(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

General Abdul Raziq, Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahare, addresses officers during their graduation ceremony at the Kandahar Regional Training Center in southern Afghanistan, Jun. 7, 2012.

© 2012 United States Air Force

When the United Nations Committee against Torture grilled Afghanistan’s delegation last month about government efforts to curb torture, members asked about one person in particular: Gen. Abdul Raziq. That was no accident. Raziq, the Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahar, has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

Last Friday, the committee released its report describing “numerous and credible allegations” that Raziq is “widely suspected of complicity, if not of personal implication, in severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and …secret detention centers.” It urged that “all alleged perpetrators, including … General Abdul Raziq” be “duly prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted with penalties that are commensurate with the grave nature of their crimes.”

Those crimes are horrific. The Committee against Torture noted the numerous reports of detainees in Kandahar who alleged torture or ill-treatment, including “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”

During the UN session, one committee member pointedly asked Afghanistan’s attorney general, Farid Hamidi, what the government of President Ashraf Ghani was doing about Raziq. Hamidi  replied that the Afghan government was “very serious and sensitive about cases of torture.” But he said nothing about Raziq.

Even the Ghani administration seems afraid of Raziq, who operates far outside the law and has powerful support, notably from US intelligence and security officials, who consider him an ally in the fight against the Taliban. The speaker of Afghanistan’s senate and several other senators called the committee report “vague,” and suggested it had been fabricated by Pakistani intelligence. Raziq denied the committee’s allegations.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Almost 16 years after the defeat of the Taliban government, Afghans continue to suffer at the hands of abusive strongmen, warlords and government officials. In failing to hold them accountable, the Afghan government along with its international donors have consistently undermined the very institutions Afghans need to rely on for their security.

Afghanistan has one year to respond to the UN committee’s questions. But unless the government gets serious about bringing to book serial rights-violators like Raziq, that response will do nothing to eradicate Afghanistan’s entrenched culture of impunity.

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

(Berlin) – The German parliament should reject a proposed security agreement with the Egyptian Interior Ministry, Human Rights Watch said today. The agreement, which is scheduled for a vote on April 28, 2017, lacks human rights protections and would be with a security agency whose officers have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and most likely extrajudicial killings. As a result, it could make German officials complicit in serious human rights violations.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands following a news conference at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt on March 2, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The agreement would establish cooperation in a number of fields, most importantly in combating terrorism. It obliges the authorities of both countries to cooperate in investigations, share information about suspects, and carry out joint operations. It includes only the vaguest reference to “upholding human rights” and lacks any effective guarantee that the major human rights abuses by Egyptian security agencies will end.

“If the German government wants to help protect German and Egyptian citizens from terrorism while respecting human rights, this is a terrible way of going about it,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should be getting cast-iron guarantees that Egypt is calling a halt to its abuses, not rushing to put its agents next to Egyptian forces on the front line of repression.”

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar signed the agreement with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, in July 2016, but it remains subject to approval by the German Bundestag.

The agreement says it is aimed at combating terrorism and organized crime. It lays out 22 fields in which various German authorities, including the Interior Ministry and federal police, would cooperate with the Egyptian Interior Ministry. They include preventing and combating corruption, human trafficking, drug and weapons smuggling, and money laundering.

Under the agreement, Germany and Egypt would exchange experts on crime prevention, share information on suspects and the structure of criminal groups, carry out “operational measures” in the presence of the partner government’s agents, and share staff and material to assist “operational investigations.”

Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a decades-long history of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, in violation of both international and Egyptian law and with little or no accountability. Officers of the ministry’s National Security Agency, which has primary responsibility for countering terrorism, have committed most of these abuses, especially in cases in which detainees have been accused of terrorism, which Egyptian law defines broadly. The authorities regularly use allegations of terrorism to criminalize peaceful dissent.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency in response to two Islamic State church bombings on April 9 expanded the National Security Agency’s already wide powers.

It allows the authorities to arrest and search suspects without warrants, conduct limitless surveillance, censor any publication, seize property, restrict public meetings, and set opening and closing times for businesses. Perhaps most worrying, prosecutors can send cases to Emergency State Security Courts, whose trials do not meet international fair trial standards and whose rulings are not subject to appeal.

Egypt’s counterterrorism laws are drawn very broadly and used against peaceful protesters and other political opponents who have faced trial based on nothing more than the unsubstantiated testimony of National Security agents. Most recently, prosecutors used them against a human rights lawyer who represented clients of police abuse. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly making threatening posts on his Facebook page.

Egypt’s penal code defines terrorism broadly as “any use of force or violence or any threat or intimidation to disturb public order or jeopardize the safety and security of society, if it would harm or spread terror among individuals or expose their lives, freedoms or security to danger.” Terrorism can also include threats to “disrupt the implementation of the constitution or laws.”

The requirements of the proposed agreement aimed at guaranteeing cooperation in combating terrorism would almost certainly lead to German security agents assisting the Egyptian National Security Agency, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the systematic use of torture by police and National Security agents to elicit confessions and punish detainees. In 2011, Human Rights Watch determined that “the government is failing miserably to provide victims of torture and ill-treatment effective remedy, or to deter such abuses from occurring in the future.” Egypt’s inadequate legal framework for punishing torture, the lack of an independent body to investigate the police, and prosecutors’ near-total deference to National Security agents have all contributed to this impunity.

The number of enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial killings by National Security agents has risen sharply since al-Sisi appointed Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar as interior minister in March 2015. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented that National Security agents probably killed at least four and possibly as many as 10 men in North Sinai whom they had forcibly disappeared. The authorities then appeared to stage a fake counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.

The proposed agreement also runs counter to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions about Egypt in 2013, in the wake of the mass killings of at least 1,185 protesters by Egyptian security forces. The council suspended export licenses to Egypt for any equipment that might be used for internal repression and decided to review all security assistance to Egypt.

In August 2014, Human Rights Watch concluded that the mass killings of 2013, overseen by then-Defense Minister al-Sisi and primarily carried out by Interior Ministry forces, probably amounted to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch said that United Nations member countries should suspend all security assistance to Egypt until the government adopted measures to end serious human rights violations and hold violators accountable, and should avoid complicity in abuses committed by Egyptian authorities.

