(New York) – Vietnam should drop all charges against human rights campaigner Huynh Thuc Vy, who faces trial under article 276 of the 1999 penal code for allegedly disrespecting the national flag, Human Rights Watch said today. She faces up to three years imprisonment if convicted by the People’s Court of Buon Ho town, Dak Lak province at trial on November 22.

Huynh Thuc Vy holds a sign that reads "Praying for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and for Vietnam. Sept 12, 2018".

© 2018 Private

“For years, Vietnam has sought any excuse to punish Huynh Thuc Vy for her tireless advocacy of human rights and democracy, and in their desperation the authorities have now latched on to the splattering of a flag with white paint,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation’s people.”

The day before the country’s National Day in September 2017, Huynh protested against the government by splashing white paint on the national flag. She wrote on Facebook, “The Nation is bottom-deep in debt! There’s nothing to celebrate for. Formosa; Complete contamination; Cancer; Fake Medicine; Prisoners of Conscience; Human Rights Violations; About to Lose Our Country… I protest against celebrations by painting the red flag white.”

Vietnam, like many other countries, has made flag desecration a crime. Article 276 of the Criminal Code states “Those who deliberately offend the national flag, or the national emblem shall be subject to warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years.” In August 2018, the authorities of Buon Ho town initiated a case against Huynh under article 276 for “disrespecting the national flag” and ordered her not to leave her residential area pending further investigation of the charge. In October, the police sent her case for prosecution.

The police of Dak Lak accused her of “linking with bad elements from outside the country; exchanging ideas, giving interviews, writing articles, making video clips, and distributing them on her blog and on social media with contents that distort and twist the truth of Vietnam, smear and malign our Party and State.”

It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation’s people.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Huynh, 33, is a political blogger whose writing has spread extensively on the internet. Her father, Huynh Ngoc Tuan, served 10 years in prison between 1992-2002 for attempting to send a novella and several short stories critical of government policies to overseas audiences. Due to her father’s status as a political prisoner, Huynh and her family suffered from harassment, intimidation, and politically motivated discrimination by the authorities during her childhood.

She began publishing articles online in late 2008. Touching upon various social and political issues, her writing promotes a multi-party political system, freedom, and respect for human rights. She also urges young people to become socially and politically engaged. She regularly writes in support of activists who have been imprisoned for their peaceful activism. In 2015, a collection of her writings, Identifying the Truth, Freedom & Human Rights, was published abroad.

In May 2011, commenting on the non-democratic national election in Vietnam, in which the ruling communist party determines who can run for office, Huynh wrote:

In Vietnam, one has to vote whether one wants to or not. Who you vote for is not important. It does not affect or change any national matter, whether big or small. It also has nothing to do with the life of any particular community of normal people… To remain silent before such absurdity is to agree with such absurdity. It means a lack of responsibility to oneself and to society and the country. We must choose for ourselves a progressive society in which the right to vote and the right to run for an election must be carried out in a meaningful, democratic, and just manner.

In December 2011, the People’s Committee of Quang Nam province decided to administratively issue a fine to the Huynh family total of 270,000,000VND (approximately US$13,500 at the time) for using information technology to spread what the government termed “propaganda” against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In 2012, Huynh received a Hellman-Hammett award, given to writers who suffered persecution, along with her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan. In December 2012, the police at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city prohibited Vy’s brother Huynh Trong Hieu from traveling to the United States to receive the Hellman-Hammett awards given to his father and his sister, and confiscated his passport. Authorities said they acted on request from the police of Quang Nam province where the Huynh family resided at the time.

Huynh participated in public protests against Vietnam’s proposed special economic zone law and the problematic cyber security law. She campaigned against the loss of rights and livelihoods caused by Formosa, a Taiwan-owned steel company that dumped toxic waste into the ocean off Vietnam’s central coast in April 2016, causing a massive environmental disaster.

She continuously advocated for an end to police’s excessive use of force, and violence and torture in detention. She voiced demands for authorities to end harassment and surveillance, and immediately release political prisoners including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Le Dinh Luong, and many others. She also worked to research the plight of lesser known Montagnard activists and raise awareness about government persecution of freedom of religion and belief in the Central Highlands.

Huynh and her family have suffered years of harassment and abuse at the hands of authorities because of their political activism. For example, in December 2013, a group of unidentified men assaulted her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan when he was campaigning to form an association of former prisoners of conscience (Hoi Cuu Tu nhan Luong tam). In February 2014, unidentified thugs threw rocks into their house in the town of Tam Ky, Quang Nam province. In July 2015, police at Tan Son Nhat airport prohibited Huynh from leaving Vietnam for Bangkok to attend a training course organized by Reporters Without Borders. The police also confiscated her passport at that time and told her they acted on an order from the Quang Nam provincial police.

In November 2013, Huynh and fellow activists launched a group called Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. The group aims to “enhance individual awareness about human dignities and her basic rights as well as others’, in order to advocate for a society which respects human rights.”

Tran Thi Nga, a co-founder and executive member of the group, is currently serving a 9-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda against the State.” In October, Tran’s husband Phan Van Phong expressed grave concern for her health and life in prison because she received threats made by other prisoners that prison guards refused to act to stop. Prison guards denied Tran Thi Nga’s family the right to visit her in August and September 2018 because they claimed she was “not obeying prison rules.”

“Sending Huynh Thuc Vy to court and ultimately prison shows just how desperate Vietnam is to shut down activists in order to limit their influence on society and politics,” Robertson said. “The EU and other foreign donors and trade partners should call out Vietnam and demand it fulfill its promises to improve its abysmal rights record if it wants closer political and economic relations.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 20, 2018, 8:00 pm

Protesters hold photos of Sheikh Ali Salman, Bahrain's main opposition leader and Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, as they march asking for his release in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, in Bahrain on June 16, 2015.


© 2015 Reuters

(Beirut) – The upcoming parliamentary elections in Bahrain, scheduled for November 24, 2018, are occurring in a repressive political environment that is not conducive to free elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Bahrain’s allies should encourage the Bahraini government to take all the necessary steps to reform laws undermining freedom of expression and assembly and to release detained opposition figures.

In the latest instance of the crackdown on peaceful dissent, on November 13, 2018, a former member of parliament, Ali Rashed al-Sheeri, was detained after he tweeted about boycotting the elections. On November 4, the Bahrain High Court of Appeals overturned the previous acquittal of a prominent opposition member, Sheikh Ali Salman, sentencing him to life in prison on charges of spying for Qatar. Salman is the leader of Bahrain’s largest political opposition group, al-Wefaq, which was outlawed in 2016.

“By jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family and banning all opposition parties and independent news outlets, Bahrain is failing to create the conditions necessary for a free election,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain should immediately release political prisoners and review its decisions to shutter independent news outlets and political opposition groups.”

Since the nationwide anti-government protests in 2011, Bahraini authorities have arrested scores of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and opposition leaders, charging them on dubious terrorism or national security grounds, mostly for peaceful acts of protest. Security forces have been responsible for torture and widespread ill treatment of detainees and have dispersed peaceful protests with deadly force. The government has also dissolved all opposition political groups, including the secular-left National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. In 2017, the last independent newspaper in the country, al-Wasat, was forcibly closed.

On June 11, King Hamad signed an amendment to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights that bans anyone who belonged to a dissolved political organization or who was previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for political office. This legislation effectively disqualifies opposition candidates from participating in the upcoming elections.

Legislators from the United Kingdom, United States, and the European Parliament have already released letters highlighting the current repressive climate in Bahrain and its impact on the elections. The Bahraini government rejected the criticism and insisted that “this year’s elections…will build on the success of 2014 and result in a parliament that is representative of the diverse range of views that exists across Bahraini society.”
There are significant human rights concerns in both Bahrain’s behavior domestically and given its participation in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which is committing serious violations of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. The coalition has failed to credibly investigate potential war crimes, and coalition members, including Bahrain, have provided insufficient or no information about their role in alleged unlawful attacks.

On November 15, the US Senate voted not to block a $300 million arms sale to Bahrain. Although 20 percent of the Senate, with members from both sides of the aisle, voted to block the sale, the arms sale is set to go through.

Bahrain’s allies, including the UK and US, should translate their criticism of Bahrain’s human rights abuses into concrete action, including by not approving future arms sales until such time as Bahrain releases all human rights defenders and dissidents serving long jail terms for peaceful expression and holds accountable officials and security officers who participated in or ordered the widespread torture during interrogations since 2011.

Bahrain’s allies should stop supplying weapons to Bahrain and other parties to the conflict in Yemen, while there is a substantial risk of these arms being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law there.

Bahrain should repeal the amendments to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and allow opposition candidates to run for office in the elections. The government should free anyone detained arbitrarily, including those detained for exercising their basic rights, such as Sheikh Ali Salman and Nabeel Rajab, and reinstate dissolved independent media outlets and political opposition groups.

