(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 Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

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.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

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.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

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.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(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.

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

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.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(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.  

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

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.

Habré will stand 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 Gberdao Gustave 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 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. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) - Iran’s judiciary executed Mohammad Sallas, a Dervish minority member, on June 18, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. He was convicted after a trial that raises serious concerns about its fairness, and despite serious allegations that the authorities tortured him in detention. Sallas’s family was allowed to bury his body in Boroujerd cemetery in Lorestan province, in western Iran, under a heavy security presence, though activists reported that his children were not allowed to view his body. 

Police Forces at the scene of the clashes, Tehran, Iran February 19, 2018. 

© 2018 Majzooban-e-Noor

On March 18, after a rapid trial that concluded only a few weeks after his arrest, and allegations of police torture to elicit a forced confession, the court sentenced Sallas, 46, to death. He was charged with killing three police officers by driving a bus into a crowd of security officers during the clashes that broke out after security forces violently repressed a demonstration of Dervish community members on February 19 and 20.

“The Iranian judiciary’s determination to execute Sallas after rushing his trial and sentence despite serious allegations of torture betrays the legal system’s core function of upholding justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of conducting an independent investigation into the security incidents during the February Dervish protests and granting all the accused a fair trial, authorities have once again shown their disdain for due process or defendants’ rights.”

Based on the Supreme Court’s verdict, which Zeinab Taheri, Sallas’s lawyer, published, the sole piece of evidence used to determine in court that Sallas was driving the bus that killed three police officers was the confession that Sallas said he gave after police officers severely beat him. After the trial, on May 15, Taheri told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that authorities had beaten Sallas so hard that he almost lost his eyesight and afterward had serious hearing problems, and that it was under these conditions that he made the confession. He repeated this confession in his first court session, saying that he drove into the police officers, but did it out of anger over their actions and had not intended to kill anyone. 

Sallas said that police also had severely beaten him before the bus driving incident, causing serious head injuries.

On June 17, Narges Sallas, Sallas’s daughter, told Human Rights Watch that authorities had broken Sallas’s finger after he told the judge during his second trial session that he did not remember driving the bus toward the police. There is no evidence that the courts considered the allegations of torture. 

On May 23, Taheri told media that she had filed for an appeal at branch 35 of Tehran’s Supreme Court, but the court rejected it. On June 12, Mahmoud Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, told journalists at a news conference that Sallas would be executed after Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan, which ended in Iran on June 15, the Iranian government rarely carries out executions. 

Since the February demonstrations, about 400 Dervish community members facing vaguely defined security charges have remained in detention. On May 28, Jafari Dolatabadi told journalists that verdicts had been issued against 67 of them. On May 27, Faeze Abadipour, a member of the Dervish community, tweeted that authorities had sentenced 23 members to a total of 119 years in prison, plus time in exile and flogging. 

Attacks on police forces are criminal acts, but Iranian authorities should ensure that all convictions are based on individual determinations of guilt after fair trials and not extend criminal responsibility to an entire group of protesters, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. 

Under international law, torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, is banned at all times, in all places. No national emergency, however dire, ever justifies its use, or the use of evidence obtained by torture.  

Under international law, everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, based on the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require them to avoid the use of force when dispersing assemblies that are unlawful but nonviolent or, if that is not practicable, to restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

Article 14 of the ICCPR also requires Iran to ensure the right to a fair trial for anyone brought before the criminal courts. This includes the right “to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing.” The Iranian authorities should charge detainees only with a recognizable crime and ensure the right to a fair trial for anyone charged, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. © 2018 REUTERS

(Washington, D.C.) -- On May 17, 2018 the US Senate voted to confirm Gina Haspel as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The following quote can be attributed to Laura Pitter, senior US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch:

“The US Senate’s confirmation of Gina Haspel for CIA director is the predictable and perverse byproduct of the US failure to grapple with past abuses. The torture at the center of the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program was a crime plain and simple, but the US government has never been willing to admit that or to take appropriate action. Until it does, the US aligns itself with countries that undermine respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law." 


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Displaced Iraqi families pictured in a camp. © 2017 by Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should not transfer a US citizen detained abroad to the custody of any country where he faces a substantial risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 17, 2018, the US filed notice in US federal court indicating it plans to transfer the detainee to another government’s custody, which media reports suggest is Saudi Arabia or Iraq. 
The US should either prosecute the detainee in US federal court if there is evidence he committed a crime, or release him, Human Rights Watch said. “The US should not be transferring anyone to a country where they face a risk of torture or ill-treatment,” said Laura Pitter, senior US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The detainee has the right to contest his transfer to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or any other country where he might face torture.”

