“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) members secure a street as they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 

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

French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters
“The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations.

The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.

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

Like an addict, France does not know how to quit its state of emergency even though it has become clear that maintaining it erodes the rule of law and fosters human rights abuses while not keeping the country safer. The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose.

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) secure a street they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension. His fellow commission member, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, from the main opposition party Les Republicains, noted that “time that passes erodes the efficiency and nature of the state of emergency.” A French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks had already concluded back in July 2016 that  the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.”

Human Rights Watch’s own research has found repeated abuses against ordinary people during policing operations under emergency powers.

So why is France maintaining the state of emergency despite repeated warnings by its own oversight mechanisms?

It is mainly due to confusion by politicians about the purpose of a state of emergency. Many have said that it is justified by an ongoing terrorist risk. This was clearly displayed in December 2016 when Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux justified his request for a fifth extension by saying that “the terrorist threat was at its highest.” Under this reasoning, a state of emergency is needed as long as there is a high security risk.

This reasoning is dangerous on many levels. By suggesting that regular laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to counter threats, it weakens the premise of the rule of law and relegates it to a luxury for “normal” times. But it also sets the stage for the trap in which France finds itself. French leaders have implied that they will only lift the state of emergency when the security risk has subsided but since they can’t predict the risk of future terrorist attacks, they prefer to maintain it rather than pay a political price if a subsequent attack takes place.

So lifting the state of emergency becomes less dependent on security considerations and more on political calculations. This would explain why France’s latest extension was driven by the electoral calendar, punting the issue to the next president and legislature. Call it political procrastination, or perhaps more aptly, political cowardice.

This disconnect between its initial purpose and current raison d’être was captured nicely by Sébastien Pietrasanta, a parliamentarian and rapporteur for the commission investigating the state’s response to the November 2015 attacks, who recently noted that “the effect of the state of emergency is fading and yet we extend it…even though the link with terrorism is quite tenuous.”

I have seen this logic at play in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria, countries I have worked on for years, maintained their states of emergency for 31 and 48 years respectively. Every time the state of emergency was up for renewal, the country’s rulers argued that the risk was still there or that the timing was not right to lift it. France is not a tin-pot autocracy and its rulers are not despots, but there is a cautionary tale in these experiences.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk – an exogenous measure that cannot be controlled by political calculations. It should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment. It may have been justified for a few days immediately after the November 2015 attacks as the country’s security forces were caught unprepared. But it should have been lifted as soon as the institutions resumed their normal functioning – regardless of whether the underlying security threat has been addressed.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk, it should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment.

Nadim Houry

Director, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program

The French government’s own website on the fight against terrorism noted in August 2016 that the government has “completed its legal arsenal and put in place an unprecedented reinforcement of its means in the police, justice, army and intelligence services.” France already has a raft of laws under the non-emergency regime that permit the authorities to investigate, detain, and prosecute terrorism suspects. Judicial controls in no way impede their effectiveness.

France needs to adopt a clear path out of the state of emergency. The parliamentary commission monitoring the state of emergency suggested in December setting an upper limit on the extension of a state of emergency but parliament ignored it and voted a fifth extension with almost no debate. Candidates in the upcoming presidential election have largely avoided talking about the issue, perpetuating the procrastination strategy by the political class, and journalists have not pushed them on the issue.

It is no longer enough to wait and hope that the security threat will simply vanish or that the future president or legislature will finally decide to tackle the issue. The debate about lifting the state of emergency should become a priority topic in this presidential election. Like any addict hoping to recover, France needs to start by recognizing the problem and begin a serious conversation on how to quit.

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

As Co-Director of the US Program, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno guides Human Rights Watch’s work on criminal justice, drug policy, immigration, national security, and surveillance in the United States.

Previously, as Deputy Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno conducted advocacy before the US government on a wide array of global human rights issues, including matters related to the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab uprisings” of 2011. Earlier, she held the position of Senior Americas Researcher, covering Colombia's internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, forthcoming from Nation Books in February 2018. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and did most of her undergraduate studies in Lima, Peru, before completing her BA at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a native speaker of both Spanish and English.


"Your Reaction to NSA Curbs," on BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” (January 2014)

"Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia ," (February 2010)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Forces loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya appear to have executed captured fighters in Benghazi and desecrated corpses, Human Rights Watch said today. Video recordings posted online since January 2017 seem to show LNA fighters carrying out seven distinct unlawful executions of “extremists.”

The most recent video, which appeared on social media on July 24, 2017, shows the apparent summary execution on July 17 of 20 blindfolded men with their hands tied behind their backs in orange jumpsuits, whom the commander in charge accuses of “terrorism.” The executioners appear to be members of a special forces unit headed by Mahmoud al-Werfalli. The Army Special Forces in Benghazi, under the command of Wanis Bukhamada, are linked to the LNA, which is commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hiftar. The LNA is allied with the Interim Government, one of the three governments vying for legitimacy, international recognition, and control of territory in Libya.

The above image is a screenshot from a video posted on July 24, 2017 showing the apparent summary execution by LNA fighters of 20 prisoners, whom the commander, believed to be ICC suspect Mahmoud Al-Werfalli (wearing cap),  accuses of “terrorism.” The original video can be found here


On August 15, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for al-Werfalli for the war crime of murder. He is wanted by the court for his alleged role in the killing of 33 people in seven incidents that took place in and around Benghazi between June 2016 and July 2017. The Interim Government should take immediate steps to facilitate the surrender of al-Werfalli to the ICC, Human Rights Watch said.

“The posted videos suggest that LNA-linked forces committed a series of grave war crimes over many months,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The ICC warrant for al-Werfalli is a wake-up call to other abusive commanders in Libya that one day their serious crimes could land them in a prison cell in The Hague.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed seven videos and several still images that appear to show distinct incidents of LNA-affiliated soldiers executing prisoners in their custody. Some of these videos and images show fighters desecrating the bodies of supposed fighters who opposed the LNA, including the burning and kicking of a corpse and posing for photographs with another corpse that had a leash tied around its neck.

In the video that was posted on social media on July 24, al-Werfalli and LNA soldiers are seen wearing the insignia of the Army Special Forces. Al-Werfalli reads out the execution judgment, identifies the unit, the date of July 17, and the capital offenses attributed to those in custody. He is the main executioner or supervisor of executions in six more video recordings of apparent summary executions of people accused of “terrorism” and committing crimes against the LNA.

The summary execution of fighters who have been captured or who have surrendered is a war crime.

Despite a commitment to investigate alleged crimes by its forces, the LNA has yet to announce the findings of any investigations or sanctions it has imposed on any of its members found to have committed violations. In a July 20 statement, the LNA rejected allegations made by the United Nations on July 18 that soldiers under al-Werfalli’s command were responsible for summary executions and that captured fighters in Benghazi were at “imminent risk of torture and even summary execution.”

The LNA said in its response that there was no evidence to substantiate the accusations of torture and executions and that any conclusions of the LNA’s investigative commission to uncover abuses in “unverified videos” would be made public.

Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the date when the videos and photos were taken, or the location where they were recorded. However, an analysis of the imagery revealed no indications that they had been doctored or were otherwise inauthentic. Human Rights Watch sought comment from the LNA spokesman but was unable to reach him. On August 8, Human Rights Watch emailed the LNA for comment on the videos and photographs that appear to show al-Werfalli presiding over or carrying out the execution of prisoners. Human Rights Watch did not receive a response.

Three of the seven videos appear to show al-Werfalli himself executing captured and unarmed men, individually or in groups. In three other videos, he appears to give orders to men in military uniform to execute unarmed detainees. In the seventh and most recent video to surface, a commander, who appears to be al-Werfalli, both gives orders and participates in the execution of the 20 unarmed, blindfolded prisoners in orange jumpsuits with their hands tied behind their backs.

The video starts by showing several incidents of crimes the captured men allegedly committed. The commander, who is dressed in fatigues, a black t-shirt, and black cap, then reads out the judgment of execution by firing squad against 18 of the men kneeling in four rows. The commander refers to the men as “terrorists” and says that a “field court” has found them guilty of “kidnapping, torturing, killing, bombing, slaying, and torturing the sons of the military establishment in particular and the Libyan people in general.”

The commander does not name any of the captured men or cite their affiliations. He says the date is July 17. Once the reading of the judgment is over, he orders armed men in military uniforms to execute the captured detainees row by row. The recording shows them doing so. Two more individuals are executed in the same way at the end of the video.

In another video recording posted on social media in June, a man who appears to be al-Werfalli is seen reciting religious texts and then ordering four men in fatigues, black t-shirts, and face-masks to shoot in the head four men kneeling in an open field. The captives are hooded and appear to have their hands bound behind their backs. Al-Werfalli does not name the victims but accuses them of crimes, including assassinations, and calls them Kharijites – a term for Muslims who rebelled against the Caliphate in the early ages of Islam. Al-Werfalli says that it is the month of Ramadan, which would mean June 2017.

Another undated video appears to show al-Werfalli reciting religious verses in a room while a man kneels on the floor with his arms behind his head. Other soldiers can be seen and heard in the background. Al-Werfalli accuses the man of being a member of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and then pulls out a handgun and shoots him in the back of the head, apparently killing him. Another undated video shows the apparent interrogation of this same man, who says he is Algerian.

On May 22, an undated video appeared online showing the apparent execution of two men: Emad Eddin al-Jazawi, a fighter with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, a coalition of fighters including extremists who oppose the LNA, and the son of a minister of the National Salvation Government, another of the rival governments. The video begins with al-Jazawi being interrogated and later shows him in a cage with another man, Haitham Jomaa al-Kafrawi, identified in the video as an Egyptian member of Al-Qaeda, who is also being interrogated. The recording ends with al-Jazawi and al-Kafrawi kneeling on the ground, backs to the camera, as al-Werfalli gives two soldiers an order to execute them. A photo bubble appears above the heads of the victims, showing photos of both men.

On May 15, al-Werfalli announced his resignation from the special forces, after he and his forces were accused of abuses, including looting and burning homes, as well as attacking a rescue division linked with the Interior Ministry in Benghazi that resulted in the killing of an officer. Al-Werfalli denied responsibility for those acts. However, the next day, the commander of the Special Forces, Wanis Bukhamada, rejected al-Werfalli’s resignation due to the “many sacrifices al-Werfalli” had made, and kept him in his position.

Armed conflict, insecurity, and political divisions have plagued Libya since May 2014, when General Hiftar announced a war to root out “terrorism” in Benghazi. As a result of armed conflicts in both the east and west, central authority collapsed and the three competing governments emerged, including the Interim Government, which the House of Representatives supports. Key institutions, most notably law enforcement and the judiciary, are dysfunctional in most parts of the country. On July 5, General Hiftar announced the complete “liberation” of Benghazi from armed groups opposing the LNA, including extremists, but pockets of resistance remain.

The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has a mandate to investigate crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed in Libya since February 15, 2011. Human Rights Watch’s research in Libya since 2011 has found rampant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including mass long-term arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, forced displacement, and unlawful killings. In the face of mounting atrocities, Human Rights Watch has called on the ICC prosecutor to urgently pursue an investigation into ongoing grave crimes by all sides, including possible crimes against humanity.

In May, Bensouda said her office was committed to making the Libya situation a priority in 2017. Given the serious crimes committed in Libya and the challenges facing the authorities, the ICC’s mandate remains crucial to ending impunity in Libya, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man walks across a street in al-Hamdaniya, Iraq November 25, 2016. Picture taken November 25, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities have issued arrest warrants for at least 15 private lawyers since July 24, 2017, on charges of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation for their past work in ISIS courts, Human Rights Watch said today. While lawyers are not immune from prosecution if they engage in criminal activity, they should not be prosecuted for doing their job as lawyers, nor should the authorities associate them with their clients’ cause simply because they represented them.

All were representing ISIS suspects facing trial in Iraqi courts at the time of their arrest, raising concerns among local lawyers that the warrants were issued to intimidate lawyers defending ISIS suspects. One senior judge told Human Rights Watch that since the warrants were issued, private lawyers had stopped taking cases of any defendants that they believed to be ISIS-affiliated, only taking cases of people they thought were innocent. As a result, only state-appointed lawyers are taking on the cases of those believed to be ISIS-affiliated. Based on interviews with four lawyers, there are serious concerns that the state-appointed lawyers are not providing a robust defense of these clients.

“The authorities should immediately explain why they are detaining and charging these lawyers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They need to make it clear that Iraqi lawyers should not be afraid to defend ISIS suspects.”

The 15 lawyers represented suspects before the Nineveh governorate’s counterterrorism court. The court has jurisdiction over cases of people currently held in the governate, which includes the city of Mosul, who are suspected of ISIS affiliation. The court currently operates in the town of al-Hamdaniya, also known as Qaraqosh or Bakhdida. A senior judge told Human Rights Watch researchers when they visited the court in July that the court was working through about 2,000 cases involving people suspected of being ISIS members or affiliated with the group.

On August 5, the senior judge told Human Rights Watch that his court had gathered evidence, including witness testimony, that 15 defense lawyers representing ISIS-affiliated suspects at the court had worked as lawyers in ISIS courts in Mosul. The judge did not know what role the lawyers are alleged to have played within the ISIS courts, and Human Rights Watch has not been able to review the accusations. Iraq’s counterterrorism law (no. 13/2005) punishes with death anyone who has committed, incited, planned, financed, or assisted a terror act and stipulates a life sentence for anyone who covers up such an act or harbors those who participated.

Mazen al-Saraf, a member of the Mosul Branch of the Iraqi Bar Association, said that he was sent the list of those accused before the arrests took place, and he said on August 7 that six had so far been detained, with four already in the court’s custody. The president of the Iraqi Bar Association, Ahlam Lamy, visited the court on August 6 to inquire about the arrests and ensure that the lawyers have legal representation.