“Bahrain’s allies should not give Bahrain a free pass and conduct business as usual while mass rights abuses persist,” Fakih said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 20, 2018, 7:00 am

Akzam Turgunov, a former political prisoner and rights activist, has been increasingly subjected to surveillance by security services in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

© 2017 Steve Swerdlow for Human Rights Watch
(Tashkent) – The Uzbek authorities should stop harassing human rights activists, including those recently released from prison, and ensure their safety, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Human Rights Watch, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today.

Despite the authorities’ significant positive steps to improve the overall human rights climate in Uzbekistan, law enforcement bodies have stepped up their surveillance of some rights activists in recent weeks and are interfering with their peaceful human rights work. The government should ensure that human rights defenders and activists are allowed to carry out their work without interference or harassment.

“The renewed surveillance and harassment of members of the human rights community in Uzbekistan puts significant strain on them and their families and causes re-traumatization and stress, which our organization witnessed firsthand when we visited Tashkent last month,” said Brigitte Dufour from IPHR.

Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office two years ago, the government has taken several important positive steps to improve Uzbekistan’s human rights record and uphold its international commitments. These have included the release of prisoners imprisoned on politically motivated grounds, judicial reforms, and the adoption of presidential decrees aimed, among other things, at improving the situation for civil society and easing restrictions on free expression.

However, over the past month, the security services and police have been increasingly carrying out close surveillance of various human rights defenders, including those recently released from long prison sentences. The authorities are also intimidating those who demonstrate an intention to continue their human rights activities, including the rights activist Agzam Turgunov and the journalist Dilmurod Saidov (Sayyid).

Both were released during the last year after long prison terms. They have been actively engaged in human rights monitoring and advocacy, and are seeking to register a nongovernmental organization, Restoration of Justice.

Turgunov told the groups he first noticed that he was under surveillance on October 15, 2018 and that the surveillance has continued, despite statements by Uzbek officials that the surveillance would stop. On October 20, during a visit to Tashkent, IPHR representatives witnessed surveillance by people in civilian clothes on Turgunov’s home. Turgunov told IPHR that on October 18, two representatives of the local mahalla (neighborhood) committee told him that police had been asking about his activities. He also reported that he later saw unknown people standing under his window, listening to his conversations, and that he saw several cars following him as he moved around Tashkent on public transport.

Turgunov said that pressure increased when he travelled to Paris to attend the World Summit of Human Rights Defenders on October 28. Authorities held him at Tashkent airport for two hours before his departing flight and detained him again for an hour upon his return. He was also summoned to the local prosecutor’s office in connection with an administrative violation he allegedly committed on August 30 when taking photos of a protest by prisoners’ relatives near the Supreme Court building.

In June and July, provocative posts appeared on social media about Turgunov and Saidov claiming without any evidence or foundation that the two had received substantial foreign grants to criticize the government of Uzbekistan. In October and November, other posts appeared on Facebook accusing Turgunov of participating in criminal and radical groups, again without providing any evidence for these claims. These highly incendiary and unfounded accusations are troubling as they endanger the safety and wellbeing of Turgunov and his family, the groups said, and are aimed at discrediting the work of these courageous human rights defenders.

“The real test of reforms in Uzbekistan is not in how they look on paper, but how they are experienced by individuals, and that includes former political prisoners,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uzbek government should send an unambiguous signal to the whole society, including the security services, that human rights defenders carry out an important role in the “new” Uzbekistan and will be protected from retaliation.”

Saidov told rights groups that he has been indirectly warned by a “mediator” purporting to be from the human rights community about his continued active reporting on social media about torture and other human rights violations in Uzbekistan. The “mediator” also told Saidov that if he does not end his human rights work, he could be subjected to forced psychiatric treatment. Saidov also said that he and two other human rights activists, Tatyana Davlatova and Malohat Eshankulova, are under active surveillance by law enforcement bodies.

In recent days, Eshankulova submitted her internal passport to authorities in Samarkand to obtain her residence registration. She told rights groups that when she applied, the authorities failed to provide her with any official paper temporarily certifying her identity, as is standard procedure, leaving her at increased risk of detention in the case of a police document check. Authorities are checking documents in Samarkand with increasing frequency because an international conference on human rights, the Asian Forum for Human Rights, is taking place there beginning November 21.

Uzbek authorities should immediately stop the surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders and to ensure respect at all times for the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, the groups said. The authorities should ensure that all Uzbek human rights defenders who wish to attend the Asian Human Rights Forum are allowed to do so.

“These have been extremely trying years for Uzbek civil society, both inside and outside of the country, perhaps even for many government officials,” said Ivar Dale from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “If there was ever a time to turn the page, this is it. Human rights must be taken seriously in Uzbekistan not just in word, but in action.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 20, 2018, 6:30 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Faj Attan, a densely populated neighborhood in Sanaa, on August 25, 2017. Two of the buildings were completely destroyed and the third suffered extensive damage.

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

(Paris) – President Emmanuel Macron of France should raise serious concerns with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince regarding laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will visit Paris on November 21, 2018.

The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has indiscriminately bombed homes, markets, and schools, impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid and used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of them likely war crimes. The UAE and UAE-led proxy forces have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and tortured Yemenis in southern and eastern Yemen, including Yemeni activists who have criticized coalition abuses.

“As the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan could have acted to stop grave abuses in Yemen, but instead war crimes have mounted,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If President Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there’s a real risk of their unlawful use.”

Despite Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s records of abuse, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to sell weapons to both countries. In June, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that French special forces were on the ground in Yemen, alongside UAE forces.

Macron should press the UAE to investigate alleged serious violations by its armed forces and Yemeni forces it supports, to appropriately prosecute those responsible for war crimes, and to provide reparation to victims of violations, Human Rights Watch said. France should stop supplying weapons and munitions to the UAE if there is a substantial risk that these arms are being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

Despite leading considerable efforts to present the UAE as progressive and tolerant, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the nation’s de facto leader, has largely failed to improve his country’s human rights record.

Domestically, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. In 2014, the UAE issued a counterterrorism law that gives authorities the power to prosecute peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists as terrorists. UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and torture. Many are serving long prison terms or have left the country under pressure.

In March 2017, the UAE detained Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender, on speech-related charges and held him incommunicado for more than a year. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 29, 2018 for crimes that appear to violate his right to free expression.

UAE courts also imposed a 10-year prison sentence in March 2017 on a prominent academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared in August 2015, for charges that included peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities.

On October 4, the European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution calling for the immediate release of Mansoor and all other “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE. The resolution expressed concern that “attacks on members of civil society including efforts to silence, imprison, or harass human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others has become increasingly common in recent years.” It said that European institutions should make respect for human rights activists “a precondition to any further development of relation between the EU and UAE.”

In addition, despite some reforms, many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers can face punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. A 2017 law extended key labor protections to domestic workers, previously excluded from such guarantees, but its provisions remain weaker than those of the country’s national labor law.

Yet over the past several years, the UAE and France have strengthened their bilateral relations across a range of areas, including security, trade, and cultural exchanges. In 2017, France increased its arms sales to the UAE and opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum amid serious concerns regarding labor abuses in building the museum. On October 11, the UAE joined the International Organization of the Francophonie, which promotes the spread of French language and values, as an associate member, although  human rights and democratic principles are at the heart of the organization’s charter.

“By failing to address the UAE authorities’ serious rights violations in Yemen, France risks glossing over a dark reality,” Jeannerod said. “Despite outward appearances, the UAE has repeatedly shown itself to be resistant to improving its human rights record at home and abroad.” 

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

West Bank: Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land

The decision by Airbnb to stop listing properties in unlawful Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a positive step that other global tourism companies should follow, Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot said in issuing a report today about the activities in settlements of Airbnb and Booking.com. 

(Jerusalem) – The decision by Airbnb to stop listing properties in unlawful Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a positive step that other global tourism companies should follow, Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot said in issuing a report today about Airbnb and Booking.com’s activities in settlements.

The 65-page report, “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements,” traces the status of the land on which rental properties were built. Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot evaluated how Airbnb and Booking.com contribute to making settlements sustainable economically and benefit from the serious rights abuses and entrenched discriminatory practices stemming from the settlements. Israelis and foreigners may rent properties in settlements, but Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred – the only example in the world the organizations found in which Airbnb hosts have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin.

“By delisting rentals in illegal settlements off-limits to Palestinians, Airbnb has taken a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The continued business activities of Booking.com and other companies in settlements contribute to entrenching a two-tiered discriminatory regime in the West Bank.”

Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy forbids discrimination based on national origin in the United States and European Union, but permits it elsewhere, when domestic law allows it. In the West Bank, Airbnb had been acquiescing to a policy under which a Palestinian landowner cannot even pay to stay in a home built on their own land, let alone use their land for development.

In order to comply with their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot believe Booking.com should follow Airbnb’s lead and stop listing properties in settlements.

The groups reviewed Israeli and Palestinian land records, visited three settlement properties listed on Airbnb, and requested comment from 12 Airbnb and Booking.com hosts. The organizations also traveled to several Palestinian villages near settlement properties, interviewing five officials, two lawyers, and seven residents whose land had been taken over by settlements. The report also reflects responses received from Airbnb and Booking.com.

