a decade of reporting by Human Rights Watch on the abuses, discrimination, and other obstacles people encounter in trying to perform the simple act of relieving themselves with dignity and in safety. As of 2015, 2.4 billion people around the world were estimated to be using unimproved sanitation facilities, defined as those that do not hygienically separate human excreta from human contact. Nearly a billion people practice open defecation – which has been linked to malnutrition, stunting, and increased diarrheal disease, among other harmful effects.
“The way people are able to manage their bodily functions is at the core of human dignity,” said Amanda Klasing, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Beyond the personal affront, lack of sanitation significantly undermines other human rights, including health and gender equality.”
The right to sanitation, which is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, entitles everyone to sanitation services that provide privacy and ensure dignity, and that are physically accessible, affordable, safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable. However, women, men, and children often do not have facilities that reflect the content of this right in various settings, including in schools, migration and displacement camps, prisons, work sites, and their homes.
Human Rights Watch has conducted research from 2005 to 2017 in countries including China, India, Nepal, Russia, South Africa, and the US. The research highlights some of the barriers to realizing the right to sanitation in these settings and some of the effects of a lack of sanitation on a range of other human rights. In almost every context, discrimination – based on caste, gender, disability, age, or other protected status – prevents some people from obtaining adequate sanitation and perpetuates other forms of inequality for marginalized populations.
“We had a toilet, but it was not good. If there are proper toilets, girls will feel better when they are on their periods and have to change their pads. Many girls stay home during their periods,” Chandni Rai, 19, said of the difficulties of managing menstrual hygiene at school, and the effect this had on girls’ education in Nepal.
Women and girls often face discrimination in having safe and private sanitation facilities and the material resources to manage their menstruation, Human Rights Watch found. This lack of access may undermine other rights, including to education, health, work, and gender equality.
A lack of access to safe, accessible, and private sanitation facilities can also undermine the rights of people with disabilities, older adults, and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, Human Rights Watch said. Toilets, open defecation fields, and bathing facilities can become the site of sexual violence and harassment. Government failure to consult with communities and facilitate participation in decision making, particularly with marginalized minorities, may also compound discrimination and exclusion in access to sanitation.
Human Rights Watch also documented government failure to fully respect, protect, and fulfill the right to sanitation for people deprived of their liberty in jails or detention centers, often at the expense of other human rights.
The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls, in its Goal 6, for access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030 and for an end to open defecation. To achieve that goal, governments and donors need to address sanitation as a human right and make funding commitments to eliminate barriers to sanitation and to address discrimination. They should also make sure that participation by the groups involved and accountability for a lack of adequate facilities are built into their investments in sanitation.
“We have talked with people with disabilities who described crawling up steps to an inaccessible toilet, women in displacement camps who were terrified to venture to a toilet in a remote area, and people who had no access to sanitation facilities at all,” Klasing said. “Efforts to ensure adequate and safe sanitation and hygiene resources should be rooted in the human right to sanitation for everybody.”
(New York, April 19, 2017) – Chinese authorities should immediately release a longtime Taiwanese democracy activist who has been detained for a month on suspicion of endangering China’s national security, Human Rights Watch said today. Chinese national security laws allow the authorities to deny Li Ming-Che, 42, access to his family and lawyers, leaving him at serious risk of mistreatment.
“Chinese authorities have offered no credible evidence for the grave allegations against Li Ming-Che,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately notify Li’s family of his whereabouts, and allow his family and lawyer to visit him.”
Li has been missing since March 19, 2017, after he crossed from Macau into Zhuhai in China’s Guangdong province. A friend of his who had planned to meet him in Zhuhai said Li never arrived. Ten days later, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office – the government agency responsible for cross-strait affairs – confirmed at a news conference that the “relevant authorities” had detained Li and placed him under investigation on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger national security.”
Li, a manager at Taipei’s Wenshan Community College, has worked for Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and is a longtime supporter of civil society groups and activists in China. Li had used an account on WeChat, a Chinese social media and messaging app, to discuss human rights issues and Taiwan’s democratic transition with Chinese activists, but in 2015 he was blocked from sending group messages. Li has also taken books to Chinese activists and families of detained rights lawyers. On his most recent trip, Li planned to see friends and seek medical treatment for his mother-in-law.
On April 10, Li’s wife, Li Ching-yu, was prevented from boarding a flight from Taipei to Beijing to try to visit with and deliver medications to her husband. An airline employee at the airport informed her that her taibaozheng – a Beijing-issued travel permit necessary for Taiwanese to visit China - had been cancelled. Li Ching-yu told the New York Times that she had not received an explanation for the cancellation. She also said that a Taiwanese person who has ties with Chinese authorities contacted her to say that if she ceased her public campaign calling for her husband’s release he would be freed. She said the person told her that if she continued, a confession by her husband would be broadcast on Chinese TV.
A spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office warned at a second news conference on April 12 that outside interference with Li’s case would “complicate” matters and “harm the interests of the person concerned.”
Although China’s Criminal Procedure Law requires police to notify families within 24 hours of criminal detention, the requirement can be waived in cases involving “national security” and “terrorism,” and when the police believe that such notification could “impede the investigation.” Similarly, although the Criminal Procedure Law allows lawyer-client meetings within 48 hours of lawyers making such requests, in cases involving “national security,” “terrorism,” and “major corruption,” police approval is required before such meetings can take place.
Since President Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013, authorities have apprehended citizens of other countries – inside and outside China – for their work helping Chinese human rights lawyers and activists or for speaking critically of Chinese leaders. Those detained include a Swedish human rights activist, Peter Dahlin; Gui Minhai, a bookseller also from Sweden; James Wang, an American businessman; and Lee Bo, a British bookseller. Some of the detainees had also been forced to give confessions on state media. Authorities have also used televised confessions to vilify detained journalists, bloggers, activists and lawyers, and increasingly have used national security charges to prosecute and imprison activists solely for their peaceful criticism of the Chinese government.