One person with close knowledge of the court’s processes said he felt that this action was taken to intimidate lawyers currently defending ISIS suspects and to create a chilling effect, rather than based on specific evidence of ISIS affiliation. While Human Rights Watch cannot independently confirm the motivation for the charges, the senior judge did confirm that the accusations left other defense lawyers afraid to take the cases of any suspect they believed was actually ISIS-affiliated. Given that the Iraqi constitution and Criminal Procedure Code (no.23/1971) guarantee all detainees the right to a lawyer during interrogations and hearings, the government has appointed a lawyer for these ISIS suspects.

Human Rights Watch researchers observed two trials in which defendants had a state-appointed lawyer. The lawyers did not speak once during the hearings, with the judge and the court stenographer directly questioning the defendant.

Authorities should make public the basis for the prosecution of these 15 lawyers and ensure that no lawyers are prosecuted contrary to the United Nations standards on the role of lawyers. They should ensure that the rights of the 15 lawyers, and other detainees held on ISIS-affiliation charges to choose their legal representation are fully met.

International law guarantees anyone accused of a crime access to a lawyer at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the investigation, the pretrial proceedings, and during the trial itself. Under article 1 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.” Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iraq, says everyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to defend themselves through legal assistance of their own choosing, as well as to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defense and to communicate with counsel of their own choosing.

The principles also state that anyone arrested or charged with a criminal offense, shall, in all cases in which the interests of justice so require, be entitled to have a lawyer of experience and competence commensurate with the nature of the offense assigned to them to provide effective legal assistance, without payment by them if they lack sufficient means to pay for such services.

The principles state that: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers … are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” and “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”

They also state that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, and that lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for statements made in good faith in pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court. However, under international criminal law, lawyers and judges can be prosecuted in exceptional cases when they have directly contributed to war crimes or crimes against humanity, including the war crime of executions following unfair trials.

“Iraqi authorities should ensure that the 15 lawyers facing arrest warrants are entitled to due process protections and fair trials that ISIS denied to all of its victims,” Whitson said. “The authorities should make every effort to explain to the public whom they are prosecuting and why.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

General Khalifa Hiftar

Commander of the Libyan National Army

Al-Marj, Libya


Delivery by e-mail


Dear General Hiftar:

Human Rights Watch has been tracking violations against civilians in Benghazi since the 2011 uprising. Our researchers were on the ground to document the situation from the first days of the revolution. We have continued to document violations in Benghazi by all sides since the beginning in May 2014.

Human Rights Watch is writing to you as commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) to invite your comment on a series of videos and photographs that have appeared on social media since January 2017 that appear to show Major Mahmoud Al-Warfalli, commander of a Special Forces unit under the LNA-linked Army Special Forces, presiding over the execution, or himself carrying out the execution, of captured prisoners. These videos include the following:

The extrajudicial execution of captured persons, whether combatants or criminal suspects, is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

We would be grateful to know if you can confirm Major Warfalli as the person presiding over, or carrying out executions in each of these videos and if so, whether the LNA sanctions these acts. If not, we wish to know if the LNA is taking to hold accountable Major Warfalli and any other person implicated in these killings.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter or to provide responses to our queries, please do not hesitate to contact my colleague, Sarkis Balkhian, at xxx@hrw.org or +1-XXX-XXX-XXXX.


Sincerely yours,

Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa

Human Rights Watch



Major Mahmoud Al-Warfalli

“Thunderbolt” Special Forces Brigade

The Libyan National Army


Brigadier General Wanis Bukhamada

“Thunderbolt” Special Forces Brigade

The Libyan National Army


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content


August 2, 2017

The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 22202

The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Director, Central Intelligence Agency
Office of the Director
Washington, D.C. 20505

The Honorable Andrew McCabe
Acting Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
FBI Headquarters
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001


Re: US Cooperation with Abusive Allied Forces in Yemen

Dear Secretary Mattis, Director Pompeo, and Acting Director McCabe:

We, the undersigned human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations, write to urge you to make public to the fullest extent possible without disclosing sources and methods, any reviews conducted by your agencies into allegations that US-allied forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have been responsible for serious abuses in Yemen.[1] These include arbitrary detentions, torture, mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and unlawful prisoner transfers.[2] We also ask that your agencies publicly disclose any actions the United States has taken with respect to any UAE or Yemeni forces implicated in serious abuses. For the Defense Department, this would include, but not be limited to, actions with respect to enforcement of the Leahy law.

We understand that Secretary Mattis has responded in classified form to a letter sent by the Chair and Ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that requested the Secretary to direct an immediate review of the facts and circumstances surrounding these allegations.[3] Disclosing the material contents of this response – including whether the Defense Department has initiated or completed such a review – would help assure the public that the United States is appropriately responding to the allegations.

We are unaware of any similar review being conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or other US government agencies. It is important that these agencies, and possibly others, conduct reviews as well given that the U.S. military denied involvement in some alleged interrogations in which detainees said U.S. personnel were involved. In particular, the Associated Press (AP) reported that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. A CIA spokesman provided no comment on the specific claims. The allegations of abuse also involve the possible unlawful transfer of prisoners by US allied forces, which the CIA has been involved with in the past, including with the UAE.[4]

The AP report included statements by U.S. Defense Department officials saying that the United States conducts interrogations in detention facilities in Yemen, provides questions to the Emirati forces holding detainees, and receives transcripts of their interrogations in response. The AP article and a subsequent one also alleged that the United States provides information to the UAE on suspected militants that the United States believes should be apprehended or questioned.[5] A Yemeni brigadier general told the AP that the United States provided “coalition authorities” a list of most-wanted men, many of whom were later arrested.[6]

We are concerned by comments from several U.S. defense officials and military leaders that they had looked into allegations of abuse by UAE and Yemeni forces but were confident no abuses had taken place “when US forces [were] present.”[7] Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the United States is a party, authorities receiving intelligence information that may have been obtained by torture or ill-treatment have a responsibility to make genuine inquiries with the sending country to determine whether torture was used to obtain it, and whether any actions were taken to appropriately punish those responsible. Willfully making use of information obtained through coercive means may amount to complicity in torture or ill-treatment.[8]

The United States should also inquire into and report on credible allegations from family members of detainees and Yemeni government officials that some prisoners had been transferred from UAE or Yemeni custody to a UAE-run military base in Eritrea without a fair means to contest the transfer.

The United States doubtless recognizes that continued cooperation with forces engaged in serious abuses places U.S. personnel at risk of being complicit in violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. We hope this brings a sense of urgency to U.S. investigations into the alleged abuses and the prompt implementation of necessary corrective action. The aim should be the elimination of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances, among other abuses. Until the risk of such abuses is substantially reduced, the United States should not receive information from such forces unless it can be demonstrated that the information was not obtained through torture or ill treatment.[9]

The US should also press the UAE and other forces implicated to make publicly available a list of all detention sites and provide information on all those in custody or who died in detention. These forces should fully cooperate with the committee established by Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi on June 22, 2017 to investigate the abuses. The committee should be able to operate independently with access to all detention facilities, and exchange information with nongovernmental organizations.[10]

We appreciate the Defense Department’s prompt response to the letter from the Senate Armed Services Committee. However, we strongly believe the public needs more information to assess the U.S. government’s response to this urgent issue, which has implications for US military operations beyond the situation in Yemen.