Airbnb listed at least 139 properties in settlements, excluding East Jerusalem, between March and July 2018. Booking.com had 26 as of July 2018. Seventeen are on land Israeli authorities acknowledge is privately owned by Palestinians, but has been taken over for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers, and 11 are in settlements established without Israeli army authorization, making them also illegal under Israeli law. All Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international humanitarian law.

Airbnb and Booking.com for example list rentals in the Ofra settlement, northeast of Ramallah. One Airbnb listing is on a parcel that the Israeli Civil Administration, the Israeli military branch in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, lists as belonging to the family of Awni Shaaeb, a 70-year-old resident of the adjacent Palestinian village of Ein Yabroud. Shaaeb told Human Rights Watch that Israeli settlers began to seize the land in 1975 to establish Ofra. Aerial photos obtained by Kerem Navot show that rental property on his land now listed on Airbnb was built in 2006 or 2007.

Shaaeb said he has never been given the opportunity to consent to rentals on his land or profited from them. Despite being a US citizen who lived in the US for more than three decades, Shaaeb cannot enter Ofra to visit the rental property because he holds a Palestinian ID. “For someone to occupy your land, that’s illegal,” he said. “For someone to build on your land, rent it out, and profit from it – that is injustice itself.”

An additional 81 Airbnb and Booking.com properties are on land Israel declared to be public through a system that often includes what is actually private Palestinian land. Israeli authorities not only distribute “public” land to Israeli civilians in the West Bank, which violates international humanitarian law, but also do so in a way that discriminates against Palestinians, allocating 99.75 percent of state land in the 60 percent of the West Bank under its direct control for Israeli civilian use and just 0.25 percent for use by Palestinians.

As of July, 76 Airbnb and Booking.com listings in the occupied West Bank were falsely listed as being located inside Israel.

“Airbnb and Booking.com are listing properties not only in West Bank settlements that are illegal under international humanitarian law, but also in far-flung outposts that in addition are illegal under Israeli law, with some mislabeled as located in Israel,” said Dror Etkes, director of Kerem Navot. “Guests thinking they are booking a stay in Israel can very well find themselves vacationing in an unlawful settlement in the West Bank.”

Airbnb’s global policy director told Human Rights Watch, in response to an inquiry about its policies, that the company does not hold hosts responsible for access restrictions imposed by government authorities, comparing the situation to one in which a government denies a visa to a prospective guest.

Palestinians, though, are not foreigners, but the local population whose interests and welfare the laws of occupation are designed to protect. Instead, they find themselves displaced and discriminated against.

Booking.com said that it only provides a platform for making properties available, which does not amount to supporting settlements. However, that activity contributes to the economic viability of settlements and to the perception that they are legitimate. Neither company can mitigate or avoid contributing to the serious rights abuses inherent in the settlement enterprise, because the activities they conduct take place on unlawfully seized land and under conditions of discrimination that effectively prevent them from renting properties to Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

Both companies have partially corrected the mislabeling of listings as being in Israel. But even if all listings were labeled accurately, Airbnb and Booking.com would still fail to meet their obligations under the UN Guiding Principles. Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot believe that the only way for Airbnb and Booking.com to comply with their human rights responsibilities is to stop listing properties in settlements.

“No company can claim to be a social justice or anti-discrimination leader and profit from listings on land stolen from a people under occupation who are themselves barred from staying there,” Ganesan said. “Airbnb’s promise that you can ‘belong anywhere’ has for too long excluded West Bank Palestinans.”

Excerpts from Tourist Listings in Unlawful Israeli Settlements in the West Bank

“We are often asked: Western or East Jerusalem? Answer: Western. There are no arabs [sic] here.” – Airbnb listing in occupied East Jerusalem

“Looking for a personalized experience of Israel off the beaten track?... situated in the ‘Gallilee of Jerusalem,’ amidst vineyards, orchards and natural springs… we host couples for overnight stays, intimate boutique events[, and] unique workshops.” – Airbnb listing in an Israeli outpost, illegal under both international and Israeli law

“This air-conditioned villa features 4 bedrooms, a cable flat-screen TV and a kitchen with a dishwasher and an oven… guests are welcome to take advantage of a hot tub. A car rental service is available at this property.” – Booking.com

“One of the newer developments in Jerusalem and you will find tons of local families in the area. There are parks located all around you and friendly Jewish neighbors at each turn.” – Airbnb

“Boutique House in center of Israel.” – Airbnb

“The apartment is ideal for couples, solo adventurers, business travelers and families (with kids)… in a perfect location to explore Israel.” – Booking.com

“I am offering a detached cottage in our beautiful garden located in a gated community in the Biblical Judean Hills... a unique personal touch, such as organic cotton sheets, option of vegan or vegetarian breakfast. Local produce used, including self grown fruit and herbs in season.” – Airbnb

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 20, 2018, 5:00 am

Yulia Malygina and Anna Golubeva, directors of Resource LGBQIA Moscow.

© 2017 Resource LGBTQIA Moscow
(Moscow) – A prominent Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) support group had to cancel an annual Inclusive Family conference in Moscow after homophobic threats and an attack with pepper spray, Human Rights Watch said today. Police should conduct a thorough and effective investigation capable of identifying and holding those responsible accountable.

The fifth annual LGBTQIAPP+ Family Conference was to take place November 9-11, 2018, to share LGBT families’ experiences and to support family unions that do not conform to Russian policy and concepts of “traditional family values.” The organizers are Resource LGBTQIA Moscow. Unidentified assailants also attacked volunteers at the 2017 conference.

“It is totally unacceptable for activists to face threats and attacks simply for holding a conference,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities need to do more to ensure that these threats and attacks stop.”

Yulia Malygina, director of Resource LGBTQIA Moscow and one of the conference organizers, told Human Rights Watch that on November 7 and 8, she started receiving text messages and phone calls from people she did not know with homophobic threats about the conference. She also saw a number of hate speech messages about the conference posted on the Russian social media platform VKontakte (VK).

On the morning the conference was to start, November 9, the conference venue address, which had been kept confidential for security reasons, was leaked on VK and was rapidly picked up by a number of homophobic groups. Malygina attempted to file an online complaint with the police, but due to a technical glitch was not able to finalize it.

Around lunchtime, the site started receiving calls and online messages to cancel the conference. When the organizers and volunteers arrived at 3 p.m., shortly before the conference was to open, the management told them it had decided not to host the conference so as to not jeopardize the security of other events taking place there. “It was clear how difficult this decision was for the management,” Malygina said.

Resource LGBTQIA Moscow notified conference participants about the cancellation but volunteers remained at the site. At 7 p.m., she said, a group of five or six volunteers left for a shop across the street. As they left the shop, an assailant confronted them and sprayed them with pepper spray. Two of the volunteers had eye injuries and were taken to a hospital. They were treated and discharged after midnight.

Malygina said that people at the site told her they had seen the assailant there earlier that day, asking questions about the conference and waiting outside the building.

Immediately after the attack, Malygina called the police, who arrived 40 minutes later. But when they learned who had called them, the police refused to provide any assistance, stating “it wasn’t their territory” and left. They suggested calling another police precinct responsible for that site. Those police arrived two-and-a-half hours later, Malygina said, and asked no questions. They took two volunteers, who were in the attacked group, to their precinct, where they stayed until midnight filing their complaint.

On November 10, the organizers decided to start the conference in the form of a live online stream, and by November 11, Resource LGBTQIA Moscow had found another site and was able to hold some of the conference events there. However, when the new site’s address, which had been confidential, was also leaked on VK, the organizers canceled the remaining events to avoid further attacks or harm to conference participants.

Some of the statements on VK, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, refer to Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, which bans spreading information that puts relationships among LGBT people in a positive light in public, where children might see or hear it.

This attack is one of many LGBT activists in Russia have suffered in recent years. In November 2017, assailants attacked two activists, Zoya Matisova and Nadezhda Aronchik, near the site of the Inclusive Family conference. In August 2018, the police opened a criminal investigation, and arrested and charged two of the alleged assailants with disorderly conduct. As a part of the investigation, the police deemed Matisova and Aronchik victims of an attack committed “on the grounds of hatred and hostility against a specific social group” that was “distinguished on the basis of belonging to non-traditional sexual orientation.”

Resource LGBTQIA Moscow said it will continue organizing their annual conferences. “We’ve decided that we will never hold closed events,” Malygina told Human Rights Watch. “Instead, we will make them open. We don’t want to hide anymore, run away, or hide the venue address.”

“The attack on ‘Vth LGBTQIAPP+ Family Conference’ is yet another example of how the anti-gay propaganda law has emboldened hate groups,” Reid said. “If the authorities want to end hate-based violence, they should start by annulling the ‘gay propaganda’ law.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 20, 2018, 5:00 am

A civil defense member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Governments supporting an effort to identify those responsible for deadly chemical attacks in Syria need to back their commitment to justice with cash. They will get the chance this week when member states of an international treaty banning chemical weapons vote on the 2019 budget for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In June, parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention agreed to establish a team to determine responsibility for the chemical attacks in Syria, where the government and some armed groups have repeatedly used toxic agents as weapons. The vote to set up the team came despite fierce resistance from Russia, Syria’s staunchest ally, and after Russia vetoed an effort by the United Nations Security Council to hold accountable those responsible for attacks killing hundreds. There have been at least 85 confirmed chemical weapons attacks since August 2013, at least 50 by the Syrian government, according to Human Rights Watch and six other sources.