Under international law, a government commits an enforced disappearance when state agents take a person into custody and then deny holding the person, or conceal or fail to disclose the person’s whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are often at high risk of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The use of televised confessions violates the right to a fair trial and can often be linked to torture or other ill-treatment.
“Beijing’s persecution of those who work to advance human rights and justice in China increasingly targets non-citizens,” Richardson said. “Repeatedly levelling national security charges against peaceful activists marks another alarming escalation in Xi’s campaign against human rights.”
(New York) – Thailand’s military junta is targeting a range of peaceful critics for prosecution prior to the third anniversary of the military coup, Human Rights Watch said today. Charges were recently brought against 59-year-old Veera Somkwamkid, a prominent anti-corruption activist, for mocking Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha on Facebook.
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has frequently harassed and prosecuted peaceful critics, including those who have poked fun of the junta, since taking power in a May 2014 coup, Human Rights Watch said.
“The junta can’t even take some mockery on Facebook without throwing someone in jail,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This intolerance of political criticism and dissenting opinions is an embrace of dictatorial rule, not a transition to democracy.”
An arrest warrant was filed against Veera on March 9, 2017, under the Computer-Related Crime Act, the provisions of which were expanded in December. The charges against him relate to a satirical questionnaire on his Facebook page asking which of the promises in the junta’s theme song “Returning Happiness to Thailand,” composed by General Prayut, had been fulfilled. Most of the 123 participants who answered Veera’s questions responded that “None” of the junta’s pledges had been met.
The Police Technology Crime Suppression Division subsequently accused Veera of misleading the public by reporting false information about the junta’s popularity. Veera said his questionnaire was a response to polls published by pro-government survey institutions that showed strong popular support for the prime minister.
Last April, General Prayut said in a media interview that he ordered officials to take legal action against anyone participating in mocking him on social media: “I will prosecute them all. They can’t make fun of me… My legal team already has their eyes on these people. What they do is illegal.”
Soon after, on April 27, 2016, Thai authorities arrested eight people – Natthika Worathaiyawich, Harit Mahaton, Noppakao Kongsuwan, Worawit Saksamutnan, Yothin Mangkhangsanga, Thanawat Buranasiri, Supachai Saibut, and Kannasit Tangboonthina – for being involved in the making and dissemination of commentary on the parody Facebook page “We Love General Prayut.” They have been charged with sedition under article 116 of the Penal Code, which carries up to a seven-year sentence, and with committing computer-related crimes. Their cases have been brought to the Bangkok Military Court.
Previously, in October 2015, the military authorities detained a prominent cartoonist Sakda Sae-iao (also known by his penname Sia) of Thai Rath newspaper and put him through an “attitude adjustment” program after he drew editorial cartoons satirizing Prayut’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, in which the junta leader pledged to uphold human rights while repression was a daily reality in Thailand. Sakda was also warned that he would face legal action if he continued to criticize Prayut or other junta members.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, prohibits restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds unless they are provided by law, strictly construed, and necessary and proportionate to address a legitimate threat. Laws that impose criminal penalties for peaceful expression are of particular concern because of the chilling effects they have on free speech.
The UN Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has stated in a general comment on freedom expression that:
“[T]he 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. Accordingly, the Committee expresses concern regarding laws on such matters as … disrespect for authority, … and the protection of the honour of public officials. [Governments] should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
On March 13 and 14, soon after authorities charged Veera, a Thai delegation told the Human Rights Committee during the review of the country’s obligations under the ICCPR that the government respects freedom of expression. However, the junta’s record on freedom of expression has been poor, as the authorities have repeatedly harassed and prosecuted people for their speech, writings and internet postings critical of the government.
“The junta should cease using its draconian laws to silence and punish its critics,” Adams said. “Thailand’s friends should not only press for Veera’s release, but for the government to stop persecuting people for expressing their peaceful views.”
(Sydney) – The Australian government should immediately halt military sales to Saudi Arabia following numerous unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Australia should also release details about military weapons and material it has sold to other members of the Saudi-led coalition carrying out the Yemen campaign and whether any Australian-made arms have been used in unlawful coalition attacks.
In the past year, based on media reports, the Defense Department has approved four military export licenses to Saudi Arabia, but it has not released information on the types or quantities of arms and equipment sold. Since the Saudi-led coalition began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have documented numerous unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of them apparent war crimes, on homes, markets, schools, and hospitals.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has approved military sales to Saudi Arabia when he should be using Australia’s leverage to press Riyadh to end unlawful airstrikes in Yemen,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Until the Saudi-led coalition credibly investigates and curtails its unlawful attacks, Australia should stop selling them arms and equipment.”
After two years of fighting, at least 4,773 civilians have been killed and 8,272 wounded, the majority by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The coalition has not seriously investigated alleged laws-of-war violations, and has provided almost no information on which country’s forces participated in such attacks.
The coalition has also imposed a naval blockade on Yemen that has exacerbated the country’s grave humanitarian crisis, which the UN recently declared one of the world’s worst. The blockade has diverted ships carrying life-saving medical supplies and delayed shipments of civilian goods for up to three months. Nearly 19 million Yemenis – over two thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance, and seven million are facing starvation.
Opposing Houthi-Saleh forces have also been implicated in numerous serious violations of the laws of war, including using antipersonnel landmines and restricting and impeding the flow of aid.
Several countries are showing increasing reluctance to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons, Human Rights Watch said. In March 2016, the Dutch parliament voted to ban arms exports to Saudi Arabia. United Kingdom arms sales to Saudi Arabia are currently under judicial review.
Several United States senators recently introduced a bill to limit the sale of US weapons unless Saudi Arabia acts to minimize civilian casualties in Yemen.