No government official or member of the security forces has been held accountable for the killings, and prosecutors have opened no investigation. An executive summary of a government fact-finding report released in November 2014 did not recommend charges. Hundreds of people arrested during the fatal protest dispersals in 2013 remain on trial on charges that include joining an armed group, killing security forces, and blocking roads.

The proposed agreement also contains troubling provisions on information sharing. It does set rules for protecting personal data and states that the agreement is not meant to provide information “to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” But the agreement would require the partner agencies to inform each other – verbally in urgent cases – when one agency requests information “about the particulars of those involved in criminal offenses, structures of offender groups and criminal organizations and the links between them” and to help “track down the offenders.” This provision raises the possibility that the Egyptian Interior Ministry will use its German partners to obtain information about political opponents who have not committed a crime.

The agreement also appears to encourage voluntary sharing of information “which may be of importance to track down” terrorism suspects in the absence of a request.

Despite the reference to “upholding human rights,” the agreement states clearly that cooperation will be governed by each country’s respective national law and makes no reference to international law regarding arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, or extrajudicial killings. The fact that no National Security officer has ever received a final conviction for torture or ill-treatment shows that Egyptian national law has proven inadequate for preventing these abuses.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

21 April 2017

 

Re: Addressing the serious deterioration of human rights in Turkey

Dear Assembly Member,

We are writing, ahead of the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), to call on you to support the recommendation included in the report of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) to reopen the monitoring procedure on the situation in Turkey until the grave concerns raised by the Rapporteurs are duly addressed by the Government of Turkey.

We believe that a decision by PACE to reopen the monitoring procedure would send a strong message to Turkey and indicate a commitment to holding the government and president accountable for their repeated failure to respect their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and as a member of the Council of Europe.

Only a decision to reopen full monitoring of the situation in Turkey would acknowledge the grave human rights violations documented in the country in recent years, including the severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention, arbitrary detentions, prosecutions, dismissals, confiscation of passports and property, and continued violence and serious abuses in South East Turkey. It would allow for greater scrutiny by members of the Parliamentary Assembly and create a more appropriate forum to debate the actions the Turkish authorities should take to address the Assembly’s concerns. It would provide a recognition by the Assembly of the rapid deterioration since July 2016 of the functioning of democratic institutions and backsliding on human rights and the rule of law in the country.

Turkey is under a state of emergency imposed after a failed coup last July, allowing President Erdoğan to head the cabinet and rule the country by decree, with weakened parliamentary and judicial oversight.

Independent mainstream media in Turkey have been all but silenced, with over 160 media outlets and publishing houses closed down since July 2016, and around 150 journalists and media workers currently jailed pending trial. Over 100,000 civil servants have been summarily dismissed or suspended without due process and over 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial. They face charges of involvement in the coup plot and of association either with the Fethullah Gülen movement, branded a terrorist organization by the government, or with Kurdish political activism that the government considers is linked to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Among those jailed are the two leaders of the opposition Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) and 12 other members of parliament from the party.

The constitutional amendments approved by referendum on April 16, 2017 will give the president an immediate right to playing a leading role in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament and the power - as president and through parliament - to control most appointments to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. The impact of this will be to ensure the president wields enormous influence over the entire judiciary. In a context where courts are already under political influence, the future prospects for judicial independence in Turkey will be scant. After elections in November 2019 the president will have full authority to appoint all ministers, legislate by decree, and dissolve and reconstitute parliament. The constitutional changes will fundamentally curtail parliamentary oversight of the executive, including by ending no confidence motions and by ending the precondition of parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the president’s budget.

The 16 April constitutional referendum took place in a highly repressive climate. The continuation of the state of emergency measures, the control of media by the government and the detention of critical journalists and leaders of the pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition contributed to severely restrict the possibility for open public debate on the constitutional amendments. The PACE and OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions raised serious concerns about the climate for the referendum and criticized the decision to accept ballots in envelopes not bearing official polling station stamps. Several opposition parties raised profound concerns about possible election fraud and irregularities during the constitutional referendum. On 18 April, the European Commission called on the authorities to launch transparent investigations into alleged irregularities.

Finally, the cabinet’s decision to extend the state of emergency for three months shortly after the announcement of the referendum result and the president’s support for reintroducing the death penalty further endanger the human rights situation and the rule of law in the country. In a statement on 19 April, the PACE Rapporteur on abolition of the death penalty stressed that “reintroducing the death penalty would be simply incompatible with Turkey’s continued membership of the Council of Europe.”

The government of Turkey has largely ignored the concerns raised by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in a 13 March opinion on the constitutional amendments and about holding a referendum on the constitution in such a context.

By considering the report on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey” of its Monitoring Committee, the Parliamentary Assembly has a unique opportunity to uphold the principles and obligations contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and the values of the Council of Europe. We urge you once again to vocally support the recommendation contained in this report  “to reopen the monitoring procedure in respect of Turkey until its concerns are addressed in a satisfactory manner.”

Over the past decades, and in July 2016 by opposing the attempted coup, the population of Turkey has demonstrated its attachment to democracy and human rights. It deserves your full support in calling for the restoration of full respect for human rights in Turkey and for the reaffirmation by the Turkish authorities of their respect for international and regional human rights commitments.

Sincerely,

  • Amnesty International
  • Article 19
  • Human Rights Watch
  • PEN International
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

How is it possible that in a western European country torture not only happens but isn’t even criminalized?

Last Friday marked the 2nd anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling in favour of Arnaldo Cestaro, one of the demonstrators who were brutally beaten by Italian police when they stormed the occupied Diaz-Pertini school during the 2001 G8 in Genoa. He was tortured, said the Court, and the Italian criminal system proved incapable both of preventing and of adequately punishing it.

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights sit in the courtroom during a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, June 10, 2015.

© 2017 Reuters

The ECtHR asked Italy to introduce “legal mechanisms capable of imposing appropriate penalties on those responsible for acts of torture and other types of ill-treatment,” in line with the conclusions and recommendations formulated by the UN Committee against Torture, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and more recently by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. But two years on from the sentence, and 28 since the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture, Italy is yet to fulfil its obligation.

Just last Thursday, the Italian government admitted its full responsibility for police brutality at the Bolzaneto detention center, again on the margins of the G8 in Genoa, and acknowledged the lack of adequate legislation, committing to “introduce criminal sanctions to punish ill-treatment and acts of torture.”   

draft law –  so heavily amended that its text would no longer be in line with the international standards, according to its original proponents – has been languishing in the Senate since last summer. Many fear it will be just another fiasco in a long list of failures, strengthening the impression that the current legislature, just like its predecessors, has decided not to act.

