(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”
The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.
The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.
The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.
The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.
A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”
While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.
Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.
“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”
The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.
China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.
“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”
(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.
When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.
“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”
Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.
Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.
Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.
The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.
“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”
“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.”
(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.
Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.
The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.
Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance.
“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”
Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.
“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice."
On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges.
(Tunis) – Libyan National Army (LNA) forces may have committed war crimes, including killing and beating civilians, and summarily executing and desecrating bodies of opposition fighters in the eastern city of Benghazi on and around March 18, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The army forces allegedly intercepted civilians trying to flee a besieged neighborhood, some accompanied by opposition fighters, and the whereabouts of some civilians are unknown.
Khalifa Hiftar, the commander of the LNA forces in eastern Libya, should order a full and transparent investigation into recent alleged crimes by forces under his command, including attacks on civilians, alleged summary executions, and the mutilation and desecration of corpses, and hold those responsible to account.
“The LNA leadership needs to respond urgently to these deeply disturbing allegations by investigating the suspected perpetrators, including senior military commanders who may bear individual responsibility,” said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch.
Relatives, activists, and local journalists told Human Rights Watch by phone that dozens of civilians unexpectedly fled the besieged Ganfouda neighborhood in the eastern city of Benghazi on March 18, 2017, after a nearly two-year stand-off between LNA forces and fighters of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a coalition of armed groups opposing the LNA. About half of the civilians, some accompanied by BRSC fighters, fled to al-Sabri and Souq Elhout neighborhoods in downtown Benghazi, which remain under BRSC control. LNA fighters intercepted about seven families after one of their cars broke down and attacked and killed some of them and arrested others, the relatives said.
Human Rights Watch reviewed videos and photos shared by family members of victims, local journalists, and activists that purport to show bodies of BRSC fighters in Benghazi that LNA fighters allegedly desecrated and mutilated during or after the March 18 evacuation of Ganfouda residents.
The LNA announced on March 18, that its forces had evacuated seven families who had remained in buildings no. 12 in the Ganfouda neighborhood, the last bastion of fighting between the LNA and BRSC in the neighborhood. But the LNA has not provided information on the whereabouts of the civilians, whether it has finished screening them, and whether any civilians have been detained or charged with a crime.
On March 20, 2017, the LNA leadership issued a statement decrying incidents in which members of the LNA were caught on video and photos committing serious violations, including desecration, burning, and mutilation of corpses. The statement said that the LNA would arrest those suspected of the violations and bring them before an investigative committee. On March 21, the spokesperson of the army special forces, Saiqa, which is a part of the LNA, issued a statement that appears to defend some of the violations. But a statement later that day by the special forces commander pledged to hold those responsible for the desecration of BRSC fighters’ remains to account.
One video shared with Human Rights Watch appears to show the exhumed remains of the BRSC commander, Jalal Makhzoum, local journalists told Human Rights Watch. In the video, LNA fighters are seen cheering and accompanying the body, tied to a car hood, as they parade through the streets of Benghazi. The BRSC issued a statement announcing Makhzoum’s death on March 18, 2017.
A separate video purportedly shows the body of a BRSC fighter hanging from a concrete barrier at the entry to an army camp as LNA fighters cheer and pose for photographs with the corpse. In another photo, the body of a dead fighter is seen lying on the back of a truck as an unidentified man cuts off the ears and hands. In yet another photo, an unidentified fighter in military fatigues poses for a photograph next to a burning corpse.
Activists and local journalists said that these photos were taken during or after the LNA’s operation to retake the Ganfouda neighborhood on March 18, 2017. Human Rights Watch researchers were unable to verify the date and location of the incidents.
Desecration of the bodies of fighters is prohibited by Libyan and international law. Articles 292 and 293 of the Libyan Penal Code prohibit the desecration of corpses. International humanitarian law obligates all conflict parties to take all possible measures to prevent bodies of the dead from being despoiled.
In an undated video, widely shared over social media, Mahmoud al-Warfalli, a captain in the LNA special forces, is seen shooting three men in the back of the head with a machine gun as they kneel facing a wall with their hands tied behind their backs. Local journalists told Human Rights Watch that the executions took place in Benghazi during the final battle for Ganfouda on or around March 18, 2017.
The LNA special forces spokesman issued a statement on March 21, defending al-Warfalli’s actions as having occurred “within the battlefields.” Activists told Human Rights Watch that the three victims were Tuareg fighters from Ubari who appeared on photos, while alive, apparently in detention by LNA forces.
In another undated video, a man in military fatigues is seen being chased out of a building by a mob of more than a dozen fighters, most dressed in army fatigues. They beat, insult, and throw him to the ground, then line up in a row facing him and several summarily execute him with machine guns. Benghazi activists say that this incident took place in the Qwarsha district of Benghazi. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the exact circumstances of this incident.
Relatives of families who held out in Benghazi also shared a video of two sisters, both children, who had been caught by LNA soldiers as they attempted to flee the Ganfouda siege on March 18, 2017. In the video, an LNA fighter interviews both girls, who allege that an LNA fighter beat them and their mother during the evacuation. Relatives of Ganfouda residents believed both girls to be 14 or 15-years-old. Their whereabouts are unknown.
Other relatives shared with Human Rights Watch information and photos of their family members who they said were killed attempting to flee Ganfouda on March 18, 2017. The victims included an unidentified girl, a 75-year-old woman, and a 47-year-old man. Relatives said that LNA forces killed all three as residents attempted to flee. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify these claims or exact circumstances of their deaths.
By issuing statements justifying these barbaric acts, the LNA leadership is implicating themselves in what appear to be war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
“Forces under the Libyan National Army have been committing serious human rights violations for some time, unchecked, and with impunity,” Stork said. “Senior military commanders need to know that they too can be held accountable unless they actively do something to stop these violations.”
The burned-out mosques in Sittwe, the capital of the Rakhine state in western Burma, loom as silent reminders of an atrocity, hiding behind overgrown bushes and cement walls amid the daily port city bustle. But approach these mosques with a camera, and the policeman on guard 24 hours a day scuttles out of a booth like a blue-helmeted crab, waving the curious away. The ethnic Rohingya and Kaman Muslims who used to pray there are nowhere to be seen; they are confined behind barbed wire and checkpoints in internally displaced camps outside of town. Or they have fled with their families to Bangladesh.
During four days in June 2012, mobs of ethnic Rakhine militants torched houses and attacked Muslim families with swords and other weapons as the police and military stood by, prompting an exodus of thousands of Rohingya out of Sittwe. No one was ever held accountable for the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that Human Rights Watch found were perpetrated against the Rohingya in Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine State in June and October 2012.
Five years later, in northern Rakhine State townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, attacks on the Rohingya have happened again. After an assault on border police posts by a group of Rohingya militants killed nine officials on Oct. 9, 2016, the Burmese army reacted with fury against Rohingya villagers. Military and police ejected United Nations agencies and international humanitarian organizations working in a wide swath of territory, and prevented media and human rights monitors from observing what the army euphemistically called a “clearance operation,” ostensibly to find the attackers and recover weapons seized during the raid.
With independent observers barred, the army launched a literal scorched earth campaign, targeting residents in military sweeps that laid waste to villages throughout the area. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of satellite imagery revealed that security forces burned to the ground at least 1,500 houses and other structures between Oct. 9 and Nov. 23. Interviews with some of the estimated 69,000 Rohingya who have now fled to neighboring Bangladesh, paint a chilling picture of collective punishment and brutalization.
Witnesses provided credible accounts that the army and police shot fleeing villagers, detained and summarily killed men, women and children, sexually abused and raped women and girls, often in front of other family members, burned people alive in their homes, beat and tortured people in custody, sometimes to death, and arbitrarily detained hundreds. More than 450 Rohingya are being held in Buthidaung prison on charges linked to the attacks on the border posts. A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), based on interviews of refugees, provided equally detailed accounts of atrocities and concluded that the abuses “seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
So far, the Burmese government has responded with waves of denials. First, the State Counsellor Office Information Committee, created by Aung San Suu Kyi, denounced without basis the satellite imagery and claimed accounts of sexual violence in Rakhine State were “fake rape.” The government set up a national investigation commission that lacks both independence and credibility. Led by vice-president Myint Swe, a retired general, and composed of current and former government officials, the commission promptly announced military clearance operations had been conducted lawfully, denied all rape allegations, and rejected claims of malnutrition cases from the aid cut-off. Another commission of state-level officials revealed its racist bias when its chair, a Rakhine member of parliament, told the BBC that no soldier would rape Rohingya women because they are “too dirty.”
Last week, Myint Swe and his commissioners conducted another supposed investigation, racing through 17 villages in three days, raising fundamental questions of basic research methodology and protection of victim confidentiality and assurances of non-retaliation. At the same time, commissions established by the army and the police to examine the conduct of their own personnel were also in the area at the same time, further raising the fear quotient among already traumatized Rohingya villagers.
The best way forward is to launch a credible, independent, international investigation into the situation in Rakhine State, both recent events and the 2012 abuses, and an inquiry into underlying factors, notably successive governments’ repression and discrimination against the Rohingya, that perpetuate a de facto system of internment for tens of thousands of people.
Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, called this week for the establishment of a commission of inquiry at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Council member states should not wait for further abuses but promptly establish such an independent, international commission that can have some hope of stopping atrocities in Rakhine State.
(New York) – The Thai government should urgently take the final steps to ratify the international convention against enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also end all delays in passing implementing legislation to criminalize torture and disappearances.
On March 10, 2017, the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly unanimously approved ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Thailand signed in 2012. However, the government has not yet set a clear time frame for either depositing the treaty with the United Nations secretary-general as required, or reconsidering and enacting the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, which the assembly rejected in late February.
Thailand is scheduled to appear before the UN Human Rights Committee on March 13 and 14 to defend its record on civil and political rights.
