More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The latest revisions to China’s Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised law, which took effect November 1, 2015, does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

“The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9)), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.” The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or reposting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution.

In the past, the Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
     

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. But authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uighurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response.

“The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China,” Richardson said. “The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Video: Opioids Crackdown in the US Leaves Pain Patients Suffering

Federal and state government efforts to reduce prescription opioids are inadvertently harming chronic pain patients. Many patients are involuntarily cut off medications that improve their lives or say they are unable to find a doctor willing to care for them. 

The US state of Oregon announced it will postpone a vote on restricting prescription opioids to a large group of Medicaid patients.

If approved, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) would no longer cover any opioids for Medicaid patients with chronic back, neck, or spine conditions as well as fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. This policy would mark an unprecedented move by a state to mandate involuntary opioid dose reductions across a broad group of patients.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch found that patients who are in pain suffer needlessly from these kinds of reductions, which destabilized their physical and mental health and, in some cases, led to suicide or the use of illicit drugs.

The US is in the midst of an overdose crisis that claimed more than 70,000 lives in 2017 alone. Opioids – prescription pills as well as illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl – accounted for over half those deaths. This crisis needs to be addressed. But taking pain pills away from patients who need them is not the answer.

The Centers for Disease Control, the Federation of State Medical Boards, and other medical organizations discourage involuntary dose reductions for patients on opioids. In a recent letter, over 100 leaders in pain and addiction medicine said there was no scientific evidence to back Oregon’s policy change, and no infrastructure in place to ensure patient safety.

Oregon isn’t the only state to mandate dose reductions for chronic pain patients on opioids: Human Rights Watch found that six state Medicaid programs mandated tapering or maximum dose limits. But Oregon’s plan would go further than any other by denying any opioids to a broad class of patients, and in doing so would set a dangerous precedent.

Physician and patient activists have been raising concerns about Oregon’s tapering plan since August. Rather than back down, Oregon has opted for delay tactics and minor tweaks to its proposal, leaving physicians and providers in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

The OHA said it would postpone the vote after finding that one person set to vote on the proposal had a conflict of interest. What Oregon should do is reject the policy outright and adopt a policy that reflects scientific evidence and that keeps patients who are in pain safe.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Maria Higginbotham, 57, holding screws and bolts removed from her back in a recent surgery above x-rays of her body. Higginbotham, a chronic pain patient diagnosed with degenerative disc disorder and a number of other painful conditions, has had twelve operations to prevent the collapse of her spine.

© 2018 Will Miller for Human Rights Watch
In a Feb. 24 segment, CBS’s 60 Minutes accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of igniting the overdose epidemic in the United States with its “illegal approval of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.” While the program highlighted the adverse consequences of misleading pharmaceutical marketing and lax government oversight, this segment failed to consider the perspective of patients who legitimately use opioids for pain, stigmatized them as drug-seekers, and propagated misconceptions about the overdose crisis, such as the idea that opioid treatment for chronic pain is indisputably illegitimate and is driving overdose deaths in the US.

When Oxycontin went to market in 1996, its FDA label said that addiction was “very rare” when the medication was used to manage chronic pain. Although that warning was enhanced in 2001, the market for Oxycontin was already booming: advertising spending for the drug increased from $700,000 in 1996 to $4.6 million in 2001. Lawsuits allege that Purdue, the maker of the drug, targeted high-prescribing physicians and continued to aggressively market Oxycontin even after it learned its product had become a go-to drug for illicit use. The lack of government oversight and Purdue’s practices certainly deserve media scrutiny that could help shed light on actions that may underlie the overdose crisis.

However, the guests featured in the 60 Minutes segment gave the impression that the use of opioids for chronic pain is illegitimate or illegal, that prescription opioids are still driving overdose deaths in the United States, and that the use of prescribed opioids to manage chronic pain is equivalent to “heroin addiction.” These are false narratives that do real harm to pain patients, who have been regularly stigmatized in the media and elsewhere as drug-seekers. In presenting this report, 60 Minutes failed to tell the other side of the story: that of pain patients who rely on these medications to function, and that of the medical community which largely agrees that opioids may help patients whose pain isn’t resolved by other means.

Chronic pain is a large category that includes pain associated with incurable illnesses, severe neurological conditions, and catastrophic trauma as well as more common ailments like arthritis. There is growing agreement that using opioids across this broad category was inappropriate and did harm, and that it is important to balance the potential benefits of opioids with misuse and diversion risks. But the medical community still largely agrees that, for some patients, opioids provide benefits. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federation of State Medical Boards, a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine, and all applicable medical and government guidelines on prescribing opioids have reaffirmed that opioids may be appropriate for patients whose chronic pain isn’t resolved by other means. 