The US government has been holding the prisoner, a dual US and Saudi citizen identified only as “John Doe” in court papers, at an undisclosed military prison in Iraq since he surrendered to US-allied forces in Syria in September 2017. According to media reports and court filings, the US suspects the detainee of being a low-level fighter with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). In court filings the detainee disputes this, asserting he travelled to Syria to report on the conflict but was kidnapped and imprisoned by ISIS and tried numerous times to escape. The US has not publicly charged him with a criminal offense. The April 17 notice was filed in US Federal Court for the District of Columbia indicating that it intended to transfer him to an undisclosed country within the next 72 hours. 

The US initially contested attempts to permit the detainee access to a lawyer but after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued, a US federal court ordered the government to permit the ACLU access. The ACLU challenged his detention in court ever since, as well as the government’s ability to transfer him to another country. On January 23, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the US government to give the court 72 hours’ notice if it intended to transfer the prisoner, which would permit the ACLU to file an emergency motion to block the transfer, which it did on April 18.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, which the US ratified in 1994, prohibits transferring anyone to the custody of another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the individual would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.  

In Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch has documented the use of torture in detention facilities. There have also been numerous cases in which criminal suspects alleged abuse in court. However, the courts, without investigating the claims, instead based convictions on allegedly coerced confessions. In Iraq, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of torture of captured extremist suspects, as well as sham trials followed by executions.

“It’s bad enough that the US has been detaining this individual for months, fighting his right to contest his detention and access to legal counsel,” Pitter said. “If the US now intends to transfer him to another country, it needs to make sure he won’t face a risk of torture and can challenge the transfer.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Numerous concerns have been raised about Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Though the US Senate confirmed him as  the Central Intelligence Agency director, albeit with significant objection, his new role would be much different and raises a host of new concerns.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

One is the influence he could exert over US overseas “rendition” policy – how the US handles the transfer of people from US custody to the custody of other governments or non-state armed groups abroad. US rendition practices in the years following the September 2001 attacks resulted in numerous abuses. In addition to unlawfully detaining and torturing scores of men in US custody, the US also sent an unknown number to countries where they faced torture — and many indeed were tortured –, violating the Convention against Torture, to which the US is party.

The Obama administration refused to take as strong a position as it could have on whether the US is legally bound by that treaty’s  prohibition on transferring people to places where they face a substantial risk of torture when that transfer takes place outside of US territory. Its position remained shrouded in secrecy.

Only after it released an unclassified portion of US overseas transfer policy as part of a summary of its legal positions at the end Obama’s second term did it become clear that it had adopted the George W. Bush administration’s position that the US is not legally bound by the treaty’s transfer provisions when those transfers take place outside the US. However, it did state that the US applied convention obligations as a matter of policy to all transfers regardless of location.

The position is contrary to international law and went against the advice of many key senior Obama officials, including the State Department legal adviser, Harold Koh. In 2013 Koh wrote a 90-page memo urging the administration to reject the “untenable” legal position that the US is not legally bound by this treaty provision concerning a transfer outside of US borders.

Given the integral role the State Department plays in these transfers, along with Pompeo’s past expression of support for CIA torture and his apparent frustration with laws barring it, senators should make this issue a major focus of his confirmation hearings. Does he consider the US to be bound by the convention’s transfer provisions outside the US? If not, will he commit to apply the convention’s standards on transfer as a matter of policy as the prior administration did? If so, how will he ensure this policy is enforced? Will he ensure that the US never transfers anyone from US custody to a government or non-state armed group when they are likely to face torture?

Though senators questioned Pompeo about his attitudes on torture during his CIA confirmation hearing, those questions focused mostly on whether he would abide by a 2015 law enacted after he made his views in support of the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” known. During his confirmation hearing, he did recognize the validity of that 2015 law and promised to respect it but in written follow-up questions and during interviews while CIA director, said he would look at the possibility of revising that law or finding ways around it if he found that US interrogators were unduly constrained.

There are strong safeguards against revising the 2015 law, which requires US interrogators to use only those techniques listed in the US Army Field Manual. The manual, which has its flaws, explicitly bans many unlawful practices the CIA used in the past, such as waterboarding, and torture more generally. Any revisions would have to be approved by Defense Secretary James Mattis, an outspoken critic of the use of torture, who at one point seemed to have convinced Trump that using it was ineffective, if not necessarily wrong. This time around, senators should focus their questions on the US overseas transfer policy given how much influence on these matters Pompeo could exert at the State Department. According to former senior State Department and National Security Council officials, the State Department is deeply involved in negotiating these transfers, determining their legality and appropriateness, and ensuring certain safeguards are in place when they do occur.

These questions are more important than ever given the shifting dynamics of US military operations. The US is engaged in major military operations around the world yet it has drastically reduced its detention operations in these locations. It relies more than ever on partner forces that detain and interrogate people in their custody. Just days ago it was revealed that the US military is spending about $1 million to help detain thousands of Islamic State fighters and their family members in makeshift camps run by Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

The only new detainee the Trump administration says it is holding is an unnamed American citizen in Iraq. This detainee requested a lawyer but the US refused to provide one until a court ordered it months later, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued to represent him. It also sought to transfer him to Saudi Arabia even though it has a well-known record of torture. In Yemen, US interrogators have questioneddetainees in secret prisons run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces where torture is widespread, and in another undisclosed location where the detention conditions were not known.