“The Thai government should finally ratify the disappearances convention and enact the criminal law needed to fully prosecute officials responsible for heinous crimes,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “After years of waiting, more promises are simply not enough. The government needs to take swift and concrete action to enact a law that severely penalizes torture and enforced disappearance.”
The Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, if passed, will be the first Thai law to recognize and criminalize torture and enforced disappearance, whether committed inside or outside of Thailand. Importantly, the current draft provides no exemptions or immunities for acts committed during states of emergency or other extraordinary circumstances. Those convicted of either torture or enforced disappearance would face a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, extending longer in cases of serious injury or death. Commanders or supervisors who intentionally ignore such crimes will also face prison terms.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged successive Thai governments, including in a January 14, 2016 letter to Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and to amend its penal code to make enforced disappearance a criminal offense. Following the military coup in May 2014, Human Rights Watch has raised serious concerns regarding the government’s use of secret military detention authorized under section 44 of the 2014 Interim Constitution (against political dissenters and suspects in national security cases), as well as the 1914 Martial Law Act and the 2010 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations (against insurgent suspects in the southern border provinces).
Enforced disappearance is defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.
Since 1980, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand, including the disappearances of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in March 2004, and ethnic Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in April 2014. None of these cases have been successfully resolved. Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups working in Thailand believe that the actual number of such cases in Thailand is higher because some families of victims and witnesses remain silent for fear of reprisal, and because the government lacks an effective witness protection system.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited under international treaties and customary international law. Since October 2007, Thailand has been a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which specifically places an obligation on governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Under the Convention against Torture, any statement made because of torture “shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.”
Successive Thai governments have dismissed allegations that the military, police, or other security forces tortured and ill-treated detainees. Despite failing to provide evidence to refute allegations, the authorities have frequently attacked their accusers by alleging those complainants made false statements with the intent of damaging Thailand’s reputation.
Thailand’s scheduled March appearance before the UN Human Rights Committee would be a moment to assess the government’s seriousness in tackling disappearances and improving human rights.
“If Thailand wants to convince the Human Rights Committee that it is seriously addressing torture, disappearances, and other grave abuses, it will need to do more than say what it is planning to do,” Adams said. “Thailand is only going to end its long record of failure by ratifying the disappearances convention, enacting strong legislation, and fully investigating and prosecuting torture and disappearance cases to break the cycle of abuses and impunity.”
(Bishkek) – Rustam Usmanov, a peaceful political activist imprisoned arbitrarily in Uzbekistan for 19 years and brutally tortured, was finally freed on February 13, 2017, at the end of his prison term, Human Rights Watch said today. Usmanov, 69, a founder of Uzbekistan’s first private bank and a vocal government critic, had been imprisoned since 1998.
In 2012, days before his original 14-year sentence was due to end, he was convicted for “violations of prison rules” and sentenced to five more years in prison. Usmanov was repeatedly and brutally tortured while in prison.
“Rustam Usmanov and his family have suffered terribly for 19 years,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This is President Mirziyoyev’s chance to keep his campaign promises by seeing to it that those who are alleged to have tortured Usmanov and arbitrarily extended his prison sentence are promptly investigated and brought to justice.”
Usmanov was the third political prisoner allowed to leave prison at the end of an extended prison term since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became acting president following the death in August 2016 of the long-time authoritarian leader Islam Karimov. Mirziyoyev became president in December 2016. A fourth prisoner, Muhammad Bekjanov, a journalist in jail on politically motivated charges since 1999, was released on February 22 at the end of an extended prison term.
During his campaign he promised increased accountability to citizens and acknowledged the lack of reform in key aspects of Uzbekistan’s society, including the economy and the criminal justice system. But he has taken no meaningful steps to free prisoners held on politically motivated charges.
President Mirziyoyev should direct the relevant authorities to thoroughly and meaningfully investigate credible allegations that Usmanov was tortured, that his sentence was arbitrarily extended, which was approved by judges in hearings that violated fair trial principles, and that he was denied appropriate medical care in prison, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities should allow him to resume his peaceful political activism. The Uzbek government should also immediately and unconditionally release the numerous other peaceful activists and human rights defenders who remain in prison following politically motivated and unfair trials.
In November 2013, the United Nations Committee Against Torture – a body of 10 independent experts that monitors governments’ implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – found that Usmanov and numerous other peaceful activists and human rights defenders were arbitrarily imprisoned in retaliation for their work and criticism of the government. The committee expressed concern that many wrongfully held activists have been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.
Usmanov is an economist and businessman who founded Uzbekistan’s first private bank, Rustambank, in 1992. In the early 1990s he announced his support for the opposition Erk (Freedom) party and openly criticized police and security service abuses. In 1994, he ran for parliament. His son says that Usmanov’s name was removed from the ballot after he refused to pay a large bribe to an official in charge of registering candidates.
In 1995, security service officers detained him in Kyrgyzstan and forcibly returned him to Uzbekistan and held him for several days. At that time, the authorities detained Usmanov’s son for nearly two weeks, apparently to punish Usmanov for his support for the democratic opposition. After continued pressure by authorities, Usmanov left Uzbekistan and took up residence in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan, where he founded an economic research institute.
In 1998, while Usmanov was visiting his wife and three children in Tashkent, police arrested him on trumped-up charges of extortion, unlawful transactions of foreign currency, abuse of authority, and forgery. The Andijan Regional Court sentenced him to 14 years in prison. Evidence indicates that authorities brought the case in retaliation for his political ambitions. In 2012, days before his sentence was to end, he was convicted for “violations of prison rules” and sentenced to five more years in prison. Authorities informed Usmanov’s relatives and his lawyer about the allegations and extension only after he was convicted.
Usmanov told his relatives that he was tortured in prison. In January 2009, he announced a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment and was beaten severely as a result. In March 2009, authorities transferred him from Karshi prison to Jaslyk prison, where his health and treatment by prison authorities worsened. On one occasion, authorities placed him in solitary confinement in a cell where guards handcuffed him in a crucifixion position for four days in a row. Later that year he announced another hunger strike, but prison guards pushed a feeding tube down his throat and plugged his nostrils until he began to suffocate, ending his strike.
In late 2009, he said that he had been called in for a meeting with prison officials, who demanded US$100,000, saying that if they weren’t paid, his sons would be harmed. When he refused to pay, he was beaten savagely.
In an April 2010 meeting with his sons, they said afterward, his body was covered with bruises which he said came from beatings by prison guards. Usmanov said that he had been denied medical assistance and that prison guards had confiscated the medications his relatives brought. When his family visited him in November 2012, eight months after the authorities had added an additional five years to his sentence, he was severely depressed and passed a handkerchief to his son, on which he had written in blood, “SOS! 15 years of waiting for the Court! Try me or Kill me!”
“Usmanov suffered harrowing torture at the hands of Uzbek authorities, and his story is just one of thousands of victims of arbitrary imprisonment and ill-treatment,” Swerdlow said. “Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the US and the EU, should use every means of influence at their disposal to reiterate their calls to President Mirziyoyev to release everyone being held unlawfully and arbitrarily under international standards.”
(Beirut) – Bahrain has restored arrest and investigatory powers to an intelligence agency that conducted “terrorizing” house raids and systematically tortured detainees in 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. The decision to grant Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) the power to arrest and detain people suspected of terrorist offenses reverses one of the few significant security sector reforms introduced after 2011.
Authorities published the decree restoring the NSA’s powers on January 5, 2017, four days after 10 inmates broke out of Jaw prison. The decision restores powers rescinded by a royal decree in November 2011. In line with a key recommendation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, King Hamad set up the commission of five international jurists in July 2011, after security forces brutally suppressed largely peaceful anti-government protests.
“Returning arrest powers to an intelligence agency that terrorized families and tortured detainees is yet another nail in the coffin for Bahrain’s post-2011 reform process,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Detainees will not be safe in NSA custody and Bahrain’s oversight mechanisms are no guarantee of protection.”
Royal Decree No. 1 of 2017, published in Bahrain’s official gazette on January 5, states that “members of the National Security Agency shall maintain the status of law enforcement officer vis-à-vis terrorist crimes.”
According to the commission, the NSA arrested 179 people after the anti-government protests of February 2011. The commission said that NSA officers were among groups of hooded, armed security forces who engaged in “terror-inspiring behavior” in nighttime house raids, and added that their systematic behavior indicated a level of training that “could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons of the command structure of the Interior Ministry and NSA.” It also said that these agencies “followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody.”
The investigation determined that the death in April 2011 of Abd al-Karim Ali Ahmed Fakhrawi, a businessman and founder of the independent newspaper Al-Wasat, was attributable to torture in the security agency’s custody.
Prosecutors charged two NSA officers, Khalid Muhammad Sabt and Ahmad Badi Ahmad, with assault, rather than murder or torture, in connection with Fakhrawi’s death. On October 27, 2013, the Supreme Appellate Court reduced the prison terms the trial court had imposed on the two police officers from seven years to three.
Bahrain’s senior advocate general, Ahmed al-Dossary, said that the decision to restore the agency’s powers was made “in view of the high risk of terror crimes, which necessitates prompt action to thwart plots, halt their impact, gather evidence, and arrest the culprits.”
NSA detainees will fall under the oversight of the agency’s ombudsman, which was set up by a Royal Decree in 2012 with the authority to investigate complaints relating to ill-treatment by agency staff. The bodies set up to prevent the mistreatment of detainees in the custody of the Interior Ministry – the Interior Ministry Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit – have made little progress in holding police and security forces accountable.
January 27, 2017
President Donald Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump:
We are a diverse coalition of human rights, civil liberties, and religious groups writing to oppose any executive action that would facilitate torture or other abusive interrogation and detention practices.
Torture is morally reprehensible. It has long been absolutely prohibited under both domestic and international law, a prohibition that Congress strongly reinforced on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis just last year. There is no serious debate over this.
