A Turkish soldier surveys the border line between Turkey and Syria near the city of Kilis, March 2, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Murad Sezer
(Brussels) – Turkish security forces have routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Turkish border guards have shot at asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey using smuggling routes, killing and wounding them, and have deported to Idlib newly arrived Syrians in the Turkish town of Antakya, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The Russian-Syrian military alliance’s December offensive against anti-government forces in Idlib has displaced almost 400,000 civilians, according to the UN. They have joined more than 1.3 million others trapped inside Idlib in insecure, overcrowded camps, and in makeshift camps in fields near the closed Turkish border where they are under constant threat of attack and lack food, clean water, shelter, health care, and aid. At a March 26, 2018 summit meeting in Bulgaria, the European Union should press Turkey to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection inside Turkey and pledge increased aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the region.

“As border guards try to seal the last remaining gaps in Turkey’s border, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trapped in fields to face the bombs on the Syrian side,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should press Turkey to open its border to those in need, and provide meaningful support, not silently stand by as Turkey ignores refugee law and pushes thousands back to face the carnage.”

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Border area where Turkish security forces regularly carry out mass deportations of Syrian asylum seekers.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
In response to these allegations, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) in Turkey’s Ministry of Interior provided Human Rights Watch with a lengthy statement, which said, in part, that “while maintaining the security of borders against terrorist organizations, Turkey continues to accept Syrians in need coming to the borders, and never opens fire on or uses violence against them.”

The DGGM said that it registered 510,448 Syrians coming through the designated border gates in 2017, and 91,866 so far in 2018, and provided them with temporary protection. As seen from the numbers, the DGMM statement said, “allegations suggesting that Syrians are not registered are not true.” It does not appear that Turkish authorities conducted an investigation into Human Rights Watch’s specific findings.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with 21 Syrians about their repeated failed attempts to cross into Turkey with smugglers. Eighteen of them said that intensified Russia-Syrian airstrikes in Deir al-Zour and in Idlib had repeatedly displaced them until they finally decided they had no option but to risk their lives and flee to Turkey.

Those interviewed described 137 incidents, almost all between mid-December and early March, in which Turkish border guards intercepted them just after they had crossed the border with smugglers. Human Rights Watch spoke with another 35 Syrians stuck in Idlib who had not tried to escape for fear of being shot by border guards.

Nine people also described 10 incidents between September and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to cross, killing 14 people, including 5 children, and injuring 18.

Civilians in Idlib have also been caught in the crossfire between Kurdish and Turkish forces during the offensive by Turkey in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in Syria, north of Idlib, which began on January 20.

In November, the United Nations refugee agency said in its latest country guidance on Syria that “all parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts” and therefore maintained its long-standing call on all countries “not to forcibly return Syrians.”

Syrians who tried to enter Turkey said they were intercepted after they crossed the Orontes River or near the internally displaced persons camp in al-Dureyya. They said Turkish border guards deported them along with hundreds, and at times thousands, of other Syrians they had intercepted. They said the guards forced them to return to Syrian territory at an informal crossing point at Hatya or across a small dam on the Orontes River known as the Friendship Bridge that aid agencies have used.

Human Rights Watch obtained satellite images of both crossing points and of four security posts with large tents set up on basketball courts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they were held before being sent back to Syria. 

The findings follow a February 3 Human Rights Watch report on Turkey’s border killings and summary pushbacks of asylum seekers between May and December 2017 and similar findings in November 2015 and May 2016.

In response to the February 3 report, a senior Turkish official repeated his government’s long-standing response to such reports, pointing out that Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch described its latest findings in a letter on March 15 to Turkey’s interior minister, requesting comment by March 21.

Turkey is hosting over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency. Turkey deserves credit and support for its generosity and is entitled to secure its border with Syria.

However, Turkey is also obliged to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This includes a prohibition on rejecting asylum seekers at borders that would expose them to such threats. Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on the use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity.

Turkey insists that it respects the principle of nonrefoulement. “Syrians are accepted and taken under protection in Turkey and Syrians who have entered into Turkey somehow and demand protection are definitely not sent back and the reception and registration procedures are carried out,” the DGMM’s statement in response to this report said. “Syrians coming to Turkey are under no circumstances forced to go back to their own country; their registration is continuing and these foreigners can benefit from many rights and services in Turkey.”

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Map of the Turkey-Syria Border.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
As of December, Turkey had completed almost 800 kilometers of a planned 911-kilometer border barrier with Syria, which consists of a rocket-resistant concrete wall and steel fence. The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained of the area where Syrians say they crossed with smugglers shows areas without a wall.

Turkey’s continued refusal since at least mid-2015 to allow Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border legally has been reinforced by a controversial EU-Turkey March 2016 migration agreement to curb refugee and migration flows to the European Union. The EU should instead be working with Turkey to keep its borders open to refugees, providing financial support for Turkey’s refugee efforts, and sharing responsibility by stepping up resettlement of refugees from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.

“The EU should stop ignoring Turkey’s mass refugee deportations,” Simpson said. “The meeting in Bulgaria is a clear opportunity for the EU governments and institutions to change course and ramp up efforts to help Turkey protect Syrian refugees including through increased refugee resettlement.”

For more details about Turkey’s mass border pushbacks and the situation displaced Syrians face in Syria’s Idlib governorate, please see below.

Turkey’s land borders are legally protected by army border units of the Turkish Armed Forces. Gendarmerie also on duty at the borders operate under the authority of the land forces command. There are also gendarmerie stations near the borders charged with regular rural policing activities. This report refers to border guards without specifying if they are soldiers or gendarmes since many of those interviewed did not provide or do not have such specific information.

Regular Mass Pushbacks at the Turkish Border

Between February 14 and 20, Human Rights Watch interviewed the 21 Syrian asylum seekers who had tried multiple times to cross the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed them by cell phone and explained the purpose of the interviews and gave assurances of anonymity. We also received interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

They described 137 incidents – 107 of them between January 1 and March 6 – in which Turkish border guards intercepted them at the border near the Syrian town of Darkush and held them at nearby security posts and then deported them back to Syria with hundreds, and at times thousands, of others.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate who fled Syrian government attacks on his village in September 2017 said border guards intercepted him nine times in January and the first half of February in border areas close to the al-Dureyya displaced people’s camp in Syria.

Describing three incidents in February, he said:

Each time they insulted the men, calling them “Syrian traitors.” They forced some of them to collect firewood. Then they took all of us in military trucks to a basketball court at a security post near the Hatya border gate. There was also a big tent there. They put us all in the tent and kept us overnight. They didn’t give us any food or water or let us go to a proper toilet. There were so many in the tent, that we were spilling out into the open of the basketball court. We were hundreds of people. The next morning, they took us all back to the border in buses.

A Turkish security base about 250 meters from the Turkey-Syria border, 2 kilometres south of the Turkish village, Saribük. The base has a basketball court and large tent, as described in statements by deported Syrian asylum seekers who said they were held in such a location before being deported.

© 2018 Digital Globe
Three Syrians said they were deported with thousands of others. A man from al-Hamediyah who said Turkish border guards intercepted him 11 times between September and January said that he was usually deported with about 500 other people. However, he said that on one occasion, in January, the border guards gave the people they had intercepted trying to cross from Syria numbers and his was 3,890. He said he was one of the last to be put on buses and taken to the border.

Many people referred to two deportation points that they said were between 10 and 30 minutes’ drive from the security posts where border guards had held them: one was an informal border crossing at Hatya, and the other was a small dam on the Orontes River called “Friendship Bridge.” Human Rights Watch obtained satellite imagery of both crossing points and of four security posts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they crossed into Turkey.

A woman from Hama governorate who repeatedly tried to cross the border said she was deported six times during the first two weeks of February with groups she estimated to be between 50 and 600 other Syrians:

The second time, on around February 4, the border guards took us to a military post and put us in a big tent with 200 other people they had already caught. Four hours later, at about 8 a.m., they put us in large buses and drove us to the Friendship Bridge. There they told us to get out and walk across the river back into Syria.

The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained confirms there are gaps in the wall the full length of the Orontes River, west of the Syrian town of Salkeen, and at various points between the southern tip of where the river meets the border and the Hatya border crossing.

Deportations from Antakya

Three Syrians said Turkish police had deported them or relatives from the town of Antakya, about 20 kilometers west of the Syrian border.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate said:

I crossed the border at night with my wife and two daughters and about 20 other people in late December 2017 near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp. The border guards didn’t find us. The smugglers took us to their house in Antakya, about two hours’ drive away. There were 20 other Syrians already there and they told us they had also crossed from Syria that night. Not long after that, Turkish police arrived at the house. They took all of us to a police station and held us there until the next morning. They took our fingerprints and photos. Then they took all of us in police vans to the border at Bab al-Hawa and sent us back to Syria.

A man from Hama governorate described what happened to his wife:

The Turks sent my wife back from Antakya twice. She told me everything that happened. The first time was a week ago [about February 10]. The smugglers drove her and about 10 other people from the border near the Orontes River up to Reyhanli and from there they drove to Antakya. They reached the edge of Antakya at about 6 a.m. Turkish police shot at the car’s wheels to force it to stop. They beat the driver and immediately put my wife and the others in a police van and drove them to the border at Bab al-Hawa.