Russia has continued to lobby against OPCW efforts to get the team up and running. On Monday a Russian diplomat said the effort was based on "out and out lies" spread by Western governments seeking an excuse for "raining down missiles" on Syria.

The OPCW’s budget for 2019 would earmark a modest €2 million (approximately US$2.3 million) for the Syria team, which the OPCW hopes will report in 2019 on responsibility for at least three previous attacks and in 2020 on five more.

After the Security Council created the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in 2015 to determine responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria, the JIM’s investigators accused both the Syrian government and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) of repeatedly using chemical weapons in the conflict. After the JIM confirmed that the government was responsible for an April 2017 nerve agent attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens, Russia used its Security Council veto to put an end to those investigations. In November 2017, the JIM was disbanded. Russian state media and its online enablers filled the vacuum by spreading conspiracy theories and sowing confusion.

There’s no veto in The Hague. But members of the Chemical Weapons Convention need to show up and vote for the OPCW draft budget to ensure the attribution team has the resources to get to work. Those who deploy chemical weapons in Syria should be unmasked. It will be a first step towards justice for many of Syria’s countless victims.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 19, 2018, 11:25 pm

A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Anyone in the US who has ever used the internet has probably had this moment: fingers hovering over the keyboard, wondering about the consequences of “liking” or searching for something. Who’s going to know we did this? What kinds of conclusions might they draw about our health, race, religion, politics, deepest secrets? Will the government find out? Advertisers?

And what if we’re just curious? What if the data we’re about to generate looks like it says something significant about us – but doesn’t?

For me, as a US surveillance researcher and fiction author, these moments happen every day. I’ve searched for how the government investigates the drug trade and illegal file-sharing, links between white supremacist groups, the street price of opioid medications, types of large-bore rifles, the symptoms of emphysema. None of that says anything about my personal life – but that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to a data miner.

Under human rights law, we all have a right to seek and receive information – it’s part of the right to free expression, which the US Constitution’s First Amendment also enshrines. But US federal law does very little to prevent companies from vacuuming up data about you and your interests, potentially resulting in discrimination or unnecessary harms to your privacy. The government, too, has or wants warrantless powers in this area.

And if your awareness of this has prevented you from Googling or “liking” something potentially revealing or controversial, you’ve experienced what US courts would call the “chilling effect” in the government surveillance context – a discouragement of free expression that can violate rights.

The good news is that there’s a growing movement to fix the lack of US data protections – one that’s been gaining steam since reports earlier this year about data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica’s alleged access to data about Facebook users. Human Rights Watch and other groups recently released a list of some of the things Congress should do to restrict how companies treat personal data, including limiting collection, ensuring that users can correct inaccuracies, and preventing discrimination. Lawmakers should also address when and how police and other authorities can get access to these pools of information.

People in the US shouldn’t have to simply trust that their rights will be safeguarded when they engage in free expression online. They should know the law is there to back them up.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 19, 2018, 10:49 pm

Then-Interpol President Meng Hongwei at an International Cybersecurity Congress at Moscow’s World Trade Center, July 6, 2018.

© 2018 Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Image

“There was no reason for me to [suspect] that anything was forced or wrong.”

So said Jurgen Stock, secretary general of the global police organization Interpol, on the fate of its former president Meng Hongwei, on November 8, just days before throwing a glittering ceremony at its general assembly, at which Meng’s replacement was to be elected. 

Meng, who served as Interpol president as well as China’s vice minister for public security, went missing on his return to China in late September. On October 7, Chinese authorities – still not revealing Meng’s whereabouts or status – transmitted Meng’s resignation to Interpol. Interpol then tweeted only that it had received Meng’s “resignation,” citing no concerns about him. Meng’s Interpol biography still makes no mention of his forced disappearance or “resignation.”

After Meng was elected in 2016 to head a body that touts its preeminent role in global policing and claims to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch wrote to Stock. We detailed Chinese police violations of human rights inside and outside China, the Chinese government’s abuses of Interpol procedures, and Meng’s own problematic background. We never received a reply. A few months later we published research detailing Chinese authorities’ harassment of Interpol targets, but Interpol did not comment.

In the two years since Meng assumed Interpol’s presidency and his apparent disappearance into the black hole of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s deeply politicized anti-corruption campaign, China’s police have been implicated in the arbitrary detention of a million Turkic Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region, the enforced disappearance of human rights lawyers, and the torture of suspects in detention. 

No reason to suspect anything was wrong? Stock’s reaction to Meng’s “resignation” reflects poorly on Interpol, which prides itself on providing “criminal intelligence analysis” and training “investigative techniques for frontline officers.”

Stock stressed that Interpol’s rules “forbid him from probing [Meng’s] fate.” Yet as the organization seeks to repair its badly damaged credibility, its leadership could try that simplest of tactics: a mere expression of concern about a colleague who has vanished under enormously suspicious circumstances. There is no rule anywhere against that.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 19, 2018, 2:08 pm


Dominican Republic: What happens when abortion is totally banned?

The Dominican Republic’s total ban on abortion threatens women's health and lives and violates their rights. Abortion is illegal in the Dominican Republic in all circumstances, even when a pregnancy is life-threatening, unviable, or the result of rape. 

(Santo Domingo) – The Dominican Republic’s total ban on abortion threatens women's health and lives and violates their rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Abortion is illegal in the Dominican Republic in all circumstances, even when a pregnancy is life-threatening, unviable, or the result of rape.

The 78-page report, “‘It’s Your Decision, It’s Your Life’: The Total Criminalization of Abortion in the Dominican Republic,” documents that women and girls facing unwanted pregnancies have clandestine abortions, often at great risk to their health and lives. Many experience health complications from unsafe abortions, and some die. Some women and girls face abuse, neglect, or mistreatment by healthcare providers. The ban does not stop abortion but drives it underground and makes it less safe. As a starting place toward meeting the country’s human rights obligations, Congress should decriminalize abortion in three circumstances.

“Women and girls in the Dominican Republic have always defied the abortion ban, but they have been forced to put their health and lives on the line to end pregnancies clandestinely,” said Margaret Wurth, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Congress should decriminalize abortion and ensure that women and girls have access to safe and legal abortion by trained providers, instead of leaving them to use dangerous underground methods.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 50 women and girls ages 15 to 43, in four provinces, all of whom had been pregnant at least once, and dozens of health and social service providers and other experts.

The country’s criminal code imposes prison sentences of up to two years on women and girls who induce abortions and up to 20 years for medical professionals who provide them. Prosecutions are rare, but the criminal penalties create pervasive fear and harmful stigma. The penalties leave medical providers unable to terminate a pregnancy when it is medically advisable without risking their careers and possible prison time. The ban disproportionately harms women and girls from poor and rural areas, who are less likely to be able to travel to another country where abortion is legal or locate safer clandestine abortion providers.

Research shows that restrictive laws and criminal penalties do not reduce the incidence of abortion. Expert bodies charged with interpreting international human rights law have determined that denying women and girls access to abortion is a form of discrimination that jeopardizes a range of human rights.

Rosa Hernández stands in her home below a photo of her daughter, Rosaura Almonte Hernández, who died in 2012 at age 16. Rosaura, known as “Esperancita,” had leukemia. Doctors initially denied her chemotherapy treatment because she was pregnant, and the Dominican Republic’s abortion ban prohibited her from terminating the pregnancy.

© 2018 Tatiana Fernández Geara for Human Rights Watch
Public Health Ministry data suggests that nearly half the pregnancies in the country are unplanned or unwanted. Many women and girls said they felt “depressed,” “terrified,” “desperate,” or “trapped, with no future,” when they discovered they were pregnant. Some continued unwanted pregnancies, due to personal beliefs or fear of unsafe abortion.

Others tried to end pregnancies, including by taking or inserting pills; using home remedies; trying to induce poor health, for example by denying themselves food or water; taking prescription medications contraindicated during pregnancy; or trying to induce physical trauma. One woman said she beat her belly with a concrete block.

At least 8 percent of the country’s maternal deaths are caused by complications from illegal abortion or miscarriage, according to the Public Health Ministry. “We’ve always recognized that unsafe abortion is an important health problem because women have to appeal to clandestine methods to find an answer to their situation,” said Dr. José Mordán, head of the ministry’s Department of Family Health.

Interview: Defying the Dominican Republic’s Abortion Law

Interview: Defying the Dominican Republic’s Abortion Law

The Dominican Republic is one of the few countries left that bans abortion under all circumstances. This means that women and girls resort to secretly taking pills or herbs and drinking certain teas, all potentially dangerous ways to end unwanted pregnancies. Researcher Margaret Wurth talks to Amy Braunschweiger about what this means for women’s lives.