Your nominees, cabinet members, and senior advisors have openly rejected bringing back the CIA’s now-defunct “enhanced interrogation” program. Senator Sessions, your nominee for Attorney General, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that it would be “absolutely improper and illegal” for any U.S. government department or agency “to use waterboarding or any other form of torture.” Homeland Security Secretary Kelly told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that he does not think “we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques.” Your National Security Advisor, Mr. Flynn, has said that he helped draft the Army Field Manual on interrogation (AFM), which reaffirms the unqualified, universal prohibition on torture and cruel treatment (and now applies to national security interrogations government-wide). Both Defense Secretary Mattis and CIA Director Pompeo have said that they fully support the AFM, and were reportedly “blindsided” by recent stories about an executive order contemplating resurrecting the CIA torture program. Indeed, when Senator Feinstein asked Director Pompeo just several days prior if he would comply with an order “to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the [AFM],” he responded: “absolutely not.” On Wednesday this week Senator McCain expressed the same view: “[T]he law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”
According to 176 retired flag officers who wrote to you recently, “[o]ur greatest strength is our commitment to the rule of law and to the principles embedded in our Constitution.” Torture is inimical to those principles and “violates our core values as a nation,” they said. The same is true for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the two pillars on which it rests: indefinite detention without charge or trial, and a military commissions system seemingly incapable of delivering either fairness to defendants or justice to victims.
These practices are dangerous and damaging in other ways, first and foremost to the people who suffer them, but also to the men and women ordered to inflict them. When the United States employs such practices as part of a campaign that demonizes an entire religion, as did a recently leaked draft executive order using the insidious term “radical Islamism,” it tears even further the very fabric of the nation. It also makes the U.S. less safe: terrorist groups continue to use Guantanamo, and the abuses it represents, as a recruiting tool.
Over and over, history has taught us that when countries sacrifice liberty in the name of security, they lose both. We urge you not to repeat that same mistake here.
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Appeal for Justice
Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent FoundationCenter for Constitutional Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Open Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
Win Without War
(Kyiv) – Both sides in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine have detained and abused people with complete impunity, Human Rights Watch said today at a joint press conference with Amnesty International in Kyiv. In a statement released in Kyiv jointly with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the Ukraine government and the Russia-backed separatists to stop all arbitrary and secret detentions and ill-treatment of detainees and ensure accountability for abuses that have occurred.
In July 2016, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released a joint report, “You Don’t Exist,” documenting prolonged, arbitrary, and sometimes secret detentions – that is, enforced disappearances – as well as ill-treatment of detainees by both the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists. Since then, based on the information obtained and verified by the organizations, the Kharkiv branch of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has released all 18 people it had forcibly disappeared, the last three in December. However, Ukrainian authorities have not acknowledged either the detentions or the releases and have not taken effective steps to ensure accountability for these abuses.
“Though freeing the detainees was a positive step, we are concerned about the SBU’s continued denial of enforced disappearances,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of effective investigation by Ukraine’s authorities fosters a climate of lawlessness and perpetuates impunity for grave human rights violations.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have seen no positive developments in connection with the detention-related abuses by Russia-backed separatists documented in their joint report.
People held by the warring sides in eastern Ukraine are protected under international human rights and international humanitarian law, which unequivocally ban arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and other ill-treatment.
In July, when the report was released, the chief military prosecutor of Ukraine pledged in a meeting with the two groups to investigate the allegations of secret detentions by the SBU detailed in the report. In August, the organizations informed the chief military prosecutor in a letter that, based on information they had obtained and verified, some of the detainees had been released from the SBU facility in Kharkiv, but that five people remained there in unacknowledged detention. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reiterated their call for prompt and effective investigation, but Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine that the investigation has yielded any tangible results or even any concrete steps or progress.
In December 2016 and in January 2017, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch learned from different sources who were participants in or had direct knowledge of relevant events, that at the beginning of August, guards had moved the five remaining detainees from their cells to a basement in the Kharkiv SBU compound and on August 20, released two of them warning them not to reveal any information about their detention. The other three men – two Russian nationals, Vladimir Bezobrazov and Vladislav Kondalov, and one Ukrainian national from separatist-controlled Torez, Sergei, whose last name has been withheld for privacy reasons, remained in unacknowledged SBU custody until December 12.
Based on the organizations’ interviews with Bezobrazov, and Kondalov, on August 21 SBU officials moved the three men to another SBU facility just outside Kharkiv, where they were locked in a tiny room with three iron beds and a boarded-up window, without any contact with the outside world. After about a month, SBU officials moved the three men to another unacknowledged detention site, apparently a former resort outside Kharkiv, where they stayed until December 12.
In the evening of December 12, SBU officials released Bezobrazov, Kondalov, and Sergei, dropping them off near the town of Novoluhansk in Ukraine’s Donetsk region without any identification documents.
Bezobrazov finally returned to Moscow on December 23, after close to 21 months of secret detention. Kondalov was home in Russia’s Samara region by December 29, after approximately 7 months of secret detention. Sergei, who spent over a year in secret detention, is being treated in a hospital in Donetsk.
“The prolonged enforced disappearances irreversibly altered the lives of the former detainees and their families,” Williamson said. “Ukraine’s leadership should not allow this to go unpunished.”
When working on the report “You Don’t Exist,” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also documented nine cases in which Russia-backed separatists held civilians incommunicado for weeks or months without charge and, in most cases, subjected them to ill-treatment.
The organizations are particularly concerned about Igor Kozlovsky, a university professor from Donetsk, and Volodymyr Fomichyov, a pro-Ukrainian blogger originally from Makiivka, who have been in the custody of Russia-backed separatists since January 2016 on fabricated charges of weapon possession.
Both cases were detailed in the report, although Fomichyov was assigned the pseudonym “Yuri” as a security measure at the time. Kozlovsky is currently in a remand prison in Donetsk pending trial. On August 16, a court in Donetsk found Fomichyov “guilty” of weapon possession and handed down a two-year prison sentence.
The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) de facto authorities then sent him to a penal colony in Makiivka, a small town near Donetsk. As documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, the circumstances of Fomichyov’s arrest, his detention conditions, and the indications of clearly fabricated evidence and a coerced confession, leaves his “conviction” void of any credibility and his continued detention a serious violation of both international human rights and humanitarian law.
The efforts by Human Rights Watch to engage on the issue with the Russia-backed separatists and to convince Russia’s leadership to exercise its leverage over the de facto authorities in the DNR and the Luhansk People’s Republic, the two Russia-backed separatist regions, have yielded no tangible results.
“Local security services operate with no checks and balances and the overall vacuum of the rule of law in separatist-controlled areas denies people protection for their rights and for those held in custody leaves them vulnerable to abuse without any effective remedies,” Williamson said.
Impunity for detention-related abuses in the context of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues by both Ukraine’s government and on Russia-backed separatists in Donbass. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reiterate their call on both parties to put an end to this deplorable situation, stop all arbitrary and secret detentions and ill-treatment of detainees, and ensure accountability for those responsible.
In July 2016, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released a joint report You Don’t Exist which documented prolonged, arbitrary, and sometimes secret detention (enforced disappearances) as well as ill-treatment of detainees by both the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists. Since the report’s publication, 18 persons forcibly disappeared by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) have been released from secret detention by SBU’s Kharkiv branch. The last three of those secret detainees were released in December 2016 and, to the best of our knowledge, the Kharkiv Branch of SBU no longer holds any individuals in unofficial custody. However, the Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged neither the actual detentions nor the releases, and have not taken any effective steps to ensure accountability for these abuses.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have not seen any positive developments in connection with detention-related abuses by Russia-backed separatists documented in their joint report.
People held by the warring sides in eastern Ukraine are protected under international human rights and international humanitarian law, which unequivocally ban arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment. International standards provide that allegations of torture and other ill-treatment should be investigated, and that, when the evidence warrants it, those responsible should be prosecuted. Detainees must be provided with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call on all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine to ensure that all forces under their control are aware of the consequences of abusing detainees under international law.
Lack of Accountability for Secret Detentions and Abuses against Detainees by Ukraine’s Security Service
While Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch welcome the fact that all the former detainees of the Kharkiv SBU branch are now free, we are concerned that the SBU’s continued denial of enforced disappearances and the lack of effective investigation into them and other unlawful detentions and detention-related abuses by Ukraine’s authorities serves to foster a climate of lawlessness and perpetuates impunity for grave human rights violations.
In July, at a meeting with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine pledged to carry out an investigation into the allegations of secret detentions by the SBU detailed in the report You Don’t Exist.
In August, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch informed the Chief Military Prosecutor in a letter that we believed, based on extensive research, that some of the secret detainees had been released from the SBU facility in Kharkiv, but at least five individuals remained in unacknowledged detention. In the letter, the organizations reiterated their call for a prompt and effective investigation. At the time of writing, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are not aware of any tangible results of the investigation, or even any concrete steps taken or progress made.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch carried out further research between December 2016 and January 2017, including interviews with six people who were participants in or had direct knowledge of relevant events.
In the beginning of August, immediately after the release of most of the secret inmates from the Kharkiv SBU facility, guards moved the five remaining detainees from their cells to the basement of the same building. On August 20, the SBU released two of them, both residents of Kharkiv, warning them not to reveal any information about their secret detention. The two men eventually crossed the border into Russia. The other three men–two Russian nationals, Vladimir Bezobrazov and Vladislav Kondalov, and one Ukrainian national from separatist-controlled Torez, Sergei (last name withheld for privacy reasons)–remained in unofficial SBU custody until December 12.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch interviewed Bezobrazov and Kondalov after their release and return to their respective homes in Russia.