We look forward to your response.


American Civil Liberties Union
Center for Victims of Torture
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Physicians for Human Rights
The Constitution Project
Win Without War

cc: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Chair and Ranking Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, House Armed Services Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Judiciary Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.


[1] Maggie Michael, “In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and US interrogates,” Associated Press, June 22, 2017, https://www.apnews.com/4925f7f0fa654853bd6f2f57174179fe/In-Yemen%27s-secret-prisons,-UAE-tortures-and-US-interrogates; see also Maggie Michael, “Inside Yemen’s secret prisons: ‘We could hear the screams,’” Associated Press, June 23, 2017, https://apnews.com/b2a5ecfd1adb442a86df5bd05bc6599e/%22You-can-hear-the-screams%22:-Inside-Yemen's-secret-prisons.

[2] See “Yemen: UAE Backs Abusive Local Forces,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/22/yemen-uae-backs-abusive-local-forces; see also, “Final Report of the Panel of Experts on Yemen,” January 11, 2017, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2017/81, pp. 132-134; see also “We Lived Days in Hell: Civilian Perspectives on the Conflict in Yemen,” Center for Civilians in Conflict, 2016, http://civiliansinconflict.org/uploads/files/pressers/CIVIC_Report_Yemen_2016.pdf, pp. 20-22, 31, 38-39.

[3] Letter from Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, Chair and Ranking Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, June 22, 2017, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3873444-2017-06-22-McCain-Reed-Letter-to-SECDEF-Re-UAE.html.

[4] “The Rendition Project, Sanad al-Kazemi,” https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/prisoners/kazimi.html; “Who are the Guantanamo Detainees,” Case Sheet 25, Amnesty International, May 1, 2008, https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/documents/RDI/080501-Amnesty-Kazimi-Case-Sheet.pdf.

[5] Desmond Butler and Maggie Michael, “Senators ask military to clarify US role in Yemen torture,” Associated Press, June 25, 2017, https://apnews.com/5c645174e6614eb499a4151af23bf864.

[6] Maggie Michael, “In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and US interrogates,” Associated Press, June 22, 2017; https://www.apnews.com/4925f7f0fa654853bd6f2f57174179fe/In-Yemen%27s-secret-prisons,-UAE-tortures-and-US-interrogates.

[7] Laura Pitter, “US Ignores Allies’ Torture in Yemen: Evidence of US Complicity in Abuses by UAE and Yemeni Forces,” Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/22/us-ignores-allies-torture-yemen.

[8] Martin Scheinin, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, A/HRC/10/3, February 4, 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/terrorism/rapporteur/docs/A.HRC.10.3.pdf, para. 55; Joint Committee on Human Rights, “Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture,” Twenty-third report of Session 2008-09, August 4, 2009, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/15202.htm, para. 42.

[9] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. Res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, art. 15, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx (accessed November 12, 2015).

[10] Kristine Beckerle, “US, Gulf Allies, Must Open to Their Own Role in Yemen’s Human Rights Abuses,” The Progressive, June 29, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/29/us-gulf-allies-must-own-their-role-y....

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content


August 1, 2017

Dear Secretary Mattis:

We, the undersigned human rights and civil liberties organizations, write to express serious concern and opposition regarding recent decisions by the Department of Defense with respect to observation of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the potential these decisions have to negatively affect transparency in the judicial proceedings occurring there. Specifically, we were troubled to learn that the Department of Defense did not invite non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to send observers to the July 7-8, 2017 pre-sentencing hearing for Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi, even though press outlets were invited to attend. In fact, the Defense Department did not give NGOs any notice at all, prohibiting us from at least monitoring the proceedings via CCTV feed at Ft. Meade.

Furthermore, the Defense Department has recently begun instructing NGOs that they can only send American citizens as military commission observers. While the Defense Department did initiate such a requirement last year, it is our understanding that it was quickly withdrawn, yet the instructions have persisted. For years, many of our organizations have sent non-citizen observers to Guantanamo to monitor military commission proceedings and their participation is integral to our work.

These policies directed towards NGOs compromise our ability to effectively fulfill our roles in the observer process. As representatives of organizations with expertise in the commissions and as members of the public, our presence and participation is essential for increasing the transparency and accountability of the proceedings. Some of the organizations represented in this letter have had permanent observer status since the first proceedings began in 2004 and have been guaranteed a right to observe.

We strongly urge the Department of Defense to commit to inviting all approved observer organizations to participate in all future military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay—both onsite and via CCTV monitoring. We also request that the Department of Defense immediately make explicit the status of the now-defunct rules regarding foreign NGO observers.

American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
The Constitution Project
Defending Rights & Dissent
Government Information Watch
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – An Iraqi army division trained by the United States government allegedly executed several dozen prisoners in Mosul’s Old City, Human Rights Watch said today. Two international observers detailed the summary killings of four people by the Iraqi army’s 16th Division in mid-July 2017, and saw evidence that the unit had executed many more people, including a boy.

The body of an alleged ISIS fighter with his hands bound behind his back, executed in Mosul’s Old City by Iraqi soldiers identified as from the army’s 16th Division. 

© 2017 Private

The US government should suspend all assistance and support to the 16th Division pending Iraq’s full investigation of the allegations and appropriate prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said. Under the “Leahy Law,” the US is prohibited from providing military assistance to any unit of foreign security forces if there is credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights and no “effective measures” are being taken to bring those responsible to justice.

“The US government should make sure it is no longer providing assistance to the Iraqi unit responsible for this spate of executions but also suspend any plans for future assistance until these atrocities have been properly investigated,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the widespread abuses by Iraqi forces and the government’s abysmal record on accountability, the US should take a hard look at its involvement with Iraqi forces.”

Two international observers independently told Human Rights Watch that on a day in mid-July at about 10 a.m. in Mosul’s Old City, they saw a group of Iraqi soldiers who identified themselves as members of the 16th Division lead four naked men down an alleyway, after which they heard multiple gunshots. The observers said other soldiers standing in the street told them that the four men were Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters.

The observers said that they had been in the area throughout the morning and witnessed no fighting or gunfire in the area. One said they saw the soldiers beat the four men with their rifle butts before leading them away. They said they photographed the incident but a commander later took their camera and deleted the pictures, then ushered them into a nearby building. While they were inside, they heard gunshots. An officer then came in and told the observer to leave the area.

Several bodies of alleged ISIS fighters in the foreground, near the Tigris River in Mosul’s Old City executed by Iraqi soldiers identified as from the army’s 16th Division. 

© 2017 Private

One of the observers said that as they were leaving the area, they saw through the doorway of a damaged house about 20 meters down the street the bodies of a number of naked men lying in the doorway. They said one of the dead men was lying with his hands behind his back and appeared to have been handcuffed, and there was a rope around his legs. The observer returned the next day and photographed three naked bodies and a mattress that appeared to cover additional bodies that they had seen the previous day, and shared the photo with Human Rights Watch.

The observer said the damaged building was adjacent to a building used by the 16th Division as a base in the area. Both observers said that the only Iraqi armed forces they saw while they were in the area were from the 16th Division.