Re-evaluating the use of opioids in long-term pain makes sense given recent history, but rushing to judgment before we do so can do real harm and risks violating a fundamental component of the right to health, including the right to adequate treatment for pain.  In over 80 interviews with patients, physicians, and experts, a recent Human Rights Watch report found a disconcerting trend: chronic pain patients are being forced off opioid medications simply because doctors fear regulatory oversight and reprisal. In many cases, physicians acted against their better medical judgment. Even when they believed their patients’ health was improved by long-term opioid treatment, they felt they had no option but to reduce patients’ doses dramatically or cut them off completely. They felt a wide range of pressures, from fear of Drug Enforcement Agency or state medical board scrutiny to the heavy bureaucratic burden created by insurance companies through their efforts to discourage opioid prescribing.

When deprived of their medication, the consequences for patients can be devastating: their health declines to the point where they can no longer work, do simple chores, or take care of their personal hygiene.  Several patients said they had turned to alcohol or illicit drugs to manage their pain when they were deprived of care.

Take Maria Higginbotham, whose story is included in the report. She has undergone 12 operations to prevent the collapse of her spine. Unfortunately these operations, which failed to relieve her pain, also left her with adhesive arachnoiditis, an incredibly painful condition that causes the nerves of the spinal cord to “stick together.”

Maria is now being forced to a lower dose of medication by a provider who believes she needs opioids, but is afraid of attracting law enforcement scrutiny of his practice. Previously, Maria could function independently; she now requires assistance to go to the toilet.  To suggest that Maria has no legitimate right to these medications—and that her need for them is misguided, inappropriate or the result of drug misuse —is stigmatizing to all patients like her.

Hundreds of leading physicians and experts from with varying views on the efficacy of opioids have called attention to the dangers of involuntarily discontinuing opioids for the estimated 18 million Americans who currently use them for long-term pain, a practice the CDC and other medical bodies do not encourage. These dangers include medical destabilization, the lost ability to work and function, and suicide. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), a national disability rights organization, shares these concerns, which have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities living with chronic pain who already face major barriers to accessing healthcare.  The American Medical Association has similarly criticized the indiscriminate discontinuation of opioids, and has underscored that the stigma surrounding opioids now affects cancer and palliative care patients who, despite explicit exemptions, face increased barriers to access as well

While liberal prescribing undoubtedly caused harm, further perpetuating inflammatory and stigmatizing ideas about people who rely on opioids helps legitimize the growing reluctance of physicians to prescribe these medications to those who they believe need them. At a time when the prescribing of opioids has dropped precipitously and drug overdose deaths are largely attributed to illicit substances, such harm ought to figure into the conversation.

It’s true that there is a lack of high quality data studying the efficacy of opioids beyond 12 weeks, but it is also the case that most medications approved for the treatment of pain reflect studies of similar duration.  This is in part because doing long-term, placebo-controlled trials with real human beings who are suffering presents practical and ethical challenges. 

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently responded to the concerns raised by 60 Minutes, by announcing that the agency will conduct new studies into the efficacy of opioid analgesics for chronic pain, a move that he signaled could have an impact on how these drugs are marketed in the future. We agree that more research is critical and have backed initiatives such as the National Pain Strategy that call for much needed additional research into chronic pain. In the meantime, the dangers of reinforcing an incomplete or incorrect narrative and of stigmatizing patients are real—60 Minutes should ensure it doesn’t do either in its coverage, and should show all sides of the story.  

 

Laura Mills is a health researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the HRW report, “Chronic Pain, the Overdose Crisis, and Unintended Harms in the US.”

Kate M. Nicholson is a civil rights and health policy attorney. She served for 20 years in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, where she drafted current regulations under the Americans With Disabilities Act. She gave a TEDx talk about chronic pain, “What We Lose When We Undertreat Pain.

Lindsay Baran is the policy analyst at the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the longest-running national cross-disability grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities.

 

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Last week, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to stop the opening of a safer injection site (SIS) in Philadelphia, claiming it violates the federal Controlled Substances Act. This misguided action not only places the health of people who use drugs at risk, but undermines goals set by the Trump administration to tackle two public health epidemics plaguing the nation – HIV/AIDS and deaths from overdose.

Discarded syringes in an open-air heroin market that has thrived for decades, slated for cleanup along train tracks a few miles outside the heart of Philadelphia

AP

At safer injection sites, staff provide sterile needles and equipment as well as testing for HIV and Hepatitis C, and linkage to drug dependence treatment for those who want it. These facilities operate in 12 countries and more than 100 peer-reviewed studies have shown they reduce transmission of infectious disease, death from overdose, and increase participation in treatment without increasing crime or drug use in a community. The American Medical Association has endorsed a pilot program for SIS, and the Philadelphia facility would be the first to openly operate in the US. 

Opposing this proven public health intervention not only undermines the administration’s pledge to address the opioid crisis, but runs counter to another major Trump administration initiative. In last week’s State of the Union address, the president announceda program designed to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 through targeted funding for HIV prevention and treatment. This ambitious goal is to be applauded, though it won’t likely be realized without changes to the administration’s health and civil rights policies that reduce access to health care for those most at risk of, and living with, HIV, including people who use drugs. 