Vladimir Bezobrazov, whose case is detailed in the August letter to Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is a business manager from Moscow. He was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in May 2014 in a small town near Odessa where he was on vacation with his mother and his small son. Though Bezobrazov denies any involvement with the events in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian law enforcement officials promised him that he would receive a suspended sentence and be released in a “prisoner exchange” between the warring sides if he “confessed” to attempted recruitment of fighters for Russia-backed separatists, which he did. On March 6, 2015, a court in Ovidopol, Odessa region, found him guilty of actions aimed at changing Ukraine’s territorial border, handed down a suspended sentence and ordered his release in the courtroom. However, SBU officials forcibly disappeared him immediately after his release and he then spent close to 21 months in unofficial custody of the Kharkiv SBU without any contact with the outside world.
Vladislav Kondalov from Samara region of Russia fought on the side of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian government forces captured him in March 2016 near the town of Schastye in Luhansk region of Ukraine. According to him, his captors kept him in a sewer for a few days, beat him severely and threatened to cut his arm off with a chainsaw. Then, he was taken into official custody and the authorities transferred him to a pre-trial detention facility in Kyiv where he, like many others detained in connection with the armed conflict, received an offer from the authorities to become part of the “prisoner exchange” process between the warring sides. A court in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, found him guilty of “participation in a terrorist group” but handed down a suspended sentence and ordered his release. As he was leaving the pre-trial detention facility in Kyiv on May 21, Kondalov was forcibly disappeared by SBU officials and moved to the SBU facility in Kharkiv. He spent the next seven months in unofficial custody of the Kharkiv SBU without any contact with the outside world.
On August 21, SBU officials transferred the three men who remained in their custody, Bezobrazov, Kondalov, and Sergei, to another SBU facility just outside the city. Bezobrazov and Kondalov told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that it was “a small base” in a one-story building where they spent another month, locked in a tiny room with three iron beds and a boarded-up window. They had no contact with the outside world, but their captors kept reassuring them they would be released soon through “prisoner exchange” with Russia-backed separatists. The room had neither a toilet nor water tap. The detainees had to yell for guards to take them to the toilet and urinate in plastic bottles when the guards failed to answer their calls. The guards provided them with just enough drinking water and some food. “They’d bring a big bucket of cereal porridge–and that would last us three days. It was enough to survive,” Bezobrazov said.
After about a month, SBU officials moved the three secret detainees to another unofficial place of detention, apparently a former resort outside of Kharkiv. Bezobrazov and Kondalov told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch they stayed there, in the same room with Sergei, until December 12, 2016. According to them, it was a “typical Soviet-style resort” room with conveniences, including adequate sanitary facilities, but the windows were boarded. “They [the guards] kept saying, don’t worry, you’ll be out soon, the negotiations are in progress, the exchange is coming up, but I no longer believed them–after more than one-and-a-half years of imprisonment without any contact with the outside world you just lose hope,” Bezobrazov said.
On December 12, SBU officials hand-cuffed Bezobrazov, Kondalov, and Sergei, put black bags over their heads, and led them to a vehicle parked outside the building. The back of the vehicle had a compartment designed for transporting detainees, separated by a grill from the driver’s cabin. According to Bezobrazov and Kondalov, they drove all day. Then, the vehicle stopped, armed officials entered their compartment, un-cuffed them, took the bags off their heads, gave them some “travel money” in Russian rubles and US dollars, and ordered them out. The detainees asked about their passports but the officials said they did not have them. The officials then told the three men to lie in the snow with their faces pressed to the ground and stay put for 10 to 20 minutes after they heard the car drive away. “It was getting dark. We had no idea where they had dropped us off. We had no identification documents. We did not know what would happen to us. I really had my doubts–we could step on a mine in that field… Or someone could’ve been waiting there with an assignment to shoot us–and then take the money they had given us by way of payment,” Kondalov said.
After a short walk, the three men saw a road sign for the town of Novoluhanske. At the time, Novoluhanske, which is located in the Donetsk region of Ukraine and is presently under government control, was contested by the warring parties and had both a Ukrainian and a pro-Russian separatist checkpoint on different sides of it. After arriving at Novoluhanske, Sergei immediately left his companions saying that he would look for the separatist checkpoint and ask them to help him make his way to Torez. He was subsequently detained by Russia-backed separatists who held him for questioning for several days, and is currently undergoing treatment in a hospital in Donetsk, the capital city of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).
Bezobrazov and Kondalov found shelter for the night in the stairwell of an apartment building damaged by shelling. The next day, they met a local resident who offered them his hospitality and let them use a phone and contact their families. Their family members then called another former detainee of the Kharkiv SBU facility who had been released earlier and was in contact with them. The former detainee told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that he got in touch with an international humanitarian organization, which contacted Bezobrazov and Kondalov and sorted out identification documents for Bezobrazov and Kondalov. With assistance from the organization, Bezobrazov and Kondalov arrived in Donetsk on December 18. Bezobrazov returned to Moscow on December 23. Kondalov was home in Russia’s Samara region by December 29.
The prolonged secret detentions irreversibly altered the lives of the former detainees and their family members. “When I returned [after close to 21 months of secret detention], my son was no longer five, practically a baby, but already seven, a school kid. It’s hard to come to terms with this. He is also so worried I’d disappear again. He calls me on my cell phone several times a day just to check. He wakes up late at night and if I’m not home wakes his grandmother saying daddy’s gone,” Bezobrazov told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Both Bezobrazov and Kondalov told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that they are experiencing health issues as a result of their prolonged detention, including problems with their digestive tract and dental problems. “During the first six months they held me in Kharkiv they would not even give me a toothbrush or toothpaste. Seemingly a small thing… But when you cannot brush your teeth for half a year, it proves to be so awful, like torture, really, and eventually your teeth just fall apart. Since my return, I’ve been spending loads of time at the dentist’s,” Bezobrazov said.
The SBU has consistently denied the practice of secret detentions and has not acknowledged any of the detentions and releases documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, including those set out in this statement. In September, the SBU authorities organized a press tour of the SBU compound in Kharkiv in an attempt to dismiss the allegations of secret detentions by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This move appears particularly cynical in the context of the now confirmed information about the secret transfer of all the remaining detainees to another unofficial facility in the second half of August.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reiterate their call on Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor’s Office to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into secret detentions by the SBU and to hold perpetrators to account.
Individuals Held in Custody by Russia-Backed Separatists Remain Without Recourse to Any Effective Remedies
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also reiterate their concern regarding prolonged incommunicado detentions and ill-treatment of detainees by Russia-backed separatists and the total lack of progress in addressing this issue. In the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) local security services continue to hold civilians in their custody without any contact with the outside world, including with their lawyers or families. Local security services operate with no checks and balances; the overall absence of the rule of law in separatist-controlled areas deprives individuals held in custody of their rights and leaves them without recourse to any effective remedies.
While researching for the report You Don’t Exist, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented nine cases in which Russia-backed separatists held civilians incommunicado for weeks or months without charge and, in most cases, subjected them to ill-treatment. The efforts by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to engage on the issue with the Russia-backed separatists and to convince Russia to exercise its leverage over the de facto authorities in the DNR and the LNR have yielded no tangible results.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are particularly concerned about Igor Kozlovsky, a university professor from Donetsk, and Volodymyr Fomichyov, a pro-Ukrainian blogger originally from Makiivka, who have been in the custody of Russia-backed separatists since January 2016 on fabricated charges of weapon possession. The cases of Kozlovsky and Fomichyov are detailed in the joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In the report, Fomichyov was assigned the pseudonym “Yuri” as a security measure to lower the risk of retaliation occurring against him while he was awaiting trial. Kozlovsky is currently in a remand prison in Donetsk pending trial. On August 16, a court in Donetsk found Fomichyov “guilty” of weapon possession and handed down a two-year prison sentence. The DNR de facto authorities then sent him to a penal colony in Makiivka, a small town near Donetsk. As documented in the report, the circumstances of Fomichyov’s arrest, his conditions of detention and the indications of clearly fabricated evidence and a coerced confession, render his “conviction” void of any credibility and his continued detention a serious violation of both international human rights and humanitarian law.
Statement delivered by Tanya Lokshina, Russia Program Director at Human Rights Watch, at the January 24, 2016 meeting of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Esteemed Chairperson, Esteemed Members of the Committee,
Human Rights Watch has been documenting human rights violations in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region for close to two decades. There has been very little accountability for such egregious abuses as extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Lasting impunity has served to perpetuate these abuses. It has also contributed to the gradual loss of trust in domestic and international law by victimized local communities.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe represents one of the few international fora that has been regularly exposing and debating egregious abuses in the region. The Assembly’s support has been very important in this respect for human rights organizations, like ours. Unfortunately, the suspension of consideration by the Assembly’s Plenary of the April 2016 report by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee on continued human rights violations in the North Caucasus could negatively reflect on accountability prospects. We deeply regret the lack of participation by the Russian delegation with the work of the Assembly and understand the reservation of the Assembly about having a debate on the North Caucasus in absence of the Russian delegation. However, when non-cooperation of a government is essentially rewarded by less scrutiny of its human rights record, the victims of abuses are left with even weaker protections.
In this regard, we would like to urge this Committee to:
- do its utmost to ensure that the North Caucasus report is put on the Assembly’s agenda in its Plenary sitting for debate at the earlier convenience, and not only in its Standing Committee;
- supplement the North Caucasus report with a substantive written addendum reflecting key human rights developments in the region since April 2016. It would be of concern to us if PACE can decide to suspend the consideration of a report for almost one year, without complementing it with a written update before this report is actually debated.
- do its utmost to ensure that the Assembly adopt a strong resolution on the lasting impunity and deteriorating human rights situation in the region, in particular the human rights crisis in Chechnya, and address detailed recommendations to the authorities of the Russian Federation, including on the urgent need to bring perpetrators to justice and put a resolute end to attacks on human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists working to expose and eradicate abuses in the region, and decide to continue to pay particular attention to the human rights situation in the North Caucasus region, especially in the Chechen Republic.