My wife crossed again four days later. The smugglers took her and about 10 others to a small house in a Turkish village near the border and then drove to a house in Antakya where there were already about 50 other Syrians who said they had arrived that night. Suddenly Turkish police arrived, at about 7 a.m. They wrote down their names and took photos. They put them in a big truck and took them to the Bab al-Hawa crossing. They held them there for the whole day and then sent them back to Syria.

Shootings by Border Guards

Nine Syrians interviewed described a total of 10 shooting incidents by Turkish border guards between September and March in which they said 14 people were killed and 18 injured.

In mid-February, a man from Deir al-Zour governorate said that in the previous five weeks he had tried four times to reach Turkey with his wife and five children. The first three times, he said, Turkish border guards deported them. The fourth time they turned back because Turkish border guards shot at their group as they approached the border:

A few hundred meters from the border near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp the Turks suddenly started shooting at our group. They killed an 8-year-old girl and injured two men, one in a leg and the other in the stomach. I helped the man shot in the stomach turn back with the rest of us while the others carried the girl and helped the other man. Later the smugglers told us that a 13-year-old girl in another group trying to cross at the next time had also been killed during the shooting.   

A man evacuated with his wife and baby from Aleppo in late 2016 said he unsuccessfully attempted to cross with them to Turkey three times near the al-Dureyya camp in September 2017 and January 2018 and was deported with hundreds of others the first two times. During the third attempt, in January, he said:

The border guards shot at us and injured my wife in her stomach and leg. She was pregnant and the baby died. They also injured two men and a 5-year-old boy, who was shot in the leg. We took my wife to a hospital in Syria near the border. Her heart stopped twice, but she lived. They couldn’t operate on her, so they sent her to Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa gate for surgery. They amputated her leg and removed her womb. They didn’t let me cross with her but a few days later a smuggler helped me and my daughter cross to Turkey.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with a doctor in a Syrian hospital near the Turkish border west of the town of Idlib who said that between August 1 and February 16, the hospital had received 66 people with gunshot-related injuries who said they had been shot while trying to cross the Turkish border.

Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis in Idlib governorate

According to the UN, about 2.65 million people are currently in Idlib governorate, over 1.75 million of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in Idlib or other parts of Syria, including almost 400,000 displaced since December. Civilians in Idlib have faced years of conflict. In September, Russian and Syrian forces began a fresh offensive in Idlib, three days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire and “de-escalation” zone in the province and parts of Hama and western Aleppo. Human Rights Watch documented that attacks in September struck markets and populated residential areas and caused thousands of people to flee to displacement sites near the Turkish border.

Hostilities in Idlib halted on October 8 after Turkey deployed monitors there, but restarted in late December. In January, the Russian-Syrian military alliance carried out airstrikes to support Syrian ground troops. Some attacks involved prohibited weapons and targeted hospitals.

The Atma displaced persons camp on the Syrian side of Turkey’s border wall, where on February 6, 2018, during an exchange of fire between Turkish and Kurdish forces, a shell hit killing a girl and injuring seven others.

© 2017 Reuters/Osman Orsal
On January 21, Turkey started a military offensive in Kurdish-held Afrin, also putting displaced civilians at risk. Turkish and Kurdish forces have shelled each other on either side of Syria’s Atma displacement camp, on the Turkish border, which shelters 60,000 people.

Witnesses said that on February 6, during the fighting, shells hit the camp, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven displaced Syrians about the incident. They all said it left their children terrified of the shelling and unable to sleep.

A father of seven children from Hama who lived close to where the shell landed on February 6 said:

I was there when it happened and rushed to help. I heard a young girl had been killed, but I only saw two who were injured. One had lost an arm and a leg and the other was blinded. I was so scared the same might happen to my children, we fled the camp and went to live in a field near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. But we couldn’t stay there all alone, without help, so we had to come back to the camp. We are all scared now, all the time.

A father of four children said the incident had so shaken his family, he had returned to his still conflict-riven home town of Kafr Zita in Hama governorate because all other displacement camps in Idlib were full. As his house had been destroyed, he said, he was living in a field on the edge of the town and struggling to survive: “There is still shelling here but if we die, it’s better to die at home.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke with five Syrians who had been repeatedly displaced in recent months within Idlib to escape the shifting front line and who, as of mid-February, were living as close as possible to the Turkish border in the hope of escaping the fighting.

The UN says that since December, the violence has displaced at least 385,000 people who have joined 2.65 million other civilians, including 1.35 million civilians displaced in the past few years.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed two aid officials working in Idlib governorate. One summarized the dire humanitarian situation:

There is no more room anywhere for people displaced in the past few months. Displacement camps are completely full and we [humanitarians] do not have the resources to properly address basic needs of water, food, heating, health care, and education. Rent has skyrocketed so people end up living in the tens of thousands on the edge of towns and villages in fields in makeshift camps. There is simply no way the aid agencies can help all these people. At best they can give very limited help once in a while to some of them, and it is not done in an organized way. There is suffering everywhere, in every camp and in every village.

The 56 displaced Syrians in Idlib that Human Rights Watch interviewed, including 42 displaced by the recent violence, all described the extremely difficult conditions they had faced in Idlib in previous months. The newly displaced said they had heard that displacement camps were completely full and that they could not afford to pay the extremely high rents in the towns and villages in the area. They ended up living in waterlogged fields across Idlib governorate, often with other families in makeshift tents made from sacks and other material sewed together, because they could not afford to buy proper tents.

They said they struggled to find food and had to pay high fees for water, delivered by trucks. They either had seen no one from an aid agency, or those who had, said they were unable to help or had promised help but hadn’t returned.

Turkish authorities have allowed Turkish and international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians in camps in border areas. Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid is important, but does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.

EU Silence

Human Rights Watch has documented that, since at least mid-August 2015, Turkish border guards enforcing the country’s March 2015 border closure have deported Syrians trying to reach Turkey. In April and May 2016, Human Rights Watch documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and sending those who managed to cross back to Syria. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further killings, injuries and pushbacks that happened in the second half of 2017.

On May 20, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on UN member states and UN agencies attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to press the Turkish authorities to reopen Turkey’s border to Syrian asylum seekers. But neither the European Commission nor any European Union member state – or any other country – has publicly pressed Turkey to do so, while UN agencies have also remained publicly silent.

The world’s – and in particular the EU’s – silence over Turkey’s breach of the cornerstone of international refugee law condones Turkey’s border abuses.

The EU’s failure to take in more Syrian asylum seekers and refugees also contributes to the pressure on Turkey. The EU should swiftly fulfill its own commitments to relocate Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and, together with other countries, it should also expand safe and legal channels for people to reach safety from Turkey, including through increased refugee resettlement, humanitarian admissions, humanitarian and other visas, and facilitated family reunification.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Erbil) – Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today.

Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad al-Asha'ri), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities. The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes.

“While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). 

In August 2016, the Salah al-Din governorate council passed a decree stating that anyone proven to have been complicit or affiliated with ISIS has no right to return to the governorate. The decree also orders the expulsion of immediate relatives of ISIS-members from Salah al-Din for 10 years to life, and says that they are only allowed to return if they are deemed “safe.” The decree establishes a committee to seize ISIS-affiliates’ property and suspend their, and their families,’ provision cards. Families that kill their ISIS-affiliated relatives, or hand them over to the Iraqi authorities, are exempted.

One woman from al-Shakrah village, three kilometers south of al-Shirqat, said that PMF fighters forced her and her relatives from their home on January 7, 2017, because her husband’s brother had joined ISIS. She said that the fighters “forced our whole family of 14 people out and onto the truck. They didn’t let us grab even a change of clothing.”

Two women from the village of al-Aithah said that local PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes with explosives after they retook the area on September 21, targeting not only some of the families they thought to be affiliated with ISIS, but also some families that had fled because of the fighting. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that between September 23 and October 23, 220 homes in the village were destroyed by explosives and fire.

Before and after satellite images Before and after satellite images

Satellite imagery shows the village of al-Aithah, outside Tikrit, Iraq, before and after the destruction caused by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). 

Before: © 2017 DigitalGlobe After: © 2017 DigitalGlobe

Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict may only attack military objectives. The intentional or wanton destruction of civilian property is unlawful unless the property is being used for a military purpose. Destroying property merely to punish the population is always prohibited.

Iraqi federal authorities should investigate any intentional destruction or looting of civilian property, punish those responsible – including those in command control at the time of such acts who failed to prevent the crimes – if abuses are found, and compensate victims, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch visited the Shahama camp for displaced people, 13 kilometres north of Tikrit, on February 3, to interview families affected by the decree. Hussein Ahmed Khalaf, the camp manager, said that 362 families were there, of whom 237 had fled Hawija, a city 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk that is still under ISIS control. Those families had arrived when the camp opened at the beginning of January.

He said that over the next month, 125 families from the al-Shirqat area were brought to the camp. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people forcibly displaced with their families to the camp. They all said that PMF fighters, in the presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with army vehicles, had forced them out of their homes. They said that they were prohibited from leaving the camp and from having mobile phones.

In a Salah al-Din news broadcast in January, Brigadier General Juma Enad Sadoon, the Salah al-Din operational commander for the ISF, said that he ordered the forced displacements of immediate relatives of ISIS members following the passage of the decree by the Salah al-Din governorate council. He said “ISIS families” were identified by other residents and through intelligence gathered by the security forces. He said he gave the order because of concerns about family members communicating with their ISIS relatives fighting in Mosul and other fronts and because of complaints from the relatives of victims of ISIS abuses. He said he would not stop displacing these families.