In this environment, the line between where partner custody ends, and US custody begins, as well as what constitutes a transfer to another government’s custody, should be closely watched. Pompeo’s expressed frustration with laws banning torture, the leading role the State Department plays in overseas transfers, and the limited domestic legal constraints on them, should make these issues and questions an important focus of Pompeo’s upcoming nomination hearing.

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

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018. © 2018 CIA handout

Much concern has been raised, for good reason, about President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Haspel allegedly was involved in reckless, illegal torture under the agency’s “rendition, detention and interrogation” program.

Since records remain classified, the full extent of Haspel’s involvement is not clear. The New York Times reports she ran the CIA’s first “black site” in Thailand when one detainee, Abd al-Nashiri, was severely tortured there. She also appears to have played a key role in pressing for and ultimately destroying videotapes of the torture of another detainee, Abu Zubaydah, whose detention at the same site began before she arrived.

One section of a Senate Intelligence Committee summary of a much larger classified report describes the CIA’s torture of Zubaydah to the point of near death: “In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’” The CIA discussed what to do if Zubaydah died and how to make sure no one learned what the CIA did to him. “In light of the planned psychological pressure techniques to be implemented, we need to get reasonable assurances that [he] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” a CIA cable read.

The CIA’s apparent hopes that Abu Zubaydah’s treatment would never see the light of day is one likely reason why Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA clandestine service at the time, ordered 92 video tapes of CIA interrogations destroyed. Rodriguez claims this was done solely to keep CIA agents’ identities confidential.

The government continues to keep classified many facts related to the CIA’s torture program, making it difficult to attribute to specific officials responsibility for incidents of torture or oversight of it. But it is clear that Haspel held a senior role at the CIA, and at a “black site,” during the height of the agency’s torture program.

Glenn Carle, a former undercover CIA operative who was involved in interrogating a suspected al Qaeda detainee, described her as “one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [CIA interrogation program].”  Former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, in his book, “A Company Man,” describes Haspel as having “run the [CIA] interrogation program.”

Rizzo also says in his book that Rodriguez and Haspel were “the staunchest advocates inside the [CIA] for destroying the tapes.” Rodriguez, in his book, “Hard Measures,” says that Haspel drafted the order, which Rodriguez signed even though Rizzo says he had told him not to do so without approval.

If this much is correct — that Haspel was heavily involved in running the torture program and destroying evidence of it — this is enough to disqualify her from heading the CIA. True, the Justice Department signed off on the program, and others in higher positions at the CIA made the decisions to carry it out. But the culpability of other senior officials doesn’t absolve her of responsibility.

The torture program clearly was inhumane. Many CIA professionals are reported to have taken stands against it, reported their concerns, or refused to carry out orders. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” were just the tip of the iceberg. There also was long-term incommunicado detention in unsanitary conditions, unlawful rendition, forced nudity, food deprivation and diapering, among other things.  

Haspel should not be confirmed to head the CIA even if she is “a consummate professional,” as some CIA colleagues have described her, or “a good deputy director” this past year, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. It’s fine to weigh these positives when considering someone for a position, but they cannot possibly outweigh the negatives associated with a record that includes running a program that was illegal under both U.S. and international law.

Failing to promote her to head the CIA would not be punishment, as some have claimed. Despite this huge black mark, she already has ascended to great heights within the agency.

Some U.S. senators such as Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Heinrich (D-N.M.), have expressed their opposition to Haspel’s nomination. Others, such as Feinstein, are reserving judgment but demanding more information be made public about Haspel’s role in the program prior to her confirmation hearing.

The public has a right to know more about this dark chapter in U.S. history. Without declassification, senators cannot ask important questions about Haspel’s record because her answers would be classified. Among these questions: Was she responsible for “management failures” that the CIA itself has described? Were these failures related to detainee abuse, or conditions of detention? Did she discipline officers for their conduct? Did she raise concerns about aspects of the program? Did she play a role in inflating reports of the intelligence gained from the program, which the CIA also has acknowledged?  

Other questions, such as whether she would ever use such techniques again and if she believes they were illegal, could be asked in a public setting. But even if Haspel disavows torture, it wouldn’t come close to erasing concerns to a degree that would favor confirmation. Promoting someone who made such profound errors in judgment to the senior position in an important and powerful agency, at a time when the president has himself supported the use of torture, sends the message to other U.S. government officials — and to the world — that fundamental violations of the law will be rewarded and that impunity in the United States is the order of the day.

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

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018.

© 2018 CIA handout
(Washington, DC) – The US Senate should oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Senate leadership and Select Committee on Intelligence. She was closely involved in the torture of detainees under the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program, and the destruction of related evidence.

The government should disclose more information about Haspel’s role in the RDI program, but what is already known should disqualify her from serving as CIA director and other senior government positions.