Complications can include heavy bleeding and infection. The use of misoprostol – a medication used to induce labor and to treat stomach ulcers – for medical abortion has reduced the risk of complications in countries where legal access is restricted. But 25,000 women and girls still seek medical attention for complications related to abortion or miscarriage in the public health system each year.

Some women and girls said they faced negligence, mistreatment, or abusive behavior by health personnel when they sought care for urgent sexual and reproductive health concerns, including being turned away, facing unreasonable delays, and being treated without anesthesia or pain management. Fear of prosecution or abuse by health care professionals led some to delay or go without seeking care following complications from clandestine abortions or during miscarriages.

For over two decades, legislators in the Dominican Republic have debated a new penal code. President Danilo Medina and women’s rights groups have urged lawmakers to decriminalize abortion when the life of the woman or girl is in danger, when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, and when the fetus has serious complications incompatible with life outside of the womb. President Medina has twice vetoed revised penal code versions that maintained the total abortion ban, but the National Congress has resisted reform.

Historic votes in Ireland and Argentina in 2018 and a landmark decision to partially decriminalize abortion in Chile in 2017 are just a few examples of global progress toward expanding legal access to abortion. Between 2000 and 2017, 27 countries expanded access to abortion. The Dominican Republic should join the countries affirming that access to abortion is a human right, Human Rights Watch said.

“Congress has an opportunity to enact long-awaited reforms to the Dominican Republic’s penal code and decriminalize abortion, or at least liberalize access,” Wurth said. “Women and girls should not have to wait any longer for the government to guarantee their sexual and reproductive rights.”

Quotes from the report

“I was terrified. I was going crazy, thinking if I can’t even find food for these two babies [I already have], how will I feed a third?”
– “Juliana,” a 16-year-old mother of two, on learning she was pregnant unexpectedly in early 2018. She used home remedies to end the pregnancy but was still experiencing pain and dizziness from complications.

“I started thinking I was not going to survive it…. It was really intense. I suffered a lot.”
– “Melina,” a 26-year-old mother of four young children, on her experience having a clandestine abortion.

“When I went to see her, she had a fever, and she was shaking…. She was afraid to say she had an abortion…. When we went to the doctor, I stayed outside.… I dropped her off and left. And I went back for her. But I didn’t stay because it’s illegal, and I didn’t know if there could be consequences.”
– “Alejandro,” 24, on helping a 28-year-old friend get medical care for complications from an unsafe abortion in 2017.

“It was the first time I had intercourse. I didn’t want to have sex. I didn’t agree. [When I learned I was pregnant,] I was crying and desperate…. A friend gave me a tea, and I had an abortion. …My friend told me to stay at home and endure to the pain. Going to the hospital would mean going to jail.”
Dayelin, 22, describing a clandestine abortion when she became pregnant at age 12 after she was raped by a 25-year-old man.

“Sometimes you have your hands tied. You don’t know what to do. You have the law telling you that you can’t do it [perform an abortion]…. But it doesn’t work like that. The pregnancy can put a woman’s life at risk…My job is to preserve the woman’s life. If I have to violate the law, I will.”
– A doctor in the Dominican Republic.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 19, 2018, 2:00 pm


(Nairobi) – The International Criminal Court (ICC) has a new opportunity to deliver justice to victims in the Central African Republic as it takes its first suspect into custody in its investigation of serious crimes committed in the country since 2012.

Alfred Yékatom, known as “Rombhot,” was taken into custody on November 17, 2018. Yékatom is an anti-balaka leader who has been charged with crimes committed between December 2013 and August 2014 in Bangui, the country’s capital, and other locations in the Central African Republic. In 2016, Yékatom was elected to parliament representing Mbaiki.

“Yékatom’s arrest is a welcome step, offering the International Criminal Court a new chance to deliver justice for atrocities committed in the country,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Victims in the Central African Republic want and deserve to see perpetrators held to account.”

The charges are part of the court’s second investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic since 2012, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozizé and seized power through a campaign of violence and terror. In late 2013, Christian and animist militias known as anti-balaka also began to organize counterattacks against the Seleka, and both the Seleka and anti-balaka are implicated in widespread atrocities against civilians.

Yékatom is charged by the ICC with crimes against humanity, including murder, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts. He is also charged with war crimes including murder, torture and cruel treatment, mutilation, intentional attacks against the civilian population, forcible recruitment of children, and displacement of the civilian population.

The ICC’s first investigation in the Central African Republic, related to an earlier conflict in 2002 and 2003, has yet to successfully hold any individuals to account for the crimes. The first investigation, which has been open since May 2007, has produced only one case, against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese former vice president, which ended in an acquittal on appeal in June 2018.

Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of additional cases in the ICC’s first investigation in the Central African Republic. Human Rights Watch has urged the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to pursue charges that are representative of the crimes committed in situations under investigation to ensure the delivery of justice is meaningful.

“The ICC’s first investigation in the Central African Republic has left victims without redress after the only case ended in an acquittal,” said Keppler. “The charges against Yékatom should be the first case among more involving crimes committed by all sides in the Central African Republic.”

Yékatom, a master corporal in the national army before the conflict, promoted himself to “colonel” when he became a key anti-balaka leader in 2013. On August 20, 2015, Yékatom was added to the United Nations Security Council Committee’s sanctions list for undermining national peace and security by “engaging in or providing support for acts … that threaten or impede the political transition process … or that fuel violence.”

Human Rights Watch has previously documented his alleged role in sexual slavery, although charges expressly involving crimes of sexual violence are not included in the ICC’s arrest warrant for Yékatom. In a 2017 report, ‘They Said We Are Slaves’, Human Rights Watch documented how one sexual slavery survivor said she and five other women and girls were held, repeatedly raped, and forced to work for three days in April 2016 by men who said they were under Yékatom’s command.

ICC investigations in the Central African Republic are complemented by the work of a new court in the country, the Special Criminal Court, which is staffed by international and Central African judges and prosecutors, and the country’s ordinary courts. The Special Criminal Court officially launched operations in October.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 19, 2018, 6:00 am

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

Perhaps it is apt in a country like Syria, where the government has systematically rounded up peaceful protestors, that a protest for detainee rights is happening from prison, with little international outcry and support.

This week, Syrian activists started sending me videos and voice recordings they said were taken in Hama Central Prison, showing detainees announcing they would go on a hunger strike until all arbitrarily held prisoners in Syria were released and guarantees made that death sentences against 11 fellow detainees would not be carried out.

The hunger strike, which started Monday, came after a meeting in early November between prisoners, the Hama Governor, and a military field court judge aimed at regaining control of the prison, which detainees seized after riots in 2016. According to reports, the judge gave detainees and the prisons’ administration a list of 11 prisoners sentenced to death and slated for transfer to Sednaya, a prison notorious for extrajudicial executions, for their sentences to be carried out.

The detainees’ ongoing hunger strike is a stark reminder of the flawed judicial processes in Syria that have the power to determine the fate of thousands, and the unjustness of the sentences meted out.

Syria’s overly broad Counterterrorism Law criminalizes almost all peaceful opposition activity. By using counterterrorism court and military field courts, the government has targeted activists and punished peaceful dissent. While providing a veneer of due process and respect for the rule of law, both courts deny defendants basic fair trial rights.

Amidst all the talk of Idlib, returns, and reconstruction, little attention has been paid to the ongoing plight of detainees held within Syria. Accountability for past atrocities is important, but equally necessary is ensuring that ongoing injustices are addressed. The international community should demand that parties to the conflict release all arbitrarily-held detainees, and that the Syrian government reform the legal and judicial structures that made it possible for these injustices to be committed.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 18, 2018, 9:13 am

(Beirut) – Egyptian police and National Security Agency (NSA) forces have conducted a mass arrest campaign, rounding up at least 40 human rights workers, lawyers, and political activists since late October 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. Many of those arrested were people who provided humanitarian and legal support to families of political detainees.

Authorities have disappeared Ezzat Ghoneim since September 14, 2018. 

© 2018 Private

Human Rights Watch spoke with a lawyer, a human rights activist, and two political activists, who are in direct touch with the families of the people detained. The sources said that none of the security forces showed arrest warrants, and that when families or lawyers tried to find out where the arrested were being held, the authorities would not tell them. Some of these cases may amount to enforced disappearances. Eight women are among those arrested, and while three of those women were later released, all the other people arrested remain detained in unknown locations.

“The Egyptian security agencies’ repression now extends to disappearing those brave men and women who have been trying to protect the disappeared and to end this abusive practice,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government apparently wants to quash what remains of Egyptian civil society.”

One human rights lawyer said that the detainees had been arrested in home raids, with the exception of one woman arrested at the airport while trying to travel abroad. “They are arresting us all,” the lawyer said. One source said that as many as 80 people might have been arrested, but Human Rights Watch could verify only 40 names.

The sources said that some of those arrested were involved with the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent human rights group that has been facing smear campaigns and pro-government media attacks for the past several months. Security forces have held its executive director, Ezzat Ghoniem, a lawyer, incommunicado since September 4, despite a court order to release him.