But most families who spoke to Human Rights Watch either denied they had a relative in ISIS or said that if they did, this family member was as distant as a cousin or brother-in-law.

Residents of Shahama camp speak with relatives through the camp fence. 

 

 

© 2017 Sami Hilali

On January 26, two videos were posted on a Facebook page covering news from Salah al-Din showing local PMF forces in al-Shirqat displacing families of ISIS suspects using army vehicles.

Both videos feature a female commander known as Um Hanadi of the local PMF of al-Shirqat known as the Group of Um Hanadi for Special Tasks (Tashkeel Um Hanadi La Mohmat al-Khasah). In one video, she and a group of armed forces are loading families they refer to as “ISIS families” onto at least two Iraqi army trucks with military license plates. The video shows at least two Iraqi military commanders, recognizable because of their red berets. One fighter and the cameraman identify themselves as members of the Iraqi military’s Division 17, Brigade 60. In the other video, Um Hanadi says to the camera, “It is an honor for me to clean and cleanse al-Shirqat with these elite forces.”

A New York Times article from January 29 about the camp quotes Salah al-Din’s deputy governor, Amar Hekmat, as saying that the aim behind the forcible displacement is, “to defy the terrorists and send a stern message to the families.” Salah al-Din’s First Deputy Governor Khazhal Hamad is quoted in the same article saying that displacing the families was a way of protecting them from retaliatory attacks by neighbors who lost family members to ISIS. “There are hostile feelings towards these people, and these feelings can affect the civil peace we are trying to achieve,” he said.

A February 28 response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ human rights office to Human Rights Watch’s findings stated that the displacement was carried out by the Salah al-Din operational command in order to protect the families from revenge attacks; for security reasons linked to continued suicide attacks; and because some of these families may be sharing information about ISF positions with ISIS. It stated that the operational command was mandated with holding and protecting the families in the camp. Representatives of the PMF did not respond to questions sent by Human Rights Watch.

The article goes on to say that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter in late January to the local governor criticizing the displacement and ordered governorate and federal government officials to resolve the issue. There was no indication he had called for the punishment of armed forces under his command that participated in it. Iraqi federal authorities including al-Abadi should continue to condemn the forcible displacement of these families and censure any state forces that participate in the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

Two of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Salah al-Din’s Governor Ahmad Abdullah al-Jabouri came to the camp in late January and told them that he was working on a solution to secure their release, but that nothing had happened since.

It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and can itself be a crime, especially if it results in forced displacement.

Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except in the limited cases when displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military necessity, and then only for as long as it is needed. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order such unlawful displacements of civilians during a conflict. Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organized group can amount to a crime against humanity.

Local governorate councils should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s parliament should issue a decree calling on the local governorate councils to rescind the decrees and on armed forces to cease the forced displacements, reiterating the unlawfulness of these displacements and stipulating that any armed forces who participate in the displacements should be censured.

“There is growing concern among parliamentarians and ministers about the forcible displacement of so-called ISIS families and what this will mean for reconciliation efforts in areas recently taken back from ISIS,” Fakih said. “That concern needs to translate into action before these destructive policies are mimicked across the country.”

Local Justifications for Displacement
Local leaders from Salah al-Din told Human Rights Watch that the forcible displacement of families of alleged ISIS affiliates was in line with jalwa, an Arabic term for eviction and a principle that entails the forced relocation of a clan to avoid friction if one of its members murders someone from another clan living in the same area.

Other local officials are taking similar measures to expel so-called “ISIS families.” In July, the Babylon governorate council passed a decree calling on authorities to demolish the homes of anyone proven to have participated in terrorist activities, deport their families from the governorate, and to authorize legal procedures against the families proven to have “concealed” their ISIS-affiliated relatives. Families from Anbar face similar difficulties. In July, local leaders issued a covenant saying that people who “promoted” ISIS are not allowed to return until their charges are reviewed. Individuals who did not renounce relatives who supported ISIS are only allowed to return home “when this situation stabilizes,” they said.

Identified with ISIS
Four of the 14 people Human Rights Watch interviewed were from al-Shakrah village and were brought to the Shahama camp on January 7 and January 26. Three were from al-Aithah village, 11 kilometers north of al-Shirqat, and were brought to the camp in early January. The rest were from three neighborhoods of the town of al-Shirqat and were brought to the camp on January 26, 28, and 29. Some were brought alone, while others said they were loaded into approximately 30 vehicles, some with up to 11 other families. Several said they had only the most tangential connections, or no connections at all, to people who had joined ISIS.

One couple said that their cousin, a member of Um Hanadi’s PMF group with whom they had a running land dispute for years, was the one that brought forces to their home and made them leave. They said they had no links to ISIS. Another woman said she was a nurse, and had continued her work at the local hospital under ISIS because she was the only female nurse and felt it was her duty to provide health care for women. Fighters brought her and her family to the camp, saying it was because she had been affiliated with ISIS, she said.

One widowed woman said that ISIS fighters forced her to marry off her 14-year-old daughter to one of their fighters after they took her village in 2014. According to the mother, the daughter married the fighter, who was subsequently killed, and gave birth weeks before she and the rest of her family were forcibly displaced. The woman said PMF and Iraqi soldiers displaced her and her family, including her daughter and grandchild, to the camp because of the forced marriage.

“They [the PMF] told me: ‘You gave your daughter to ISIS,’” she said. “But they do not understand our situation with ISIS and the pressure they put on us. We couldn’t say anything to them…I had no choice. I couldn’t say anything…ISIS became the government ruling over everyone. They’ve gone to war with every country. What could I do as a woman to oppose them?”

“As they drove us from al-Shirqat they were celebrating, it was like a victory for them,” said a man from the Jamia neighborhood. He said PMF and ISF jointly rounded up 28 people from his area and brought them to the camp on a convoy of dozens of cars, blaring celebratory music from their loudspeakers:

We saw all these cars and trucks suddenly pull up in our village, and I saw several Hashad fighters [PMF] knock on the door of my neighbors. Their son had been with ISIS. They forced them out immediately and into one of the trucks. Then came the knock at our door, and my mother-in-law opened and told the fighters that her son’s family, my husband’s brother, who had joined ISIS, lived down the road. They said to her, “But you are also related to him.”

Shahama Camp Conditions
Human Rights Watch observed that the families from Hawija and al-Shirqat in the Shahama camp are housed in tents in separate areas of the camp. The camp manager said that this was because of concerns over possible tensions between people who left Hawija voluntarily and those forcibly displaced from al-Shirqat over suspected family ties to ISIS suspects.

Shahama camp residents are not allowed to leave or to have mobile phones, and visitors are restricted. Residents at the camp from the initial wave of families from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that until the al-Shirqat families arrived they had been allowed to have phones, and leave the camp at will.

The camp receives assistance and support from four international aid organizations, but two aid workers said that most aid groups would not support a camp that is functioning as a holding site for forcibly displaced people, rather than a camp to which displaced people have gone voluntarily. Having visited about a dozen camps in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Human Rights Watch researchers observed significantly worse conditions in the Shahama camp than in the other camps it had visited. According to a senior aid worker and the camp manager, the camp has no clinic, no school, and lacks adequate sanitation services and food, water, and heating oil.

Destruction and Looting
A local sheikh from the village of al-Aithah interviewed in the Shahama camp said the PMF arrived three days after the Iraqi military retook the village from ISIS on September 19. Two women from the village said that the PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes. One said her home was included and the other that she witnessed the destruction:

I saw them destroying the houses. They would destroy around 15 homes a day. For about 15 days the destruction didn’t stop in the village. My house was not destroyed when the army came, but…lots of neighbors’ homes were destroyed by the PMF. It was the local PMF destroying the homes. I saw them and know them personally as being from the local PMF.

She said the PMF targeted the homes not only of some families thought to have links to ISIS, but also some of those who had simply fled the area out of fear.

Local residents said that as far as they were aware, there were no airstrikes on the village after it was retaken, so the destruction could not have been a result of aerial attacks, and there was seemingly no military necessity for the destruction, meaning it most likely constituted a war crime. “We want the Iraqi government to show mercy on these women and children,” one of the women said. “Don’t act like ISIS, by destroying homes and displacing families.”

Several members of the displaced families also said PMF members looted their property. One woman from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood in al-Shirqat said that the morning before she was displaced, PMF confiscated her cow without giving any reason. A man from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood and another from al-Shakrah village both said fighters took their cars. The rest of the interviewees said that because they did not have access to their phones, they did not know what had happened to their property since they left.

Detention
Seven people interviewed said that ISF had arrested one or more of their family members, in one case a 15-year-old boy, on suspicion of ISIS affiliation either at their homes or at a checkpoint in the area, some as early as August. Six had not heard from their relatives since and all of them said that because of the ban on phones, they were unable to make any calls to see if they were still in detention or had access to a lawyer.

One man from al-Shakrah said he had been detained by ISF at a checkpoint near Tikrit because his brother had been an ISIS member, and was beaten for a day with electric cables while guards asked him how he could have shared a home with an ISIS fighter. That night, he said, they transferred him to the Salah al-Din operations room, and then to a prison in Tikrit. A few weeks later he was taken before a judge and ordered released, after which he returned to al-Shakrah, he said. On January 7, he and his family were forced to relocate to the camp.