The human rights situation in the North Caucasus has particularly deteriorated in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya) and in the Republic of Dagestan. Based on the agreement with my esteemed colleagues from Memorial Human Rights Center and Norwegian Helsinki Committee who will also deliver their presentation at this session, I will now aim to draw your attention to the human rights developments in Chechnya.
For close to a decade now, with the blessing of the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechen Republic, has steadily tried to eradicate all forms of dissent and gradually built a tyranny within Chechnya. The repression has become especially staggering over these past two years. Local authorities are viciously and comprehensively cracking down on critics and anyone whose total loyalty to Kadyrov they deem questionable. These include local residents who express dissenting opinions, critical Russian and foreign journalists, and the very few human rights defenders who challenge cases of abuse by Chechen law enforcement and security agencies.
The Chechen Republic is part of Russia and its authorities are required by law to uphold Russia’s domestic legislation and international human rights obligations. Russia’s leadership is clearly aware of the extent to which Chechen authorities have violated human rights, but it has done little more than issue rare slight rebukes.
Please allow me to draw your attention to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, “Like Walking a Minefield.” The report documents the unlawful, punitive detentions and other attacks against critics, including through abductions and enforced disappearances, cruel and degrading treatment, death threats, and threats against and physical abuse of their family members in 2015-2016.
In that sweeping wave of repression, Chechnya’s authorities first and foremost targeted local residents. In one case documented in this report, a man died after law enforcement officials forcibly disappeared and tortured him. In another, police officials unlawfully detained, threatened, and ill-treated a woman and her three children in retaliation for her husband’s public remarks criticizing the authorities. Police officials beat the mother and the eldest daughter, aged 17, and threatened them with death, in an effort to force them to persuade the father to retract his critical comments. In another five cases documented in this report, law enforcement and security officials, or their apparent proxies, abducted people and subjected them to cruel and degrading treatment; four of those individuals were forcibly disappeared for periods of time ranging from one to twelve days.
The authorities subjected five of the people, whose cases are documented in this report, to public humiliations, in which they were forced to publicly apologize to the Chechen leadership for their supposedly false claims and renounce their actions. In Chechen society public humiliation and loss of face can lead to exclusion from social life for the victim and his or her extended family.
Human Rights Watch is aware of other similar cases of abuse against local critics but did not include them in this report because victims or their family members specifically requested us not to publish their stories or because we could not obtain other evidence such as video material to corroborate their accounts. There is also little doubt that some abuses against local residents in Chechnya may never come to the attention of human rights monitors or journalists because the climate of fear in the region is overwhelming and local residents have been largely intimidated into silence.
The Chechen leadership also intensified its onslaught against the few human rights defenders who still work in the region and provide legal and other assistance to victims of abuses. In the wake of the 2009 murder of Chechnya’s leading human rights defender, Natalia Estemirova, only one human rights organization, the Joint Mobile Group of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya (JMG) had been able to stay on the ground in Chechnya to provide legal assistance to victims or their family members in cases of torture, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial executions by law enforcement and security agencies under Kadyrov’s de facto control. However, towards the end of 2014 the Chechen leadership seemed determined to push JMG out of Chechnya. Between December 2014 and March 2016, local law enforcement officials or their apparent proxies ransacked or burned the JMG’s offices in Chechnya on three occasions, thugs who appeared to be acting as Chechen authorities’ proxies physically attacked JMG’s activists numerous times, and the pro-Kadyrov Chechen media engaged in a massive smear campaign against the group. Eventually, JMG had to withdraw its team from Chechnya last year for security reasons.
Chechen authorities have also been making it increasingly difficult for journalists to work in Chechnya. They have fostered a climate of fear in which very few people dare talk to journalists, except to compliment the Chechen leadership. And journalists who persevere with Chechnya work also find themselves at greater risk. This report documents a recent case of a journalist receiving threats, including death threats, another of a journalist who was arbitrarily detained while investigating a story, and a third case of a violent attack against a group of visiting journalists.
In March 2016 a group of masked men attacked a minibus driving a group of Russian and foreign journalists from Ingushetia to Chechnya, dragged the journalists from the bus, beat them, and set the bus on fire. The attack was so shocking that it triggered an immediate, unprecedented reaction from President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, who called it “absolutely outrageous” and said that law enforcement should ensure accountability for the crime. However, the investigation into the attack has not yielded any tangible results.
The situation has continued to deteriorate since the drafting of the report.
In September, following an unfair trial, a court in Chechnya sentenced a 23-year-old local journalist, Zhalaudi Geriev, to three years in prison on fabricated drug possession charges, apparently in retaliation for his work for Caucasian Knot, a Russian media portal covering current developments in the Caucasus and well-known for its reporting on abuses by Chechen authorities. On January 7 this year, Magomed Daudov, the speaker of Chechnya’s parliament widely known as the right-hand man of Ramzan Kadyrov, publicly threatened Gregory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Knot. On his Instagram account, Daudov mockingly described Shvedov as a “mongrel dog… Shved” and threatened to “tame his tongue to a standard size” and “pull his wisdom teeth out.” He titled the designated post “How to untie the Caucasian Knot?” Notably, last year Daudov posted to his Instagram account a photograph of Kadyrov with a fierce Caucasian sheepdog, and wrote that the dog’s “fangs are itching” for opposition activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. He provided disparaging descriptions of several people the Chechen leadership apparently thought particularly irritating, portraying them as dogs. Approximately two months later, a group of mobsters who appear to be acting as Chechen authorities’ proxies physically attacked one of those people, a prominent Russian human rights defender, when he was in Grozny, the Chechen capital, on a work trip.
Chechnya’s leadership also continues to exercise collective punishment by targeting family members of alleged insurgents. These unlawful retaliation tactics include punitive house-burnings by local law enforcement and security officials and expulsion of insurgents’ relatives from Chechnya–the lawless measures that Ramzan Kadyrov has personally ordered.
It is the duty of the Russian government to ensure that Chechen authorities fully comply with Russia’s legislation, including Russia’s obligations under international human rights law, and put an immediate end to the crackdown on free expression in the pre-election period and beyond. Russian authorities need to provide effective security guarantees to victims and witnesses of abuses and bring perpetrators of abuses to justice.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should include the crackdown on free expression as well as the use of collective punishment and public humiliation practices in the agenda of its ongoing monitoring and reporting on the North Caucasus, with a view to holding, as soon as possible, a public debate on the situation.
Update 1/25/17: On January 24, 2017, presidential spokesperson Zaw Htay told the Democratic Voice of Burma that Langjaw Gam Seng and Dumdaw Nawng Lat had been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act and were being held in the Muse Police Station in Northern Shan State. The Burmese government has long used the Unlawful Associations Act to restrict freedom of association and detain peaceful activists, Human Rights Watch said. The law carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
(Rangoon) – Burmese authorities should immediately release or appropriately charge two ethnic Kachin Baptist leaders arbitrarily detained by the military since December 24, 2016, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said today. The military in Northern Shan State should urgently transfer Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, and Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 65, to police custody so that they are no longer at risk of abuse by military personnel.
The two went missing after being called to a military base, apparently linked to their assisting journalists investigating an unlawful military airstrike. On January 19, the military published a statement on Facebook acknowledging their arrest and detention, and alleging that the two had been providing various forms of support to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). In the month since their arrest, the military had not filed charges, turned them over to civilian authorities, or provided them access to lawyers or family members, as required by Burmese and international law.
“The arrest of the two Kachin Baptist leaders appears to be retaliation for their help in exposing wartime abuses,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “The military came clean about their detention only after local and international outcry, but they’re are still at grave risk.”
The military in its statement alleges that Langjaw Gam Seng, a youth leader with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), and his cousin Dumdaw Nawng Lat, an assistant KBC pastor, acted as the “financial supporter, informer, recruiter, rumor monger” for the Kachin Independence Army. According to the statement, Dumdaw Nawng Lat “gave information about movements of Tatmadaw [Burmese Army] columns and financial support to the insurgents and spread slanderous news and propaganda by having links with outside media in order to mislead the local and international communities.” Langjaw Gam Seng allegedly “gave information about the Tatmadaw to KIA insurgents, recruited new members, and transported fuel for smooth transport of insurgents during the battles.”
The military statement added the two had been “placed under investigation” under article 376 of the 2008 Constitution, which allows detention without judicial review for more than 24 hours as a precautionary measure for national security or the “prevalence of law and order, peace and tranquility in accord with the law in the interest of the public.” The military also said that the “arrestees will be handed over to the relevant police station systematically, in order to take action against them under the law.” Thus far, no such action has been taken.
“The government needs to act now to ensure that these men are urgently transferred out of the darkness of military detention where they’re highly vulnerable to abuse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Government leaders are responsible for the safety and security of these two men and should ensure lawyers and family have immediate access.”
In December 2016, the two men had guided journalists who were reporting on Burmese airstrikes that allegedly severely damaged a Catholic church in Northern Shan State. Photographs of damage to the church were published on the internet in early December. Prior to the military statement, the men were feared to have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said. Local government authorities failed to respond to repeated inquiries on the whereabouts of the two men. Presidential spokesperson Zaw Htay denied that the military had detained them.
On January 20, Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, raised concerns about the dangers facing individuals who speak out on rights issues. She said that the message from the government was clear: “Do not express yourself. Do not speak your mind if your opinion or position does not fit or support the narrative and agenda of those who have no qualms in how you live or die.”
Fighting between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army in northern Burma has displaced more than 23,000 people during the past several weeks. On January 11, Chinese state security forces reportedly forced back to Burma approximately 4,000 Kachin civilians fleeing Burmese military airstrikes and heavy artillery attacks.
“The Burmese military’s handling of this case shows how far the army needs to go to bring the government in line with international human rights standards,” Robertson said. “The dangers to civilians and those who are helping to expose abuses in conflict areas seem as great as ever – strong action is needed to bring changes fast.”