“President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate someone directly involved in overseeing the US torture of detainees and destroying evidence of it makes a mockery of laws prohibiting torture,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “Haspel’s confirmation at a time when the US president himself has endorsed torture would send a message that violations of fundamental rights will not only be tolerated but rewarded.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018.

© 2018 CIA handout


March 23, 2018

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader, US Senate

The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader, US Senate

The Honorable Richard Burr
Chairman, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

The Honorable Mark Warner
Vice Chairman, US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Re: Nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA Director

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Chairman Burr, and Vice Chairman Warner:

We write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express our opposition to the impending nomination of Gina Haspel to be Central Intelligence Agency director.

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate as CIA director someone closely involved in the torture of detainees under the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program,[1] and the destruction of related evidence, demonstrates contempt for the prohibition against torture under US and international law. It sends a message to the American people and the world that acting without regard for rights protections and the rule of law will be rewarded.

Much of Haspel’s role in the RDI program is not publicly known because the government has classified extensive information related to that program. Information on her role should be declassified and released publicly prior to her hearing so that both senators and the American public have a clear and full understanding of her record. However, what is already known should disqualify her from this critical cabinet-level position.

Ran CIA “Black Site,” Oversaw Torture

Haspel is credibly reported to have run a CIA “black site” in Thailand from late October 2002 until late December 2002 where at least two detainees, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were held.[2]

Though Haspel appears to have physically arrived at the Thai site toward the end of Abu Zubaydah’s most aggressive interrogation period, she would have known or should have learned that Abu Zubaydah had been subject to extensive torture and ill-treatment. This included being stripped naked, hit, slammed into walls, shackled into extremely painful stress positions, subjected to extreme cold, and waterboarded 83 times—on at least one occasion to the point of near death.[3]

Within weeks of her arrival, Haspel supervised the interrogation of al-Nashiri, a new detainee brought to the site. Interrogators used many of the same unlawful techniques used on Abu Zubaydah, including waterboarding.[4]

Role in Other Aspects of the RDI Program

By the end of December 2002, Haspel reportedly returned to the CIA Counterterrorism Center outside Washington as an operations officer.[5] No public record exists of the role she played in the RDI program between then and the time that she became chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA’s National Clandestine Service from 2004 or 2005 until 2007.[6] But credible, public accounts suggest that during this time she played a leading, supervisory role.

In his book, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo describes Haspel as having “run the [CIA] interrogation program.”[7] Glenn Carle, a former undercover CIA operative involved in interrogating a detainee in CIA custody described her as “one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [CIA interrogation program].”[8]

In addition to using so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the CIA also held detainees in long-term incommunicado detention in unsanitary conditions, forced detainees to be naked or wear diapers, and deprived them of food, and fed at least five detainees through their rectums.[9] The agency also unlawfully rendered numerous men to various countries, many of whom were then tortured by US partner forces.[10]

Haspel should publicly explain which aspects of the CIA program she was involved in during this time, if any, and her role. The CIA has admitted to a number of “management failures” during the time that she was in charge of the Thailand CIA “black cite.”[11] This included a failure to discipline for detainee abuse. The agency also admitted to inflating the value of intelligence gathered from detainees to continue justifying the program.[12] 

Destruction of Videotapes

In 2005 Haspel was involved in destroying 96 videotapes of some of the most violent images of CIA torture, mostly depicting the torture of Abu Zubaydah.[13] During one waterboarding session likely recorded, a CIA cable describes Abu Zubaydah having become “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”[14] John McPhearson, a CIA lawyer who reviewed the tapes, said they showed Abu Zubaydah, “crying” and “gagging” and that they were “very unpleasant to look at.”[15] 

In November 2005, Haspel drafted the order to destroy the tapes and Rodriguez signed it though Rizzo had instructed Rodriguez not to do so without his and further White House approval.[16] According to Rizzo, Rodriguez and Haspel were “the staunchest advocates inside the [CIA] for destroying the tapes,”[17] and Rodriguez said in his book that destroying the tapes was something that he and Haspel had been trying to do for a long time.[18]


The US Senate is charged with scrupulously examining the administration’s nominee for CIA director. Given her record, confirming Haspel would not only erode US respect for the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment but would undermine US commitments to human rights at home and abroad. For these reasons, we urge you to oppose her nomination.


Nicole Austin-Hillery
Executive Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch

Sarah Margon
Washington Director
Human Rights Watch


[1] Human Rights Watch, No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture, December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/01/no-more-excuses/roadmap-justice-cia-torture.

[2] Adam Goldman, “Gina Haspel, Trump’s Choice for C.I.A., Played Role in Torture Program,” New York Times, March 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/us/politics/gina-haspel-cia-director-nominee-trump-torture-waterboarding.html?smid=tw-share (accessed March 18, 2018).

[3] Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, December 13, 2012, https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4bb5-968f-289799bf6d0e/D87288C34A6D9FF736F9459ABCF83210.sscistudy1.pdf (accessed March 18, 2018)(hereinafter “Senate Summary”), pp. 31-47.