Those arrested include Hoda Abdel Moneim, a 60-year-old lawyer and a former member of the official National Council for Human Rights. Abdel Moneim was also a spokesperson for the Egypt’s Women Revolutionary Coalition, an Islamist group that opposed the forcible removal of former President Mohamed Morsy.

One of her family members told Human Rights Watch that security forces arrested Abdel Moneim at her home in Nasr City, in east Cairo, in the early morning of November 1. They blindfolded her, put her in a police car, and drove her to an undisclosed location. During the home raid, security forces, who identified themselves as part of Nasr City Police Investigation Department and the NSA, showed no arrest or search warrants but violently searched the house, destroying some of the family’s possessions, the family member said. Human Rights Watch reviewed pictures of Abdel Moneim's home, taken after the raid, showing a broken front door and scattered family belongings.

Photos of what the family alleged was the aftermath of the police raid to arrest lawyer, Hoda Abdel Moneim, from her home.

Both the family and Abdel Moneim’s lawyers say they have not been able to find out where she is. Human Rights Watch reviewed several official inquiries sent by her lawyer to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office. They have received no response, a lawyer said. However, the family received information suggesting that she is detained in the one of the NSA’s headquarters in Cairo.

Those detained also include Mohamed Abu Hourayra, the former spokesperson for Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms; his wife, Aisha Khairat al-Shater, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood activist, who is also the daughter of the jailed deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater; Bahaa Ouda, a political activist who is also the brother of a jailed minister in former President Morsy’s government; Tareq El Salakawi, a lawyer; and Soumayya Nassef, a human rights activist.

The sources said that the authorities released three women detainees without charge days after their arrest and detention in the NSA’s Sheikh Zayed headquarters, southwest of Cairo. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented that disappeared detainees are routinely held secretly in NSA headquarters and often tortured there.

Following the arrests, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms announced that it was suspending its work in Egypt until further notice. A November 1 statement said that the group could not continue to work because the authorities “attack anyone who defends the oppressed.”

These arrests have occurred even as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a review of the abusive 2017 law restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations. On November 6, al-Sisi described it as “flawed,” and the result of “[security] phobia.”

Any detention that results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed in international law, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, is an arbitrary detention that is prohibited under international law. Holding detainees in undisclosed locations and depriving them from access to lawyers and other measures that undermine basic fair trial rights can also make such detentions arbitrary.

Enforced disappearances under international law include situations in which a person is detained by state forces, and the state then refuses, when asked, to acknowledge the detention or the person’s status, or to reveal where they are being detained.

Egyptian law requires officials to present all detainees to a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention. International law requires the swift review of all detentions by a judge within 48 hours. Pretrial detention should only be used on an exceptional basis, when there is enough evidence of involvement in an international-recognized offense and when there is a strong necessity to keep suspects in detention.

The Egyptian authorities should immediately reveal all the detainees’ whereabouts, release all of those arrested solely for exercising their rights, and bring any others swiftly before a judge to review their detention, Human Rights Watch said.

“Al-Sisi’s promises on reforming the abusive NGO law ring hollow when he’s overseeing security agencies filling up Egyptian prisons with those seeking to preserve human rights,” Page said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 18, 2018, 5:00 am

Human Rights Watch, local human rights activists, and former political prisoners in Uzbekistan met with members of the Uzbek government in June 2018, to discuss, among other things, the creation of a special commission on political prisoners with a mandate including identifying measures of rehabilitation for prisoners when released. Left to right: Dilmurod Saidov, Muhammad Bekjanov, Hugh Williamson, Akzam Turgunov, Azam Farmonov, Kobuljon Tulashev, Ahmadjon Madumarov, Rakhimov Tashpulat, Erkin Musaev, Steve Swerdlow, Viktoriya Kim.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Tashkent) – The Uzbek government has released more than 35 people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in September 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should continue to release political prisoners and ensure that those released have access to remedies, including the right to overturn unlawful convictions and to get adequate medical care.

Alongside other positive steps, the releases have raised hopes that the Uzbek government is making efforts to improve its human rights record. But thousands of people remain behind bars on vague or overbroad charges, including for extremism. The government should immediately release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges and provide them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment. Freeing the country’s remaining political prisoners and ensuring them justice would demonstrate a genuine commitment to reform.

“The release of dozens of journalists, rights activists, opposition and religious figures over the past two years has been an important first step in the reform process,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the Uzbek government should make the changes systematic, free all those still imprisoned on unlawful grounds, and ensure justice for those released.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 recently released political prisoners between September 2017 and July 2018. They include 16 in Tashkent in June and seven in other cities, including Andijan, Fergana, Margilan, Bukhara, and Yangibozor. They described facing legal and economic barriers following their release, including restrictions on freedom of movement, inability to obtain court decisions needed to appeal unlawful sentences, surveillance, and inadequate medical care for health ailments stemming from their incarceration.

Among those still in prison are Andrei Kubatin, Akrom Malikov, Rustam Abdumannapov, Jamolidin Abdurakhamnov, scholars; Mirsobir Hamidkariev, a film producer; Aramais Avakyan, a fisherman; Ruhiddin Fahriddinov (Fahrutdinov), a religious figure; Ravshan Kosimov, Viktor Shin, and Alisher Achildiev, soldiers; Nodirbek Yusupov, a deportee from the United States and religious believer; Askar Ahmadiy and Jahongir Kulidzhanov, religious believers; and Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist. Some of them, including Kubatin and Fahriddinov have been tortured.

Jahongir Kulidzhanov sentenced, in October 2017, to 5 years imprisonment for extremism because of reading with other Shiite believers, a religious text deemed illegal in Uzbekistan. Kulidzhanov is currently in Kiziltepa prison in Navoi oblast, and has been ill-treated. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Uzbek government should immediately release these people and all others imprisoned on politically motivated charges, providing them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

Though Uzbek authorities have amnestied some political prisoners and released others early, not a single political prisoner has been exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted. Released prisoners told Human Rights Watch that in many cases they have been unable to obtain the court sentence documents, and other materials in their cases so they can file appeals of their unlawful convictions.

Those who were “conditionally released” under Article 73 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code said their freedom of movement had been restricted, that they were under surveillance, and that they are required to report regularly to the police for “preventative conversations.”

Uzbek authorities should address the significant medical, mental health, and economic needs of former political prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate into society, Human Rights Watch said. Several former prisoners said that they face great difficulties reintegrating into their families and society after years or decades in prison.

Andrei Kubatin, an academic, convicted of treason in December 2017 by a military court in Tashkent and sentenced to 11 years in prison. 

© 2017 Fergana
Many are suffering from severe physical and psychological health problems resulting from years of torture and detention in dismal conditions, often in isolation from other prisoners or in prisons far from their families. Social support structures and services they need are largely non-existent, meaning they must depend on often ill-prepared family members for the support they need.

Several former prisoners recommended that authorities should establish a special commission consisting of government officials, representatives of nongovernmental groups, and international experts to address the rehabilitation needs of former political prisoners, examine cases of people still in prison on politically motivated charges, and make recommendations to appropriate government agencies.

“We urgently need a structure independent of the state’s prison administration that will have the authority to devise remedies in individual cases of past and ongoing abuse,” one former political prisoner said. The creation of a commission of this type would signal the government’s willingness to listen to its citizens’ calls to end human rights abuses and embark on a path that offers greater respect for human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005, calls for reparations for victims of human rights abuses, including compensation, restitution, and equal and effective access to justice, as well as accountability for those responsible.

The government should also amend vague and overbroad criminal code provisions relating to extremism that are commonly used to criminalize dissent – articles 159, 216, 244-1, and 244-2 of the Criminal Code – and bring them into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations.

Authorities told Human Rights Watch in March that they had stopped using Article 221 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code regarding “violations of prison rules” to arbitrarily extend the sentences of political prisoners.

The U.S., European Union, and Uzbekistan’s other international partners, including international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should support efforts to assist former political prisoners in obtaining justice. They should urge the government to provide adequate healthcare and support for reintegration into society.

“Government surveillance and other restrictions on former political prisoners raise concerns about the true extent of reforms in Uzbekistan,” Swerdlow said. “Uzbekistan should help to reintegrate its former political prisoners into society, not keep them under restraint.”

For detailed findings, please see below.


Human Rights Watch was able to interview 23 of the more than 35 political prisoners reported as released since Mirziyoyev took office. Government officials have reported to Human Rights Watch that prison authorities have also released hundreds of independent Muslims – people who practice Islam outside of strict state controls – who had been imprisoned on extremism charges for lengthy jail terms. However, Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to independently confirm claims about those releases or interview any of them without access to a list of people serving these sentences. The authorities should make available a list of all persons currently serving sentences for extremism-related charges.

The following are among the 23 former political prisoners interviewed:

Samandar Kukanov, a former member of parliament who served 23 years and five months in prison in retaliation for his peaceful opposition political activity, was released on November 24, 2016. “I served longer than any other political prisoner in Uzbekistan’s history,” Kukanov said. “During the 23 years of my imprisonment, several of my family members were jailed and my wife’s health was destroyed. More than anything I want to be exonerated because I never committed the crimes for which I was convicted.”