“Halting defense sales to Saudi Arabia would send a strong signal to Riyadh that the Australian government is committed to ensuring respect for the laws of war, and to the Australian people that the lives of Yemeni civilians are of genuine concern,” Pearson said.
(Washington, DC) – Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders, Human Rights Watch said today. Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave the country.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled a humanitarian crisis that their government denies exists and is not addressing adequately. Thousands have gone to Brazil, many entering via the border that Venezuela shares with the Brazilian state of Roraima. Some seek protection there as refugees, others seek temporary work, while others make visits seeking desperately needed medical care. The unprecedented influx of Venezuelans is straining Roraima’s already overburdened public health care system and clogging Brazil’s system for processing asylum applications.
More than 12,000 Venezuelans have entered and stayed in Brazil since 2014, according to official sources. The number of Venezuelans moving to Brazil has increased more than five-fold from 2014, reaching 7,150 during the first 11 months of 2016. Many Venezuelans are living in precarious conditions on the streets and in a shelter in Boa Vista, Roraima’s capital. Despite the difficult conditions, all of the more than 60 Venezuelans Human Rights Watch interviewed in February said they were better off in Brazil than in Venezuela.
Even in the hospitals where Venezuelans make up a small proportion of total patients, several health care professionals and officials said the increase in the patient load is aggravating existing strains on the state’s public health care system.
Brazilian health care providers said that Venezuelans tend to arrive at the hospital sicker than Brazilians, having failed to receive adequate treatment at home. Many are treated for complications because conditions such as HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and malaria have been left untreated due to shortages of medicines in Venezuela. As a result, doctors said, Venezuelan patients more frequently require hospitalization than local patients. Health care professionals said that even before the influx of Venezuelan patients, hospital capacity was insufficient to meet demand.
In one example Human Rights Watch found, Barbara Rosales, 21, went to the hospital in the Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén with complications in her six-month pregnancy in January. The hospital lacked the medicine she needed and ended up sending her to Brazil in a car accompanied by a nurse but without any medicines. Rosales was immediately hospitalized in Brazil. Five days later, her baby was born, weighing one kilogram. When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital a month later, the baby remained in intensive care.
Roraima authorities have provided additional funding to state hospitals to respond to the increased demand for services. In December, the governor declared a health emergency to obtain federal aid. But aid had not arrived, state authorities said in February.
Other Venezuelans said they had moved to Brazil because they could not buy the medications they needed at home. Geraldine Dhil, 32, said that she crossed the border trying to find a job to buy medicines in Brazil to treat her 13-year-old daughter, who has cancer. Human Rights Watch interviewed her while she was walking the 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the border to Boa Vista in stifling heat.
According to information gathered by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brazil over the past five months in Roraima, the influx from Venezuela is mixed – some would qualify for international protection as refugees while others would not. Former officials of the Brazilian refugee agency told Human Rights Watch that they shared the same view.
Nearly all the Venezuelans interviewed said they primarily left Venezuela either because they could not buy adequate food or medicines for their families, or because of crime. Most had requested asylum. The Brazilian government reported that the number of Venezuelans seeking asylum has skyrocketed, from 54 in 2013 to 2,595 in the first 11 months of 2016. As of December 31, the Justice Ministry had only decided 89 of the 4,670 cases of Venezuelans who had requested asylum since 2012, granting asylum in 34 of those cases. The backlog of unresolved claims from Venezuelans is slowing the processing of all asylum claims throughout Brazil.
More than 4,000 Venezuelans in Roraima have been stuck for months on a waiting list for appointments to file asylum requests. Brazilian law allows people who have requested asylum to stay in Brazil, obtain work permits, and enroll their children in school. But it is unclear whether the appointment slips that the Federal Police have been handing out, some for as late as 2018, are valid to certify that the person has an official temporary permission to stay. Even if Venezuelans are not deported while they wait for their appointment, they have no legal authorization to work, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation.
In 2016, authorities deported 514 Venezuelans from Roraima – compared with just 20 in 2015. The Federal Police tried to deport 450 members of the Venezuelan Warao indigenous people in December, but the federal Public Defender’s Office filed a habeas corpus petition with a local judge on the grounds that the attempt was arbitrary, and the judge stopped the deportation at the last minute.
In March, the Brazilian National Council of Migration, which is part of the Ministry of Labor, approved a resolution to grant Venezuelans two-year residence permits, a move that could ease pressure on the overwhelmed Brazilian asylum process if adequately implemented.
In May 2016, after the Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro presented a report on the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the OAS Permanent Council agreed to move forward with an evaluation of Venezuela’s compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, despite the Venezuelan government’s claim that it violated its sovereignty. In mid-March 2017, Almagro reopened the debate, stating Venezuela was violating the charter’s provisions.
On March 28, 20 OAS member states voted to debate the Venezuela crisis at a Permanent Council meeting, despite Venezuela’s insistence that it would constitute intervening in the country’s internal affairs. During the discussion, some OAS members delivered a strong message that Venezuela’s crisis is undermining human rights and democracy. Several regional governments issued similarly strong messages days later, after the Venezuelan Supreme Court effectively shut down the National Assembly on March 29. Although the court partly backtracked three days later, after Maduro asked it to revise the ruling, it has not reversed previous decisions that had already severely undermined the National Assembly’s powers.
On April 18, 2017, Human Rights Watch presented its findings on the impact of Venezuelan immigration to Brazil to Almagro.
“Putting Venezuela at the top of the region’s foreign policy priorities is key to addressing a problem that is already having an impact outside of Venezuela’s borders,” Vivanco said.
For the detailed findings, accounts by people interviewed, and steps taken by the Brazilian government to address the situation, please see below.