Another al-Shakrah villager said that on September 24, 2016, more than 15 Iraqi soldiers and PMF members who were in the village told all the men and boys ages 15 and over to gather at the local school to be screened:

I gathered there with my 15-year-old son, as we were told. A soldier called out three names of men from the village and detained them. Then about 20 fighters wearing PMF patches brought 10 more men with masked faces to us, and started pointing at people at random, while the ISF stood by and watched. The PMF took away the 14 men and one boy, my own son, whom they pointed at, loading them onto military trucks. One PMF fighter was filming the group of detainees on his phone as they waited to load the trucks, and ordered them to bark like dogs.

They brought his son back after 28 days. The family confirmed with Iraqi army officers that his son was not on a wanted list, but five days later, PMF came to the home with a masked man who said the boy was affiliated with ISIS and detained him again, the father said. The father said he has heard nothing from him since and that on January 7, local PMF members in the village came to their home and said they were an “ISIS family” and had to get onto the PMF trucks and go to the camp.

Iraqi federal authorities should make efforts to inform family members about the location of all detainees. Iraqi federal authorities should make public the number of fighters and civilians detained, including at checkpoints, screening sites, and camps during the conflict with ISIS, and the legal basis for their detention, including the charges against them. They should ensure prompt independent judicial review of detention and allow detainees access to lawyers and medical care and to communicate with their families, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After 25 years of vicious conflict that has cost countless lives and displaced millions of people, peace has finally broken out in south-central Somalia — at least that's what Kenya says. And the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined Kenya to tell the world it should now focus on helping as many refugees as possible to return home.

But I recently spoke with some of the estimated 320,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. And it's clear that peace is the last thing some of those signing up for UNHCR's $400 repatriation cash handout are discovering.

A newly arrived Somali refugee is forced out of the queue outside a reception centre in the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, July 28, 2011

© 2011 Reuters

A number of refugees told me they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees.

One of them is "Amina," a 38-year-old single mother. After a decade in Dadaab, she decided to try her luck and returned in January 2015 with her five children to her village, Bula Gudud, in the Lower Juba region, hoping to rebuild her life.

She told me: "After two days back home, fighting broke out between government troops and al-Shabab [armed Islamist group]. I could hear the bullets. My children were so scared. They just ran around, trying to get out of the house." The following day, Amina fled to the closest city, Kismayo. She had no relatives there but hoped she'd find safety and work to feed her children. She found neither.

She and her family barely survived for nine months with other displaced civilians in Kismayo's appalling internally displaced persons' camps. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and aid-starved camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab.

But her ordeal didn't end there. The Kenyan authorities have refused to re-register her and her children as refugees, and UNHCR has not reactivated her ration card or given her any food.

"If we send 1,000 people home under the voluntary repatriation agreement but we then register 1,000 new arrivals, we would not get the job done," a Kenyan government official in Dadaab told me

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the "voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees. It says that both countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home. A few months later UNHCR said that "the security situation in many parts of ... Somalia [is] volatile [and] protracted ... conflict has had devastating consequences, including massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order".

But Kenya has repeatedly referred to this agreement as evidence that it is time for all Somalis to go home, stressing that the UN agency should help Kenya "expedite" refugee repatriation.

Somali refugees have a collective memory of previous repeated attempts by Kenyan security forces to coerce "voluntary" returns. In late 2012, Kenyan police in Nairobi unleashed appalling abuses in an effort to enforce an illegal directive to drive tens of thousands of urban Somali refugees into the Dadaab camps and from there back to Somalia. In April 2014, Kenyan security forces, primarily police, carried out a second round of abuses against Somalis in Nairobi and then deported 359 a month later without allowing them to challenge their removal.

In May 2016, Kenya announced that "hosting refugees has to come to an end", that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically get refugee status and that the Department of Refugee Affairs, responsible for registering and screening individual asylum applications, would be disbanded.

So far, thankfully, the Kenyan police in Dadaab appear to have been acting properly and the refugees told us they had not been harassed or directly coerced. But they are all aware that the government intends to close the camp by the end of November. Everyone we spoke to expressed the fear that those who do not take the voluntary repatriation assistance package now will be forced back later this year with nothing.

Since mid-2015, Amina and at least another 4,000 Somali refugees have either returned to Kenya after facing conflict and hunger back home or fled to Dadaab for the first time.

But with refugee registrations now closed, Amina and the others won't get food aid. Their survival will depend on the kindness of neighbours or relatives whose own rations were slashed last year by a third because of a funding shortfall. Amina and other returnees and new arrivals will also be the first to face arrest and deportation for "illegal presence" if Kenya shuts down Dadaab in three months.

International and Kenyan law require the authorities to make sure that anyone seeking asylum in Kenya is fairly heard and, if found to need protection, gets it. As long as Kenya continues to shred its commitments, Amina and thousands of others like her will languish hungry and destitute in legal limbo and wake up every morning wondering whether they are about to be deported back to the dangers that many have repeatedly fled and still fear.

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

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

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

Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee program, monitors, investigates, and documents human rights abuses against refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, and advocates for the rights and humanitarian needs of all categories of forcibly displaced persons around the world.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Frelick directed Amnesty International USA's refugee program and the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), which he served for 18 years. He was the editor of USCR's annual World Refugee Survey and monthly Refugee Reports. Frelick has traveled to refugee sites throughout the world and is widely published. He taught in the Middle East from 1979-1983 and was co-coordinator of the Asian Center of Clergy and Laity Concerned from 1976-1979. Frelick has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Refugees are seen at the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh, near Rakhine state, Myanmar, during a trip by United Nations envoys to the region April 29, 2018. Picture taken on April 29, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

The Canadian government is stepping up the call for justice for Myanmar’s embattled ethnic Rohingya population.

On Wednesday, the government announced a series of measures to respond to the Rohingya crisis including supporting a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and measures to preserve evidence of the Myanmar military’s heinous crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

“Canada will lead the call for justice and work with like-minded governments to explore all avenues to hold perpetrators to account,” said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. “There can be no impunity for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.”

The same day, parliament unanimously passed a motion calling on the Trudeau government to “redouble efforts in accountability and evidence-gathering,” publicly support an ICC referral, and impose new sanctions on Myanmar’s military.

There is an urgent need for accountability in Myanmar, where the military launched a campaign of ethnic cleaning in August 2017 involving mass killing, rape, looting, and the destruction of hundreds of villages forcing 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Our research found that military abuses amounted to crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the crisis in Myanmar – a non-ICC member – to the court because of the government’s failure to investigate these mass atrocities. Canada has now heeded this call by putting forward a comprehensive strategy in response to the crisis. Other countries such as the US, UK, Germany, France, and Australia, which are major donors and have substantial influence in Myanmar, should follow suit to send a strong message to Myanmar’s civilian and military leadership.

Canada also announced that it will support initiatives to collect and preserve evidence of atrocities for future legal proceedings. This accountability mechanism is a critically needed successor to the current UN Fact-Finding Mission, whose mandate expires in September 2018, and would help increase pressure on Myanmar’s leaders to end abuses and abide by international law.

The government also said it would establish a working group of likeminded countries to more effectively coordinate response efforts. This group should include countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan that are influential regional neighbors. Besides the “likeminded” countries, it will be critical for Canada to work with countries that may be persuadable like Japan and China, both major investors in Rakhine State. These countries have acted as a major firewall for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military against coordinated international action and are critical to engage around any accountability efforts. 

The road to justice for the Rohingya is long, but Canada should stay the course so that victims and their families can one day see those responsible for these horrific crimes held to account.

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

Related Content

Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights welcome the opportunity to provide joint input into the November 2017 request by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for an exceptional report from the Myanmar government on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State.

This submission outlines the findings of our organizations through several separate on-the-ground investigations in 2016, 2017, and 2018 that documented widespread human rights violations committed against ethnic Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces.

Our organizations have documented numerous mass atrocity crimes—including widespread killings, torture, rape and other sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson—committed by Myanmar’s army and other state security forces. Human Rights Watch has found that these atrocities against the Rohingya amount to crimes against humanity.[1] Fortify Rights, along with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Allard K. Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, found strong evidence of genocide being committed against the Rohingya.[2] In November 2017, Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said the Myanmar army’s widespread use of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls was “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group,” adding that she documented the basis for characterizing the crimes as genocide.[3] In December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that one “cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed.”[4] In March 2018, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said the crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar “bear the hallmarks of genocide.”[5]

This latest campaign of violence against Rohingya comes in the context of a long history of abuse and discrimination against Rohingya women by Myanmar authorities. These include sexual harassment and violence as well as denial of access to sexual and reproductive health care for women and girls protected under international law.

We have organized key findings of our research in response to some of the questions posed by CEDAW to the Myanmar government.

Information concerning cases of sexual violence, including rape, against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces, and details on the number of women and girls who have been killed or have died due to other non-natural causes during the latest outbreak of violence.

In December 2016 and January 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers in Bangladesh interviewed 18 women, of whom 11 had survived sexual assault, as well as 10 men, all of whom had fled military-led “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State in late 2016. Altogether, Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault.[6] In September and October 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls, including 29 survivors of rape, who fled to Bangladesh since the 2017 “clearance operations” began.[7] Rape survivors were from 19 different villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, mostly in northern Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships.