US Defense Department officials have said that they trained and provided support to the Iraqi 16th Division. In November 2015, Maj. Michael Hamilton, an officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, which took a lead in training Iraqi units, told Breaking Defense, an online defense magazine, that, “The 16th Division…was a new unit when we first came in country” and that the 82nd Airborne guided them from “rudimentary training” all the way through operations in Ramadi. He added that, “they were probably the most successful Iraqi army unit participating in that operation.” Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm whether US training and support is ongoing.

The Iraqi 16th Division has been implicated in other extrajudicial executions. On the same day they saw the four men being led away, both observers saw a body lying on the rubble near the division’s base that appeared to be of a boy about 14. Photos of the body, which Human Rights Watch examined, seem to show a deceased male wearing only underwear, with a gunshot wound to his head and his hands bound by a plastic zip tie. A soldier from the 16th Division told one observer that his fellow soldiers had recently executed the boy because he had been an ISIS fighter.

The next day, two 16th Division soldiers escorted one observer through an area of rubble along the Tigris River and showed the observer the severed head of what the soldiers said was an American female ISIS sniper whom they had decapitated. It was not clear whether they decapitated her alive or after her death. The soldiers then led the observer to a nearby area and showed the observer at least 25 bodies lying on mounds of rubble, and bragged that these were ISIS fighters whom they and their fellow soldiers had executed.

The observer shared photos of the severed head and the bodies with Human Rights Watch. 

One of the observers said they saw several bulldozers in the area running over and burying bodies under rubble. The soldiers told them they were aiming to block the exits of any underground tunnels where ISIS fighters might still be hiding.

Throughout the military operation to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces detaining and holding at least 1,200 men and boys in inhumane conditions without charge, and in some cases torturing and executing them under the guise of screening them for ISIS-affiliation. In the final weeks of the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch has reported on executions of suspected ISIS affiliates in and around Mosul’s Old City, including the discovery of a mass execution site.

Under the “Leahy Law,” the US government is required to suspend assistance to the 16th Division until the Iraqi government takes three steps, which are often known as “remediation components”: impartial and thorough investigations; impartial and thorough prosecutions or administrative actions, as appropriate; and proportional sentencing or comparable administrative actions.

Despite acknowledging that Iraqi forces committed violations of the laws of war during the Mosul operation and promising to punish those responsible, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held any soldiers accountable for executing, torturing, and abusing civilians or captured fighters.

Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings and mutilation of corpses, by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes. Despoiling dead bodies and other outrages on personal dignity are violations of the laws of armed conflict and may amount to war crimes.

“The US military should find out why a force that it trained and supported is committing ghastly war crimes,” Whitson said. “US taxpayer dollars should be helping to curtail abuses, not enable them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Popular Mobilization Force members on the frontline with the Islamic State in al-Fatha, northeast of Baiji, Iraq on October 18, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Baghdad) – As the grim scene played out on my computer screen in Baghdad on July 12, my stomach sank.

I was watching a video clip of men in Iraqi army uniforms throwing a detainee off a cliff onto the banks of a river and opening fire on him. As he fell and landed next to another motionless body, I couldn’t help but think that this footage could breathe new life into the self-proclaimed Islamic State or ISIS or whatever ISIS 2.0 will be called now that its Iraqi “capital” has fallen. Such unchecked abuse, I thought, as Baghdad celebrated the liberation of Mosul on the streets below, would likely drive more enraged men into the hands of these extremists.

I first came across the clip, one of many depicting Iraqi forces committing abuses such as torture and execution, the day before on Facebook. It stood out because it featured a particularly disturbing form of execution and took place in a location that was far too familiar to me.

Within five minutes of its release, my colleague at Human Rights Watch who specializes in satellite imagery analysis, had identified the exact building and cliff in west Mosul where this video was filmed. What he saw in the images, which were spaced out over several days leading up to the date the video was circulated online, was Iraqi army vehicles present around the place from which the man in the footage had been thrown. This strongly suggests that the video is real and recent. The government has yet to properly comment.

Satellite imagery from July 12 showing the building and Tigris riverbank seen in a video posted of soldiers throwing a detainee off a cliff in west Mosul as well as military vehicles in the vicinity. 

© 2017 DigitalGlobe

If it is authentic, it wouldn’t be the first video of its kind to be released. Other videos of the Emergency Response Division of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior surfaced a few months ago and up until that point were perhaps the most disturbing abuse videos to come out of the battle to reclaim the fallen Iraqi city. But seeing this July 11 video emerge just after the prime minister declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, made me feel especially pessimistic about the future of Iraq and the potential defeat of ISIS. It was as if in the final phase of their campaign, Iraqi and United States-led coalition forces, who had launched the offensive months earlier, were saying, “Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible,” and disregarding respect for and commitment to the laws of war. Such a pervasive attitude will surely not go unnoticed and will likely backfire to embolden the future version of ISIS by drawing in more recruits.

In fact, despite celebrations in Iraq and media reports to the contrary, the recent defeat of ISIS in Mosul does not mean the end of ISIS. It means the end of an ISIS that controls territory. This is a blow to the so-called caliphate, but it’s also the beginning of a new phase, one that could be just as, if not more, frightening.

In the last few months as it’s lost ground in Mosul and its “capital” of Raqqa in Syria, ISIS has also been morphing quickly back into a traditional insurgent group, carrying out bombings in Iraq and Syria. A key part of why it will continue to attract recruits is exactly because of videos like the one I saw earlier this month. Such footage, which seemingly hypocritically showcases Iraqi soldiers using this battle to not only continue to abuse the civilian population, but also stoop to ISIS’ level when doing so, only further inflames the tensions ISIS thrives in.

While the first months of the Mosul offensive were relatively clean, this horrible video marked yet another instance of the government’s cruelty. Evidence of abuse by Iraqi troops from Mosul and from previous operations against ISIS in Iraq have, as I mentioned earlier, been seen before. Human Rights Watch has documented summary executions of suspected ISIS fighters, detention in inhumane conditions and collective punishment against family members of ISIS fighters, including home demolitions and forced deportations to “rehabilitation camps” at the hands of Iraq’s government. We have also documented the arbitrary detention of over 1,000 Sunnis displaced from the fighting around Mosul. But even this striking footage on the heels of Mosul’s liberation was an unfortunate wake-up call at a critical time for the country.

Worse, this video serves as a reminder of exploitation by the Iraqi government in years prior to ISIS. Since 2003, Iraqi forces and mostly Shia non-state and government armed groups have carried out abuses against the civilian population with complete impunity, mainly targeting Sunni Arabs. They have executed campaigns of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killings and forcible displacement. These experiences no doubt pushed young Sunni Arab men to join extremist groups in Iraq in the past. Families of those who have joined ISIS have told me this, and there’s no reason why the government’s ramped up abuse now will not continue to serve as a recruitment tool as ISIS seeks to reassert itself after its loss in Mosul.