Human Rights Watch Findings
In February, Human Rights Watch interviewed close to 100 people in Roraima, including Venezuelans who had recently arrived in Brazil, Brazilian government officials, health care professionals, academics, and activists. The Venezuelans came from Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and nine states – Aragua, Anzoátegui, Bolivar, Carabobo, Mérida, Miranda, Monagas, Sucre, and Zulia – some of which are more than 1,000 kilometers from the border. Human Rights Watch also reviewed state government health care statistics, information provided by the two main hospitals in Boa Vista, and judicial files and resolutions issued by Brazilian state and federal authorities.
The Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela
Venezuela is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented. Medicine, basic medical supplies, and even food are in such short supply that many Venezuelans cannot feed their families or get adequate medical care. Low and middle-income families who rely on items subject to government-set maximum prices are particularly affected.
The Venezuelan government’s response has been woefully inadequate. Denying that a crisis exists, authorities have neither implemented effective policies to alleviate it nor made serious efforts to obtain international humanitarian aid that could significantly bolster its own limited efforts. In late March, President Nicolás Maduro said on television that he had asked the United Nations for help to obtain medicines, without providing any additional information, but he still has not acknowledged the extent of the crisis. Meanwhile, Venezuelans’ rights to health and food are being seriously undermined, with no end in sight.
Venezuelan Migration to Brazil
In desperation, Venezuelans are fleeing, and for the many who cannot afford plane tickets, their destination is just across the border to Brazil’s northern state of Roraima.
Tens of thousands have entered Brazil since 2013. Most have been temporary migrants who returned home after making some money.
However, more than 12,000 have stayed in Brazil since 2014, according to an official report. The number of Venezuelans who enter Brazil and stay each year has increased more than five-fold, from 1,341 in 2014 to 7,150 in the first 11 months of 2016, according to official data. Most recorded entries were registered at the crossing between Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, and Pacaraima, Brazil. Others have crossed the border without informing Brazilian authorities, Brazilian Federal Police officials told Human Rights Watch. (Venezuela and Brazil share a 2,200-kilometer-long land border.)
Human Rights Watch interviewed 65 Venezuelans in Roraima who had recently arrived. All said they had fled Venezuela because they could not afford to buy enough food for their families, they did not have access to adequate health care, or they had been – or feared that they would be – victims of violent crime – or a combination of those reasons. Almost everyone was sending food and money back to family members, mostly children or parents. Some said they had suffered or witnessed political persecution in Venezuela, although none said it was their primary reason for fleeing.
Some Venezuelan immigrants are starting to move out of Roraima, many to the city of Manaus, Amazonas state, which is at the end of the only paved road that connects Roraima to the rest of Brazil, said Venezuelans and Brazilian government officials interviewed. Although there are no official statistics, at least 200 have already arrived in Manaus, according to local press accounts.
Impact on Roraima’s Healthcare System
Roraima’s public healthcare system has for years struggled to meet local needs, according to César Farias, the state health secretary, and health professionals interviewed. Some patients were assigned to reclining chairs in corridors due to a shortage of beds, healthcare professionals said.
The influx of Venezuelans in 2016 – both of patients now living in Brazil and temporary visitors seeking health care – has made a difficult situation worse, a review of official data and key informant interviews with health care professionals at the main hospitals in Boa Vista and Pacaraima indicate. While in the past Brazilians living in Roraima were sometimes treated in Venezuelan facilities under a bilateral agreement, the current movement of patients is almost entirely from Venezuela to Brazil.
Between January and the beginning of December 2016, more than 7,600 Venezuelans were treated at the Roraima General Hospital, the main health care facility in the state, which treats over 80 percent of the adult population; the maternity hospital Nossa Senhora de Nazareth, the only state facility dedicated to maternal health care; and the Pacaraima hospital, which serves the border area.
At the Pacaraima hospital, about 80 percent of patients are Venezuelans, a head nurse said. The increased demand in Pacaraima – a border city of about 12,000 – is extending aspects of Venezuela’s crisis into Brazil. Some essential medical supplies, such as gauze, IV fluids, and syringes, and basic medicines to provide basic health care, such as paracetamol for children, are in critically short supply, the nurse said. A state government emergency decree states that, between January and August 2016, more than half of the prenatal care visits in Pacaraima were by Venezuelan women.
At the two main healthcare facilities in Boa Vista, the vast majority of patients are Brazilian. Nonetheless, health officials and workers said the sharp increase in Venezuelan patients has put an unprecedented strain on the ability to adequately treat patients. Healthcare professionals said that because of complications due to a lack of adequate treatment at home, Venezuelan patients frequently require complex medical treatment or hospitalization and extended hospital stays.
This puts a further strain on a system that at the beginning of 2016 already had a statewide deficit of 170 beds to serve the local population, according to the state health secretary and hospital staff. The director of the Roraima General Hospital said that while 7 percent of Brazilian patients need to be hospitalized, for Venezuelans, it is about 20 percent.
Doctors said that many Venezuelans need treatment for conditions left untreated, such as HIV or tuberculosis. In cases of acute conditions, such as pneumonia or malaria, many Venezuelan patients rush to Brazilian hospitals because of the lack of medicines at home. Based on official statistics, as of August 2016, 77 percent of the 2,517 malaria patients in Roraima were Venezuelans.
At the General Hospital of Roraima, 1,815 Venezuelans were treated in 2016 – up from 537 in 2015. In February, several healthcare professionals in the emergency room estimated that at least 30 percent of patients were Venezuelans. Doctors and nurses said that the increase of Venezuelan patients was significant and continued in 2017. An average of 300 Venezuelan patients were being treated monthly, the hospital director said.
The Roraima General Hospital director said that her hospital had faced shortages of medicines and supplies due to the influx of Venezuelan patients. She said that each hospital requests medicines and supplies to treat patients based on the number of treatments provided during the previous year, and that the hospital had not anticipated the influx of Venezuelans in 2016. As a result, the hospital used up the medicines and supplies for the year by August. The director had to request emergency supplies to provide adequate medical care for the rest of the year.