In December 2016 and March 2017, Fortify Rights spoke to eight Rohingya women who were raped and gang raped by Myanmar army soldiers in October and November 2016 in seven villages in Maungdaw township.[8] Six of these cases were gang rapes; two were rapes followed by attempted gang rapes. All but one rape survivor who spoke to Fortify Rights witnessed soldiers rape other Rohingya women and girls as well. Fortify Rights also documented and analyzed the testimony of more than 17 witnesses to rapes in October and November, and from 14 Rohingya who provided additional information related to rape committed by Myanmar army soldiers in the above villages and other villages during that period.[9] Five medical doctors and physicians treating Rohingya rape survivors in Bangladesh and three international aid workers provided further information to Fortify Rights on the rape of Rohingya women during “clearance operations” in Maungdaw township in October and November 2016.[10] Fortify Rights also documented rape and sexual violence in August and September 2017 in all three townships of northern Rakhine State, including through interviews with nine witnesses to rapes, gang rapes, and post-rape body mutilation by Myanmar army soldiers.[11]

Witnesses and survivors of rape described to Fortify Rights how Myanmar army soldiers gang raped Rohingya women and girls in homes, schools, paddy fields, forested areas, and other community buildings, often in plain view of other soldiers and civilians.

Human Rights Watch found that Myanmar security forces raped and sexually assaulted women and girls both during major attacks on villages following August 25, 2017, as well as in the weeks prior to these major attacks, sometimes after repeated harassment. In every case described to Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators were uniformed members of security forces, almost all military personnel.

Rape survivors described brutal circumstances of the rapes. All but one of the rapes reported to Human Rights Watch were gang rapes, involving two or more perpetrators. In eight cases, women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers. They described being raped in their homes and while fleeing burning villages. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of “mass rape” by the Myanmar military, including in Tula Toli village, officially known as Min Gyi, in Maungdaw township. In these instances, survivors said that soldiers gathered them together in groups and then gang raped or raped them. Ethnic Rakhine villagers, acting alongside and in apparent coordination with government security forces, were also responsible for sexual harassment, often connected with looting.

The rapes were accompanied by further acts of violence, humiliation, and cruelty. Security forces beat women and girls with fists or guns, slapped them, or kicked them with boots. In two cases, women reported that their attackers laughed at them during gang rapes, and more frequently attackers threatened their victims either verbally or through actions like putting a gun to their heads. Some attackers also beat women’s children during the attacks. Fortify Rights documented instances of soldiers killing Rohingya women and mutilating their bodies after raping them, including cutting off breasts and cutting vaginas and stomachs with long knives.

Rape survivors spoke of enduring numerous abuses at once. In addition to being gang raped, three women described with great distress seeing security forces murder their young children. Other women and girls said they witnessed killings of their elderly parents, their husbands, other family members, and neighbors. Many reported witnessing cruelty toward those especially vulnerable, such as a soldier killing a 5-year-old girl who could not keep pace with her fleeing family, or security forces pushing older persons who could not flee back into burning houses.

None of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch or Fortify Rights received post-rape care in Myanmar. Survivors did not receive urgent interventions that must take place within days of the rape, such as emergency contraception (within 120 hours) or prophylaxis against HIV infection (within 72 hours). The Myanmar government continues to obstruct humanitarian access to much of Rakhine State.

Humanitarian actors in Bangladesh have said that they have received and treated or provided support to dozens or, in some cases, hundreds of women who survived rape or other attacks. The UN reported that humanitarian organizations had provided support to 2,756 survivors of sexual and gender based violence.[12] These likely represent only a small proportion of the actual number of women and girls raped, given that they do not include those who were raped and subsequently killed, that survivors may be reluctant to seek assistance due to the stigma attached to sexual assault, and that various other factors discourage reporting, including concern about paying fees for medical care and lack of confidence in future criminal investigations. Of the survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, almost two-thirds had not reported their rape to authorities or humanitarian organizations. Most of the survivors with whom Fortify Rights spoke had not reported their rape to anyone at the time—even members of their families.

UN humanitarian reports indicate that sexual violence has been widespread in the recent attacks against Rohingya, with a cumulative total of 6,097 incidents of gender-based violence reported from late August through late March, including, but not limited to, sexual forms of violence.[13] Between October 22 and 28 alone, 306 gender-based violence cases were reported, 96 percent of which included emergency medical care services.[14] These UN figures aggregate different organizations’ cases. One Bangladeshi organization that does outreach work with survivors of sexual violence told Human Rights Watch in September 2017 that they had received hundreds of new cases of rape and other sexual violence since the August 25 attacks. Another organization said they had provided services to 58 survivors of rape and 12 survivors of sexual assault that had arrived since August 2017. A third organization said they had identified 50 recent rape survivors as of September 2017.

Rohingya women and girls were also raped and subjected to sexual harassment by Myanmar security forces during security operations in late 2016. Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault in this period. Some incidents involved several victims.[15]

Fortify Rights met a local physician in December 2016 in Cox’s Bazar who had treated 13 Rohingya women and girls who survived rape and sexual violence in villages in Maungdaw township between October and December 2016. When Fortify Rights met him again in March 2017, he had treated more than 60 Rohingya women and girls, ages 13 to 30, for rape and sexual violence.

Rohingya women and girls told Human Rights Watch they had been afraid of rape for many months prior to these events, and had often experienced sexual harassment and assault from security forces and civilians aligned with those forces as part of their lives beforehand.

Women continued to suffer even after reaching Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch spoke to 10 women who continued to experience physical injuries, including vaginal tears, bleeding, or infections as a result of rape, without accessing care. Many women interviewed by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, including suicidal ideation. Despite donor governments’ important contributions to the humanitarian crisis, Rohingya rape survivors still lack access to long-term post-rape care.[16] Access to safe abortion care, including for rape survivors, has also been in short supply.[17]

Information on investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences or disciplinary measures imposed on perpetrators, including members of the armed forces, found guilty of such crimes.

As best as we have been able to ascertain, there have been no meaningful, impartial investigations into sexual violence committed by Myanmar security forces, nor arrests, prosecutions, or convictions since the security force operations began in August 2017. On the contrary, Myanmar authorities have on multiple occasions offered wholesale denials of allegations of rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces. During an April 2018 meeting with UN Security Council members in Naypyidaw, Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing responded to concerns from the delegation about sexual violence by the armed forces by stating “that the representatives need to consider the fact that it is a nature to exaggerate the rape case any country does not accept,” according to his office.[18]

The findings of the final report of the Tatmadaw investigation team led by Lt. Gen. Aye Win concerning the conduct of the armed forces during the security clearance operations.

The Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, issued a report on Facebook on November 13, 2017, laying out the key findings from the investigation headed by Lt. Gen. Aye Win.[19] The report claims that state security forces committed no wrongdoing, including that “security forces did not commit shooting at innocent villagers and sexual violence and rape cases against women.” The wholesale denial contradicts considerable evidence to the contrary, including photographic evidence and testimony of thousands of witnesses, as well as satellite imagery collected by Human Rights Watch that shows the partial or complete destruction of 362 Rohingya villages.[20] The military has stated that “all the findings [from the Tatmadaw investigation] are true and correct” as recently as April 30.

The Myanmar government has established several separate commissions to investigate the patterns of violence beginning in Rakhine State in 2016, none of which have been credible or impartial.[21]

Whether instructions have been or are being issued to all branches of the state security forces that torture, gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, expulsions, and other human rights violations are prohibited and that those responsible will be prosecuted and punished.

Myanmar authorities have repeatedly said that their forces are aware of and have followed Myanmar law, military codes of conduct, rules of engagement, and international law, and that forces will be held accountable for any breaches.

Our organizations are troubled by the authorities’ denials of attacks on women. In September, the Rakhine State border security minister denied the reports of sexual violence. “Where is the proof?” he said. “Look at those women who are making these claims—would anyone want to rape them?”[22] When Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights, and others documented widespread rape of women and girls during military “clearance operations” in late 2016 in northern Rakhine State, the Myanmar government crudely rejected these allegations as “fake rape.”[23]

The gender-specific measures taken by the state party to rehabilitate and compensate Rohingya women and girls who are victims/survivors of such violence.

Our organizations are unaware of any such measures taken by the Myanmar government. Nor has the government claimed to have taken such action. Rather, the government has maintained its wholesale denials of any assault perpetrated against Rohingya women and girls. In a May 2018 statement on his meeting with the UN Security Council delegation, the military commander-in-chief claimed that “he heard refugees who fled to Bangladesh said they were raped by the Myanmar Tatmadaw.… If rape cases happen, the victims need to inform the committee [on Rakhine State, led by Aung San Suu Kyi] which will take action against all complaints.… However, there is no complaint till today.”[24]

The number of Rohingya women and girls who have died during childbirth.

We do not have estimates on how many women and girls died in childbirth.

In September 2017, Human Rights Watch documented three cases in which Myanmar security forces obstructed women from accessing emergency maternal health care. For example, one 40-year-old woman from Maungdaw township told Human Rights Watch that she knew of two neighbors who had died during childbirth after soldiers guarding her village would not allow them to leave the village to get medical help. Another woman, also from a village in Maungdaw township, said that her cousin died “on the road” because soldiers at a checkpoint refused to allow her to travel to a hospital. In a third example, highlighting restraints on Rohingya prior to the late 2017 “clearance operations,” a woman from Buthidaung township said her sister died in childbirth around May 2017: “My sister Mumena died giving birth.… We had to wait to get money for a bribe. We needed to get money by phone from outside and then get cash and then go bribe the military. Then we knew we would need to bribe the nurse too. But she died before we got the money.”