(Nairobi) – Islamist armed groups in northern and central Mali have executed numerous people and are increasingly imposing restrictions on village life. The Malian government has largely been unable to protect vulnerable civilians in northern and central Mali, while security forces summarily executed at least 10 suspected Islamists and tortured many others during counterterrorism operations in 2016.
In addition to abuses by the Islamist armed groups, civilians have suffered from bloody intercommunal clashes and surges in banditry. Despite a 2015 peace accord ending Mali’s 2012-2013 armed conflict, signatories have failed to implement many of its key provisions, notably the disarmament of thousands of combatants. United Nations peacekeeper fatalities reached 29 in 2016, double those in 2015.
“The human rights climate grew increasingly precarious over the past year, a result of execution-style killings and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal clashes, and surges in violent crime,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to assert control and curtail security force abuses has added to the deteriorating situation.”
A 2013 French-led military intervention pushed back armed groups occupying Mali’s north, but lawlessness and abuses steadily increased from mid-2014, including by groups linked to Al-Qaeda. In 2015 and 2016, abuses worsened and increasingly spread to Mali’s central regions.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 70 victims and witnesses to abuses in central and northern Mali in April and August 2016 in Bamako, Sévaré, and Mopti, and by phone throughout the year. Those interviewed included members of the ethnic Peuhl, Bambara, Dogon, and Tuareg communities; detainees in government custody; local government, security, and Justice Ministry officials; and diplomats and UN officials. The findings build on Human Rights Watch research in Mali since 2012.
In 2016, Islamist armed groups executed at least 27 men, including village chiefs and local government officials, Malian security force personnel, and fighters from parties to the peace accord. Most were accused of providing information to the government or French forces engaged in counterterrorism operations.
Many of the executions took place in central Mali, where Islamist armed group presence and intimidation of the population steadily increased through the year. Villagers described how Islamist groups of up to 50 armed fighters, including teenage boys, occupied villages for hours and threatened death to anyone collaborating with French forces, the government, or UN peacekeepers.
In several villages, the groups imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law), threatening villagers not to celebrate marriages and baptisms. A villager described a wedding he attended in December in Segou region: “Our traditional customs are no longer allowed because of the presence of jihadist fighters from our own villages. Our way of celebrating is now haram [forbidden].” Another said that families are “pressured to give their children” to the Islamist armed groups in central Mali.
Armed groups carried out at least 75 attacks on UN forces in 2016, killing 29 peacekeepers with the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and wounding some 90 others. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for many of these attacks, which largely targeted logistic convoys and UN bases. Particularly deadly incidents included a February attack that killed seven peacekeepers from Guinea, as well as two incidents in May that killed five peacekeepers from Togo and five from Chad.
Residents and community leaders described rising levels of banditry and violent crime. Human Rights Watch estimates that several thousand civilians in northern and central Mali were victimized during about 400 incidents of banditry in 2016. This assessment is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, and security sources, as well as media monitoring and security reports. Armed bandits killed at least eight people and wounded over 30, routinely targeting public vehicles and buses, animal herders, and traders. Victims alleged that government security forces were either unable or unwilling to protect them and rarely investigated the crimes.
A number of people said they had been robbed more than once. One trader had been robbed four times in as many months. “It can’t get any worse,” said another trader. “We can hardly move out of Gao without getting hit by bandits lying in wait,” said a third. The traders said the slow implementation of the peace accord – notably provisions for disarmament, the cantonment of armed groups, and joint patrols comprising Malian soldiers, pro-government militia and former rebels – had greatly contributed to the rise in criminality.
Insecurity also significantly affected basic health care, education, and humanitarian aid. At least 35 attacks on aid agencies took place in 2016, the vast majority by bandits in the north. At least six vehicles carrying health workers and the sick were robbed, with patients forced out of the vehicles in several cases. Several civilians were killed by landmines and improvised explosive devices planted by armed groups on major roads.
The Malian army and other government security forces conducted counterterrorism operations that on several occasions resulted in arbitrary arrests, executions, and torture and other ill-treatment. During 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of 10 detainees, all in central Mali, and the torture or severe mistreatment of 20 others. Malian authorities made little effort to investigate and hold accountable those implicated in these violations.
International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, applies to all sides in the armed conflict in Mali. Applicable law includes Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, and customary laws of war. Common Article 3 and Protocol II specifically prohibit the killing of captured combatants and civilians in custody.
Individuals who deliberately commit serious violations of the laws of war may be prosecuted for war crimes. Mali is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“The authorities need to do much more to fulfill their responsibility to protect civilians in north and central Mali,” Dufka said. “After so many years of insecurity, civilians deserve to see more security dividends from the peace process.”
Mali’s Conflict Since 2013
Military operations by French and Malian forces since 2013, along with a 2015 peace accord, sought to eliminate the presence of Islamist armed groups, disarm thousands of fighters, and re-establish Malian state control over the north. However, clashes among various armed groups both before and after the 2015 accord have generated insecurity in the north and increasingly in central Mali.
Large swaths of territory in the north have been left largely devoid of Malian government presence, allowing armed groups, pro-government militias, and bandits to commit abuses with impunity. Since early 2015, Islamist armed group activity and abuses have spread down to central Mali, engulfing additional civilians in the conflict.
According to one security analyst, “During 2016 there were more bandits, more terrorists, and attacks from both are getting more and more complex and violent.” Though armed groups infrequently targeted civilians, the worsening insecurity undermined efforts by the Malian government and its international partners to strengthen the rule of law and deliver basic health care, education, and humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile, persistent intercommunal conflicts in central and northern Mali left dozens dead and were exploited by armed groups to garner support and recruits.
Executions by Islamist Armed Groups
Human Rights Watch documented the summary executions of 27 men by Islamist armed groups during 2016. Those believed to be responsible included AQIM, Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front (also known as Ansar Dine Katiba Macina, Katiba du Macina d'Ansar Dine), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
The killings took place in Mopti, Ségou, Timbuktu, and Kidal regions. At least two of the victims were beheaded. Those targeted included mayors and deputy mayors, village chiefs, and teachers; Malian security force members including a member of the National Guard, a soldier, and agents of the Forest and Water service; members of armed groups signatory to the 2015 peace accord, notably the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA); and, in one case, an Islamist group fighter who had engaged in criminal practices.
Witnesses and intelligence sources said that many victims had been accused of being informants for the government and French troops engaged in counterterrorism operations. Community leaders in central Mali said they believed a few local leaders had also been targeted as punishment for allegedly corrupt practices against local villagers.
There were numerous other unlawful killings in 2016, including of local authorities, that Human Rights Watch determined were linked to intercommunal or interpersonal conflicts over land, water, and community leadership.
Executions of Civilians
On November 7, an alleged Islamist armed group executed the chief of Diaba village, Kola Kane Diallo, 45, in front of his family. Diaba is 70 kilometers from the UNESCO cultural heritage site of Djenné. A villager said he believed Diallo had been killed as a warning to the community not to collaborate with the Malian army, which had recently increased its presence in the area. A witness said:
He had been threatened a few times by the men… but refused to leave, saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong… why should I leave my village?” That night, he was in his house watching TV, about 10 p.m., when three men came to the door. Only one entered, saying he was a shepherd looking for his missing animals. The chief said he didn’t have anyone’s animals. But then the man stated his true intention: “It is you we are looking for.”
The chief had his toddler in his arms… the armed man ordered him to hand his child to a family member. He begged, saying, “In the name of God, don’t kill me.” But they shot him, three times, inside his house… We suspect it had to do with a visit he had received from the Malian army – it is normal to receive them; he is the chief. This was like a sign for the rest of the village not to collaborate.
In mid-September, a Quranic teacher, or marabout, from Sofara village – 40 kilometers from Djenné – was killed for his alleged relationship with the Malian army. Witnesses said he had on several occasions welcomed soldiers in his house during their patrols through the zone, which is also frequented by Islamist armed groups.
Two witnesses said that just after 1 a.m. on July 18, three alleged members of an Islamist armed group burst into the home of Issa Garibou Onguiba, killing him in front of this wife and children. The summary execution occurred near the village of Boumbam, 60 kilometers south of Douentza. One witness said:
I had just gone to bed when I heard two screams, then at least three shots. The wife begged and offered the killers money and livestock, but they told her, “We have been sent to kill him… we will complete our mission.” Issa was a hunter – he used to see the jihadists a lot in the bush. They had recently preached in our mosque and warned us never to tell the FAMA [Malian armed forces] where they were.
Two witnesses described the July 11 killing of Amadou Kola Dia, 50, as he worked in his field. Dia was a teacher and the deputy mayor of Ouro Modi village, 60 kilometers from Mopti. They said Dia had fled his village in 2015 after receiving threats from Islamist armed groups, but had returned in July to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family. “These people have infiltrated and paralyzed our zone,” a witness said. “They have informants in every village. That’s how they knew Amadou had come back.”
Two witnesses described the March 21 killing, by armed Islamists from Niger, of 49-year-old Amadou Mamoudou Dicko in a hamlet near the village of Yogodoji, 40 kilometers from the border with Burkina Faso. Dicko had reportedly organized a village self-defense force. One witness said:
I saw eight of them on four motos [motorbikes], firing from the moment they entered. There were 20 people seated, talking. They ordered all to lie down and one of them said, “That is him…the one we are after.” Dicko ran, but they trapped and shot him there. I counted 153 spent bullet casings.
Islamist armed groups in Mali have held the deputy mayor of Boni since September 2016, along with seven foreign civilians.
Executions of Armed Group Members
On November 4, AQIM released a video, Traitors 2, taking responsibility for the summary execution of four Malians. The group claimed that the four had provided intelligence to French, Malian, and Mauritanian forces, which had resulted in the loss of AQIM fighters and weapons. The video, released by the AQIM-affiliated outlet Andalus Media, shows the Sharia court trial and execution of Mohamed Ould Beih and El-Hussein Ould Badi. Traitors 2 appears to be a sequel to a December 2015 AQIM video called Traitors, in which two Malians and a Mauritanian were executed for similar reasons.