The number of Venezuelan women who sought help at the maternity hospital increased from 368 in 2014 to 453 in 2015 to 807 in 2016. In 2016, more than 100 had Caesarian sections, based on hospital data. Other women experienced pregnancy-related complications, some of which had not been adequately addressed due to a lack of prenatal care, and often had to remain hospitalized, the hospital’s clinical director said.
Accounts by Venezuelans
In January, María Coromoto Peñuela took her son from her hometown of Santa Elena de Uairén, on the Venezuelan side of the border, to Boa Vista for an appendectomy. The surgery could not be performed at home due to scarcity of medical supplies. Two weeks later, a family friend drove her 68-year-old husband, Olimpo Lozada Marcano, to Brazil as well because of what she said were complications from a gallstone that could not be treated in Venezuela. The hospital director said that had Lozada obtained adequate treatment when he first developed symptoms, he would not have required hospitalization for emergency surgery.
Barbara Rosales, 21, went to the hospital in the Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén with complications in her six-month pregnancy in January 2017. A doctor gave her a medical order for treatment in Brazil, saying that the hospital could not treat her due to a lack of medicines and would not be able to care for her baby if it was born prematurely, she said.
As the hospital’s ambulance was out of service, the hospital arranged for a car to drive her to Boa Vista – although she had to pay for the gas – and assigned a nurse to travel with her. Rosales said she fainted three times during the trip and the nurse did not have any medicine to give her. When she arrived at the maternity hospital, Rosales was immediately hospitalized. Five days later, her baby, who weighed one kilogram, was born. When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital a month later, the baby was doing well but remained in intensive care. Rosales said she would return to Santa Elena de Uairén once the baby was released from the hospital and given the first vaccines, which were unavailable in Venezuela.
Some Venezuelans said they had moved to Brazil because they could not buy the medications they needed at home. Geraldine Dhil, 32, said that she crossed the border trying to find a job to buy medicines in Brazil to treat her 13-year-old daughter, who has cancer. Human Rights Watch interviewed her while she was walking the 200 kilometers from the border to Boa Vista. At the side of the road, it was 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) at 10 a.m., and the grasslands of northern Roraima provided virtually no shade. Marlene Fuentemayor, 37, told Human Rights Watch that she moved to Boa Vista to be able to feed her family and buy medicines for her 12-year-old son, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
Others said they came to buy medicines to take back home, due to the shortages in Venezuela. Enriqueta Rivero, 70, interviewed at the Brazilian Federal Police border post in Pacaraima, said she had not been able to find medications for high blood pressure for months and her grandchildren were taking her to Boa Vista to find the medicines the doctor at home had prescribed.
The Impact on Brazil’s Refugee System
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a “refugee” as someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” The non-binding 1984 Cartagena Declaration has a broader refugee definition, which includes people fleeing from “generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Brazilian law incorporates the Refugee Convention and also considers someone a refugee if they are leaving their country due to “grave and generalized human rights violations.”
In March, the Justice Ministry told Human Rights Watch that 34 Venezuelans had obtained asylum in Brazil since 2012, 29 of them due to religious persecution or their membership in a targeted social group, three due to grave and generalized human rights violations, and two due to political persecution. Between 2012 and 2016, 55 asylum requests by Venezuelans were dismissed, the ministry said.
Although most Venezuelans arriving in Brazil say that the primary reasons for leaving Venezuela are economic – the great difficulty they face to buy food and medicines for their families – and the fear of being victims of crime, thousands have requested asylum.
Members of the federal Prosecutor’s Office and the federal Public Defender’s Office told Human Rights Watch in February that seeking asylum was virtually the only alternative that Venezuelans had. Brazil’s immigration law – passed during its dictatorship – offers very few possibilities for legal migration.
To request asylum, Venezuelans simply need to state before a federal police officer that they are seeking asylum, and are not required at the outset to provide evidence to corroborate their claims. Under Brazilian law, while their asylum requests are being processed, they cannot be deported, are entitled to a work permit, and are allowed to enroll children in school.
CONARE, the federal refugee agency, makes the final refugee status decision in a process that used to take an average of two years before the increase in the number of Venezuelan applicants, according to Rosilene Duarte Santiago, the Federal Police general director in Roraima.
As of December 31, 2016, 4,670 Venezuelans had requested asylum in Brazil since 2012, the Justice Ministry told Human Rights Watch. According to other official sources, the number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Brazil increased from 54 in 2013 to 208 in 2014, 825 in 2015, and 2,595 between January and December 1, 2016. In Roraima, nine Venezuelans sought asylum in 2014, 234 in 2015, and 2,230 in 2016. The increased Venezuelan immigration in Brazil coincides with the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Venezuela.
Human Rights Watch asked the Justice Ministry to provide updated information on asylum applications and asylum approval rates. The government response, dated March 3, does not include information for 2017. However, local authorities confirmed that the number of requests remained high in 2017, and most Venezuelans arriving in Roraima interviewed in February planned to seek asylum, or already had.
Federal Police in Roraima have had insufficient personnel to process the increased asylum requests since the beginning of 2016. To address this problem, the Federal Police in Roraima created a system – not provided for in any law – of giving Venezuelans appointments to lodge their asylum requests months later. In February, the Federal Police received an average of 50 to 70 asylum requests a day and were scheduling approximately 200 people per day to file an application later. The waiting list was 4,000 names long in February, said the Federal Police general director in Boa Vista. Human Rights Watch reviewed several slips of paper with appointment dates, and interviewed dozens of Venezuelans who were waiting for an appointment that they had been told would be later in 2017 or in 2018.