Rather than taking legal action against an approach shown to reduce HIV transmission, there are important ways the Department of Justice could combat the overdose and HIV epidemics. Laws that criminalize drugs for personal use result in an arrest every 25 seconds in the US, and Human Rights Watch and others have documented the devastating harms that result to individuals, families, and communities, including driving people away from health services. Law enforcement should support criminal justice reform, as well as programs that contribute to public health and safety such as syringe exchanges and safer injection sites. Unless the nation’s top law enforcement agency becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem, the Trump administration’s admirable goals to end the opioid and HIV epidemics will never be realized. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

My dad’s hearty laugh and sparkling eyes faded—and his care needs grew—as dementia set in.

For his last few years, my dad lived in a care facility. The memory care unit staff treated him well. But he needed more than the staff. He needed my brothers and me to help him navigate his changing needs.

Sometimes all he needed was a kiss on the cheek and a chocolate bar. But other times he needed help that we could only manage during work hours. Things like care conferences, medical appointments, and other official business.

Fortunately, we all had employers that gave us paid time off when we needed to help him for a few hours or days.  

Millions of other workers in the US are not so lucky. Many employers offer no paid family or medical leave, or any paid leave at all for that matter. This forces many workers to choose between caring for a seriously ill family member and their financial security.

An estimated 5.7 million people in the US are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, the most common form of dementia, and the numbers are growing as the population ages. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in 10 people 65 and older in the US has Alzheimer’s dementia.

More than 16 million people, mostly family members, provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. According to 2017 data from the National Alliance for Caregiving, six in ten dementia caregivers were employed in the previous year while they provided care to their loved one.

This week (Feb. 5) marked the 26th anniversary of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That law offers only unpaid leave. It grants job protection for up to three months of leave, but applies only to enterprises with 50 or more employees. About 40 percent of workers aren’t eligible for FMLA protection.

So, paid family and medical leave is left to the whim of employers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17 percent of the workforce has paid family leave benefits through their employers. Higher-paid workers are far more likely to get paid family leave than lower-paid workers.

A federal bill being reintroduced in the coming weeks—the FAMILY Act—would go a long way toward addressing this country’s caregiving inequities. It would enable workers to take leave with partial pay for the birth or adoption of a child, for their own or a family member’s serious health conditions, or for certain military caregiving and leave purposes.

Under the bill, workers could take up to 12 weeks of leave. It would provide employees with two-thirds of their wages, up to a cap, for that period. Employees, employers and self-employed workers would make small payroll contributions to fund the program. The contributions would be less than $2 per week for a typical worker.

This bill would make paid leave available to all eligible workers, not just new parents, and that is important. Approximately 75 percent of people who take family or medical leave each year do so for reasons other than maternity or paternity care. They take it to care for family members with serious illnesses, injuries or disabilities or for their own medical needs.

This federal bill draws on the models of successful state programs for paid family leave. Six states—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington State, and Massachusetts—and Washington, DC, now have such programs.

Other states are considering paid leave bills. One of them is Minnesota, my family’s home state. Last week, despite the polar vortex deep freeze, supporters turned out en masse for a committee hearing on a Minnesota state paid leave bill.

Research on the states that have pioneered these policies shows good results: they are financially sound, self-sustaining, and benefit employers and workers alike.

Voters want a law like this. In a 2018 poll of registered voters, 84 percent responded that they would support a national paid family and medical leave law like the FAMILY Act.

When my dad passed away late last year, I needed time off work to care for him, and to say goodbye. In his final days and hours, during what normally would have been work days, I could be at his side without worrying about my job or financial security.

Congress and state lawmakers should pass sensible laws that enable all workers to care for their loved ones when they need it the most.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 12, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

The chair of a powerful United States Congressional committee has issued a powerful call to end the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs to sedate older people in nursing homes, calling it a “crisis.”

In a sharply-worded letter to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates nursing homes, Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee, criticized CMS, saying that “data suggest nursing facilities are getting away with this practice” of inappropriate use of medication, “neither being cited nor penalized” including due to CMS’s insufficient enforcement of US laws.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma speaks to reporters Thursday, March 29, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise

The letter goes on to level a concern that while CMS has pointed to fewer cases of older people receiving medication not approved for their condition as a sign of improvement, this decrease may be partly the result of “some nursing homes falsifying psychosis diagnoses,” so that they can now justify prescribing antipsychotic medications to those patients.

Neal also rightly recognizes inappropriate medication in nursing homes as a human rights issue. In a 2018 report, “’They Want Docile:’ How Nursing Homes in the US Overmedicate People with Dementia,” Human Rights Watch documented nursing facilities’ inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs in older people as well as the administration of the drugs without informed consent, both of which occur mostly as the result of inadequate enforcement of existing laws and regulations.

CMS should strengthen its enforcement of federal regulations regarding antipsychotic drugs. Residents and their families should be told they have the right to be informed of treatment alternatives and their right to refuse. The government should ensure nursing homes employ enough staff to provide adequate care.