In May, Kukanov filed an appeal with the Tashkent Regional Court to review his criminal sentence. Shortly thereafter the court summoned Kukanov and informed him that the case would be re-opened. But in September, Kukanov received a letter from the court informing him that the “materials of his criminal case” had been “destroyed in accordance with established procedure” on April 6, 2017 by the Tashkent Region State Archive. On this basis, the letter said, his requests for “full rehabilitation” could not be reviewed.

Erkin Musaev, a UN employee and former government official, tortured and unjustly jailed for 11 years, was freed on August 11, 2017 after the Supreme Court issued a decision shortening his sentence. He said that his efforts to obtain legal rehabilitation have similarly stalled because court authorities refuse to provide him with his criminal sentence, and then denied his right to appeal on the basis that he has not submitted the decision.

Dilmurod Saidov, 56, an independent journalist who was imprisoned for nine years and tortured, was released on February 3 after his 12-and-a-half-year sentence was reduced. “I experienced both psychological and physical torture over the course of nine years in jail and lost my health and family,” Saidov said. Along with two other released political prisoners, Akzam Turgunov and Azam Farmonov, Saidov aims to open a nongovernmental organization that will help released prisoners reintegrate into Uzbek society.

But the authorities require Saidov to report monthly to the police and have subjected him to “preventative talks,” where he is warned about re-engaging in criminal activity. During these visits police take his fingerprints and mugshot and require him to pledge in writing not to commit a crime. “I am trying to focus on making contributions to my society, but in order for this to take place, I need formal acknowledgment that my own imprisonment was wrong,” Saidov said. Saidov suffers from an acute form of tuberculosis and requires sustained medical treatment. While in prison, he lost most of his teeth.

Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists until his release by Uzbek authorities in February 2017, after 18 years, was unable to travel outside of his home region of Khorezm in northwestern Uzbekistan for one year. He has since left Uzbekistan to reunite with his family in the US. But he said that the authorities had not provided him any legal avenues to challenge his criminal convictions, nor to recover property that was confiscated after his arrest in 1999.

Former political prisoners Akzam Turgunov and Bobomurod Abdullaev have said that since their releases security services and police have subjected them to surveillance and intimidation. On August 29, Turgunov was briefly detained while using his phone to record a peaceful protest in front of the Supreme Court. Three men in civilian clothes approached him, refused to identify themselves, grabbed him and forced him to get into a car. The next day, Turgunov was convicted of “failure to comply with the lawful demands of a police officer” (Article 194) of the Uzbek Administrative Code and fined 20 euros (approximately US$23). Turgunov is appealing the decision.

In May, following a trial that was open for observation by journalists and human rights monitors, a court conditionally released and fined independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who had been detained in September 2017 and then allegedly tortured while in pre-trial detention on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. While the trial set a precedent for its degree of openness and transparency, authorities have not investigated Abdullaev’s credible allegations of severe torture.

Azam Farmonov, a human rights activist, whose 14-and-a-half-year sentence was shortened upon his release in October 2017, said that he still is required to pay a monthly portion of his salary to the government as part of his conditional release, and that it is extremely difficult to get the medical care payment that is supposed to be provided by the government for former prisoners. “Obtaining the monetary stipend provided by the government for medical is so difficult, I simply gave up” Farmonov said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 17, 2018, 5:00 am

Istanbul police detained 13 academics and individuals working for nongovernmental group Anadolu Kültür, November 16, 2018. From top left clockwise: Meltem Aslan; Turgut Tarhanlı; Betül Tanbay; Çiğdem Mater; Hakan Altınay; Asena Günal.

© 2018 Bianet


Of the 13 people detained on November 16, 12 were released but are banned from overseas travel. An Istanbul court ruled that Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, who has worked for many years in the field of human rights, including at Istanbul Bilgi University, should be placed in pretrial detention pending completion of a criminal investigation. The court cited as grounds for the decision wiretaps and surveillance showing his involvement in meetings about civil disobedience and non-violent assembly whose content the court stated it had no information about. Human Rights Watch considers the grounds for his pretrial detention unjustified and his detention a violation of international law. Aksakaloğlu should be released immediately.

(Berlin) – The dubious arrest on November 16, 2018 of 13 prominent figures from academia and a nongovernmental group deepens Turkey’s repressive climate and cycle of injustice, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Istanbul and three other provinces detained the 13 in dawn raids.

Among them is a human rights professor, Turgut Tarhanlı, law faculty dean at Istanbul Bilgi University, and several other people working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür, a nongovernmental group that focuses on arts, cultural exchange, and human rights. Kavala, the group’s leader, has been held without charge or indictment in pretrial detention for the past year. Tarhanlı and three others were released with an overseas travel ban after questioning.

“The detentions of the 13 are all about concocting a case against the prominent civil society leader and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been unjustly jailed for over a year,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “It defies belief that the Istanbul prosecutor is investigating Kavala and the others for organizing the Gezi protests, which ended over five years ago.”

The Turkish authorities should release all 13 and Kavala from custody immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

The Istanbul police issued a statement saying that the people detained are under investigation for their involvement in anti-government protests in 2013 in Istanbul, and elsewhere, that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The statement says that the criminal investigation against them is focused on Kavala, the well-known chair of Anadolu Kültür and a businessman. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently repeated their call for his immediate release, from what is, at this stage, blatant arbitrary detention.

The Istanbul police statement about the detentions says “it has been proved” that Kavala “financed and organized” the 2013 Gezi protests through a foundation, Açık Toplum Vakfı (Open Society Foundation), and Anadolu Kültür, and thus attempted to “violently overthrow the government or partially or wholly prevent its functions.”

The statement accuses the 13 people detained, and seven others who have not been named, of operating in a hierarchical structure with Kavala toward those ends. This group, the statement said, sought to “deepen and spread the Gezi Park incidents,” to perpetuate them under the heading of “civil disobedience and non-violent actions” by bringing “activism educators, moderators and professional activists from abroad.” According to the statement, the group also attempted to set up new media to keep the Gezi incidents and other similar actions on the agenda, and that Kavala met with many institutions and individuals in Europe to try to get a ban on the import of teargas to Turkey.

The 13 detained, to whom many of the authorities have attributed inaccurate or out of date affiliations, include two academics, and the others mostly working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür: They are, in addition to Tarhanlı: Hakan Altınay, Asena Günal, Meltem Aslan, Yiğit Ekmekçi, Bora Sarı, Ayşegül Güzel, Çiğdem Mater, Betül Tanbay, Hande Özhabeş, Fılız Telek, Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, and Yusuf Cıvır.

The most recent arrests and claims expose Turkey’s position that equates any criticism of government policies and action, including and maybe particularly on, human rights grounds, with efforts to overthrow it. Such a position flies in the face of a government that claims to be a democracy that respects human rights and rule of law.

Turkey’s international partners, including the European Union, should press Turkish authorities to immediately release Kavala, all 13 of those detained on November 16, and the imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists against whom the authorities have not provided evidence of internationally recognizable crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

European Union officials will hold a high-level political dialogue on November 22 in Ankara and should put the continued crackdown on civil society and on media at the top of their concerns.

“The police allegations against the 13 people detained and Kavala slap the charge of attempting to topple the government on Kavala but provide no evidence of criminal activity,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Detaining more people won’t make trumped up charges more believable.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

(Washington, D.C.) – President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s plan to create a military-controlled National Guard is the wrong approach to Mexico’s public security crisis, Human Rights Watch said today. Deploying the military to contain criminal violence has produced widespread human rights violations – including executions, enforced disappearances, and torture – and underscores why the military should not be used for law enforcement.

On November 14, 2018, the president-elect proposed the creation of a National Guard as the government’s “primordial instrument” for promoting public security. The new body will, at least initially, be made up largely of military troops. It will be trained by the military and be under the command of the Defense Ministry.

Mexican Army special forces parade commemorating the 198th anniversary of Mexico’s independence at the Zócalo Square in Mexico City, September 16, 2008.

© 2008 AFP/Getty Images

“López Obrador is inheriting a human rights catastrophe that has been caused in large part by the militarization of public security in Mexico,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “By doubling down on that failed approach, he is making a colossal mistake that could undercut any serious hope of ending the atrocities that have caused so much suffering in Mexico in recent years.”

During the past two administrations, the use of the military in public security has had predictably disastrous results. The country’s armed forces are made for warfare, not law enforcement, and have a history of grave violations against civilians. They have also failed to reduce the violence in Mexico, and may in fact have been a key factor contributing to the dramatic increase in homicides over these years.

Until now, the deployment of the military in public security functions has been presented as an auxiliary role, to support civilian police. López Obrador’s plan dispenses with this limitation, which was even in the past more in theory than practice.

“We urge López Obrador to reconsider this ill-advised and potentially disastrous policy,” Vivanco said. “He should commit himself instead to improving the country’s civilian police forces, however difficult, which is essential to achieve a sustainable end to the violence and abuse that have flourished under his predecessors.”


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 9:00 pm

Journalist and Editor of Mozambican NewsPaper Dossiers & Factos, Serodio Towo. 