The state’s inertia comes at a very high price: it undermines the Italian authorities’ international credibility right at a moment when cooperation with their Egyptian counterparts would be crucial in the ongoing efforts to seek truth and justice for Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher tortured to death in Cairo more than one year ago. It also tarnishes the memory of Stefano Cucchi, Federico Aldrovandi, Giuseppe Uva, Carlo Saturno, and of all those who died while in State custody, by and large with impunity; and it increases the sense of injustice felt by their families as well as by those who suffered torture and decided to fight for it to never happen again.

“Money won’t compensate for the evil that was done. Today’s [ruling] was a first step, but I will only feel truly compensated when the State introduces the crime of torture,” said Cestaro. The ECtHR ruled in his favour, but only Italy can grant him justice, by acting to fulfil its long overdue obligation. How much longer must he wait?

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

US Senator Dianne Feinstein and others have expressed important reservations over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s record and views on torture during the confirmation process.

I cannot support the nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Watch my remarks: https://t.co/pOcq7FO6Eo #SCOTUS

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) April 3, 2017

Communications disclosed as part of the process indicate that while Gorsuch was a lawyer at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, he defended the use of executive authority to attempt to get around laws banning torture. He also worked as part of a legal team that supported stripping detainees at Guantanamo Bay of the right to challenge their detention in federal court – a position ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush. Gorsuch also defended asserting state secrecy rules to deny Khaled el-Masri, whom the US government now admits it wrongfully detained, the right to pursue in US courts allegations he was tortured.

When asked about some of these positions during his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said he was just working as a member of a team defending his client – the executive branch. But that does not sufficiently explain his position or reassure the public that he wouldn’t back a future executive authority attempt to return to torture, which is illegal not only under US but also international law. His position on torture is particularly important given President Donald Trump’s statements supporting the use of torture during the campaign, though Trump has since qualified his position, saying he’d defer to the judgment of Defense Secretary James Mattis, an outspoken critic of torture.

How Gorsuch views torture are also important because the US has not adequately reckoned with its use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Though the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014, then led by Senator Feinstein, issued a groundbreaking 499-page summary of a report it drafted that disclosed the extent and brutality of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention and interrogation program, the full 7,000 page report remains classified, and the entire story about the program has yet to be told.

There has also been no justice or even compensation for the victims of the CIA program or hundreds of detainees abused while in US military custody. It is critical that senators demand that nominees like Gorsuch — who, if confirmed, may be in a position to judge the legality of such practices again — provide more about their record and views on torture. 

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

(New York) – Thai authorities should promptly and independently investigate the death of an army conscript from apparent torture while detained in a military jail, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also undertake a broader campaign to end the longstanding use of corporal punishment in the armed forces, including by prosecuting military commanders for serious offenses by soldiers under their command.

Pvt. Yutthakinun Boonniam, 22, was beaten to death while detained in a military remand facility in Thailand's Surat Thani province during March 27 - 31, 2017. 

© 2017 Private

On April 1, 2017, Pvt. Yutthakinun Boonniam, 22, was pronounced dead at the Surat Thani Hospital, a day after he was brought in from the military remand facility at the 45th Military Circle Camp in Surat Thani province, where he had been detained since March 27 for disciplinary offenses. The doctors stated that he suffered many injuries, including kidney damage, apparently from severe beatings. Yatthakinun’s last words to his mother, who visited him at the hospital, were: “I was beaten up. It hurt so much.”

“Another army conscript dies from an apparent beating, yet Thai leaders don’t seem interested in addressing the problem,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government and the military should urgently act to end these brutal assaults and the culture of impunity that has meant no punishment for abusive soldiers and the officers ultimately responsible.”

On April 3, the army commander-in-chief, Gen. Chalermchai Sittisat, publicly expressed regret and apologized for Yutthakinun’s death. But while stating that corporal punishment was forbidden in military camps, General Chalermchai blamed the death on “old habits among soldiers who were previously deployed along Thailand’s border and are used to strict discipline and harsh punitive measures.”

The army inducts about 100,000 conscripts across Thailand each year but fails to implement effective safeguards against torture and other human rights violations committed by officers or other soldiers.

“Contrary to army spokesperson Col. Winthai Suvaree’s statement on April 3 that Yutthakinun’s death was an isolated incident, the Thai army faces a chronic inability to end abuses against its conscripts,” Adams said.

The government and the military should urgently act to end these brutal assaults and the culture of impunity that has meant no punishment for abusive soldiers and the officers ultimately responsible.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In another high-profile case reported by Human Rights Watch, there has been no progress in prosecuting the soldiers responsible for the death of Pvt. Wichian Puaksom, who was tortured to death while undergoing disciplinary punishment at the 151st Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division in Narathiwat province in June 2011.

Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited under international treaties that Thailand has ratified. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment specifically places an obligation on governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment.

However, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s repeated pledges to make torture a criminal offense under Thai law remain unfulfilled.

Thai military personnel have also been repeatedly implicated in torture and other abuses against suspected insurgents and civilians in Thailand’s southern border provinces, where there has been a long-running insurgency.

However, the government is not known to have prosecuted successfully any members of the security forces for torture or other serious abuses against civilians. In many cases, Thai authorities have provided financial compensation to the victims or their families in exchange for their agreement not to pursue criminal prosecution against abusive officials. There have also been many reported instances in which military officers retaliated against their accusers by filing criminal defamation lawsuits and alleging those complainants violated the Computer-Related Crime Act by disseminating false statements online.

“Thailand’s military needs to take swift action to show that there will be no place in its ranks for those who believe they have unchecked powers to abuse other soldiers or anyone else,” Adams said. “The government and top military commanders should ensure that Private Yutthakinun’s death will be the last case of barrack brutality in Thailand.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the Committee on Torture’s pre-sessional review of Lebanon to highlight the inadequate definition of torture in Lebanon, the use of torture in Lebanon, including acts of torture and ill-treatment by Lebanese security and military personnel, a lack of adequate investigations, the use of confessions extracted under torture, and refoulement.