The “clearance operations” and violence against Rohingya in late 2017 made no exceptions for pregnant women, including those who were heavily pregnant during the attacks on villages. Women in late stages of pregnancy described fleeing from their homes—walking up and down steep hills slippery from monsoon rains, through rivers and dense vegetation, often with little to eat and on sore hips and swollen legs. Several interviewees told Human Rights Watch that six weeks after having fled, they still felt pain that they believed was linked to their forced migration. Human Rights Watch also interviewed three women who gave birth on their journey to Bangladesh without any medical support.

Human Rights Watch collected testimony from women and girls about their lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care in their home villages in Rakhine State. Of the 52 women Human Rights Watch interviewed, only two knew what a condom was, and only one had received prenatal care when she was pregnant. Humanitarian aid workers and Bangladeshi health officials working to provide health care to Rohingya women and girls who had arrived since August 2017 said that they generally found knowledge and experience of maternal and sexual care to be extremely low.

For many years, the Myanmar authorities subjected Rohingya women to a strict two-child policy. Rohingya found to have violated restrictions on childbirth were prosecuted under Criminal Law section 188, which could result in imprisonment for up to 10 years, fines, or both.[25] For several years, Rohingya women told Fortify Rights they feared repercussions from authorities for unauthorized childbirth. This fear, compounded by lack of access to safe, modern birth control options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, forced pregnant Rohingya women to either flee the country or resort to illegal and unsafe abortions. Clandestine efforts to terminate pregnancies rather than face government retaliation for unsanctioned childbirth resulted in death and harmful medical repercussions.[26] Abortions among Rohingya women in northern Rakhine State have traditionally been conducted using the “stick method,” whereby a stick is inserted into the uterus to terminate the pregnancy. Women report being afraid to seek necessary medical attention for subsequent health complications.

The number of clinics providing obstetric services and the ratio of doctors and midwives to the Rohingya population.

We do not have precise figures detailing the number of clinics and doctors available to provide obstetric services, or the ratios. However, several contextual features and figures should be considered with respect to the provision of, and access to, these services. The Rohingya population in Rakhine State has extremely poor access to health care of any kind in all parts of the state due to multiple factors, including the limited number of health care facilities and restrictions on freedom of movement that make routine access to any facilities or care difficult. Prior to the violence in northern Rakhine State beginning in October 2016, UN sources estimated that there was one physician per 75,000 persons and one physician per 83,000 persons in the Rohingya Muslim-majority townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, respectively, whereas in Sittwe, the Rakhine Buddhist-majority capital of Rakhine State, there was one physician for every 681 persons.[27] Additionally, Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have for years been subjected to a network and series of checkpoints where they were often forced to pay bribes, and frequently faced harassment or arbitrary detention, further decreasing the odds of their seeking or receiving health care.[28] Currently, humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State is severely restricted, including lifesaving medical care.

Throughout Rakhine State, access to health care is extremely limited, particularly for Rohingya. Outside of northern Rakhine State, the government confines more than 124,000 Rohingya to dozens of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located in five townships. Access to health facilities for these displaced people is mostly limited to in-camp provisions by nongovernmental organizations whose access is needlessly restricted by the authorities. Rohingya in IDP camps in Sittwe township may be referred to Sittwe General Hospital, but only for life-threatening cases, and they are treated in a Muslim-only ward. Referrals are difficult to acquire, and Rohingya in these camps told Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights in 2017 that they are required to pay for their own security and transportation to the hospital, which is cost prohibitive. Rohingya women in Sittwe township camps reported in 2017 to Fortify Rights that access to health care is the most common reason for taking out loans, and some Rohingya women explained that they elected not to seek medical help in order to avoid acquiring debt that they would be unable to pay off. [29]

In general, state security forces require all Rohingya confined to IDP camps to obtain permission to travel, and Rohingya must also pay a fee to authorities. Moreover, once permission is granted and a fee is paid, Rohingya can only travel in the presence of security forces, if the security agents on duty agree to escort them. This escort “service” is not considered a right but a privilege, and it is not always forthcoming—for example, the authorities only escort Rohingya in the morning or afternoon, regardless of the situation.[30] These restrictions have impacted women’s health and maternal mortality.

The number of Rohingya families displaced by the violence, disaggregated by sex, and measures taken by the government to ensure their voluntary and safe return, economic reintegration, and compensation for loss of land or property.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 94,500 people were displaced in northern Rakhine State in October and November 2016, including more than 74,500 men, women, and children who fled to neighboring Bangladesh.[31] Since August 2017, more than 717,000 have fled to Bangladesh.[32] In addition, untold numbers of Rohingya have fled Myanmar steadily since 2012, including from violence, draconian restrictions, and avoidable deprivations in humanitarian aid. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that from 2013 to 2015, more than 200,000 fled by sea toward Thailand and Malaysia from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area. Many ended up in the custody of transnational human trafficking syndicates who held Rohingya women in conditions of enslavement and, in many cases, sold women and girls to the highest bidder.

The Myanmar government has announced plans for the repatriation of refugees, including hastily built processing centers and transit camps, yet has failed to establish any means of ensuring that returns are safe, dignified, and voluntary, as provided by international standards. Photos of the transit camps reveal buildings enclosed by high barbed-wire perimeter fencing.

The Myanmar government has a poor record of treating Rohingya displaced by past abuses or providing sustainable conditions for their return, such as in the case of the confinement of more than 124,000 Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in 2012 and remain in supposedly “temporary” camps in central Rakhine State. Humanitarian conditions in central and northern Rakhine State remain abysmal, with access for aid agencies reduced since August 2017, according to the UN and aid groups. Protecting returning refugees will not be possible without significant monitoring efforts by international observers. The Myanmar government has largely rejected international demands to allow free access for international aid agencies, the media, and rights observers, allowing only a small number of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid in northern Rakhine State, and denying genuine access to independent journalists and rights monitors.

We recommend that CEDAW call upon the government of Myanmar to:

  • Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations in Rakhine State, including organizations assisting sexual violence survivors and providing sexual and reproductive health care.
  • Ensure unimpeded access for journalists and human rights monitors in Rakhine State.
  • Cooperate fully with international investigations into alleged crimes in Rakhine State, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council.
  • Comply with the UN Security Council November Presidential Statement, which called on the Myanmar government to “implement measures in line with UN Security Council resolution 2106 (2013) to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence and … work with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”
  • Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws, regulations, and local orders and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya. Communicate to central, state, and local governments and the general public that the relevant authorities are to immediately cease all official and unofficial practices related to discriminatory restrictions against Rohingya.
  • Amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to end discriminatory provisions against Rohingya and reduce statelessness by providing Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights.
    • In accordance with the universal prohibition of racial discrimination, amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to use objective criteria to determine citizenship, such as descent, through which citizenship is passed through one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident.
    • Revise the Citizenship Law in accordance with article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that Rohingya children have the right to acquire a nationality where otherwise they would be stateless because they have no relevant links to another state.
  • Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care. This includes making sure such services are available and accessible to Rohingya populations and lifting restrictions on travel and movement.
  • Take appropriate measures and provide means to allow women victims and their families willing to return to their original homes to return in safety and with dignity, and take effective and adequate measures to rebuild the homes and basic infrastructure destroyed.
  • Facilitate the safe reintegration of women victims and their families. Special efforts should be made to ensure the full participation of returned victims and their families in the planning and management of resettlement, reintegration, and rehabilitation programs. Myanmar has the duty and responsibility to assist returned victims and their families to recover, to the extent possible, their property and possessions that they left behind or were dispossessed of. When recovery of such property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities should provide or assist these people in obtaining appropriate compensation or other forms of just reparation.
  • Repeal the four so-called race and religion protection laws, which are discriminatory and violate the rights of religious minorities and women.
  • Ensure that the draft Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Law includes measures for accountability for sexual violence, in particular conflict-related abuses, with provisions for military perpetrators to be tried in civilian courts. Publicize the draft law to solicit input from all civil society prior to its tabling in parliament.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “Crimes against Humanity by Burmese Security Forces against the Rohingya Muslim Population in Rakhine State since August 25, 2017,” September 26, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/burma_crime.... Human Rights Watch previously determined that the Myanmar government was responsible for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016 when ethnic Rakhine villagers supported by Buddhist monks carried out killings with help from state security forces. Rohingya women and girls have been subjected to rape in past persecution by Myanmar authorities, for example in 1978 when attacks drove 200,000 Rohingya out of the country. See Human Rights Watch, “All You Can Do Is Pray”: Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, April 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/04/22/all-you-can-do-pray/crimes-against....

[2] Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “They Tried to Kill Us All”: Atrocity Crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Myanmar, November 2017, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/THEY_TRIED_TO_KILL_US_ALL_Atrocit... Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Fortify Rights, Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis, October 2015, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Yale_Persecution_of_the_Rohingya_....

[3] Serajul Quadir, “UN Official Says Will Raise Sexual Violence against Rohingya with ICC,” Reuters, November 12, 2017, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1DC0MW.

[4] BBC, “Myanmar: The Hidden Truth,” December 18, 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09kdnwb.