An industry paid billions of public and private dollars cannot justify these practices, nor can regulators justify failures to hold nursing homes accountable. Committee Chairman Neal and others should continue to press CMS for answers and for rights-respecting changes.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Phnom Penh) – Survivors of acid violence in Cambodia are unlawfully denied free medical care and face pressure to accept inadequate settlements, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Cambodian government should enforce its laws that require legal, social, and medical support to survivors of acid attacks.

The 48-page report, “‘What Hell Feels Like’: Acid Violence in Cambodia,” documents the use by private actors of nitric or sulfuric acid to inflict pain and permanently scar victims, and efforts by survivors to get justice and medical care. After several highly publicized acid attacks in Cambodia, the government in 2012 passed the Law on Regulating Concentrated Acid to curb the availability of acid used in attacks and to provide medical care and legal support to victims. Since passage of the law, acid attacks have dropped and regulations have reduced the availability of acid in the capital, Phnom Penh. However, Human Rights Watch found that many survivors of these attacks are unable to get adequate health care and meaningful compensation as the law requires, and that those responsible for attacks are rarely prosecuted.

Video

Cambodia: Acid Attack Survivors Denied Treatment, Justice

Survivors of acid violence in Cambodia are unlawfully denied free medical care and face pressure to accept inadequate settlements. The Cambodian government should enforce its laws that require legal, social, and medical support to survivors of acid attacks.

 

“The Cambodian government took an important step with the Acid Law by making clear promises to survivors of acid violence,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to enforce the law outside Phnom Penh, hold attackers accountable, or ensure adequate treatment and compensation for victims has left those promises unfulfilled – with consequences that last a lifetime.”

Human Rights Watch spoke with 81 people, including 17 survivors of acid attacks in Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham, relatives of survivors, lawyers, experts on acid violence, and motorcycle battery vendors and other acid sellers in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, and Tboung Khmum provinces.

While Cambodia’s Acid Law requires state hospitals to provide free medical care for acid attack survivors, no survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch had received free treatment. Rather, they described being denied treatment until they could provide out-of-pocket payments or could show proof that they could pay. Even staff at the largest public hospital in Cambodia – the only one with a dedicated burn unit – were unaware that the law requires free treatment.

Survivors suffering from extremely painful acid burns face Cambodia’s notoriously strict regulations on opioid analgesics, including a seven-day limit for morphine prescriptions. No public hospitals outside of the capital carry oral morphine. As a result, access to pain relief for the rural poor is cost-prohibitive. Even in Phnom Penh, morphine, including oral morphine, remains scarce.

Perhaps the most infamous case of acid violence in Cambodia was the attack on then 16-year-old Tat Marina in 1999. Svay Sitha, then a 40-year-old deputy undersecretary of state in the Council of Ministers and a close aide to Prime Minister Hun Sen, posed as an American businessman and, Marina said, verbally and physically threatened her to maintain a relationship with him. When Sitha’s wife, Khoun Sophal, learned of the relationship, she hired men to beat Marina unconscious and pour nitric acid on her face. No one was ever prosecuted for the attack – even though it happened in daylight in a crowded public market and assailants left behind identification – and Marina never received any compensation. On September 6, 2018, Hun Sen promoted Sitha to minister delegate, the top cabinet-level advisor to the prime minister.

Most of the acid survivors interviewed for the report have not obtained any justice. Several said government officials pressured them to accept an inadequate settlement out of court. Of the handful of cases that have made it to court, few have resulted in a conviction, and fewer still in the people convicted serving out their sentence. Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single survivor interviewed who received any compensation through the court system, despite provisions under the Cambodian civil and criminal codes entitling victims to damages.

The Cambodian government should prohibit informal financial settlements in criminal cases and make the obstruction of justice a criminal offense, Human Rights Watch said. Such obstruction should include improperly intervening with police, officials, judges, or prosecutors. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit and Ministry of Justice should urgently finalize the long-promised draft victim and witness protection laws.

“The Cambodian government should explicitly communicate to all public hospitals the legal requirement to provide free treatment to victims of acid violence, and the government’s obligation to reimburse hospitals for the costs,” Adams said. “The government should update the regulations on opioid analgesics to ensure that opioid pain medications are both available and accessible for those who need them, to spare acid attack survivors a life of excruciating pain.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. during US House voting on the American Health Care Act, which would repeal major parts of the 2000 Affordable Care Act know as Obamacare, May 4, 2017.

© 2017 REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

On February 5, President Donald Trump will deliver the annual State of the Union address. One thing is clear: two years after his inauguration, the right to health in America is in peril.

The right to health does not guarantee a right to be healthy, but it does oblige governments to enact policies promoting available and affordable basic health services without discrimination. Governments should take particular care to ensure access to those most likely to, face obstacles – the poor, minorities, persons with disabilities, women, and children, among others. Many of Trump’s signature policies have instead undermined this fundamental human right.

Though attempts to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have failed, many of its key components remain under attack. In 2017, the number of Americans covered by health insurance declined for the first time since the ACA was implemented. The administration permitted states to impose work and drug testing requirements on Medicaid recipients, policies that have already resulted in loss of eligibility for thousands of people.