Defining torture (Articles 1, 4)

Lebanon ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention) in 2000. However, Lebanon has not amended its laws to criminalize all acts of torture. Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code states that “anyone who inflicts violent practices not permitted by the law against another person with the intention to extract a confession of a crime or information related to it will be imprisoned from three months to three years. If the violent practices have led to sickness or caused wounds, the minimum period of imprisonment is one year.”[1] The penal code does not however criminalize non-physical forms of torture, such as mental or psychological torture, and does not cover situations where torture is used other than for obtaining confessions or information, in violation of Lebanon's obligations under the Convention. Also, the penalty it prescribes - a minimum of three months and maximum of three years in jail - does not reflect the internationally-recognized "grave nature" of torture.[2] The Lebanese penal code does not adhere to article 1 & 4 of the Convention.

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Amend article 401 of the Penal Code to criminalize all forms of torture and ill-treatment and make Lebanon’s definition of the offenses consistent with the definition in the Convention;
  • Make the crime of torture punishable by a sentence that reflects the internationally-recognized "grave nature" of torture.

Acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Lebanon (Articles 2, 11, 16)

Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which security forces and military personnel in Lebanon reportedly committed acts of torture.

In 2006, Lebanese soldiers and plainclothes officers arrested nine individuals and detained them over a three-day period starting on March 31, 2006. The detainees told Human Rights Watch that army members blindfolded them and transferred them to the Ministry of Defense, where Military Intelligence detained them until April 7, 2006. Detainees said that during their time at the ministry, they were denied access to counsel and to their families. Four of the detainees alleged that interrogators tortured them during their detention in order to force them to confess, while the others said that interrogators frequently punched them. One of the detainees, Ghassan Slaybi, told Human Rights Watch that armed guards at the Ministry of Defense hit him with a thick wooden stick on his back and tortured him by placing him on an electric chair. He said that interrogators threatened to harm his wife if he did not cooperate. His son Muhammad, 19, who was arrested at the same time, said that interrogators hit him on the soles of his feet and suspended him in the extremely painful balanco position (hanging the victim by the wrists, which are tied behind the back), in order to extract confessions. Some of the detainees said they signed confessions that they did not read.[3]

In 2012, the Internal Security Forces vice squad arrested 36 men during a July 28 raid on a movie theater in the Burj Hammoud district of Beirut. The men were transferred to Hbeich police station, where they said they were subjected to anal examinations. Forced anal examinations lack evidentiary value and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may in some cases amount to torture.[4] Anal exams or the threat of anal exams continued to be reported in Lebanon throughout 2014 and 2015, although human rights activists in Beirut reported that the incidence of exams seemed to have diminished since.[5]

In July 2013, Human Rights Watch documented seven cases of torture of detainees in military custody, including two children, following clashes between followers of Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir and the Lebanese army in June. Human Rights Watch interviewed five men and two boys who were detained by the Lebanese army for periods of time ranging from several hours to six days, and later released. All of the former detainees said that army personnel kicked and beat them with fists and, in some cases, sticks, cables, and batons during initial interrogations at checkpoints. At the time of interviews, all bore visible marks consistent with the beatings. Two of the detainees showed Human Rights Watch marks on their bodies that they said were from soldiers burning them with cigarettes. Some said that they had witnessed the beatings and torture of other detainees. Human Rights Watch also received troubling information that another man, Nader Bayoumi, died in military custody during this period. His family told Human Rights Watch that Military Intelligence instructed them to pick up Bayoumi’s body, which was heavily bruised, from the military hospital three days after he disappeared on June 23. The outcome of any investigations into these allegations remains unknown.[6]

In a 2013 report based on 53 interviews with detainees and former detainees, Human Rights Watch found that Lebanese Internal Security Forces threatened, ill-treated, and tortured drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in their custody. The most common forms of torture reported were beatings with fists, boots, or implements such as sticks, canes, and rulers. Physical violence was used both to extract confessions and as punishment or to correct the detainee’s behavior.[7] 

Twenty-one of the 25 women interviewed who had been arrested for suspected drug use or sex work told Human Rights Watch that police had subjected them to sexual violence or coercion, ranging from rape to offering them “favors” in exchange for sex. Seventeen former detainees said they were denied food, water, or medication when they needed it, or that their medication was confiscated. Nine reported being handcuffed in bathrooms or kept in extremely uncomfortable positions for hours at a time. Eleven said they were forced to listen to the screams of other detainees to scare them into cooperating or confessing. Almost all those who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they were threatened with physical violence, with five reporting that police threatened to physically harm their families as a form of retaliation or punishment.[8]

Former detainees reported torture and mistreatment in all of the facilities that Human Rights Watch investigated including in Beirut’s Hobeish police station, Gemmayze police station, Baabda police station, Msaitbeh police station, Zahleh police station, Ouzai police station, Saida police station, police intelligence in Jdeideh, and in pre-trial detention in Baabda women’s prison.[9]

In 2015, more than 24 people detained by the army in security raids told Human Rights Watch that security forces had tortured them including with whips, batons, sticks, and electricity.[10] In June, two videos surfaced on social media showing several Internal Security Forces officers beating prisoners following a prison riot at Roumieh prison in April 2015. The Minister of Interior confirmed the authenticity of the videos.[11]

In 2016, a Syrian refugee, told Human Rights Watch that during a January 2016 interrogation at his house in Jounieh, Military Intelligence officers punched him and his roommates in the face and hit them with batons. He said officers arrested him in early February, apparently on suspicion that he was gay, and transferred him to the Sarba Military Intelligence branch in Jounieh. There, he said, officers blindfolded him, stripped him naked, beat him with sticks, and punched him in the face. He said officers then transferred him to the Ministry of Defense in Yarzeh, where an interrogator elbowed him in the stomach, hit him on his neck, and kicked him in the groin. He said that officers then transported him to the Rehaniyeh military police prison, where he said officers handcuffed him while naked and told him to bend over facing the wall. The officer told him, “I will insert this into your anus to determine how many times you’ve had sex.” The officer inserted the rod into his anus, causing him to scream out in pain and beg for the officer to stop. The man said that he asked to call a friend or a lawyer, but was told he was not allowed to do so. He was then transferred to Jounieh police station, where he said an officer kicked him in the chest and beat him on the soles of his feet with a stick.[12] Human Rights Watch reviewed a medical report prepared by a local doctor shortly after his release, documenting fluid in his ear, swelling, and bruises all over his body due to beatings.[13]