In the meantime, the Federal Police said, Venezuelans with the receipt showing they had an appointment would not be deported. However, other authorities, including Edinéia Chagas, the Civil Police chief in the state of Roraima, and Roberta Alvim, a federal public defender, told Human Rights Watch that there was no clarity regarding the legal validity of these appointments.
Even if not deported, Venezuelans who are on this waiting list are vulnerable to exploitation since they are not allowed to obtain a work permit at that stage. A few Venezuelans also said that their employers failed to pay them for their work, but they did not file a complaint because they lacked work permits.
Several Venezuelan women who had received appointment slips but no work authorization said they were engaging in sex work for the first time in their lives and that they did not report crimes they suffered or witnessed – such as robbery, beatings, kidnapping, and rape – because they feared being deported.
In one case, a 27-year-old sex worker was kidnapped by a client, who raped her several times in his car and nearly choked her to death, said two other sex workers who lived with her and saw the marks on her throat. The victim told them she had escaped after the man stopped his car at a store. The two witnesses said that they saw the man again in the area where they work days later, which prompted the victim to return to Venezuela. “She did not tell the police because she was afraid. She had no papers,” one of the sex workers said.
The increased number of asylum applications from Venezuelans that CONARE needs to evaluate delays the processing of every asylum request in the country, the director of the immigration of the Federal Police in Roraima said.
Threat of Deportation
In 2016, Brazilian authorities deported 514 Venezuelans from Roraima – up from approximately 20 in 2015, according to the Federal Police in Roraima. There were cases of individual deportations as well as the mass deportation by the Federal Police of approximately 200 Venezuelans, including dozens of children, in September, Alvim, the federal public defender, said.
At about 4 a.m. on December 9, members of the municipal guard and state military police rounded up approximately 450 indigenous Venezuelans, including about 200 children, who were sleeping on the street at a local market in Boa Vista. Local vendors complained of reduced sales because the Venezuelans were sleeping there. Members of the group interviewed said they had left Venezuela because of a lack of food.
The Venezuelans were taken to the Federal Police headquarters and by 4 p.m. were told to board a series of buses to be deported back to Venezuela.
The Federal Police said its officers interviewed each Venezuelan individually and followed the legal process established by a law that allows the authorities to “summarily” deport foreigners “in cases of infractions against national security, political or social order, popular economy, … or violation of a prohibition provided by in the immigration law.” In these cases, authorities may deport people in a summary process that can take no more than 15 days and is not subject to appeal.
Brazil’s Congress is debating a proposed revision of the law. While the current law – adopted during Brazil’s dictatorship – prioritizes protecting “national security,” the bill states that human rights will be guiding principles of Brazil’s immigration policies. The legislative proposal opens new paths for legal migration into Brazil, allowing the government, for example, to grant humanitarian visas to nationals of countries under “grave or imminent institutional instability, armed conflict, large-scale calamity, grave violation of human rights or international humanitarian law, or other circumstances.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed people who were subject to the summary deportation attempt on December 9 and reviewed police documents. Eight people said they had been sleeping when military police officers and municipal guards rounded them up and forced them onto buses. The agents took away the IDs of those who had them, without asking if any of them had requested asylum – although some had – they said.
Federal prosecutors, who in Brazil are also charged with protecting basic rights, told Human Rights Watch and said in written judicial documents that the Federal Police officers did not provide an interpreter, though the people involved were members of the Warao indigenous community and many did not speak Portuguese or Spanish.
More than 240 deportation documents that Human Rights Watch had access to had the exact same text, except for the name of the deportee and the person’s Venezuelan ID number, if she or he had one. None were signed by the deportee – they had a stamp saying that the person being deported was “illiterate,” which would have made it impossible for people to read the terms of their deportations. All the documents were signed by the same federal police officer and by the same two witnesses.
Alvim filed an habeas corpus request that day and asked a local judge to suspend the mass deportation, contending that it violated the deportees’ due process rights and Brazil’s obligation not to deport groups of people provided for in Article 22(9) of the American Convention on Human Rights. The judge ordered the Federal Police to stop the deportations when the buses were arriving at the border. Some Venezuelans decided to disembark there, and the rest were driven back to Boa Vista.
There have not been any mass deportation attempts since then.
Precarious Living Conditions in Brazil
Many Venezuelan immigrants are living in precarious conditions in Roraima. People who had been construction workers, teachers, or middle-class professionals in Venezuela are now selling food or crafts, or washing windshields at stoplights. The Warao work unloading trucks at the border town of Pacaraima, make handicrafts, or beg on the streets. Human Rights Watch spoke to dozens of Venezuelans in this situation. Despite recognizing that they were living in very difficult conditions, they all said they were better off in Brazil than in Venezuela.
On December 17, a judge from the state juvenile justice system ruled that the state and municipal governments had to provide shelter, food, and security to Venezuelan immigrant children living on the streets in Boa Vista.
Ten days later, state and municipal authorities opened an improvised shelter at a local warehouse that had functioned as a public gym. The shelter – which has housed up to 500 immigrants at a time, according to official sources – was administered for months by Fraternidade, a Brazil-based international aid organization. For its work at the shelter, the group relied on the state and municipal governments’ contributions and private donations. In February, the group was planning to end its activities at the shelter, but it was unclear who would take over.
When Human Rights Watch visited the shelter in February, 180 Venezuelans were living there. They slept on hammocks or on the floor and faced very poor hygienic conditions.
The vast majority were Warao. Malnutrition in Venezuelans arriving at the shelter was “apparent,” said the director of the Center of Migration and Human Rights of the Roraima Dioceses. In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed the mother of a 2-year-old girl who had arrived at the shelter weeks earlier weighing only seven kilos.