[5] “Statement by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council,” March 12, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22806&L....

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya... see also Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Rohingya Recount Killings, Rape, and Arson,” December 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/burma-rohingya-recount-killings-rape....

[7] Human Rights Watch, “All of My Body Was Pain”: Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma, November 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/11/16/all-my-body-was-pain/sexual-violen....

[8] Those seven villages are Kyet Yoe Pyin, Pwint Hpyu Chaung, Kyar Goung Taung, Ngan Chaung, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, Wapeik, and U Shey Kya villages. See Fortify Rights interviews with individuals 48, 04, 42, 41, 55, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[9] Fortify Rights interviews with 19, 22, 37, 08, 11, 12, 25, 32, 30, 64, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[10] Fortify Rights interviews with 1, 27, 35, 36, 54, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016.

[11] Fortify Rights interviews with 5-2, 9-2, 11-2, 23-2, 25-2, 33-2, 38-2, 43-2, 45-2, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, August 27 – September 4, 2017.

[12] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence,” S/2018/250, March 23, 2018, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-C..., p. 17.

[13] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” March 25, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/180325_iscg_si....

[14] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” October 29, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/171029_weekly_....

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya....

[16] Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis, “Women and Girls Critically Underserved in the Rohingya Humanitarian Response,” February 22, 2018, http://iawg.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/IAWG-Statement-on-Rohingya-Hu....

[17] Ibid. See also Anu Kumar and Sayed Rubayet, “Rohingya Women Have Suffered Enough. They Don’t Deserve Discriminatory Health Care,” Ipas, December 14, 2017, https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-rohingya-women-have-suffered-enough-t....

[18] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018, http://www.seniorgeneralminaunghlaing.com/2018/05/discussions-between-se....

[19] Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services (CINCDS) Facebook post, November 13, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Cincds/posts/1511217488999111.

[20] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Scores of Rohingya Villages Bulldozed,” February 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/17/burma-40-rohingya-villages-burned-oc....

[21] On August 6, 2017, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Vice President Myint Swe, held a news conference on its findings into alleged abuses against ethnic Rohingya, following a nine-month domestic inquiry. Myint Swe told journalists that there was no evidence of crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. However, in Human Rights Watch’s view, the 13-member commission used investigative methods that produced incomplete, inaccurate, and false information. A previous army-led investigation into allegations of abuses against Rohingya communities in late 2016 by Tatmadaw forces led by the same general, Lt. Gen. Aye Win, found that only two minor incidents of abuse occurred during security operations. One of the documented crimes was the theft of a motorbike. Human Rights Watch documented killings, sexual violence including rape, and destruction of civilian property in the attacks that forced tens of thousands of people to flee during the same period under investigation. An investigation into allegations of rape in Maungdaw township in Rakhine State by Myanmar authorities found that no rapes had taken place, but was conducted in a highly problematic way that does not meet basic standards and would not have provided opportunity for women and girls to speak freely. Myanmar authorities announced in April 2018 that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din village in Maungdaw, Rakhine State. Meanwhile, authorities have been destroying evidence of attacks against Rohingya villages. Since late 2017, the Myanmar government has cleared at least 60 villages of all structures and vegetation using heavy machinery. Most of these villages were among the 362 villages completely or partially destroyed by arson since August 25.

[22] Jonathan Head, “Rohingya Crisis: Seeing Through the Official Story in Myanmar,” BBC, September 11, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41222210.

[23] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya....

[24] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018, http://www.seniorgeneralminaunghlaing.com/2018/05/discussions-between-se....

[25] Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, February 2014, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Policies_of_Persecution_Feb_25_Fo.... See addendum to regional order 1/2005, “Population Control Activities,” point number 3, original on file with Fortify Rights; see also Chris Lewa, “Two-Child Policy in Myanmar Will Increase Bloodshed,” CNN, June 6, 2013, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/06/opinion/myanmar-two-child-policy-opinion.

[26] Fortify Rights communications with representatives of an international organization, January 2014.

[27] Republic of the Union of Myanmar, “Final Report of Inquiry Commission on Sectarian Violence in Rakhine State,” citing UN reports, July 8, 2013, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/Rakhine_Commission_Report-en-red.pdf, p. 41.

[28] See Physicians for Human Rights, “Myanmar’s Rohingya Continue to Suffer Systematic Extortion, Abuse,” October 12, 2016, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/press/press-releases/myanmar-rohingy... Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution.

[29] Fortify Rights interviews with Rohingya women, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 2017; see also CCCM Cluster, Danish Refugee Council, and UNHCR, Sittwe Camp Profiling Report, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/sittwe_camp_pr..., p. 7.

[30] Several Rohingya in the camps explained to Fortify Rights how they are unable to travel anywhere in the evening. For example, a resident in Dar Pai camp said: “After the conflict of 2012, if anyone has an emergency case in the nighttime, then there is nowhere for us to get treatment during the nighttime. We cannot go outside in the nighttime.” Fortify Rights interview with 136, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, September 2, 2015.

[31] UN OCHA, “Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot, February 28 – March 6, 2017,” March 6, 2017, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ROAP_Snapshot_1....

[32] UNHCR, “Refugee Response in Bangladesh,” May 15, 2018, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/myanmar_refugees.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya woman walks through Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

(Yangon) – Myanmar should comply with a United Nations committee’s request for information on the military’s responsibility for widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls in northern Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said today. The two groups provided the committee with an 11-page joint report on sexual violence committed by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya villagers in 2016 and 2017.

In November 2017, the independent expert committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a global women’s rights treaty, requested the Myanmar government submit a report on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State by May 28, 2018. The CEDAW committee has only requested such an “exceptional report” three times previously.

“The CEDAW committee’s rare request for Myanmar to report on sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls outside normal reporting procedures shows the extreme nature of the military’s mass atrocities,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should cease its shameless denials and start openly cooperating with international monitors.”

The CEDAW committee request followed numerous reports of Myanmar army-led attacks on Rohingya Muslims, including mass killings, rape and other sexual violence, and widespread arson in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages, forcing more than 717,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The joint report by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights includes information based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including 37 women and girls who were raped in August and September 2017, mostly by gangs of uniformed soldiers. Witnesses and survivors also saw many other women and girls raped in groups, which amounted to patterns of gang rapes, as well as biting, kicking, and other physical abuse. Many recounted soldiers killing their elderly parents or children, including by throwing their infants into fires.

The CEDAW committee’s rare request shows the extreme nature of the Myanmar military’s mass atrocities.

Skye Wheeler

Women’s Rights Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch

“I was held down by six men and raped by five of them,” said a 33-year-old Rohingya woman. “First, [the soldiers] killed my brother.… [They] stuck a knife into my side and kept it there while the men were raping me. That was how they kept me in place.… I was trying to move and [the wound] was bleeding more.”

The CEDAW committee requested that Myanmar’s government provide information on the battalions that carried out the attacks in northern Rakhine State and their commanding officers. As a party to CEDAW, Myanmar is required to report on its implementation of the convention, including in the case of exceptional reports, which are requested in situations where there is “reliable and adequate information indicating grave or systematic violations of women’s human rights.”

Myanmar’s government claims it instructs its security forces to respect military codes of conduct that forbid rape. It has repeatedly denied that its forces committed rape, including through biased investigations that lack credibility. A Rakhine State minister responded to reports of sexual violence against Rohingya last year by saying: “Look at those women who are making these claims – would anyone want to rape them?”

“Myanmar’s security forces used brutal gang rapes to terrify and injure as part of their ongoing attack on the Rohingya population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “The authorities’ denials, essentially saying Rohingya women are liars, compound the terrible harms inflicted.”

The CEDAW committee also requested that the Myanmar government report on any efforts to provide justice and other reparations to sexual violence victims, as well as on access to sexual and reproductive health care for Rohingya women and girls. Successive Myanmar governments have persecuted the Rohingya for decades, denying them citizenship rights, freedom of movement, and equal access to education and health care.

CEDAW should call on the Myanmar government to:

Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations, journalists, and human rights monitors in Rakhine State
Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya
Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care

Sexual violence, like torture, is often followed by long-term trauma and serious mental health consequences including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Rohingya survivors of sexual violence and other attacks should be able to access long-term health care services as well as a path to justice and voluntary, dignified, and safe return to their homes.

International condemnation and calls for independent, rigorous investigations have been growing. In April 2018, the Myanmar army was included on the UN secretary-general’s “list of shame,” a register of national armed forces and armed groups whose members are credibly suspected of carrying out sexual violence.

The Myanmar government has continued to deny the UN Fact-Finding Mission and UN special rapporteurs access to northern Rakhine State. The authorities also continue to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations.

“Myanmar has repeatedly ignored international calls for information and access,” Smith said. “The CEDAW committee’s report request was an important step, but the UN should now ramp up its pressure on the government to end its atrocities against women and girls as well as its denials of abuses ever taking place.”

Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground.

Thousands of hand-built tarpaulin and bamboo shelters are threatened by strong winds and cyclones during the coming monsoon season. Rohingya refugees living on the steep, deforested slopes of sand and clay in the Kutupalong and Balukhali camps face added dangers of landslides, Human Rights Watch said. Altogether 623,000 recent Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in camps in Bangladesh.

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

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground. 

(Cox’s Bazar) – Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a new online video. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground.