Every Iraqi and coalition representative I’ve spoken with agrees that the battle against ISIS is not simply a military one, but also a political one to stem the push factors that most likely have encouraged young Sunni Arab men to turn to extremist groups. Part of this fight, perhaps more challenging than the military one, is to end the reign of impunity, and for Baghdad authorities to show the Iraqi public that they are investigating and holding their own forces and commanders accountable even while fighting back against ISIS.

But so far Human Rights Watch has not seen a single example of such accountability since 2014, including after grotesque videos of Iraqi officers from the Interior Ministry’s elite Emergency Response Division torturing and executing alleged ISIS affiliates and their family members were published in May. We heard from an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on July 14 that the government would announce action against the officers involved, but not for some time, because it would “interfere with the current congratulatory victory messages.”

This suggests to me that Abadi does not fully appreciate how damaging these abuses continue to be. The battle for Mosul is meant to be the final battle in Iraq against ISIS, yet it has opened the floodgates to the very abuses that Baghdad has met with silence for years. Right now, Abadi should represent not only his constituency who desire a military blow to ISIS, but also the more than 1 million civilians who have lived under ISIS control for the past three years. He should demonstrate as quickly as possible that he also has their interests at heart, is taking steps to end the abuses that have marginalized them, and reintegrate them into an Iraq that aims to reconcile communities and rejects calls for retribution.

Abadi’s window is closing fast. Videos like the one on July 11 have eaten away at the feelings of optimism I had for where things are heading in Iraq ― not only in Mosul. It demonstrated that the country, even at the highest levels of government, is determined to sow more seeds of resentment rather than address grievances.

If Baghdad doesn’t act now, we will not only fail to see an end to extremist groups in Iraq anytime soon, but we will also see the cycle of marginalization continue and an ISIS 2.0 unleash itself on the world.

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

Update: Human Rights Watch received reports on July 17, 2017, that local authorities in Bartala facilitated the transfer of families out of the “rehabilitation camp” to regular  camps for displaced people in the area, and closed the camp. This was a positive move, and Iraqi authorities should protect the rights of displaced families to free movement and prohibit all forms of collective punishment.

(Beirut) – Iraqi Security Forces have forcibly relocated at least 170 families with alleged Islamic State members to a closed “rehabilitation camp” east of Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today. Local authorities are also demanding the eviction of families thought to have ties to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), many of whom have been the target of threats and attacks.

On June 19, Mosul’s district council issued a directive that so-called ISIS families should be sent to camps “to receive psychological and ideological rehabilitation, after which they will be reintegrated into society if they prove responsive to the rehabilitation program.” On July 9, authorities in Nineveh opened the first “rehabilitation camp” in Bartalla, 14 kilometers east of Mosul. Forced displacements and arbitrary detentions have been taking place in Anbar, Babil, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Nineveh governorates, altogether affecting hundreds of families. Iraqi security and military forces have done little to stop these abuses, and in some instances participated in them.

Bartalla Camp.

© 2017 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.”

On July 11, Human Rights Watch visited Bartalla camp, where 150 families, mostly women and children from areas of west Mosul, were being held. The camp received another 20 families by the next day. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 families, each with up to 18 members.

New residents said that Iraqi Security Forces had brought the families to the camp and that the police were holding them against their will because of accusations that they had relatives linked to ISIS. None said they had been accused of any wrongdoing themselves. They did not know when they would be allowed to leave.

The camp had a mobile medical clinic, but only very limited humanitarian services were being provided, with no education, training, or other programs. Medical workers at the camp said that at least 10 women and children had died traveling to or at the camp, most because of dehydration. The camp is managed by local authorities and draws funding and support from the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

Human Rights Watch witnessed ethnic Shabak fighters from an Iraqi government Popular Mobilization Forces unit manning a checkpoint outside the camp. A Mosul emergency police unit stood guard at the camp entrance. Despite the absence of adult men in many of the families, no female police officers were evident, raising concerns about vulnerability to gender-based violence. Camp officials said that at least 20 unaccompanied children were at the camp, all under 12, who had been settled into tents with larger families.

Nineveh officials told Human Rights Watch that the camp, intended as the first of many, was constructed for 2,800 families, and that officials were planning to bring in ISIS families from other camps and areas. Residents and Nineveh officials said a committee would screen people inside the camp and allow them to leave if the committee found they did not actually have relatives in ISIS. They said some families had been released during the first two days.

The families said they hoped the screening committee would clear them for release. All said that Iraqi Security Forces had forcibly brought them in military trucks from two army mustering points for displaced people fleeing the fighting in west Mosul. Six families said they had fled the fighting in areas in and around the Old City of west Mosul, eight from the Tel Afar area. Only two of the families included adult men. Many said their male relatives were killed during the fighting. Others said that the men fled their homes later and had tried to join them at the camp but were turned away by the police. One said her two sons had been ISIS fighters and were killed, and another said her husband and son had been detained by Iraqi Security Forces as they fled.

One young woman said that after she got divorced at an ISIS-run courthouse in Mosul last year, the judge took her to his house and held her as a sex slave. When fighting neared, he and his family fled but kept her locked in their home. Iraqi Security Forces who retook the area presumed she was an ISIS family member because she was found in a known ISIS resident’s home, and took her to the camp.

Human Rights Watch has previously reported on the forcible relocation of at least 125 so-called ISIS families from Salah al-Din to a de facto detention camp near Tikrit. Human Rights Watch has also reported on calls for evictions of so-called ISIS relatives in Anbar and Babil governorates.

Since May, local tribal and governorate authorities in Hammam al-Alil, Qayarrah, and Mosul have issued eviction calls against so-called ISIS families, in tandem with grenade and other attacks on the families, as well as threatening letters and demands to deny these families humanitarian assistance. As a result, many of these families have been forced to move to nearby camps housing families displaced by the fighting in Mosul.

In June, a circular was sent to alleged ISIS families in Mosul telling them to leave the city by July 15, 2017, or “you will be shot,” according to social media. In July, an international organization said that some so-called ISIS family homes were set on fire. In Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, a Popular Mobilization Forces fighter and a senior security officer said that a group of families who were ISIS victims, with the backing of local tribal leaders, drew up a list of 67 families whom they demanded should leave the city. A video posted on Facebook on June 17 but later taken down showed residents going door to door, threatening the so-called ISIS relatives that if they did not leave, their lives would be at risk. The security officer said that some people threatening the families had resorted to violence. He said he detained four of them, and that as a result of the threats and violence, at least 25 of the 67 families left for the nearby Jadah camp.

Aid workers said that in May and June 2017, so-called ISIS relatives from Mosul living in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, told them that the local tribal elder warned them that they might be killed if they did not leave. The aid workers also said that there had been numerous cases of vigilantes vandalizing homes of people believed to be relatives of ISIS members, leading a number of families to leave town.

A local police chief said that his forces had intervened to stop the attacks and evictions in mid-June. However, a Dutch journalist said that another local police chief told him that the police would not stop or arrest members of an armed group called the “Hamam al-Alil Revolutionaries” that had publicized on Facebook grenade attacks on homes of so-called ISIS families. The journalist also reported that a local lawyer collected signatures calling for evicting all ISIS families.