In January, the Fraternidade staff member in charge of the shelter took a 16-year-old girl who appeared to have chicken pox to the doctor and informed health authorities of the case. Although a representative from the state health secretary visited the shelter soon after, no one provided vaccinations. When Human Rights Watch visited in February, chicken pox had spread to five other people, including the girl’s 4-month-old baby.
Brazil’s Evolving Response
While the primary responsibility for the suffering of the thousands of people who are fleeing Venezuela lies with the Maduro administration, Brazil is obligated to ensure that once Venezuelans arrive in its territory, their basic rights are respected. That includes their right to health and their right not to be deported arbitrarily, as well as the principle of non-refoulement – not returning refugees to a situation where their lives or personal freedom would be at risk.
There was a consensus among authorities, prosecutors, academics, and healthcare professionals interviewed in Roraima that the influx of Venezuelans in 2016 created an unforeseen situation that Brazilian authorities at the state and federal levels are figuring out how to resolve. While the Roraima state government and federal officials recognized the problems, and have adopted some positive measures to try to address them, they have yet to ensure a sustainable solution to a problem that will not go away unless the Venezuelan government effectively addresses its humanitarian crisis.
Measures to Provide Basic Services to Venezuelans, Including Health Care
In October, Roraima Governor Suely Campos created a Cabinet for Migration Management consisting of various state authorities, to elaborate public policies to address the impact of Venezuelan immigration into the state. The group established a Center of Reference for Immigrants, which has attempted to provide basic support to Venezuelan immigrants and complied with the judicial ruling that ordered authorities to provide shelter and basic services to Venezuelan immigrant children living in the streets with their families. In mid-February, Doriedson Ribeiro, the then executive secretary of Roraima’s Civil Defense, a civilian crisis-response body charged with implementing state government policies to address the influx of Venezuelans into Roraima, told Human Rights Watch that while the state government would not challenge the judicial ruling, it cannot provide support to Venezuelans at the shelter “forever.” He also said that the current situation was unsustainable, and he did not know what would happen.
In the area of health, the state government is building two new hospitals that, when finished, would increase the number of beds by 240. The estimated completion date is June, the state health secretary said. The projects were planned years ago, and are unrelated to the influx of Venezuelans, although their completion would alleviate the increased burden on the healthcare system.
In December, Governor Campos declared a health emergency in the – municipalities of Boa Vista and Pacaraima due to an “intense migration influx.” The decree is valid for 180 days and requests federal government support to “provide quality care to Brazilians and Venezuelans.” As of February, though, the federal government had not contributed any funds, the state health secretary said.
Measures to Address the Impact on Brazil’s Refugee System
On February 3, the Federal Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Public Defenders’ Office, and the Labor Prosecutors’ Office—the unit within the Federal Attorney General’s Office that monitors labor rights—, with the support of Brazilian nongovernmental groups, presented a proposal to the National Immigration Council – a federal body that deals with immigration policies – to grant Venezuelan immigrants two-year residency and work permits, as are currently granted to nationals of other Mercosur countries.
On March 2, the National Council of Migration adopted a resolution based on the proposal, which entered into effect upon publication in the official gazette the next day. Under the new provisions, to obtain a two-year residency permit, Venezuelans must go to a Federal Police office and present a form with personal information, two pictures, a valid ID or passport, a birth certificate or consular document certifying where they were born, and a certificate stating they do not have a criminal record in Brazil, and state that they do not have a criminal record in Venezuela. Those who had previously requested asylum may decide to withdraw that application when they file for the two-year residency permit.
The new rules will be in place for a year, and may be extended. CONARE is drafting implementing regulations, and the Justice Ministry is considering measures to diminish the cost for Venezuelans to apply for these residency permits. To ensure that Venezuelan immigrants in Brazil, particularly those who arrive in Roraima with limited resources, are able to take advantage of this process, Brazilian authorities should consider minimizing the cost for applying, as well as the requirements to obtain Venezuelan documents that may be difficult to get from Venezuelan consulates, Human Rights Watch said.
(Washington, DC) – United States forces appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in a March 16, 2017 strike that killed at least 38 people in western Aleppo in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 16-page report, “Attack on the Omar Ibn al-Khatab Mosque: US Authorities’ Failure to Take Adequate Precautions,” found that statements by US military authorities after the attack indicate that they failed to understand that the targeted building was a mosque, that prayer was about to begin, and that a religious lecture was taking place at the time of the attack. A proper analysis of the target and its use would probably have established at least some of these elements. Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque.
“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The US authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
US authorities have said they will investigate both whether civilians were killed in the attack and whether the building hit was part of a complex belonging to a mosque. The US government should make public the detailed findings of its investigation, provide adequate redress to civilian victims or their families, and hold those responsible for the attack to account.
Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone 14 people with firsthand knowledge of the attack, including four who were in the mosque at the time of the attack. In carrying out the investigation, Human Rights Watch used some of the research provided by the open source investigative group Bellingcat, which analyzed video footage and photographs from the attack, and Forensic Architecture, which created models of the mosque and a reconstruction of the attack. However, Human Rights Watch, Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture conducted separate investigations into the attack.
At about 7 p.m. on March 16, US aircraft attacked a location southwest of al-Jinah, a village in western Aleppo province. US military authorities have acknowledged that they carried out the strike, saying that they targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda members.
While US officials acknowledged that there was a mosque nearby, they claimed that the targeted building was a partially constructed community hall. But information from local residents, photographs, and video footage of the building before and after the attack show that the targeted building was also a mosque. Local residents said that the mosque was well-known and widely used by people in the area, and that dozens, if not hundreds, of people were gathering in the building at prayer times. While the mosque did not have a minaret or a dome, aerial surveillance should have shown the people gathering. Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would likely have established that the building was a mosque.