[4] Senate Summary, p. 67.

[5] Goldman, New York Times, March 13, 2018.

[6] Jose Rodriguez, “A CIA veteran on what ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ gets wrong about the bin Laden Manhunt,” Washington Post, January 3, 2013,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-cia-veteran-on-what-zero-dark-thirty-gets-wrong-about-the-bin-laden-manhunt/2013/01/03/4a76f1b8-52cc-11e2-a613- ec8d394535c6_story.html?utm_term=.e33121c5e84a (accessed March 19, 2018).

[7] John Rizzo, A Company Man, Scribner: New York 2014, p. 14.

[8] Natasha Bertrand, “A Controversial Record of Torture, but Maybe Not a Deal-Breaker for Democrats,” The Atlantic, March 13, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/democrats-may-look-past-a-cia-nominees-record-on-torture/555554/ (accessed March 19, 2018).

[9] See generally, Senate Summary. See also: Human Rights Watch, No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture

[10] See Human Rights Watch, Delivered Into Enemy Hands: US-Led Renditions to Gaddafi’s Libya, September 5, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/09/05/delivered-enemy-hands/us-led-abuse-and-rendition-opponents-gaddafis-libya; See also, Globalization of Torture Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” February 2013, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/globalizing-torture-20120205.pdf (accessed March 20, 2018).

[11] See U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “Comments on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Former Detention and Interrogation Program,” June 27, 2013, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/CIAs_June2013_Response_to_the_SSCI_Study_on_the_Former_Detention_and_Interrogation_Program.pdf (accessed March 22, 2018).

[12] Ali Watkins, “CIA Strikes Back At Senate: Torture Program Was Poorly Run, But It Worked,” The Huffington Post, December 9, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/09/cia-torture-program_n_6272220.html (accessed March 22, 2018).

[13] The exact number of tapes destroyed varies by source. In his book, “A Company Man, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo who has a first-hand account of the episode, says there were 100 hours of recordings on 96 tapes. See Rizzo, A Company Man, p. 7. Many media reports say 92 tapes were destroyed. See e.g., Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “Lawyers Left Off Memo to Destroy CIA Terror Tapes,” Associated Press, July 26, 2010, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38416094/ns/us_news-security/t/lawyers-left-memo-destroy-cia-terror-tapes/#.WquUY6jwY2x (accessed March 20, 2-018).

[14] Annabelle Timsit, “What Happened at the Thailand 'Black Site' Run by Trump's CIA Pick,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/gina-haspel-black-site-torture-cia/555539/?utm_source=poltw (accessed March 22, 2018).

[15] Rizzo, A Company Man, p. 8.

[16] Ibid,. pp. 16-17.

[17] Ibid., p. 14.

[18] Jose Rodriguez, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, Threshold Editions: New York, 2012, p. 193.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

"Adam," arrested in Kenya in February 2015 on homosexuality charges and subjected to a forced anal exam, sorts through police documents on his case. © 2015 Zoe Flood

(Nairobi) – A Court of Appeal in Mombasa, Kenya, ruled on March 22, 2018, that conducting forced anal examinations on people who are accused of same-sex relations is unconstitutional, Human Rights Watch said today. It was a resounding victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists in Kenya and beyond.

The ruling reversed a 2016 High Court decision that had upheld the Kenyan authorities’ use of forced anal exams to attempt to provide evidence of homosexual conduct. The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), a nongovernmental organization based in Nairobi, filed a constitutional challenge after police arrested two men in Kwale County in February 2015 on charges of homosexuality, and subjected them to forced anal exams, HIV tests, and Hepatitis B tests at Mombasa’s Madaraka Hospital.

“The ruling that forced anal exams violate Kenya’s constitution is of tremendous significance,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The ruling affirms the dignity of the two Kenyan men who were subjected to these horrific exams, and it reinforces the understanding that the constitution applies to all Kenyans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The petitioners contended that forced anal testing is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can amount to torture. The exams usually involve doctors or other medical personnel inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into the anus of the accused. In other cases, victims are ordered to strip naked and bend over or lie down with their feet in stirrups while doctors “visually” examine their anal regions.

Momentum has built in opposition to forced anal exams in recent years, in the countries where law enforcement makes use of the exams, and internationally. The Independent Forensic Experts Group has found that the exams, which are based on long-outdated 19th century medical theories,  are both medically worthless and a severe violation of medical ethics. Numerous United Nations (UN) agencies have opposed forced anal exams, and the Committee Against Torture has called on several countries, including Cameroon, Egypt, and Tunisia, to stop conducting them.

In October 2017, the World Medical Association adopted a resolution condemning forced anal exams and calling on doctors to stop conducting them. National medical associations in Lebanon, Tunisia, and most recently in Kenya have also criticized the exams. Tunisia, during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in September, accepted a recommendation to prohibit the use of forced anal exams, although it has not yet taken steps to do so.