Numerous Trump administration policies are placing the health of LGBT people at risk, including the expansion of religious or moral exemptions for health care providers and the refusal to apply the ACA’s anti-discrimination provisions to transgender people.

The President has led a relentless effort to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, primarily through proposed regulations that would limit women’s access to reproductive health and information through federal family planning funds, and would defund Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women’s health care in the United States. Meanwhile, nearly any employer claiming religious or moral objections to birth control can be exempted from the ACA’s requirement that they provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans.

Nearly two years after declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, attempts to restrict Medicaid threaten to undermine access to drug treatment for millions of people. With a misguided focus on punitive drug policies, the administration has opposed evidence-based interventions such as supervised injection sites and is missing opportunities to increase access to naloxone, the overdose reversal medication.

In the last two years, 22 people died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, including two children in December. Our own research has shown how during the Obama years, many such deaths have been linked to improper medical and mental health care in immigration detention. Trump has done nothing to address that problem.

Here and elsewhere, the Trump administration has shown its lack of respect for the right to health, and the State of the Union is suffering as a result.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

 

 

 

In this photo taken last year in Manila, children are detained in a Bahay Pagasa detention center, the same type of facility the Philippine government plans to use under a proposed new law that would lower the age of criminal responsibility.  

 

© 2018 Carlos Conde/Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Philippine legislators should reject a draft law to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 12, Human Rights Watch said today. Both houses of the Philippine Congress appear set to approve a bill that would incarcerate greater numbers of children caught up in the criminal justice system.

Under House Bill 8858, children as young as 12 could be tried for criminal offenses in family court. Those under 18 convicted of serious crimes would be incarcerated at Juvenile Reformatory Centers. The House of Representatives approved a final reading of the bill on January 28, 2019, and the Senate is expected to pass a similar bill before going on break on February 9. 

“If the Philippine Congress passes the bill lowering the age of criminal liability, they will be throwing many more Filipino children into a broken and debilitating system,” said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher. “Legislators should drop the proposed law and refocus their energies on reforming existing government facilities for children or replacing them with better options.” 

Children’s rights advocates have long criticized local governments for failing to enforce the existing Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, which sets out the treatment children should receive in the justice system. Many government institutions for children, particularly Bahay Pagasa (House of Hope), place children in dire conditions of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and physical abuse. Human Rights Watch in June visited one such facility in Manila and found it poorly run and maintained. Water from the toilet leaked to the floors where dozens of children were sleeping, rust covered fenced cages in which children were locked up throughout the day, ventilation was poor, and many of the children had clear signs of skin infections, suggesting poor diet and sanitation. 

A nine-year-old boy, arrested for sleeping in the street, joins other children in a Bahay Pagasa detention center in Manila, the same type of facility the Philippine government plans to use under a proposed new law that would lower the age of criminal responsibility. 

 

© 2018 Carlos Conde/Human Rights Watch

President Rodrigo Duterte has called for lowering the age of criminal responsibility to stop drug and criminal syndicates from using young children to commit criminal acts. His abusive “war on drugs,” in which police and their agents have summarily executed thousands of drug suspects, has resulted in the deaths of more than 90 children, according to domestic children’s rights groups. Many children have ended up in these facilities for children under Duterte’s “drug war” and its related campaign against “loiterers”  because the children were caught in the streets after curfew or were not wearing shirts. The new law would mean that more and younger children would end up in many poorly managed facilities, Human Rights Watch said.

Under the proposed law, Bahay Pagasa will be the main “reformatory” institutions for child offenders. There are about 60 of these facilities around the country, most run by local governments. Many are in a state of disrepair and some are not functioning. The proposed law will turn these facilities over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and increase their budget.

Lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 would be contrary to the Philippines’ international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states in its draft general comment on juvenile justice that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 and should under no circumstances be reduced if it has been set higher.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Philippines has ratified, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should only be a last resort, and rehabilitation is a priority. Alternatives to detention are preferable to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offense. The alternatives include care, guidance and supervision orders, counseling, probation, foster care, and education and vocational training programs.

“The Philippine government should be looking for ways to improve the rehabilitation of children who have broken the law, not putting more and younger children in horrible detention facilities out of the public view,” Conde said. “There’s a broad range of steps to help troubled children that don’t involve locking them up.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Pakistan: Garment Workers’ Rights at Risk

Pakistan’s government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses. 

(New York) – Pakistan’s government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 73-page report, “‘No Room to Bargain’: Unfair and Abusive Labor Practices in Pakistan,” documents a range of violations in Pakistan’s garment factories. They include a failure to pay minimum wages and pensions, suppression of independent labor unions, forced overtime, insufficient breaks, and disregarded regulations requiring paid maternity and medical leave. Human Rights Watch also identified problems in the government’s labor inspection system. Pakistan authorities should revamp labor inspections and systematically hold factories accountable for abuses. Domestic and international apparel brands should take more effective measures to prevent and correct labor rights abuses in the factories that produce clothing for them.