The two other executions mentioned in Traitors 2 were those of Bachir Ould Afad, a national guardsman on September 25 in Timbuktu, and Efad Ag Arifek, a member of the Tuareg group MNLA abducted on June 6 in Ber, 53 kilometers east of Timbuktu. Arifek had been the Ber spokesman for a coalition of armed groups. His beheaded body was found on July 21 in Timboukri, 27 kilometers northeast of Ber, with the bodies of three other men who had reportedly been captured a day earlier during an AQIM attack on the MNLA.
AQIM also took responsibility for the June 20 killing of Alassane Ag Intouwa in Ber. Intouwa, a former fighter for the Tuareg group, had been serving as a representative for another group, the High Council for the Unity of Azawad.
Of all the armed groups that signed the 2015 peace accord, the MNLA has suffered the most killings. Community leaders told Human Rights Watch that some members may have been killed in leadership or power struggles, particularly with certain members of the Arab community.
According to Mohamed Ag Attaye, the MNLA officer in charge of human rights, at least 33 men associated with MNLA had been executed in the custody of armed Islamist groups and five more abducted in 2016.
The majority of those killed – 28 men – were executed in the Kidal region. Fifteen were killed after being captured during clashes, while others were killed in their homes or months after being abducted. Attaye said that either AQIM, Ansar Dine, or MUJAO took responsibility for most of the killings. He told Human Rights Watch that six MNLA fighters, captured by pro-government militias near Anefis, were executed after being handed over to MUJAO. Some of the men were tortured before their execution, he alleged.
Human Rights Watch was unable to verify all of these cases but urges the Malian authorities to investigate the MNLA’s very serious allegations.
Repression by Islamist Armed Groups in Central Mali
Islamist armed groups operating in central Mali frequently imposed harsh restrictions against the civilian population, often based on the groups’ strict interpretation of Islam.
Threats were usually communicated in meetings that villagers were obligated to attend. Human Rights Watch spoke with villagers who attended these meetings in at least eight villages in Mopti and Ségou regions. During the meetings, which would last for several hours, armed men preached in several languages and threatened anyone providing information to the Malian government or international forces. They also appealed for support in adhering to a strict interpretation of Islam.
In some villages, groups prohibited celebrations including marriages and baptisms. On a few occasions they fired shots in the air to disperse the events. Other regulations included a ban on girls and women riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, orders to wear certain types of clothing, instructions to teachers to separate girls and boys in classrooms, and orders not to participate in the November 2016 local elections. In a few villages, groups threatened to cut off the hands of bandits and to execute adulterers.
Victims, witnesses, and security analysts said the Islamist armed groups destroyed communication antennas and burned government vehicles and buildings, including mayor and gendarmerie offices, town halls, and prisons.
A man who attended four weddings in different villages near the Malian border with Mauritania said that the presence of Islamist fighters had altered Peuhl traditional practices:
We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism – dancing and singing together – but now, we can only do so where the Malian Army is present. During the marriages I attended, men and women weren’t allowed to mix. ...The bride was brought to the groom’s house and that was that. ...Before, we had fun, it was joyful – but now, you’d not know a marriage had taken place.
Another villager said, “They’re even forcing us to pray in a different way... in some villages, we have to cross our hands in front of our chest when praying... we never did that before.”
A trader from a village near Dogofiri said, “Jihadists fired in the air and ordered the bar man to turn the music down and for people not to go there. He said they don’t allow music and alcohol in this village.”
A 30-year-old Quranic student, who made his living by selling handwritten verses of the Quran that are placed in amulets, said that Islamist armed groups forbade the practice. “The jihadists came every week during our market,” he said. “One day they found the verses I was writing in my notebook. I sell them to our women, who sew them into small leather pouches, which we wear for protection. I begged, but they burned my notebook, saying this kind of traditional practice was haram.”
Attacks on Peacekeepers
Islamist armed groups frequently attacked MINUSMA peacekeepers, killing 29 and wounding some 90 during 2016. In total, more than 70 peacekeepers have been killed since MINUSMA was created in 2013.
A security analyst said that while MINUSMA was attacked about the same number of times in 2016 as in 2015, the 2016 attacks were “better organized on the ground” and that the groups “were more likely to claim responsibility for them.”
Most of the attacks either targeted logistic convoys bringing food, water, and other supplies to UN bases or the bases themselves, including those in Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu. AQIM, Ansar Dine, and Al Mourabitoun took responsibility for many of these attacks. Those included the February 12 suicide bomber and rocket attack on the MINUSMA base in Kidal, which killed seven peacekeepers from Guinea, and the May 18 ambush 15 kilometers north of Aguelhok, Kidal region, which killed five Chadian peacekeepers.
In previous years, attacks on peacekeepers almost exclusively took place in northern Mali. However, in 2016, at least two such deadly attacks were in the Mopti region of central Mali. On May 29, five peacekeepers from Togo were killed in an ambush 30 kilometers west of the garrison town of Sévaré. On November 6, a Togolese peacekeeper was killed in an attack on a supply convoy 45 kilometers north of Douentza. Two Malian civilians were also killed in the incident.
On November 29, Al Mourabitoun forces committed the war crime of perfidy by driving two UN-labeled vehicles laden with explosives into the Gao airport. Only one exploded, damaging the fuselage of a MINUSMA plane and the airport terminal. The second vehicle was found with 500 kilograms of explosives inside, an intelligence source said. An attack on a compound in Gao on May 31 killed a Chinese peacekeeper and a French civilian de-mining expert.
International humanitarian law prohibits attacks on personnel involved in peacekeeping missions and grants them the same wartime protections as civilians. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and customary laws of war prohibit attacks on UN peacekeepers and UN facilities as war crimes. The UN Security Council requires peacekeepers to be impartial and not use force except in self-defense or defense of the mandate.
Malian Security Force Violations
Human Rights Watch documented the detention of more than 60 men by Malian security forces in 2016, allegedly for their suspected support for or membership of Islamist armed groups in central and northern Mali. The vast majority of these were ethnic Peuhl. Malian soldiers summarily executed at least 10 of them and tortured or otherwise mistreated at least 20.
In all but a few cases, army soldiers committed the abuses during ad hoc interrogations in the first two days after detention, though the soldiers are not authorized to interrogate detainees. The most serious cases, the majority of which took place during the first half of 2016, were allegedly by soldiers based in Diabaly, Boni, Boulekessi, and Mondoro. In several cases, officers, including a lieutenant and a captain, were present during the abuse. As has been the case since 2012, the vast majority of detainees said the abuse stopped after they were handed over to government gendarmes.
The abuse did not appear to be systematic and, as compared with accounts by several hundred detained men in 2013, 2014, and 2015, the mistreatment appeared to have declined. However, the military and civilian justice systems made little effort to investigate and hold to account soldiers implicated in violations against detainees.
Three villagers told Human Rights Watch that Malian forces had detained two brothers, Mamoudou Allaye, 53, and Ousman Allaye, 48, on January 8, 2016, and that their bodies were found hours later in a shallow grave near the village of Karena, Mopti region. One witness said:
The [soldiers] told Mamoudou to get in their vehicle and took him away. We heard shots. Worried, his brother went in search of him. When, over an hour later, neither returned, we set out after them. ...We found the brothers a kilometer away in a freshly dug, shallow grave.
Four witnesses said three of seven Peuhl men detained on April 7 near the town of Sokolo, in the Ségou region, died of their injuries after Malian soldiers severely beat them near their base in Diabaly. One of those detained described what happened after the men were taken to the military base:
Around midnight, the soldiers tied our arms, put cord in our mouths, bound our eyes, then drove 10 minutes. The beating started... it was severe... with wood and rocks. I was kicked many times and burned on my feet. “Where are the jihadists?” they asked. When we returned to the cell hours later, Hamadoun Diallo was missing. I heard soldiers saying in Bambara, “He is dead.”
At about 4 a.m., Aye Nissa died in the cell. “I am dying...” he kept saying, until he stopped talking. We hit the door, saying they should take him to the doctor. About 6 a.m., the FAMA [soldiers] ordered us to get up. …“He [Nissa] cannot,” we told them. Then they took his body.
About 9 a.m. they took the remaining five of us to the Niono gendarmerie. Seeing the shape we were in, the gendarmes got angry; they sent us to the clinic for care. We returned to our cells, but Aly Bah was so sick... since his beating, he couldn’t even sit up; every time he drank water, he vomited blood. The Gendarme commander took him back to the hospital... and it was there he died.
In Mopti region, army soldiers taking part in counterterrorism operations in the Douentza administrative area in December were implicated in summary executions, torture, and looting of several villages. Villagers found the bodies of five men detained by soldiers on December 19 two days later in a mass grave near the village of Isseye, 85 kilometers from Douentza.
Torture and Mistreatment
Human Rights Watch documented six incidents in 2016 in which Malian security forces severely mistreated at least 20 detainees. The detainees, many of whom had scars and showed visible signs of torture, described being hogtied, pummeled with fists and gun butts, kicked, suspended from trees, burned, and subjected to simulated drowning akin to “waterboarding” and other mock executions. They were also routinely denied food, water, and medical care.
Two witnesses to the April 8 beating of the seven men in Diabaly said the men were severely beaten with belts and wood, kicked, and repeatedly threatened with death. Soldiers stripped one, a 35-year-old shop owner they accused of selling goods to Islamists, hung him by his feet on a tree, and “water boarded” him for 30 minutes. A witness said: “While hanging there, they forced his head in a bucket four times, asking, ‘Where is the Islamist’s base? ...You sell goods to these people, no?” Another man was burned so severely on his back that he required medical attention for several weeks. “He had been found with a lot of money,” a witness said. “They punched, kicked and burned him severely all over his back... the soldiers kept asking him where he got all that money.”