Other countries that have conducted forced anal exams on people accused of homosexuality in the last eight years include Tanzania, Turkmenistan, and Zambia.

“With this ruling, the judges are saying that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and afforded our basic rights, as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution,” Njeri Gateru, head of Legal Affairs at NGLHRC, said in a statement.

Activists hope that the ruling will lend support to other civil rights cases pending in Kenya’s courts. In 2016, NGLHRC, along with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and the Nyanza Rift Valley & Western Kenya Network (NYARWEK), filed a constitutional challenge to sections 162(a) and (c) and 165 of Kenya’s penal code, which criminalize consensual same-sex relations. The groups contend that these colonial era laws prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” violate the rights of LGBT Kenyans and others to privacy, equality and non-discrimination. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

“This landmark ruling places Kenya’s courts at the vanguard in affirming that the government cannot deny LGBT people their basic rights,” Ghoshal said. “No one should be subjected to forced anal exams, and no one should be deprived of their rights because of who they are or whom they love.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

March 16, 2018

Dear Senator,

We write to express our grave concerns regarding the nomination of Gina Haspel for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and to ask that you not advance her nomination until all of the records on her past involvement in the CIA torture program are declassified and released to the public.  Senators should be concerned not only by Ms. Haspel’s reported role overseeing the torture of detainees at a secret CIA detention site in Thailand, but also by her participation in a deliberate attempt to avoid accountability by destroying video evidence of CIA torture.

Ms. Haspel joined the CIA in 1985, and has held several leadership roles in the agency’s clandestine operations. She was named Deputy Director of the CIA in 2017, despite the objections of senators who urged President Trump to reconsider her nomination in light of her past connection to torture.[1] Amid similar controversy in 2013, Haspel was denied a promotion to lead the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.[2]

We have strong concerns about Ms. Haspel’s reported role overseeing the torture of detainees at a clandestine detention site in Thailand, and her subsequent role in the destruction of evidence of those torture crimes. Detainees at the Thailand “black site” were waterboarded, slammed against walls, subjected to enforced sleeplessness, and confined to coffin-shaped boxes, among other criminal practices.[3] Ms. Haspel reportedly was in a supervisory position over the Thailand “black site” during this period—including an on-site leadership role when at least one detainee was brutally tortured—and knew about, reported on, and was otherwise involved in other cases of torture and detainee abuse.[4] But the full extent of her involvement is impossible to confirm because the CIA continues to insist that information about the full extent of her role remain classified. Executive Order 13526 prohibits the classification of records to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency,” so there is no reason for the torture program, or Ms. Haspel’s role in it, to remain classified.  Senators and the American people must be able to read these documents in assessing her nomination to be CIA Director.[5]

In addition to her role overseeing the use of torture, Ms. Haspel’s participation in the destruction of videotapes of the torture program, over objections of White House counsel and CIA General Counsel among others, is alarming. In November 2005, amid increasing public outrage over revelations of torture at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility, the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogations at clandestine facilities elsewhere.[6]  While the CIA maintains that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by then-Director of the National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, Rodriguez says in his 2013 book that Haspel drafted the order herself.[7] Former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo says Haspel and Rodriguez were the “staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes.”[8]

Destruction of the tapes appears to constitute a concerted effort to escape embarrassment and legal consequences. In 2004, in a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by the ACLU, a judge had ordered the government to preserve all records related to abuse of detainees overseas, which clearly applied to the videotapes.[9] The incident was also a clear violation of the Federal Records Act, and indicates that Ms. Haspel does not believe she has an obligation to follow the law or a court order.[10]  The destruction of the videotapes even prompted then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the destruction.

The Senate’s constitutional obligation to “advise and consent” on any nomination requires that it have full access to relevant information on the nominees before it. In Ms. Haspel’s case, the precise details of her role in the torture program remain classified. All senators should demand that those records be declassified and made public—before her nomination moves any further—so that they can actually discuss Ms. Haspel’s deeply disturbing background in open session, and so that the public can glean a more detailed picture of her role in one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history.

Ms. Haspel was a central figure in the torture program and the destruction of evidence of torture. Based on already available records and public reporting, it is clear by her wrongdoing that she demonstrated disregard for the rule of law and fundamental human rights.


American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Civil Liberties Union
Arab American Institute
Brennan Center for Justice
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Action
Free Press
Government Accountability Project
Government Information Watch
Herd on the Hill
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
National Security Archive
No More Guantanamos
North Carolina Stop Torture Now
Open the Government
PEN America
Physicians for Human Rights
Project On Government Oversight
Restore The Fourth
Sunlight Foundation
Win Without War

[1] See: “Wyden, Heinrich Express Concern on Selection of Gina Haspel to be Deputy Director of the CIA,” February 2, 2017, available at: https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-heinrich-express-...

[2] Greg Miller, “CIA selects new head of clandestine service, passing over female officer,” Washington Post, May 7, 2013, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-selects-new-h...