“Pakistan’s government has long neglected its obligations to protect the rights of the country’s garment workers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government should urgently enforce the labor laws and adopt new policies to protect workers from abuse.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 140 people for the report, including 118 garment workers from 24 factories in Pakistan, as well as union leaders, government representatives, and labor rights advocates. Human Rights Watch conducted most of the field research for this report in Pakistan from June 2017 to December 2018.

In recent years, Pakistani garment workers have expressed serious grievances through strikes and protests. In December 2018, garment workers protested at a training institute in Lahore run by a major Pakistani brand, which they said abused a government incentive program. Workers alleged that the training institute actually operated as a factory, extracting free labor from “trainees.” In May 2017, workers protested after Khaadi, a leading Pakistani apparel brand, fired 32 workers for demanding their rights under Pakistani law.

Garment workers making shirts at a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, February 2015. 

© 2015 Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

In September 2012, a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi killed at least 255 workers and injured more than 100. Investigations found a series of irregularities and an almost complete absence of fire and safety systems. Survivors reported that the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first.

Some of the larger factories in Pakistan, which are part of the organized sector of the industry, supply international apparel brands. But most garment factories in Pakistan cater to the domestic market, with the work carried out in small unregistered workshops in unmarked buildings that escape labor inspectors’ scrutiny.

The working conditions in these smaller factories are usually worse than those in larger ones that are more likely to be inspected, Human Rights Watch found. Owners often refuse to pay the statutory minimum wage and hire workers on short-term oral contracts. However, Human Rights Watch documented violations of labor rights including long working hours and extended temporary employment without job security or benefits even in large Pakistani factories, including some that supply garments to international retailers and brands.

Workers, many of them women, also said that they experienced verbal abuse, were pressured not to take toilet breaks, and were even denied clean drinking water. People demanding their rights could be threatened or fired. In two factories, Human Rights Watch documented beatings of workers by managers.

“I know that the payment is below the government minimum wage, but who will hear our complaint?” said a worker who earns about $90 a month after eight years. “If I protest to the manager, I will be fired in a heartbeat.”

Some garment factories producing for domestic brands use home-based workers for special orders or on a seasonal basis. Women working from home are often denied labor law protections. They are not able to join factory unions or unionize, and their work remains unregulated and vulnerable to middlemen, who often refuse to pay minimum wage.

Labor rights activists described union-busting by many large factories. Factory managers often keep workers on short-term contracts to discourage their participation in union activities. Workers also alleged that factory owners manipulate the labor law to create obstacles to register trade unions. Several factories register fake or “yellow” unions consisting of chosen or non-existent employees, making it close to impossible for workers to register real unions.

Pakistan should amend its labor law to comply with international standards including International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. In the interim, rigorous enforcement of the existing law would go a long way in protecting workers’ rights, Human Rights Watch said. Labor inspectors and other authorities are frequently overstretched, or complicit, and let abuses persist.

Factory owners also need to make a commitment to reform, Human Rights Watch said. The All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers & Exporters Association (PRGMEA) should ensure compliance with worker protection provisions, and sanction companies that abuse worker rights.

Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, domestic and international apparel brands and factories supplying them have responsibilities to prevent and mitigate human rights abuses in factories and should take remedial action if abuses occur. All businesses, regardless of their size or where they are based, should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur,” the guiding principles say.

“The Pakistani government should ensure that garment factories stop using union-busting and other strategies to prevent workers from organizing and collectively demanding their rights,” Adams said. “Domestic and international brands should recognize that respecting worker rights makes for more competitive businesses.”
 

Selected Quotes

Absence of Written Contracts

“There is no written contract and the only proof of employment is a card. The factory management marks the attendance of the workers themselves and signs everybody out after nine hours so that if the record is ever inspected, it would appear that the management is complying with the law. In truth, we work longer hours and there is not even sick leave. Salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman who becomes visibly pregnant is told to leave.”

–Shabana (pseudonym), who has been working for more than eight years at a Lahore garment factory with about 500 workers.

Forced Overtime

“I was fired last Sunday for not working overtime. I have not received a termination letter. On Monday, when I went to work, my name was listed with the security guard at the gate and he told me that I had been ‘gate stopped.’ Gate stopped is the most fearful term in the garment industry since it means that you have been fired and are no longer allowed to enter the factory.”

–Akbar (pseudonym), worker at a factory manufacturing for a domestic brand in Karachi.

Denying Wages and Benefits

“I have been working at this factory for the past eight years. My salary is around 9,000 Pakistani rupees [US$90] per month. I know that the payment is below the government minimum wage, but who will hear our complaint? If I protest to the manager, I will be fired in a heartbeat.”

–Rehana (pseudonym), worker at a factory supplying domestic and international brands in Karachi.

Lack of Breaks

“We are allowed a lunch break for half an hour and two short bathroom breaks. If anyone asks for an additional bathroom break, the managers verbally abuse him and mock him for having a weak bladder. The only way to cope is to not drink water except during lunch.”

–Raza (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Hafizabad district, Punjab province.