In mid-April, soldiers severely beat six Peuhl men who had been apprehended in their villages near Boulekessi, subsequently subjecting them to mock execution. One said:
As they removed the blindfold, I saw a pick and a shovel. “We’re going to ask you questions and if you lie, it is here you will die.” I answered, but they accused me of lying. They told me to dig and ordered me in… I felt the sand entering my ear and a gun at my temple… I begged for my life… I heard the others screaming nearby but they didn’t kill us.
We thought our ordeal was over, but then they did it again. This time four soldiers walked me into the bush, and ordered me to say my last words. I begged, saying I have nothing to do with the jihadists. They stripped and beat me with branches until the leaves fell off. I was bleeding… they ordered me inside, covered my body with sand and threw in my clothes… they cocked a gun, then fired two shots near my head. From the grave I was silent, thinking it was there I would die. Minutes later, the soldiers brought the others who pleaded to live while a soldier said, “Look at the tomb… Is he dead or alive? …Now talk.”
Unchecked Banditry and Crime in North and Central Mali
Human Rights Watch spoke with 16 men and women who had been robbed on their way to and from local markets in the Gao and Timbuktu regions in northern Mali. Several had been robbed two, three, and even four times during 2016. A number were beaten, or saw others beaten, after they refused to hand over money. Two women were raped during the assaults and one said a fellow passenger had been gunned down after bolting from the scene.
The Timbuktu and Gao regions were the hardest hit, though dozens of incidents were also reported in Kidal and Mopti regions. Human Rights Watch obtained and reviewed reports from various public and private sources that added up to approximately 380 separate incidents. With the addition of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, 400 incidents of banditry can be estimated to have occurred in 2016, though the actual number is likely higher. Most of these cases involved the robbery of groups of passengers.
The highway robberies have typically been carried out by small groups of men on motorcycles, armed with military assault rifles. They targeted transport vehicles, buses, animal herders, and traders who travel from village to village buying and selling their wares. The incidents were concentrated on market days and along several key strips of highway and land routes used by traders.
Typically, bandits fired in the air to force drivers to stop, ordered the passengers to descend, and then robbed them of money, cellphones and other goods. At least eight people were reportedly killed and 33 wounded when bandits opened fire on vehicles that refused to stop, or when they shot frightened people who tried to flee.
A 38-year-old trader, whose transport vehicle was robbed on October 14 en route to Gao after market day, saw bandits shoot a man who tried to run away:
Two men dressed half in camouflage, half in civilian clothes forced us to stop and robbed all 17 of us of our phones and money. They stole 200,000 francs CFA [US $320] from me. Five passengers didn’t have anything to give… the men started to tie them up, beating and shouting at them. One of them fled, afraid he would be killed, and they fired, hitting him in the head. We started wailing, thinking they would kill all of us. This was the second time in a month that I had been robbed like this. We pray to God the disarmament starts soon… maybe it will stop this madness.
Human Rights Watch documented two cases of sexual assault during robberies. A 50-year-old trader said she was raped by two of the three men who stopped the vehicle taking her back to Gao from a market about 60 kilometers away:
I saw people watching me during the market, and think someone informed them I was carrying a lot of money – 500,000 francs CFA [US $800]. I’d hidden it in my clothing – and when they ordered everyone at gunpoint to hand over their cash, I told them I had nothing… but they knew… They threatened me, then dragged me behind a tree, tore off my clothes to find the money, then used me.
A trader on her way back to Gao from a market in Djebock, 45 kilometers north, said that in November, four gunmen stopped the convoy of three cars in which she was travelling. The assailants separated the men and women, forcing the youngest woman in the convoy away for 30 minutes. The trader said that when the woman returned, “She was crying… She said they had used her. Their rifles were pointed at us… If someone is stronger than you, what can you do?”
Several animal herders said that armed men on motorcycles drove off entire herds of livestock, while traders said they had been ambushed and robbed. These attacks took place on their way to local village markets and even on the streets of larger towns in the north.
A 55-year-old man from a village north of Gao said that at dusk one day in October, armed men on motorcycles drove off his entire herd of cows, on which he and his family of 10 depended:
They took all of my 16 cows, including several that were pregnant – even more of a loss. They left me with nothing. I am sick and have no money for medicine. My family needs food, we have nothing. I am not alone – I know about 10 other herders who have suffered the same thing.
Several victims said they had reported the incidents to the authorities, but none of these cases had been investigated. They expressed no confidence in either the government forces or the UN to protect them from the rampant banditry, which all of those interviewed said had worsened in 2016.
The victims said they rarely saw armed government patrols on the highways, much less on the smaller roads, allowing bandits to operate with little fear of being apprehended. “We are so fed up… with the security people,” said an animal trader from Gao. “Even when we tell them a robbery is happening now, and only five kilometers away, they refuse to respond.”
One 35-year-old driver from Timbuktu said he was robbed three times last year. “The bandits left me and my passengers standing on the road, then drove away with my truck, my livelihood,” he said. “I didn’t notify the police. I’ve never seen a patrol of Malian forces. The state is absent. Anyone can get an AK-47 [assault rifle], and in Mali, he who is armed can do whatever he wants.”
However, residents from Gao said the security forces and the UN had increased patrols on major roads in and around Gao following a strike by local transportation companies in September and October that had been organized to protest the attacks on roads connecting Gao with several other towns.
All those interviewed believed the stalled progress on three provisions of the peace accord – cantonment of fighters, disarmament, and joint patrols comprising Malian soldiers, pro-government militia and former rebels – had contributed to the rising banditry levels. They hoped progress in implementation of these areas would improve the situation.
Throughout 2016, the rampant banditry and armed group attacks dramatically affected the delivery of health services, education, and aid to north and central Mali. In November, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of schools affected by insecurity in north and central Mali had increased, with 421 schools closed at the beginning of the 2016 school year in October, compared to 296 closed at the end of the previous school year. Approximately 2.5 million people nationwide face food insecurity, OCHA said.
There were scores of attacks on aid agencies during the year, the vast majority by armed bandits in the north, undermining the groups’ ability to deliver assistance to people in need. At least 35 vehicles used by aid groups were either stolen, pursued, or stopped by armed bandits, and numerous offices or staff residences were burglarized, resulting in the loss of motorcycles, computers, cameras, money, phones, and other supplies. On several occasions, the attackers threatened, tied up, or beat aid agency personnel, including drivers and guards.
On at least six occasions, ambulances and vehicles used by both the Malian government and aid organizations to deliver health care were attacked or robbed. These attacks took place near the northern towns of Lere, Gao, Niafounké, Gossi and Menaka. In four of these incidents, sick passengers, drivers and health workers were forced out of the vehicles and robbed, and the vehicles stolen.
To the Government of Mali
- Take necessary steps to ensure that security forces abide by international humanitarian law;
- Take all necessary measures to protect civilians and ensure adequate security, including from banditry and criminality in areas under government control;
- Investigate and appropriately prosecute members of the Malian security forces and non-state armed groups who commit violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, including those documented in this report; and
- Ensure government gendarmes fulfill their mandated role of provost marshal by accompanying the Malian army on operations at all times.
To MINUSMA Peacekeepers
- Adopt a robust stance in general and ensure that protection of civilians remains a top priority for the mission, including through strategic and proactive patrolling, especially on market days.
To UN Troop Contributing Countries
- Ensure that MINUSMA has the necessary resources, personnel, equipment, and training to carry out its mandate to protect civilians in an extremely challenging security environment in which armed groups have targeted civilians and UN personnel.
To Non-State Armed Groups
- Abide by international humanitarian law, including by treating all persons in custody humanely;
- Cease attacking UN peacekeepers and personnel;
- Investigate and appropriately punish fighters who commit serious abuses; and
- Respect basic rights to freedom of religion and other rights in areas under effective control.
“Chunfu was thin like sticks, he was pale, his eyes lifeless.” This was the initial reaction of Bi Liping when she went to the local police station on January 12, 2017, and saw her husband, human rights lawyer Li Chunfu. After more than 500 days of secret detention, Li had been “released on bail.”
It was soon apparent that the once tough, lively human rights defender had changed dramatically, and not just in terms of his appearance: Li is now fearful and paranoid. When he first arrived home, he was too afraid to enter; once he did he was too afraid to leave. Soon after his abrupt release, a Beijing psychiatric hospital gave him a tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Li is one of the more than 300 human rights lawyers and advocates whom the Chinese authorities rounded up nationwide in July 2015. Though most have been released, four remain detained while two were imprisoned. Others “released on bail” have been forced into silence. Li’s situation raises alarms over the treatment of those still held.
Li grew up poor in Henan Province, dropping out of school to work in factories. He eventually taught himself law and started practicing in 2005. He chose to become a human rights lawyer, one who “cherished each case he took,” according to his sister-in-law. Li’s life experiences fighting injustice made him a strong figure.
It’s no mystery what shattered him. Human Rights Watch has long documented the Chinese government’s use of torture, and human rights defenders are frequently treated harshly. Beatings, being hung up by the wrists, prolonged sleep deprivation, indefinite isolation, threats to one’s family – these are common techniques that can cause long-term physical and psychological harm.
It is less clear why Li Chunfu was targeted. Perhaps it was his 2014 demonstration outside a Heilongjiang police bureau, demanding access to his client. Perhaps it is guilt by association, since he is the brother of another prominent rights lawyer, Li Heping. Increasingly Beijing tries to tar activists as agents of hostile governments, and perhaps the authorities had painted Li Chunfu and fellow lawyers as such to justify more draconian treatment.
The Chinese government owes Li and his family answers – why Li was detained, what happened to him in custody, and who was responsible for his mistreatment. More than that, it has a legal obligation to pay for his medical care and rehabilitation and prosecute those responsible. Beijing will have zero credibility on the rule of law both at home and abroad so long as individuals are tortured with impunity. Li will likely never be the same after this horrific experience – and neither should Beijing.