[3] Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, December 13, 2012, available at: https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4...

[4] Adam Goldman, “Gina Haspel, Trump’s Choice for C.I.A., Played Role in Torture Program,” New York Times, March 13, 2018, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/us/politics/gina-haspel-cia-director-...

[5] See: “Heinrich, Wyden Urge CIA to Declassify Information About Deputy Director Haspel’s Background,” February 23, 2017, available at: https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/press-releases/heinrich-wyden-urge-cia-t...

[6] Mark Mazetti, “U.S. Says C.I.A. Destroyed 92 Tapes of Interrogations,” New York Times, March 2, 2009, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/washington/03web-intel.html

[7] Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, Threshold Editions, 2013, pg. 193.

[8] John Rizzo, Company Man: 30 Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, Scribner, 2014, pg. 14.

[9] See: ACLU v. Department of Defense, available at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/aclu-v-department-defense

[10] Federal Records Act, 44 U.S.C. Chapter 31.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) testifies before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination to head the CIA on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – In response to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State and Gina Haspel as CIA Director please find the following response from Sarah Margon, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch:

“US President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State and Gina Haspel to succeed him as CIA Director is deeply troubling because of their past endorsements of torture.

“During his CIA confirmation hearing on January 12, 2017, Pompeo failed to unequivocally disavow the US government’s use of torture and mass surveillance. In a January 2018 speech on interrogation methods, Pompeo again missed an opportunity to reject torture and suggested coercive methods were acceptable. If Pompeo is confirmed to be the global face of the US government, his views on torture would harm the standing of the US abroad.

“Haspel is credibly reported to have run a CIA “black site” in Thailand as part of a US program that used torture after the 9/11 attacks. She later served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, who led the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from approximately 2002 to 2004. In these positions she would have been directly involved in the CIA’s notorious and unlawful rendition, detention, and interrogation program. The government should investigate Haspel for past violations, not nominate her for higher office.

“Given their histories, the potential for Pompeo and Haspel to endorse abusive practices and lend support for their use abroad should convince the Senate to reject both nominations.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Parents of detained businessman Iskander Erimbetov hold press conference with Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, human rights activist, to discuss allegations that Erimbetov has been tortured in custody, Almaty, Kazakhstan, December 7, 2017.

© 2017 Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
(Almaty) – Kazakh authorities should provide immediate medical assistance to a detained businessman who has alleged that he was beaten and ill-treated, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should also ensure that their investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment and torture of the businessman, Iskander Erimbetov, is swift, impartial, and thorough, and capable of bringing those responsible for abuse to account.

“The disturbing accounts of Mr. Erimbetov’s case cast doubt on Astana’s commitment to tackle torture and other ill-treatment,” said Bjørn Engesland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Astana should immediately protect Erimbetov from further abuse and provide him with all necessary medical attention.”

Erimbetov, 46, was arrested on November 13, 2017, as a suspect in a money-laundering investigation tied to an exiled former banker and government critic, Mukhtar Ablyazov. An Almaty court has authorized Erimbetov’s detention until at least March 13, when it will review whether it should be extended.

At news conferences on December 7 and 21, and January 10, 2018, Erimbetov’s parents expressed alarm about the conditions in which Erimbetov is being held and alleged that he was being ill-treated. His mother, Gaini Erimbetova, who is also Erimbetov’s lay public defender, filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office on January 11, alleging her son had been beaten and injured in custody.

On January 12, Kazakhstan’s Anti-Torture Coalition, a body consisting of 40 human rights groups and independent experts, issued an urgent statement calling on Kazakh authorities to investigate Erimbetov’s claims of ill-treatment and torture.

On January 22, the Almaty City Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Erimbetova told the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that when she met with her son on January 11, his face was bruised and swollen, and that he had a wound on his forehead, with coagulated blood. She said she also saw bruises on her son’s arms and legs and that he appeared to be in “considerable pain, continuously held one hand to his side and complained about headaches and dizziness.”

Erimbetov’s lawyer, Zhanara Balgabaeva, confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Erimbetov had bruises on his face, appeared to have suffered a concussion, and was holding his ribs, complaining of pain. Balgabaeva told Human Rights Watch that she feared for Erimbetov’s safety.

In a statement issued on February 2, independent human rights defenders Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and Zhemis Turmagambetova, head of the Charter for Human Rights, who visited Erimbetov in detention at the invitation of the Kazakh government, said they found him to be in “in a state of extreme dejectedness, scared.”

The government initiated the monitoring visit after officials received an urgent communication from the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzner, about the alleged abuse of Erimbetov, according to the defenders’ statement. The defenders expressed “grave concern about the situation in which Mr. Erimbetov finds himself” and said that Erimbetov “essentially confirmed the information contained in the special rapporteur’s inquiry.”

The monitoring team told the authorities that given Mr. Erimbetov’s state of health, “he [should] be provided with emergency medical assistance, including, possibly, placing him in a medical ward and an examination by a medical professional.”