Unsanitary Conditions

“There are 300 to 400 workers in the factory crammed in a small space. The factory is filthy, and the cleaning is done rarely. There is no clean drinking water in the factory. If any worker complains about feeling ill or nauseous, the managers give us a painkiller, deduct the cost of the medicine from our salary and tell us to get on with the work.”

–Kamran (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Lahore.

Maternity Leave and Child Care

“There is no maternity leave. Pregnant women are ‘left’ [an industry term for termination] and now whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired.”

–Fehmida (pseudonym), worker at a factory in Karachi.

Home-Based Women Workers

“The work is given to us by a contractor who is our only point of contact. The contractor does not tell us if the garments are being made for an [international] brand or not. The payment varies from 2 to 4 rupees per piece [2 to 4 US cents]. At times, the contractor does not tell us the rate before production saying, ‘We will discuss the rate once you have finished the order.’ We can’t bargain because if we do then the contractor will not give us the order the next time.”

–Zahida (pseudonym), home-based garment worker based in Karachi.

Intimidation and Harassment of Independent Unions

“Union leaders have been harassed and intimidated multiple times. The management has used the local police to have fake [criminal] cases registered against union members and workers. I have been arrested, kept in a police lock-up, and tortured for calling a strike. Now any worker who is seen talking to a union leader is fired.”

–Ghulam Abbas, trade union leader based in Hafizabad district, Punjab.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group engaged in a conflict in Yemen which have turned the country's humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

Since the armed conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments. The United Nations has warned that without a dramatic change in the situation, nearly half of Yemen’s population will be at risk of starvation.

“The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have indiscriminately attacked, forcibly disappeared, and blocked food and medicine to Yemeni civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the globe can either do nothing while millions sink closer toward famine or use the leverage at their disposal to press the warring parties to end their abuses and impose sanctions on those obstructing aid.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Yemen’s armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the population. Fighting has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.

The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

The coalition has failed to conduct credible investigations into abuses, and coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks. The Houthi armed group also has not punished its commanders responsible for war crimes. Senior officials implicated in abuses remain in positions of authority across the country.

One cost of Yemen’s war has been the closing space for civil society groups. Warring parties have arrested, harassed, threatened, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders. Women activists, who have played a prominent role documenting abuses and advocating for their end, have been threatened, subjected to smear campaigns, beaten, and detained. Humanitarian aid workers have also been killed, wounded and detained.

“Rather than risk complicity in the next airstrike on a wedding or on a bus filled with children, the US, UK, and France should tell Saudi Arabia that weapons sales won’t continue until war crimes stop and those responsible are prosecuted,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Attendees hold up smartphones and wave Malaysian national flags and People's Justice Party flags at a Pakatan Harapan alliance event in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. 

© 2018 Sanjit Das/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(New York) – Malaysia’s human rights situation improved significantly in 2018 after the election of a new government that ran on a manifesto promising make the country’s rights record “respected by the world,” Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019. The government’s commitment to reform is being tested, however, by political backlash from members of the former ruling coalition and conservative religious leaders determined to resist change.

The newly elected prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, told the United Nations General Assembly in September that a “New Malaysia” would abide by “the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability.” He also pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights.

“Since the landmark election last May, Malaysia has been a bright spot for progress on human rights in Southeast Asia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “But it will only remain that way if the government stops backtracking and follows through on its promises for human rights reforms.”

Since the landmark election last May, Malaysia has been a bright spot for progress on human rights in Southeast Asia.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The new government announced plans to abolish the death penalty and established a moratorium on executions. It said that the much-abused Sedition Act will be revoked and announced a freeze on its use pending repeal. That freeze proved short-lived, however, with the government lifting it in December in the wake of an outbreak of violence at a Hindu temple. The government also announced that it would create an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Mechanism to end torture and killings of suspects in police custody, and excessive use of force by police when pursuing and apprehending suspects.

The government’s effort to repeal the Anti-Fake News Law passed by the previous Barisan Nasional government was blocked by the appointed Malaysian Senate. The Senate, controlled by allies of the former ruling coalition, could seek to block further reforms.

While the government has pledged to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 under both civil and Sharia (Islamic law), progress has been slow and exceptions to the minimum marriage age remain even in those states where the law has been reformed. The new government has also committed to improve the situation for refugees and asylum seekers but has not yet taken concrete steps to do so.

The government backtracked on a commitment to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in response to claims by opposition parties and Malay activists that doing so would undermine privileges for the Malay population that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people remains pervasive even with the change in government. Federal law punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to 20 years in prison, while numerous state Sharia laws prohibit both same-sex relations and non-normative gender expression, resulting in frequent arrests of transgender people.

The new minister for religious affairs has called for an end to workplace discrimination against LGBT people. But he also made clear that any visible expression of an alternative sexuality or gender identity will be prosecuted under existing laws, and that he supports programs, broadly discredited, designed to change personal sexual orientation. On September 21, Prime Minister Mahathir stated that Malaysia “cannot accept LGBT culture.”