International law requires that punishment for crimes only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and amounts to a war crime.

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

Local authorities should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s prime minister should issue a decree requiring local authorities to rescind the decrees and to cease the forced displacements. The government should order the security and armed forces not to participate in unlawful displacements and to take appropriate disciplinary action against those who do.

The authorities should immediately facilitate the return of families who want to return to areas not affected by ongoing military operations, allow families to stay in camps that allow for free movement and communications if they choose, or to relocate elsewhere. Where authorities cannot ensure the safety of families because of threat of revenge attacks, they should allow families to freely choose to relocate to camps or other areas where authorities can provide adequate protection.

“The camps for so-called ISIS families have nothing to do with rehabilitation and are instead de facto detention centers for adults and children who have not been accused of any wrongdoing,” Fakih said. “These families should be freely permitted to go where they can live safely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

July 13, 2017

Protect the Constitution.

Vote “NO” on Schiff Amendments #65 and #66 That Will Likely Lead to Violations of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution.

Dear Representative:

The undersigned human rights, religious, and civil liberties groups strongly urge you to vote “NO” on Schiff Amendments #65 and #66 to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018—because they will likely lead to violations of the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment of the Constitution and undermine human rights protections.  The amendments were ruled in order for the second set of amendments that will be debated as early as today.

We strongly urge you to vote “NO” on Schiff Amendment #66 because it will likely lead to unconstitutional conduct that would have particularly severe consequences in the death penalty cases now before the military commissions.  The amendment authorizes the use of videoconferencing of any “participant[]” in “any matter” before the military commission. 

Schiff Amendment #66 raises serious due process concerns.  It would allow the judge to conduct military commission trials entirely by videoconference, including proceedings in which the accused or counsel participate only by videoconference, over the defendant’s objection.  The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees a person accused of a crime the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” and the Fifth Amendment guarantees that no one shall be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law.  Both rights can be jeopardized when a defendant is involuntarily absent from a trial or hearing.  For this reason, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for a defendant’s participation in court proceedings by videoconference only if the defendant consents.[1]  Witness participation by videoconference is also disfavored.[2]  By contrast, Schiff Amendment #66 has no protections and no limitations.

The use of videoconferencing would be particularly problematic in the context of the Guantanamo military commissions.  First, these are death penalty cases.  Second, defendants at Guantanamo depend on interpreters to understand the proceedings.  Third, these cases involve classified information, and the U.S. government takes the position that the accused were exposed to “intelligence sources and methods” by being detained and tortured in CIA custody.  Because of this, court proceedings occur with a 40-second delay in the audio feed so that the government can use “white noise” to block access to any purportedly classified testimony, and the defendants are not allowed to speak to their attorneys by telephone.  The military commissions prosecution stated in 2015 that, “[i]t is the policy of the United States that, in order to prevent the disclosure of classified information, High Value Detainees (“HVDs”) are not permitted to make unmonitored telephone calls.”[3]  These special circumstances at Guantanamo increase the harm to the defendant if he our his counsel cannot be physically present at a proceeding, compounding the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment violations.

While Schiff Amendment #65 is only a sense of Congress resolution, it too could result in Confrontation Clause and due process violations, as well as undue command influence concerns.  The amendment lacks any specificity and any protections against unconstitutional misuse of videotaped statements, including videotaping that would deny the defendant his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.  Moreover, the amendment may also be an improper attempt to influence the military judges in whether or how they allow victims to give prerecorded testimony by video, which is a live issue before the commissions right now—and which could result in unlawful command influence motions. 

For these reasons, we strongly urge you to protect the Constitution, and vote “NO” on Schiff Amendments #65 and #66.  Thank you for your attention to this request.


American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Defending Rights & Dissent
The Constitution Project
Friends Committee for National Legislation
Government Information Watch
Human Rights Watch
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

[1] See Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 5(f), Rule 10(c), Rule 40(d), Rule 43.

[2] See Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 15 (a defendant has a right to be physically present at depositions unless the defendant waives his or her presence, the defendant disrupts the proceedings, or the witness’s testimony can only be obtained in a foreign country where the defendant’s presence is impossible); Rule 26 (witness testimony must generally be taken in open court).  The Uniform Code of Military Justice does allow the accused to appear by videoconference in pretrial proceedings if “at least one defense counsel is physically in the presence of the accused.”

[3] United States v. Mohammed, Government Response to Commission Order on the Joint Defense Motion for Telephonic Access for Effective Assistance of Counsel, March 20, 2015, available at http://www.mc.mil/Portals/0/pdfs/KSM2/KSM%20II%20(AE183H(Gov)).pdf. Even if the government were to change this policy, the accused and their counsel would be unlikely to trust that their telephone calls were unmonitored.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Counterterrorism police stand guard near evidence confiscated in raids on suspected militants at police headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 30, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

(Jakarta) – Indonesia’s parliament should scrap proposed revisions to its counterterrorism law that are overbroad, vague, and would unjustifiably restrict basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposed amendments to Law No. 15/2003 on the Eradication of Terrorism would allow Indonesians to be stripped of their citizenship if suspected of traveling abroad to “join wars overseas in order to commit terrorism crimes,” and permit criminal penalties for any “speech, thought, behavior or writings” that could lead to “actions which adversely impact other people/communities.”

The open-ended language of the proposed revisions to the counterterrorism law will facilitate violations of the rights to free expression and nationality.

“The Indonesian government has legitimate concerns about terrorism, but disregarding basic rights will only undermine efforts to address the threat,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher. “The government has an obligation to ensure that measures to protect public safety meet international standards.”

The Indonesian government initiated efforts to revise its counterterrorism law in 2016 as part of a government response to the January 14, 2016 bomb and gun attacks in central Jakarta that killed seven people, including five attackers allegedly linked to the armed extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said in early July 2017 that he would seek quick approval of the draft counterterrorism law in the wake of the fighting between Philippine security forces and Islamist militants in Marawi City in the Philippines. An unspecified number of Indonesian nationals are among the foreign fighters who have bolstered the militants’ ranks in Marawi. Indonesia shares a porous sea border with the Philippines that security forces in both Indonesia and the Philippines fear may enable an influx of armed Islamists to Indonesia once the fighting in Marawi ends.

Article 12B of the draft law permits the government to annul the citizenship of Indonesian citizens convicted of terrorist acts. It also contains ambiguous phrasing that could grant the security forces extremely broad power to detain and prosecute individuals for terrorism offenses. Article 13A provides for up to 12 years in prison for individuals whose “speeches, thoughts, behaviors or writings” inspire others to “commit violence, anarchy and other actions which adversely impact other people/communities,” without providing any clarification of those terms.

Article 6B criminalizes violence or threats of violence against “the environment” without providing any definition or clarification as to the meaning of “the environment.”

Article 43A permits police investigators or prosecutors to detain terrorism suspects in “certain locations” for a maximum period of six months. Members of the 18-member parliamentary working group responsible for the revisions have nicknamed that article “Pasal Guantanamo,” or the “Guantanamo Article,” in reference to the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US government has arbitrarily detained hundreds of people since 2002, virtually all without charge. The draft is unclear as to whether those “certain locations” will be secret or extremely isolated detention facilities – secret detention facilities greatly increase the risk of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

Indonesian government concerns about a spillover from the fighting in the Philippines don’t justify overbroad laws that excessively restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.