Balgabaeva told Human Rights Watch on February 15 that Erimbetov had received intravenous drips and medication for four days, but had not been transferred to a medical unit, or undergone a full medical examination. The Kazakh authorities should swiftly ensure that Erimbetov receives a full medical examination by an independent doctor and any treatment medically recommended, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said.

Over the past two months, Erimbetova has repeatedly reported to the media and on her Facebook page that Erimbetov has been ill-treated in detention and that officials have pressured Erimbetov to confess. Erimbetova described to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee efforts by the authorities to force Erimbetov to incriminate himself. When he refused, she said, officials placed him in a cell with four other detainees who beat Erimbetov, including with a wooden stick wrapped in a wet towel, and threatened to rape him with a broomstick. At one point the cellmates apparently attempted to force Erimbetov’s head into a bucket of excrement, and on one occasion they choked him with a cord.

Balgabaeva said that during questioning on January 13, Erimbetov said he did not feel well and that detention officials called an ambulance. The medics who examined Erimbetov concluded he had suffered an injury to his ribs, his lawyer said.

On January 24, two days after the police opened the investigation into Erimbetova’s claims, the agency leading the investigation, the National Anti-Corruption Agency, issued a statement denying that Erimbetov had been “subject to unlawful interrogation methods and torture.” The agency cited the conclusions of the National Ombudsman’s office, which had visited Erimbetov in detention on January 13, and reported that “Erimbetov did not state any complaints and claims related to ill-treatment or other pressure on him” and “a visual examination by [the Ombudsman] did not confirm the presence of bodily injuries mentioned in the abovementioned petition.”

A thorough and impartial investigation is essential to establish the facts and to ensure accountability for any abuses Erimbetov suffered in detention, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch said.

The prohibition of torture is one of the most fundamental in international law. Kazakhstan is party to the Convention against Torture, which defines torture as intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering for a prohibited purpose, such as to obtain a confession. International law requires investigation and prosecution of those who carried out the abuse, as well as those who ordered it.

“Opening an investigation into Erimbetov’s allegations of torture is an important step, but those responsible for abusing him need to be held accountable for justice to be served,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch “More immediately, authorities should see to Erimbetov’s health and ensure that he receives proper medical attention.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ismae Teh, a prominent human rights activist, faces defamation charges for speaking out publicly about being tortured by the Thai military. 

© 2018 Private

(New York) – The Thai military should immediately withdraw criminal and civil defamation cases against a human rights activist who spoke out publicly about his torture by security forces in Thailand’s southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said today. The military has also brought defamation cases against prominent online media that reported the case.

“The Thai military is retaliating against a torture victim and the media that reported serious rights violations instead of holding its personnel to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thailand’s military junta, which controls the armed forces, should order the defamation cases dropped and launch a serious impartial investigation into these ill-advised reprisals.”  

Thailand’s military junta, which controls the armed forces, should order the defamation cases dropped and launch a serious impartial investigation into these ill-advised reprisals.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On February 14, 2018, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, in charge of the government’s security operations in the southern border provinces, filed criminal and civil complaints with the Muang Pattani police accusing Ismae, the founder of the Patani Human Right Organization (HAP), of defamation. These complaints followed allegations Ismae made on the Thai PBS TV program “Policy By People” on February 5 that he was tortured in military custody in 2008. On February 9, ISOC Region 4 filed another civil defamation complaint seeking 10 million baht (US$286,000) in damages from MGR Online news for its online reports about Ismae’s case. 

The Thai military arrested Ismae and held him incommunicado in military detention in 2008 at the Ingkayuthboriharn Camp in Pattani province. Ismae said military interrogators electrocuted, punched, kicked, and beat him with a stick until he passed out. They also poured water on him to make him suffocate. Ismae said the torture was used to force him to confess that he was involved in a separatist insurgency. In October 2016, the Administrative Court ordered the army to pay Ismae compensation of 305,000 baht ($8,700) for emotional distress and physical injuries suffered. No security personnel have been prosecuted for Ismae’s torture and mistreatment.

A victim’s right to file complaints about torture and other ill-treatment and to have the complaint promptly and impartially investigated is guaranteed under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties.

In June 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) recommended that Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”

The Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the southern insurgency, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since 2004. Moreover, the Thai penal code still does not recognize torture as a criminal offense.

Besides denying allegations of torture and other serious abuses committed by security personnel, the Thai military has frequently accused those bringing complaints of making false statements with the intent of damaging its reputation.

Attempts by the military to use defamation complaints against torture victims are contrary to  Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s so-called national human rights agenda and his numerous promises to criminalize torture.

“Thai military prosecutions of a rights activist and the media for bringing the rampant problem of torture to light only undermines government claims that its actions in the deep south are in accordance with the law,” Adams said. “Its efforts against brutal separatist insurgents are not helped by covering up torture and other heinous crimes.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am