Following Human Rights Watch’s publication of this case, Lebanese president Michel Aoun reportedly asked the state prosecutor to investigate the allegations of torture, however no information regarding the status of the investigation has been publicly released.[14]

In a 2017 report, Human Rights Watch documented the allegations of torture by military personnel against eight civilian detainees, including two children, who were subsequently prosecuted in military courts. The torture allegations included beatings, psychological torture, electrocution, and balanco (hanging a detainee by the wrists tied behind his back).[15]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Ensure that detainees, upon admission to detention centers, are informed of and can exercise their right to speak with a lawyer, family member, or acquaintance; to meet with a lawyer; and to be referred to a judge promptly.
  • Amend article 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly guarantee suspects the right to a lawyer from the start of any form of detention, including during police questioning.
  • Refer all allegations of torture and ill-treatment to the public prosecutor, whether or not an official complaint has been filed, and announce and publicly release the results of all investigations of torture and ill-treatment. Prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.
  • Mandate that independent doctors, who are not selected by officers at the detention facility in question, examine patients outside of the presence of security or military personnel, and record all indications of torture and other mistreatment. Include a copy of the physical examination report in suspects’ case files.
  • Ensure that all members of security or military personnel are clearly identifiable through name and rank tags on their uniforms at all times.
  • Prohibit forced anal examinations and any other form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by security personnel and doctors.

Investigations of torture allegations (Article 12, 13)

Lebanon has failed in the past to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services. Human Rights Watch has long documented torture by Lebanon’s security services, and the failure of authorities to properly investigate allegations of abuse. Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code provides criminal penalties for the use of violence to extract confessions, however the Lebanese judiciary rarely, if ever, prosecutes state agents alleged to have committed torture or other ill-treatment. While arrests of low-ranking security officials sometimes follow public abuse scandals, prosecutions made known to the public are rare.

In 2007, no proper investigation was opened into serious allegations of military abuses against detainees in connection with fighting between the Lebanese army and the armed Fatah al-Islam group in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.[16] There was no known judicial investigation after army and intelligence officials rounded up and beat at least 72 male migrant workers, most of them Syrians, in Beirut in October 2012.[17]

Drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people detained by the Internal Security Forces and interviewed by Human Rights Watch for a 2013 report said they faced obstacles to reporting abuse and obtaining redress, leaving the abusers unaccountable for their actions. Only six of 53 interviewees had reported abuse. Twelve individuals said that police officers threatened and warned them outright against reporting. In addition, five former detainees told Human Rights Watch that investigative judges dismissed their allegations of mistreatment, intimidation, and abuse without further inquiries.[18]

On September 21, 2015, Military Intelligence arrested Layal al-Kayaje after she alleged to local media that two members of Military Intelligence had raped and tortured her during a previous detention in 2013. Instead of setting an independent investigation into the allegations, officials referred the case to a military prosecutor, who investigated her for making false accusations.[19]

Human Rights Watch observed a military court session on January 30, 2017, and witnessed three defendants allege that they had been tortured or ill-treated in detention. One of these men, and a fourth defendant, said that they only confessed because they were coerced during interrogations. Yet the court appeared to gloss over the allegations and did not attempt to identify the people they said had abused them. In only one case did the judge ask questions to assess whether there was additional evidence of abuse. But when the defendant said that security forces took photos of his bruised body and that he had visited a clinic after being released, the court made no apparent attempt to follow up on the allegations.[20]

Lebanon’s parliament on October 19, 2016, took a positive step toward ending the use of torture in the country and investigating torture and ill-treatment. A new law established a National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), which will include a committee to investigate the use of torture and ill treatment. The investigative committee, a national preventative mechanism, will have the authority to enter and inspect all places of detention in Lebanon, without prior announcement or permission, and submit findings and recommendations to the institute and the relevant authorities. At the time of writing however, the NHRI had not yet been established.[21]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Fund and staff the National Human Rights Institute with qualified, independent experts and ensure that it is able to visit all detention sites in the manner and with the frequency it wishes without fear of sanction or reprisal.
  • Conduct periodic monitoring of all places of detention including those under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense and submit any evidence of torture or ill-treatment to the public prosecutor.
  • Pursue all allegations of torture and ill-treatment in a diligent, timely, and effective manner to bring those responsible to justice.
  • Provide transparent and public updates regarding investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Ensure that effective and meaningful disciplinary sanctions alongside criminal sanctions are imposed on law enforcement officials who commit acts of torture.

Use of confessions where allegations were obtained through torture (Article 15)

Human Rights Watch has documented eight cases in which civilian detainees tried before the Military Tribunal on terrorism or security related offenses said that security officials tortured them, forced them to confess, and used their coerced confessions as evidence against them. Courts admitted coerced confessions as evidence even when signs of torture were apparent on the detainee’s body or when detainees said the confession was coerced. In some of these cases, the coerced confession was the only evidence of guilt prosecutors presented against the accused. In only one case did the court throw out a confession on the grounds it was obtained by force, but even in that case, the authorities took no known steps to investigate and penalize the officers who tortured the detainee.[22]

Ibrahim (not his real name), whose brother Basil (not his real name) was arrested in 2015, told Human Rights Watch that when visiting his brother in detention, Basil told him that Military Intelligence officials tortured him while in the custody of the Ministry of Defense in Yarze and forced him to confess. “Basil told the judge that he confessed under torture. The judge didn’t seem to care,” he said. “Basil’s face was completely swollen and blood still occasionally trickled out of his nose while he spoke. He said that he couldn’t bear the torture so he just confessed to whatever they wanted.” Human Rights Watch spoke with Basil’s lawyer who confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the coerced confession was entered into evidence against him.[23]

Haitham (not his real name), a Syrian refugee boy, told Human Rights Watch that after being stopped at an army checkpoint in 2014, officers at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze beat him with their hands and legs and made him confess to acts that he had not committed. He said that at the Ministry of Defense, officers forced him to sign a confession while blindfolded, and that they used the confession as evidence against him before the Military Tribunal, where he was tried for terrorism offenses. Haitham told Human Rights Watch that he had marks of torture on his body and the judge saw them but did not say anything about them. When Human Rights Watch interviewed Haitham a mark was still visible on his body where he said officers beat him with a rifle butt.[24]