US authorities also appear to have inadequately understood the pattern of life in the area. A US official said that the attack happened after evening prayer had concluded, implying that civilians had left the area. While it is not clear which prayer the official referred to, the sunset or night prayer, US statements show that the attack took place at about 6:55 p.m., just 15 minutes before night prayer on that day. Even if US authorities believed that the targeted building was a community hall, the knowledge that prayer was about to start was relevant because they knew that another mosque was nearby. Information about prayer times is easily accessible online and should have been well-known by US authorities.
Local residents said that it was well-known in the area that the religious group in charge of the mosque was holding religious lectures in the targeted building every Thursday between sunset prayer and evening prayer, around the time of the attack. Any attempt to gather information about the targeted building from people with local knowledge might also have alerted US authorities to this fact.
Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque. Local residents said that no members of armed groups were at the mosque or in the area at the time of the attack. The residents said that the victims were all civilians and local residents. First responders said the dead and injured wore civilian clothes and that they saw no weapons at the site. US authorities have released no information to support their claims that members of armed groups were in the mosque. US Authorities’ Failure to Take Adequate Precautions
Even if armed group members were in the mosque, understanding the nature of the targeted building and the pattern of life around the building would be crucial to assessing the risk to civilians and taking necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Striking a mosque just before prayer and then attacking people attempting to flee without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants may well have been disproportionate or indiscriminate. Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks violate the laws of war, as does failing to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian deaths.
US Authorities’ Failure to Take Adequate Precautions
Syria Civil Defense, a search and rescue group operating in opposition-controlled territory, said that it recovered 38 bodies from the site. The group published the names of 28 who were identified by relatives at the site, including five children, saying that 10 bodies were unidentified.
The laws of war strictly prohibit attacks targeting civilians or civilian structures, including mosques, unless they were being used for military purposes. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, which fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and disproportionate attacks, in which the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive considering the military advantage gained. All feasible precautions must be taken by all parties to the conflict to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.
Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes. These include deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects, including mosques, or carrying out attacks in the knowledge that they will likely result in indiscriminate or disproportionate death or injury to civilians. The US authorities’ failure to recognize the most fundamental aspects of the target and pattern of life around the target raises the question of whether individuals were criminally reckless in authorizing the attack.
Human Rights Watch submitted its findings to the US Central Command. In response, the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate said in a letter dated April 14, 2017 that based on “a thorough examination of the classified intelligence used to inform the targeting decision and the classified intelligence that emerged following the airstrike…[a] comprehensive investigation reached the preliminary conclusion that the strike was lawful.” The letter said that the US Central Command will “carefully review this incident” in light of the Human Rights Watch report.
On March 28, Human Rights Watch said that procedural changes for authorizing airstrikes in Iraq raise concerns about the protection of civilians, especially following airstrikes in Mosul on March 17 that allegedly caused dozens of civilian deaths.
“Whatever changes the US administration makes to how they authorize and carry out attacks, it should make sure that they are in line with international law,” Solvang said. “Otherwise civilians will die unnecessary and US officials risk being charged with war crimes.”
(Istanbul) – Turkey’s government and president should reverse the decision to extend the state of emergency after winning the April 16, 2017 presidential referendum and end the wave of political repression unleashed in the months before the vote, Human Rights Watch said today.
With 51.4 percent of the vote, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Yes” vote campaign won Turkey’s landmark referendum for a new political system, giving enormous centralized power to the president. The campaign took place under a state of emergency and in a highly repressive climate in the aftermath of the failed July 15, 2016 military coup. Ruling by emergency decree, the president and government controlled the media, dominated the public sphere, and jailed critical journalists and leaders of the pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition.
“After securing a narrow victory in Sunday’s referendum, the government and president should govern in the interests of everyone in Turkey, not just their political supporters,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey’s government and president need to end the state of emergency and the repressive campaign against the media and the pro-Kurdish political opposition.”
The president and government should be setting out the steps they intend to take to restore full respect for human rights in Turkey, including ending arbitrary detention and prosecution, safeguarding freedom of the media and expression and judicial independence, and guaranteeing all citizens their right to political participation, Human Rights Watch said. The cabinet’s decision to extend the state of emergency would further endanger human rights and the rule of law, which have already been badly damaged in Turkey under the state of emergency.
The election observer mission by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which scrutinized the referendum, issued a statement on its findings on April 17, 2017, describing the “unlevel playing field” in the period before the vote. The OSCE described its other concerns, such as the restrictions on freedom of expression under the state of emergency, lack of independent media, police intervention, and violent scuffles at “No” campaign events, and misuse of state resources. Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Erdoğan on April 17 separately rejected the OSCE’s findings.
Its findings follow a critical report in March from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s constitutional reform advisory body. The commission expressed concern about holding the referendum vote during a state of emergency and in light of the crackdown on media freedom.
The main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) has challenged the results of the referendum on the grounds that Turkey’s Supreme Board of Elections issued a controversial ruling on the day of the vote to accept ballots in envelopes not bearing official polling station stamps. The OSCE report criticized the decision as “undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.” The decision raises concerns about the potential for ballot-box stuffing and undermines confidence in the results.
“The OSCE has raised serious concerns about the climate for the referendum, echoing the Venice Commission’s concerns,” Williamson said. “Rather than rejecting the OSCE findings, President Erdoğan and the government should respond to the concerns – in particular, those about respect for human rights – and ensure that future voting is held in a climate that fully respects democratic standards.”
In his first victory speech to his supporters on the evening of April 16, Erdoğan raised the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty, if necessary by another referendum. Capital punishment has been repeatedly raised by the president and in nationalist circles since the July 15 coup attempt and would reverse one of the most fundamental reforms Turkey made in 2004 in its bid for European Union membership, as well as violating a core commitment of Turkey’s Council of Europe membership. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its irreversible, cruel, and inhumane nature.
“Any move to reintroduce the death penalty would be another disastrous step away from human rights norms for Turkey,” Williamson said.