Andreas Harsono

Senior Indonesia Researcher

The revisions would also allow for longer detention periods for terrorism suspects. The pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects would be extended to 21 days from the one day allowed for suspects accused of non-terrorism offenses under Indonesia’s Criminal Procedure Law. The total length of permissible detention of terrorism suspects from arrest through trial to final appeal would nearly double from the current maximum of 401 days to 781 days.

International law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in article 15 provides that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR,) which Indonesia has ratified, states in article 12: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the ICCPR, stated that “the scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.

Since 2006, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are integral to its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and recognized that violations of human rights and erosion of rule of law are conditions “conducive” to terrorism.

“Indonesia has a responsibility to protect its population from terrorist attacks, but the government needs to act in accordance with its international legal obligations,” Harsono said. “Indonesian government concerns about a spillover from the fighting in the Philippines don’t justify overbroad laws that excessively restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray sits during a meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., June 29, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Washington) – The US Senate Judiciary Committee should vigorously question Christopher Wray, the nominee for director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), on ensuring the bureau’s independence and his role in post-September 11, 2001 detainee policy, Human Rights Watch said today. Wray’s confirmation hearing is slated for July 12, 2017.

President Donald Trump nominated Wray after firing James Comey as FBI director in the midst of the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.

“Christopher Wray needs to demonstrate to the Senate that he will uphold the FBI’s independence, which is critical for the bureau being an impartial law enforcement agency,” said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, US program co-director at Human Rights Watch. “Senators also need clarity from Wray about his role in abusive detainee policies after 9/11 and his positions on surveillance, protest movements, and other issues affecting basic rights.”

As FBI director, Wray would be in charge of all federal investigations aimed at enforcing federal law and would play an important role in counterintelligence operations. The FBI conducts investigations in a range of areas including terrorism, cyber-crime, federal civil rights violations, corporate and banking fraud, and public corruption.

As a lawyer, Wray has alternated between working for the Justice Department, including heading the criminal division and handling corporate fraud cases, and private practice, representing corporate interests in criminal and regulatory actions. More recently he was the personal attorney for Trump’s former transition director, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The firm where he currently works also advises the Trump family business, media reports say.

Senators should question Wray about his involvement in US detainee policy after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Human Rights Watch said. As head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Wray may have had information about the mistreatment of detainees amounting to criminal conduct by members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), civilian contractors and other personnel.

However, in 2004 after reports surfaced of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Wray suggested at a public hearing that he had no knowledge of the abuses before they were reported by the media. Days later, the media reported that the Justice Department had already been investigating allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA, prompting Senator Patrick Leahy to write a letter to the attorney general urging him to clarify Wray’s testimony.

Documents since made public as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union indicate that the CIA Office of Inspector General had sent Wray a memo three months earlier referring the case of Manadal al-Jamadi to Wray for “possible violations of criminal law.” Jamadi died due to “blunt force injuries complicated by compromised respiration,” according to the memo, shortly after his arrest and detention in CIA and then military custody in Iraq. By that time, at least six detainees had died in CIA or Defense Department custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, including at least two and perhaps three, whom the Justice Department had known about and were investigating.

“Wray needs to explain what and when he knew about CIA detainee abuse and his response,” McFarland Sanchez-Moreno said. “The issue gets to the heart of whether Wray will use his powers to carry out criminal investigations in the face of enormous political opposition.”

Wray also played a key role in the FBI PENTTBOMB investigation following the 9/11 attacks, during which more than 750 mostly Arab or Muslim men who had violated US immigration law were detained, ostensibly for ties to terrorism. Many of these men, deemed “special interest” detainees, were held for prolonged periods, averaging 80 days, without knowledge of, or the ability to contest, the terrorism allegations. Though many had overstayed their visas or entered the US illegally, as Human Rights Watch and Inspector General’s reports found, the men normally would not have been detained or would have been held in immigrant detention centers with access to visitors and attorneys.

Instead, they were held under a “hold until cleared” policy even if there was no basis for the terrorism allegations, and even in some cases after judges had ordered their release on bond or deportation orders and they could be returned to their home countries. Both reports found that these measures were not justified on national security grounds.

Many of these detainees were put in maximum-security prisons under what the inspector general’s report described as a “communications blackout,” that in some cases lasted for weeks. During that time, the detainees’ families and lawyers didn’t know where they were or why they had been locked up. Wray, who was then Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, supported these measures, according to the Inspector General’s report. The report says that he and a colleague told the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director, Kathy Hawk Sawyer, “to ‘not be in a hurry’ to provide the September 11 detainees with access to communications – including legal and social calls or visits – as long as the BOP remained within the reasonable bounds of its lawful discretion.”

Incommunicado detention can facilitate serious human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment, and violates US obligations under international law. In addition to being denied access to lawyers and families and arbitrarily detained, many of the PENTTBOM detainees subject to the communication blackout were physically abused, slammed into walls, kicked, dragged by handcuffs, and verbally harassed, according to the report.

Senators should question Wray about areas of FBI work that directly affect the rights of Americans, Human Rights Watch said. Little is known about Wray’s views on communications surveillance, but as with then-Deputy Attorney General Comey and others, he reportedly was willing to resign in protest in 2004 over the prospective re-authorization of a large-scale secret monitoring program.

It’s up to the Senate to ensure that its next director will uphold the bureau’s independence and respect rights.

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno

Co-Director of US Program

However, the FBI has access to enormous troves of information assembled using electronic surveillance powers greatly expanded since 9/11. Therefore, it will be important for Senators to question Wray about how he would use US communications surveillance authorities. They should also question whether he, like Comey, would support the creation of “encryption backdoors” for law enforcement. Human Rights Watch, digital security experts, and privacy groups have opposed this because it would create vulnerabilities that criminals and others could exploit, broadly undermine cybersecurity, and give rise to a risk of rights abuses by unscrupulous governments and officials.

A related area of concern is the FBI’s practice, documented by Human Rights Watch, of targeting for investigation American Muslims and particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent, who were not involved in terrorist activity and may never have been were it not for the FBI’s involvement and encouragement.

Senators should question Wray about his response to emerging protest movements, such as Black Lives Matter, whose motives President Trump has criticized. The FBI has a history of abuses against domestic dissenters, notably the COINTELPRO investigations, aimed at carrying out surveillance on, smearing, and discrediting anti-war and civil rights groups between 1956 and 1971.

Questions should focus on the FBI’s ability to safeguard the rights of protesters. Senators should also seek a firm commitment from Wray to continue the FBI’s investigations into civil rights violations by local police departments, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ moves towards reducing the Justice Department’s role in civil rights enforcement.

“The FBI has broad powers and plays a critical role as the chief federal law enforcement agency in the United States,” McFarland Sanchez-Moreno said. “It’s up to the Senate to ensure that its next director will uphold the bureau’s independence and respect rights.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am