Military Intelligence officers arrested Khaled (not his real name), then 16, at his home in north Lebanon in fall 2014, and transferred him to Military Intelligence headquarters. His lawyer said that he was interrogated there for three days, and that interrogators blindfolded him and “punched him on his face, hit him with a rod on his back, insulted him, and threatened him.” He said they transferred Khaled to the Ministry of Defense on the fourth day of his detention. There, the lawyer said interrogators hung him from a rope tied to his wrists behind his back, and beat him. He said they also attached wires to his genitals, electrocuted him until he fainted, and threw water on his face to wake him up—all while asking him to identify terrorism suspects, and to confess to placing a bomb, throwing grenades at army posts, and membership in a terrorist organization. “He didn’t know where the beating was coming from,” the lawyer said. “He admitted to everything, to crucifying Christ, to killing the prime minister.”[25]

According to his lawyer, Khaled spent four days at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze where officers threw water and shined a bright light on him to keep him from sleeping. He said officers forced Khaled to sign a statement while blindfolded after every session of torture, one to two times each day. “I told the judge that he confessed under pressure,” Khaled’s lawyer said. “The military court doesn’t listen; they don’t take it into consideration.”[26]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Enforce the prohibition of admission of statements that are extracted through torture or coercion and require that judicial authorities thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which confessions alleged to have been obtained by torture or ill-treatment were obtained.
  • Ensure that judges deem inadmissible all confessions and other evidence obtained under torture.
  • Overturn all convictions of defendants that were based upon confessions extracted under duress.
  • Amend article 24 of the Code of Military Justice of 1968 to remove civilians and all children from the jurisdiction of the military courts.

Prohibition of extradition of persons to countries that practice torture (Article 3)

Lebanese authorities have repeatedly affirmed their commitment not to forcibly deport refugees to Syria. As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone if there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Nevertheless, the Lebanese government forcibly returned Syrian national Mahmoud Abdul Rahman Hamdan to Syria on September 28, 2014, despite his fear of detention and torture by the Syrian authorities. Hamdan was subsequently detained by Syrian authorities.[27]

In 2015, two Syrians disappeared and are feared deported following their transfer to Lebanon’s General Security, one in October 2014 and the other in November 2014. General Security, the country’s security agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, has refused to disclose what happened to the men, Osama Qaraqouz and Bassel Haydar, despite repeated requests for information from their relatives and Human Rights Watch. Their families fear that General Security deported them back to Syria and into the custody of the Syrian government. General Security’s concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the two men could amount to the crime of enforced disappearance. Moreover, Human Rights Watch previously documented the forcible return of four Syrian nationals to Syria on August 1, 2012 and about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014. 

Syrians and Palestinians at risk of detention upon return in Syria are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture and ill-treatment in Syrian detention facilities since anti-government protests began in March 2011.[28]

Human Rights Watch is concerned by statements from Lebanese public officials regarding the return of refugees to Syria, including a February 19, 2017 call from the Minister of Foreign Affairs “to adopt a policy to encourage the Syrians to return to their country.”[29]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Cease any further deportations of individuals who may be at risk of torture or where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at real risk of a serious violation of human rights if returned to their home country.
  • Reaffirm their commitment to the prohibition against refoulement and ensure that no one is returned to a country where they risk persecution or torture.
  • Investigate reports of deportations and publicly announce the results of investigations.
 

[1] Lebanese Penal Code, art. 401.

[2] “Lebanon: Act Now on Steps to Prevent Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 5, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/11/05/lebanon-act-now-steps-prevent-torture.

[3] “Lebanon: Investigate Torture Allegations at Ministry of Defense,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 10, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/05/10/lebanon-investigate-torture-allegati....

[4] “Lebanon: Stop ‘Tests of Shame,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 10, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/08/10/lebanon-stop-tests-shame.

[5] Human Rights Watch, Dignity Debased: Forced Anal Examinations in Homosexuality Prosecutions,

July 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/12/dignity-debased/forced-anal-examin..., pp. 4-5.

[6] “Lebanon: Investigate Army Beatings, Death in Custody,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 17, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/17/lebanon-investigate-army-beatings-de....

[7] “Lebanon: Police Torturing Vulnerable People,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 26, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/26/lebanon-police-torturing-vulnerable-....

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Lebanon: Instability, Crackdown Harming Rights,“ Human Rights Watch news release, January 29, 2015,

https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/29/lebanon-instability-crackdown-harmin....

[11] “Lebanon: Monitor Detention to Combat Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 26, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/26/lebanon-monitor-detention-combat-tor....

[12] “Lebanon: Syrian Refugee’s Account of Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/lebanon-syrian-refugees-account-torture.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Federica Marsi, “Reactions to HRW torture allegations underscore lapses,” The Daily Star, December 30, 2016, https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/Dec-30/387240-reacti... (accessed March 1, 2017).

[15] Human Rights Watch, It’s Not the Right Place for Us: The trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon, January 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/01/26/its-not-right-place-us/trial-civil..., p. 3.

[16] “Lebanon: End Abuse of Palestinians Fleeing Refugee Camp,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 12, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/06/12/lebanon-end-abuse-palestinians-fleei....

[17] “Lebanon: Investigate and Punish Army Attacks on Migrants,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 10, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/10/lebanon-investigate-and-punish-army-....

[18] Human Rights Watch, It’s Part of the Job” Ill-treatment and Torture of Vulnerable Groups in Lebanese Police Stations, June 2013, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/lebanon0613_forUpload_1.pdf, p. 48.

[19] “Lebanon: Woman Detained After Alleging Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 9, 2015 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/26/lebanon-woman-detained-after-allegin....

[20] Lama Fakih (Human Rights Watch), “Stop Holding Closed Military Court Trials,” Commentary, The Daily Star, February 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/01/stop-holding-closed-military-court-t....

[21] “Lebanon: New Law a Step to End Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 28, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/28/lebanon-new-law-step-end-torture.

[22] Human Rights Watch, It’s Not the Right Place for Us: The trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon, January 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/01/26/its-not-right-place-us/trial-civil..., p. 21.

[23] Ibid., p. 23-24.

[24] Ibid., p. 26.

[25] Ibid., pp. 26-27.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Lebanon: Syrian Forcibly Returned to Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 7, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/07/lebanon-syrian-forcibly-returned-syria.

[28] “Lebanon: 2 Syrians Disappear, Feared Deported,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 17, 2015 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/17/lebanon-2-syrians-disappear-feared-d....