© 2018 VOA Português

A Mozambican journalist received phone texts and calls from unidentified people threatening to kill him if he continues to write articles criticizing the government.

Serôdio Towo, editor of the weekly newspaper Dossiers & Factos, recently published articles about the involvement of Mozambique’s Labour Minister in alleged financial mismanagement at the National Institute for Social Security.

Towo told me that, on Saturday morning, he received three calls from an unidentified number telling him to “watch out”, “write a will” and that “he was being watched.” That evening, a man called and warned him to “abandon” his current work or “risk losing his life.”

This is not the first time that Towo has been threatened or intimidated. Last March, he reported to police that vehicles without number plates followed him around the capital, Maputo. The police promised to investigate but have yet to reveal the probe’s results. Last Monday, he informed the police and the attorney general about the recent threats. The police told him to change his daily routine but offered him no physical protection.   

Threats against journalists and other government critics have become a common occurrence in Mozambique, in some cases ending in violent attacks.

Last month, following disputed local elections, at least eight people received anonymous phone calls and text messages making death threats for allegedly contributing to the defeat of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in the northern province of Nampula. One person went into hiding because of the threats. Calls by Amnesty International and free speech group MISA Mozambique for the police to investigate the alleged death threats and intimidation appear to have been ignored.

In April, Human Rights spoke with six activists who were living in fear after receiving threatening phone messages for criticizing the government. A month earlier, journalist and human rights activist Ericino de Salema was abducted and beaten after receiving threatening messages. In May 2016, political analyst Jose Macuane was abducted and shot four times in the legs by unidentified gunmen. Both Macuane’s and Salema’s cases are unresolved.

Mozambique’s government cannot continue to ignore its responsibility to effectively investigate allegations of abuse and protect all its citizens. The failure to investigate physical violence and threats against journalists and activists is contributing to an environment of fear in the country.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 8:56 pm

Riot police detain a man during an anti-corruption protest on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, Russia, June 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of one of Russia’s most visible opposition figures, Alexei Navalny, finding that his numerous arrests at public protests between 2012 and 2014 were politically motivated and violated his rights to freedom of assembly, among other things.

Navalny, in response, focused not on what the ruling meant to him, but on what it meant to the many others in Russia “who are regularly grabbed and jailed for obviously political reasons.”

That’s the right call. In recent years, police arrested thousands of people for having taken part in peaceful public protests, even where organizers had made a good faith effort to engage with the authorities about the venue.

In some instances, police charged parents with “neglecting parental duties” for allowing their children to attend rallies. In 2017, university officials threatened students with expulsion, if they attempted to organize “unauthorized” rallies. Police have not shied away from arresting children at peaceful rallies. Nor have police shied away from excessive, brute force to disperse rallies.

Fines range from 5,000 (US$76) to 20,000 rubles or 10 days in jail. Organizers, such as Navalny, drew harsher penalties, including up to 25-30 days in jail. Repeat arrests for unauthorized protesting though, can lead to up to 5 years’ imprisonment.

For several years, Russian authorities have been tightening their grip on dissent and peaceful protest, including by adopting new laws with stricter rules on protests and harsher penalties for violations. Just last week, parliament finished the first stage of approving a bill that, if adopted, would introduce a maximum 15-day jail sentence for protest organizers who involve people under 18 in unauthorized assemblies.

In yesterday’s ruling, the court noted that although governments can have legal requirements to seek authorization for assemblies, any interference with free assembly has to have a “legitimate aim . . .  such as the prevention of crime or disorder or protecting the rights of others.”

It’s hard to see what the legitimate aim could be of fining and jailing thousands of people who have peacefully expressed their views on important issues like corruption and pension reform. Russia’s government would do better, if it listened to these concerns rather than spend extensive resources seeking to silence those who voice them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 2:44 pm

French President Emmanuel Macron at the opening session of the Paris Peace Forum, an event that is a part of the commemoration ceremonies to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris, November 11, 2018.

© 2018 Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As President Emmanuel Macron kicked off the Paris Peace Forum on Sunday, fighting spiraled in the Yemeni city of Hodeida.

The forum, attended by dozens of world leaders, emphasized cooperation among nations. But how will Macron demonstrate these principles when it comes to Yemen?

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. It stands on the brink of a famine years in the making: Half of its population, 14 million people, may starve if something does not change.

The parties to the four-year-old conflict, the Houthis, who control key areas in the north, and the Saudi-led coalition forces trying to oust them, have instrumentalized civilian suffering – denying aid, wrecking the country’s economy, and destroying critical infrastructure. Now, fighting has ramped up around Hodeida, Yemen’s most important port. Humanitarian experts warned that any disruption to this crucial lifeline in a country dependent on imports will be catastrophic.

Europe’s governments have yet to unite to push for an end to attacks on civilians and the denial of humanitarian aid – and to impose consequences on those responsible. Cooperation among countries that prioritizes rights could make a real difference for Yemeni civilians.

But when it comes to the arms sales that fuel abuses in Yemen, France is becoming an outlier.

Other countries, including the Netherlands and Austria, banned or restricted arms sales to Saudi Arabia relatively early in the war. Germany recently halted sales. Others, like France and the United Kingdom, have continued selling weapons, despite the civilian toll, the many likely war crimes, and their own laws regulating arms sales.

While Macron urges addressing the humanitarian crisis, he and others ignore that continuing arms sales only encourages Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners in their potential war crimes.

In a recent poll in France, 75 percent of people who responded said they want Macron to suspend sales to Saudi Arabia, while at least 63 percent of Britons polled oppose sales. Europe’s governments should forge a common position ending these sales, press all parties to the conflict to guarantee unimpeded access and movement for vital imports, and condemn any deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians. By joining such an initiative, Macron would be giving substance to France’s calls to end atrocities in Yemen.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 5:01 am

A Rohingya refugee looks at the view from a hill at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on January 9, 2018.

© 2018 Tyrone Siu / Reuters
(New York) – The Bangladesh government should follow the recommendations of senior United Nations refugee and human rights officials and immediately halt the proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have deployed the army in refugee camps ahead of carrying out a plan to repatriate a first group of 2,200 Rohingya refugees.

The first batch of 150 people from 30 families were taken to a transit camp in preparation for their return. Bangladesh's refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told journalists the families would be repatriated through the Ghundhum point of Bandarban district on November 15. “They are fully prepared,” he said. “We have made all arrangements.” Subsequent reports, however, indicated possible delays in the starting date.

“The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly international opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm’s way in Myanmar,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director. “That Dhaka deployed its army into the camps is a red flag that this terrified community is not willing to return.”

Under pressure from China, Bangladesh and Myanmar officials met in Dhaka on October 30 and 31, the third meeting of a joint working group to carry out a bilateral repatriation agreement signed in November 2017. Following the meeting, representatives announced that they had a “very concrete plan” to begin repatriations in mid-November, with the first round to include 2,260 Rohingya from 485 families. According to Myanmar officials, the plan calls for 150 refugees to be received each day, starting on November 15, at the Nga Khu Ya reception center before being transferred to the Hla Poe Kaung transit camp.

Although Bangladesh authorities have said all repatriations would be voluntary, they have also been strongly encouraging the Rohingya to return. The authorities have built two repatriation centers where the refugees will remain until their return to Myanmar.

The imminent return has caused panic in the refugee camp. “This is forced. This is involuntary. Not one person in the camp wants to go back,” a Rohingya refugee told Human Rights Watch. “They will kill us if we go back.”

“Camp situation very bad now,” another refugee wrote on WhatsApp, saying that some families were being forced to go to transit centers. “Authorities are surrounding [the] camp, Rohingya people will not go back to Myanmar without justice and security of the UN.”

More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past year to escape the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. They joined about 200,000 refugees who had fled previous waves of violence and persecution. A UN fact-finding mission found “sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw [armed forces] on charges of genocide.”

The Myanmar government has rejected these allegations. It has said that it is ready to accept repatriated refugees and has accused Bangladesh of delaying the process. However, the Myanmar authorities have done nothing to create conditions for safe and dignified returns or to address the root causes of the crisis, including systematic persecution and violence, statelessness, and impunity for grave violations by the military. Myanmar has refused to acknowledge the Rohingya ethnicity of the refugees or to recognize them as its citizens.

The Rohingya fear that upon return, they will be in placed in detention camps. They point out that more than 124,000 Rohingya have been similarly confined for six years, since being displaced by violence in 2012.

The “reception centers” and “transit camp” Myanmar built this year to process and house returnees from Bangladesh are surrounded by barbed-wire perimeter fences and security outposts, similar to the physical confinement structures in the central Rakhine internally displaced persons camps. The Hla Poe Kaung reception center was built on land where Rohingya had been living before security forces burned and the government bulldozed the area.

“Nothing the Myanmar government has said or done suggests that the Rohingya will be safe upon return,” Frelick said. “Bangladesh needs to uphold its international obligations – and maintain its well-earned international reputation for providing refuge to the Rohingya – and not grab at quick and illusory solutions that will once again put desperate people at risk.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 16, 2018, 12:25 am