“The new government has made impressive commitments to improve the human rights situation in Malaysia, but too much is still only on paper,” Robertson said. “The government should act on those commitments in Parliament so that all communities in Malaysia benefit.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People take part in the 2018 Women's March rally in Jakarta on March 3, 2018. The participants were demonstrating for equal rights and an end to violence against women.

© 2018 BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration took few steps in 2018 to protect the rights of marginalized groups in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

In August 2018, Jokowi issued a plea for religious tolerance in the context of continuing harassment and discrimination against religious and gender minorities. But authorities still arrest and prosecute people under the blasphemy law, and courts sentenced six to prison in 2018. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Indonesia have faced increasingly violent, intimidating, and humiliating police raids that violate their rights to privacy.

“President Jokowi chose not to spend political capital by undoing discriminatory regulations or protecting minorities from abuse,” said Elaine Pearson. “It’s not only increasing the risks among marginalized groups but encouraging Islamist militants.”

President Jokowi chose not to spend political capital by undoing discriminatory regulations or protecting minorities from abuse.

Elaine Pearson

Australia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Indonesia’s Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perampuan) reported that hundreds of discriminatory national and local regulations are harming women. They include local laws compelling women and girls to wear the jilbab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces.

The Jokowi administration failed to lift restrictions on foreign journalists from visiting Papua and West Papua provinces, and Indonesian journalists face controls and surveillance there. This hindered efforts to report on an attack by Papuan militants in December that killed at least 17 people.

The Jokowi government took some positive steps in addressing land-grabbing to curb dispossession. In February, with World Bank support, Jokowi initiated a program to register all land in Indonesia, including disputed areas, by 2025. He announced a moratorium on oil palm plantations, which are linked to deforestation, climate change, and abuses against indigenous peoples, instructing his ministries to stop issuing new plantation permits on state forests until 2021.

Many indigenous and peasant rights groups contend that moratoriums and land certification alone are insufficient to resolve land disputes. In 2017, the Agrarian Reform Consortium documented 659 land-related conflicts, affecting more than 650,000 households.

The Indonesian government has taken promising steps to end shackling of people with mental health conditions, reducing the number  who are shackled or locked up in confined spaces from nearly 18,800, the last reported figure, to 12,800 in July, according to government data.

“Some progress on land rights and disability rights is encouraging, but President Jokowi should redouble his efforts to protect the rights of all Indonesians at risk,” Pearson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech for the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up at The Great Hall Of The People on December 18, 2018 in Beijing, China. 

© 2018 Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images
(New York) – China’s government tightened its grip on all aspects of society in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. President Xi Jinping’s abusive rule deepened, as evidenced by the constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits, and the oppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

“China under President Xi has been a threat to human rights both at home and abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Countries and international institutions will need to push back against the repressive policies of a rising superpower.”

China under President Xi has been a threat to human rights both at home and abroad.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The Chinese government dramatically stepped up repression against the 13 million Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Authorities have carried out mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment. About 1 million Turkic Muslims are being held indefinitely in “political education” camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and praise the government and Communist Party. Outside the detention facilities, authorities severely restrict movement, politically indoctrinate people, and have over a million officials to monitor residents by regularly staying in their homes.

In 2018, authorities continued politically motivated prosecutions of human rights lawyers and activists. Lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been detained for “subversion of state power” since August 2015 amid a national crackdown on rights lawyers. In July, a court sentenced veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin to 13 years in prison for “subversion of state power.” Huang Qi, a longtime activist detained since November 2016 on charges of “leaking state secrets,” suffers from serious health conditions without adequate treatment.

Authorities also expanded their assault on the freedom of expression, detaining journalists for covering human rights issues, tightening ideological control over universities, and expanding the internet censorship regime to suppress political information and ostensible “vulgar” content. As the #MeToo movement gained momentum in China in 2018, censors deleted social media posts exposing sexual harassment linked to prominent men. In August, the media reported that Google had been developing a censored search engine app for the Chinese market.

Central and Hong Kong government authorities sought to limit rights in the territory. The government disqualified further pro-democracy figures from running for seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or Legco. In September, it took the unprecedented step of banning the nonviolent, pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, saying the group’s political stance “poses a real threat to national security.” In October, authorities rejected without explanation a Financial Times journalist’s application to renew his work visa after he hosted a talk by a pro-independence activist.

China’s growing global power makes it an exporter of human rights violations, including at the United Nations, where in 2018 it sought to block critics. In March, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution proposed by China that focused on China’s vision for “win-win cooperation” and omitted any mention of accountability for rights violations. China’s “One Belt, One Road” development initiative pressed ahead without safeguards or respect for human rights in many participating countries. Major Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, iFlytek, and ZTE, which have close relations with the government and contribute to police mass surveillance efforts, sought to expand abroad in 2018.

In one of its only human rights concessions all year, Chinese authorities allowed Liu Xia, an artist and the widow of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, to leave for Germany in July after eight years of legally baseless house arrest.

“More than ever, protecting human rights inside and outside China requires governments and institutions working together to end Xi’s abuses,” Richardson said. “No one should be giving a green light to China’s rampant violations.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am