[29] “Bassil renews calls for return of refugees to Syria,” The Daily Star, February 19, 2017, https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Feb-19/394235-bassil... (accessed March 1, 2017). 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(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.

A member of the Libyan National Army, the armed forces allied with the Interim Government in al-Bayda, stands next to a hole on a wall during clashes with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an Islamist militia alliance, in Benghazi, Libya. 

© 2015 REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

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.

 
In a letter sent to Hiftar on March 8, 2017, Human Rights Watch raised concerns for the safety of Ganfouda residents trapped by the fighting and said that LNA leaders should ensure safe passage for civilians and unimpeded delivery of aid. The LNA should also provide detailed information about the screening procedures for civilians and fighters who evacuated the besieged neighborhood, and about the arrest of some of them, Human Rights Watch said in the letter. The LNA has yet to respond.
 

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.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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.

A Rohingya refugee girl wipes her eyes as she cries at Leda Unregistered Refugee Camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, February 15, 2017. 

© Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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.”

The Burmese military has conducted a campaign of arson, killing and rape against ethnic Rohingya that has threatened the lives of thousands. 

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.

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

(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.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, January 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

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.
 

The government needs to take swift and concrete action to enact a law that severely penalizes torture and enforced disappearance.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

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.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(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.”

Rustam Usmanov.

© Ferghana News

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.

After authorities added five years to his prison sentence in 2012, political opposition figure Rustam Usmanov 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!”

© Private

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.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Baghdad) – Fighters from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) are arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls in areas under their control in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today.

A woman fleeing the fighting between the Islamic State and Iraqi Security Forces in Intisar neighbourhood in eastern Mosul on November 7, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

Although accounts of gender-based violence have emerged from areas under ISIS control, these are the first cases against Sunni Arab women in Iraq that Human Rights Watch has been able to document. Researchers interviewed six women in Kirkuk, to which they had escaped from the town of Hawija, 125 kilometers south of Mosul and still under ISIS control. Human Rights Watch and others have extensively documented similar abuses by ISIS fighters against Yezidi women.

“Little is known about sexual abuse against Sunni Arab women living under ISIS rule,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope that the international community and local authorities will do all they can to give this group of victims the support they need.”

In January 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed four women who said they had been detained by ISIS in 2016, for periods between three days and a month. Another woman said an ISIS fighter, her cousin, forced her to marry him and then raped her. A sixth woman said that ISIS fighters destroyed her home as punishment after her husband escaped ISIS and tried to forcibly marry her. Five of the six women said that ISIS fighters beat them.

One woman said that in April 2016, she tried to escape Hawija with her three children and a large group of other families. ISIS fighters captured the group and held 50 of the women from the group in an abandoned house. The woman said that over the next month, one fighter raped her daily in front of her children. She suspected that many of the other women held with her were also being raped.

Experts from four international organizations, including two medical organizations, working with survivors of sexual assault in northern Iraq told Human Rights Watch it is difficult to assess the prevalence of ISIS’ gender-based violence against women who have fled territory under their control. They said that victims and their families remain silent to avoid stigmatization and harm to the woman or girl’s reputation.

One foreign aid worker said she had seen cases mostly of forced marriage and rape, but she believed that very few of the victims in the displaced communities she works with have come forward. She said some women try to hide the incident from their own families out of fear they will be stigmatized or punished by their relatives or community. Babies born of rape or forced marriage may also face stigma, she said. Their long-term psychosocial support and medical treatment are particular concerns, she said. Another aid provider for an international organization providing services at three camps for people displaced from ISIS-controlled territory said their staff had documented 50 cases of women and girls who suffered psychological and physical violence at the hands of ISIS and to whom the organization was providing support.

Several local and international organizations are providing support to victims of gender-based violence. However, not enough is being done to tackle the stigma around sexual violence, and there is a lack of awareness about appropriate services and psychosocial or mental health support, medical professionals and service providers in Kirkuk said. Available services continue to be outstripped by needs, they said.

A psychiatrist at an international organization providing psychosocial support in one of the larger displaced people’s camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq said that too little has been done to inform men about how to support female victims of gender-based violence. She said that very often, male relatives will forbid women from getting counseling and vocational training, even if the women want the services.

The women interviewed are all patients at the Kirkuk Center, where a staff of 12 provides psychological and behavioral counseling to women and children. Dr. Abd al-Karim Kalyfa, who runs the center, said in January that the center was at that time treating 30 patients, 15 of them children, suffering from trauma related to their experiences living under ISIS. In 2016, he said, his center treated about 400 patients who had come from ISIS-held territory. ISIS fighters had raped at least two of his current patients, he said. He knew of one other organization in the Kirkuk area providing services to victims of sexual assault but said there was far too little support available to provide needed mental health care to displaced people who had lived under ISIS.

Another medical professional in Kirkuk who is providing social support to women and children who have been traumatized by their experience under ISIS said that services provided by the federal government focus on pharmacological treatment, not on psychosocial therapy and counseling.

A program manager at an international organization providing services in one of the larger displaced people’s camps in northern Iraq said that the group has been able to create effective safe spaces and start vocational projects for women. But it has not yet been able to provide more long-term psychosocial support and other services for survivors of gender-based violence, because it is struggling to find female staff with the needed language skills, experience, and professional qualifications.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), together with United Nations agencies and other international humanitarian groups, have struggled to provide the survivors of violence against Yezidi women who escaped ISIS with post-rape care and psychosocial support.

Providing adequate mental health care and psychosocial support is a complex and long-term challenge. The KRG government, Iraqi central government, UN agencies, and others involved need to put in place a coordinated response, based on an assessment of the needs and the most pressing priorities. The groups should identify key barriers to making care and services accessible, available, and voluntary, and determine the potential cost. Such coordination efforts should include the World Health Organization (WHO) and representatives of the survivors.

WHO has said that mental health services and psychosocial support are essential components of comprehensive care for survivors of sexual violence. It has also stated that people with mental health conditions and their communities should help develop these services and that those responsible for providing services should strengthen existing resources and make them available in a nondiscriminatory fashion to all.

“ISIS victims of gender-based violence suffer the consequences of their abuse long after they have managed to escape.” Fakih said. “Their care and rehabilitation requires a multifaceted response, with authorities providing the needed medical and psychosocial support and working to stamp out stigma around sexual violence within the wider community.”