Thousands of hand-built tarpaulin and bamboo shelters are threatened by strong winds and cyclones during the coming monsoon season. Rohingya refugees living on the steep, deforested slopes of sand and clay in the Kutupalong-Balukhali camps face added dangers of landslides. Altogether over 700,000 recent Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in camps in Bangladesh.

“The situation in the Rohingya camps is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Already, after a few bouts of rain, some shelters were blown away and the narrow paths are slippery and dangerous.”

A landslide in the Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh on May 18, 2018 washed away a shelter housing 17 Rohingya refugees, all of whom were unharmed.

© 2018 Bill Frelick/Human Rights Watch
A landslide on May 18, 2018, in a densely packed area in Camp 11, washed away a hut that housed three families, numbering a total of 17 people, who were unharmed. Nobi Hassan, the head of one of those families, told Human Rights Watch that he asked the appointed local leader to relocate them to a safer place, but was told they had to stay in the same block. He said there is no space left in that block and all the other huts were also precariously situated.

“Many Rohingya want to return to Myanmar if their rights and identity are respected, but sadly that won’t happen anytime soon,” Frelick said. “In the meantime, people like Nobi Hassan and his family desperately need a safe place to live.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh on November 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Over the last nine months some 700,000 ethnic Rohingya in Burma have been driven from their homes across the border into Bangladesh by the Burmese military. The attacks have been described by the UN as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, while Human Rights Watch and others found the atrocities amount to “crimes against humanity”. Yet the international response to this crisis has been woefully inadequate. Britain, which has traditionally led on Burma on the UN Security Council, carries a particular responsibility for this failure. In a sharp critique, the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said recently that the Government’s diplomatic leadership on Burma “has struggled to achieve a clear sense of direction and has so far had meagre results”.

Last week’s trip by the UN Security Council to Bangladesh and Burma, to see and hear for themselves the plight of the Rohingya, was supposed to produce a more concerted and effective international response. Britain should have led the way in promoting this.  But initial public statements by representatives to the UN Security Council, especially Britain, suggest that this critical opportunity was missed.

Although Bangladesh is hosting nearly a million refugees, and Britain and other donors are providing large amounts of humanitarian aid, overall international efforts are falling short, with some of the most vulnerable Rohingya still not receiving the support they need. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of Burmese soldiers raping Rohingya women and girls as part of their campaign of ethnic cleansing, including horrific gang rapes.  Yet their suffering and trauma continues. There are some 40,000 pregnant women and girls among the Rohingya refugee population, some of them raped by Burmese soldiers, and some are due to give birth in the coming weeks.  But Andrew Gilmour, a UN Assistant Secretary General, lamented recently that camps are not providing proper care or protection for them, and that survivors’ access to support - especially psychological and reproductive health services - is too limited.

It is commendable that a senior UN official should speak out in this way. But where is Britain’s voice? For nearly five years, the British government has said that combatting sexual violence in conflict is a high priority, and it created the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative to implement that commitment. But faced with widespread rape against the Rohingya and with survivors’ huge need for care and support, Britain has not showed the decisive global leadership on this issue that the PSVI promised.

Britain should be helping to lead a strengthened international response in respect of refugee returns. None of the Rohingya will have forgotten the death, destruction and terror that forced them to flee their homes, or the profound discrimination and persecution they have experienced for generations in Burma. They will only return voluntarily to Burma when there is a fundamental change in these conditions. At a minimum, that means security guarantees, freedom of movement, an end to discriminatory citizenship laws, livelihood opportunities, and the return of stolen homes or compensation for those destroyed.  The Burmese military and hostile elements of the Burmese government will not concede these changes easily. It will take sustained and increased international pressure, of the kind that has been sorely lacking to date. One very concrete step that Britain and other EU states should take is the early imposition of targeted sanctions on senior figures in the Burmese military.  Other states should be encouraged to adopt similar measures.

A clear and consistent international position on accountability and justice is also crucial. Astonishingly, Britain’s representative to the UN, Karen Pierce, suggested this week that the Burmese government might undertake another domestic inquiry into the crimes committed against the Rohingya and that it should be supported in doing so. This is absurd. Is Ms Pierce really unaware of the Burmese military’s long history of impunity for mass killings and sexual violence? In the midst of the current crisis, the Burmese military has released two reports denying all accusations of rape and killings by its own security forces, and last week Min Aung Hlaing, the army’s Commander-in-Chief, denied that the Burmese military has ever, in its entire history, committed rape. Pierce also repeated Suu Kyi’s cynical claim that her government is willing to “look” at any evidence provided, an offer belied by Burma’s refusal to allow access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council.

If it is serious about justice for the Rohingya, as its claims to be, the British government should work with other Security Council members to press for a Council resolution that refers Burma to the International Criminal Court.This will not be easy. But there is often no quick route to justice. It would be a shameful betrayal of the Rohingya not to vigorously pursue every opportunity to bring to account those responsible for the heinous crimes committed against them.

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

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh on November 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should immediately refer the situation in Myanmar, including the widespread and systematic abuses against ethnic Rohingya, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said today.

During the first week of May 2018, senior diplomats from the 15-member Security Council visited refugee camps in Bangladesh to see first-hand the situation of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar military abuses since August 2017, adding to an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who fled previous violence. The diplomats pledged to take action on their return to New York. UK Ambassador Karen Pierce said all council members considered the Rohingya issue to be “one of the most significant human rights cases that we have ever faced in the last decade and that something needs to be done.”

“Now that the Security Council has heard directly from Rohingya refugees about the horrors inflicted by Myanmar’s army, the need to hold those responsible to account should be clear,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director. “Myanmar’s repeated and implausible denials of responsibility for atrocities and its longstanding culture of impunity mean that the International Criminal Court is the only real hope for victims to see justice.”

Now that the Security Council has heard directly from Rohingya refugees about the horrors inflicted by Myanmar’s army, the need to hold those responsible to account should be clear.

Param-Preet Singh

Associate Director, International Justice Program

During their four-day visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, council members met with humanitarian agencies, civil society groups, parliamentarians, and military and government officials, including Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Myanmar’s de-facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and Myanmar military commander-in-chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

While acknowledging a possible ICC referral, UK Ambassador Pierce told reporters that Aung San Suu Kyi assured council members that if evidence of violations was provided to her, the Myanmar authorities would undertake a “proper investigation.” However, the Myanmar government has long been provided with evidence by Human Rights Watch and other international monitors and has taken no genuine action to impartially investigate the full range of abuses committed against the Rohingya. For more than a year the government refused to allow access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission, created by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to “establish the facts and circumstances” of alleged security force violations. It also barred Yanghee Lee, the UN-appointed human rights expert on Myanmar, from entering the country after she publicly reported on military abuses.

Rejecting detailed accounts of atrocities

The government and military have dismissed voluminous reports from the UN, human rights groups, and the media on killings, rape, and burnings of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State. In November, an army “investigation team” said that at least 376 “terrorists” were killed during fighting but found “no deaths of innocent people.”

While there has been no civilian-led investigation into the post-August 2017 violence, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, established to investigate the violence against the Rohingya in October and November 2016, and headed by Vice President Myint Swe, concluded contrary to the evidence that there was “no possibility of crimes against humanity, no evidence of ethnic cleansing, as per UN accusations.”

Myanmar authorities have convicted soldiers in only one case in Rakhine State for abuses committed after August 25, sentencing seven soldiers in April to 10 years in prison for their role in the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village. Two Reuters journalists who investigated the massacre were detained and face up to 14 years’ imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act.

“By rejecting out of hand detailed accounts of atrocities, Myanmar’s government has shown it has zero intention of addressing the terrible crimes against the Rohingya,” Singh said. “Security Council members should not repeat empty promises by government officials that they will investigate abuses. This is a textbook case for referral to the ICC, which was created to act when governments refuse to do so.”

Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, the court can only act when a state is “unwilling or unable” to investigate or prosecute grave crimes in violation of international law. Because Myanmar is neither a party to the ICC nor has accepted the court’s jurisdiction, the Security Council needs to refer the situation to the court. In April, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to rule on whether the ICC “can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” which is a party to the ICC.

The Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC immediately and not await a court ruling on the crime of deportation, which would not include other crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape, torture, and persecution. The council should act on the secretary-general’s September 2017 call that “the international community has a responsibility to undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis.” Primarily because of objections from China and Russia, the council has adopted just a single Presidential Statement on the issue, in November. It last met to discuss the crisis in February.

Global concern with the Security Council’s inaction on Myanmar has been rising. In February, Sweden’s UN ambassador said, “If the Myanmar authorities do not genuinely address the issue of accountability, help from the international community should be sought, including considering referral to the International Criminal Court.” In May, after visiting a Rohingya camp, an assistant secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that the council’s “powerful members had enough room to play, but failed to do that.” Liechtenstein’s UN ambassador publicly expressed his hope that council members would return from their Myanmar visit with a renewed sense of duty to take action, including an ICC referral.

A former Malaysian foreign minister who had been the OIC’s special envoy to Myanmar until 2017 said he was disappointed with the talks between the council and Myanmar: “They say that they will help Myanmar to investigate. Myanmar is the perpetrator of the crime. How can you want Myanmar to investigate? It must be an independent body.”

“The UK and others should stop wringing their hands and put forward a resolution referring Myanmar to the ICC,” Singh said. “Security Council members should stop deferring to China and Russia and make the victims of atrocities the top priority.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am