The Kirkuk-based National Institute for Human Rights helped Human Rights Watch by identifying the interviewees and setting up and hosting the interviews. All interviews were conducted with full and informed consent, in Arabic without translation. We took measures to respect the privacy of survivors and conducted interviews in as private a setting as possible. In all cases, Human Rights Watch took steps to minimize re-traumatization of survivors, stopping interviews if they caused distress. In order to protect victims and witnesses, individual names and other identifying information have been modified or withheld.

Suad
Suad, 21, is from a village near Hawija. She said that her cousin, who is one year older than her, joined ISIS when its fighters took over the city in 2014. Their families had intended that they marry, but once he became an ISIS fighter, Suad said, she and her parents informed him that they no longer wanted the union to take place. But on a morning in January 2016, he arrived at her home with his brother and cousin and demanded that Suad marry him or he would kill her parents. Her family acquiesced to this threat, and her cousin took her to his home where he forced her to marry him and raped her. She became pregnant. After eight months, Suad said, she escaped in the middle of the night and fled with her parents to Kirkuk. She gave birth a month later, but the baby boy died four days later, she said.

Fawzia
Fawzia, 45, is from Daquq but was living in Hawija when, in early 2015, ISIS fighters approached her husband and asked him to act as a spy in their neighborhood. He refused and was detained for 10 days beginning on February 7, 2016, in a village outside the city, escaping immediately after he was released. Fawzia said that three ISIS fighters occupied her house for three days during this period, put her two children under house arrest, and forced them to stay in one room. She said that she saw ISIS fighters bring a different girl each day to the adjacent room for about an hour. She said she was able to see the girls when the door to her room was open. She estimated that they were about 16 and said she heard them crying through the wall. She believed the fighters had sexually assaulted the girls.

After the three days, Fawzia said she told the fighters to stop bringing girls to her house. One of them hit her with his hand and the butt of his gun, and said that their leader would come and marry her. They also warned her that if she tried to escape to Kirkuk, ISIS operatives in the city would find and kill her. On the fourth morning, during the 5 a.m. prayer, when all the ISIS fighters were at the local mosque, Fawzia fled with her children to Kirkuk. She broke down into tears as she completed her story:

When I arrived at the first Peshmerga checkpoint, I was so scared that they [ISIS] would find out I had escaped that I didn’t register myself. I am so scared here in Kirkuk that I have spent the last year staying inside my relatives’ house. I don’t even leave to go to the store, and if I must leave, I spend the whole time looking over my shoulder. They might know where I live and come kill me.

Mariam
Mariam, 25, said that in March 2016, her husband fled Hawija, fearing possible execution because he was a former policeman. Three days later, she said, about 20 ISIS fighters found her at home with her daughter and dragged them outside, hitting her head and shoulders. The ISIS fighters blew up her home, forcing her to watch as punishment for her husband’s escape. She moved in with her brother-in-law, she said, but within a few days two ISIS fighters arrived and told her she was an apostate because her husband fled, but that she was still young and had to marry one of them. She agreed, telling them to come the following day, and went into hiding that night. Over the next three months, Mariam said, she moved repeatedly. She unsuccessfully tried to escape the area three times but finally fled with her 3-year-old daughter to Kirkuk.

Hanan
Hanan, 26, said she tried to escape from Hawija on April 21, 2016, with her children and about 50 women and four men from several Sunni families. Her husband had fled several weeks earlier. She said ISIS fighters arrested the group in Qayyarah, 65 kilometers north, and took them to an abandoned house, where they locked the women and their children in a room. On the first day, Hanan said, an ISIS guard took her and her daughter, 8, and sons, 6 and 3, to a separate room. ISIS fighters told her she was an apostate because her husband had fled ISIS-controlled territory and that she needed to remarry the local ISIS leader. She said, “Kill me, because I refuse to do that.”

The fighters blindfolded her, beat her with plastic cables, and suspended her by her arms for some time – she could not estimate how long – in front of her children. Then they took her down, took off the blindfold, and one of the fighters raped her in front of her children:

The same guy raped me every day for the next month without a blindfold, always in front of my children. My daughter suffers from an intellectual disability so she doesn’t really understand what she saw, but my older son brings it up often. I don’t know what to do.

She said that the other women were taken out of the communal room, sometimes daily, other times less often, and that one of them, from Hajj Ali who had an 11-month-old daughter, had told her that another fighter was raping her and that he was going to force her to marry him. She suspected that all the other women were being raped as well.

A month after she was captured, Hanan’s father was able to locate her and gave ISIS a car and paid US$500 for her release, she said. He was forced to sign a document stating that if she escaped ISIS-controlled territory, he would be killed. The ISIS fighter who had been raping her said he wanted to marry her, but she and her father refused, she said. In January 2017, she said, she escaped with the rest of her family to Kirkuk. She said she did not know what happened to the other women, but heard from the woman from Hajj Ali’s family that she had been forced to marry her rapist.

Karima
Karima, 17, said she fled Hawija toward Kirkuk with 16 family members in June 2016. As they left Hawija, an ISIS sniper shot her mother in the neck, killing her. Most of her family members escaped but ISIS fighters captured Karima and her brothers, ages 6, 11, and 13, and held them in an abandoned home near Hawija without food and with very little water. They were interrogated about their father, a former Iraqi policeman who was able to flee earlier. Her captors hit her and her 13-year-old brother once each with a gun butt to the shoulder during an interrogation, she said. After three days, they were released and escaped to Kirkuk.

Aisha
Aisha, 25, said she tried to escape Hawija in October 2016 with her family and two other families. While they were waiting for smugglers to show them a safe route, she said, ISIS fighters appeared and opened fire on them, shooting her 6-year-old son in his back. She said that the men in the group escaped, but the ISIS fighters rounded up all five women, hitting Aisha with gun butt on her shoulder. The ISIS fighters took her son to a Hawija hospital and locked up the women in a room in an abandoned house about a 30-minute drive away.

She said that three female ISIS guards came and lashed each woman 65 times with a thin cane, saying that if they even winced, they would get more lashes. Aisha said ISIS held her for 12 days and was only released after her family paid about US$2,000. The other women were still there, and she does not know what happened to them.

She rushed to the hospital and found her son, who had survived four operations, and finally escaped Kirkuk with her son. She showed Human Rights Watch her son’s wounds. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am