(Geneva) – The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has specialized expertise on the United Nations, particularly UN peacekeeping, and the Balkans. Hicks is responsible for coordinating Human Rights Watch's advocacy team and providing direction to advocacy worldwide. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2005, Hicks served as director of the Office for Returns and Communities in the UN mission in Kosovo. She has also worked for the International Human Rights Law Group (now Global Rights), the Deputy High Representative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the former Yugoslavia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as clinical professor of human rights and refugee law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Hicks is a graduate of Columbia Law School and the University of Michigan.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Introduction

Armed conflict and other violence have continued in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with government security forces and numerous non-state armed groups responsible for countless horrific abuses against civilians, including killings and rapes, largely with impunity. Government authorities have sought to silence dissent by targeting human rights and pro-democracy activists, journalists, and political leaders and supporters who criticized government authorities or participated in peaceful demonstrations. At time of writing, President Joseph Kabila remained in office beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016. This submission focuses on the human rights record of the Congolese government and security forces since 2014.

Abuses by Congolese Security Forces and Government-Backed Armed Groups

Large-scale abuses involving Congolese security forces, government-backed militias, and pro-government armed groups resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians in the country since 2014.

  1. Unlawful Killings by Government Security Forces

The Kivu Security Tracker recorded the killing of at least 180 civilians in North and South Kivu by Congolese police and soldiers between April 2017 and September 2018. In South Kivu province, Congolese security force members used excessive force to quash a protest in Kamanyola in September 2017, killing around 40 Burundian refugees and wounding more than 110 others.

Police summarily killed at least 51 youth and forcibly disappeared 33 others during “Operation Likofi,” an abusive anti-crime campaign from 2013 to 2014 that targeted alleged gang members in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. Those responsible for the abuses have not been brought to justice.

Security forces killed nearly 300 people during largely peaceful political protests in Kinshasa and other cities between 2015 and 2018. This includes at least 90 people who were killed as part of a crackdown against members of the Bundu dia Kongo political religious sect in Kinshasa and Kongo Central province between January and March and in August 2017.

In July 2018, Kabila promoted Generals Gabriel Amisi and John Numbi, despite their long involvement in serious human rights abuses.

(b) Abuses by Government-Backed Armed Groups

More than 140 armed groups remain active in eastern Congo’s North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, and many continued to commit serious abuses against civilians. Elements of the Congolese security forces have provided material support to many of these armed groups.

Between August 2016 and August 2017, an estimated 5,000 people, and possibly many more, were killed in the central Kasai region, and more than 1.4 million people displaced. The United Nations identified around 90 mass graves in the region. The Congolese security forces and their proxy forces, including the Banu Mura, have frequently used excessive and lethal force, for which only a few low-level criminal suspects have been prosecuted.

Between December 2017 and March 2018, violence intensified in parts of northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, where armed groups launched deadly attacks on villages, killing raping or mutilating scores of civilians, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people. Three assailants told Human Rights Watch in May that local government officials had coerced them into attacking their neighbors and that they were waiting for new orders to attack again. 

Unidentified fighters killed more than 1,000 civilians in Beni territory in a series of massacres that began in October 2014. Human Rights Watch, the UN Group of Experts on Congo, the Congo Research Group, and Congolese human rights organizations point to the involvement of certain Congolese army officers in planning and carrying out many of these attacks.

Recommendations

  • Establish a vetting mechanism for Congolese security forces that removes those credibly implicated in serious human rights violations, regardless of rank. Such individuals should be appropriately arrested and prosecuted in trials that meet international fair trial standards.
  • Ensure that government officials do not provide military support to foreign or Congolese armed groups responsible for widespread and serious violations of the laws of war. Civilian officials or military personnel implicated in providing support to such groups should be suspended from their positions, investigated, and appropriately prosecuted.
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
  • Increase efforts to prevent and appropriately punish extrajudicial executions and other serious abuses.

Demobilization of Former Fighters

The government’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs for former members of armed groups have largely failed due to a lack of sufficient support in regroupement sites, a lack of robust long-term reintegration support, insufficient follow-up, and a failure to hold those responsible for past serious abuses to account.

Between December 2013 and October 2014, over 100 demobilized combatants, their wives, and children died from starvation and disease in the remote Kotakoli military camp in the country’s northwest after officials failed to provide adequate food and health care.

In April 2016, Human Rights Watch documented that the Congolese military was unlawfully detaining at least 29 children in dire conditions in a military prison in Angenga, northwest Congo. The authorities alleged that the boys were members of a rebel armed group and had held them in the prison since apprehending them in eastern Congo in the first half of 2015. Human Rights Watch found during a visit to the prison that neither the boys nor the adult men detained with them had been charged with crimes or had access to lawyers or their families.

Hundreds of former combatants of the M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) armed groups remain encamped in disparate parts of Congo and neighboring Uganda and Rwanda since 2013 and 2014 respectively. In the face of difficult living situations, lack of future prospects, and a general political impasse regarding their situation, many are at risk of returning to armed groups. At least 200 and likely many more former M23 rebel fighters from Uganda and Rwanda were mobilized by Congolese senior security force officers to protect President Kabila and quash anti-Kabila protests in December 2016.

Recommendations

  • Improve the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program and strategy for dealing with armed groups. Such a strategy should ensure that: those responsible for serious human rights abuses are excluded from the army, investigated and appropriately prosecuted; children are immediately handed over to child protection agencies; former combatants who integrate into the army or police are properly trained to act in compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and are then deployed to parts of the country other than where they operated as militia fighters; and former combatants have access to long-term civilian employment opportunities and other alternatives to military service.
  • Promptly charge with a credible offense or release persons, including former fighters, held in custody.
  • Rehabilitate former child soldiers and reintegrate them into society.

Political Repression and Violations of Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

Since 2015, President Kabila and the Congolese government have postponed elections in violation of the constitution and entrenched their hold on power through brutal repression, large-scale violence and other human rights violations.

(a) Arbitrary Arrests and Killings of Largely Peaceful Protesters, Activists, Journalists

Security forces killed nearly 300 people during largely peaceful political protests since 2015, including by recruiting former fighters from the abusive M23 armed group to take part in the crackdown. During Catholic Church-led protests in December 2017, January, and February 2018, Congolese security forces fired into church grounds to disrupt religious services and processions, killing at least 18 people and wounding and arresting scores of others.

Congolese authorities have systematically banned meetings and demonstrations by the opposition while jailing more than 1,800 opposition leaders and supporters, as well as human rights and pro-democracy activists. Many have been held in secret detention facilities without charge or access to family members or lawyers. Others have been tried on trumped-up charges. The government has also shut down Congolese media outlets, and periodically curtailed access to the internet and text messaging.

In June 2018, UN human rights experts urged Congo to undertake a comprehensive review of a draft bill on nongovernmental organizations, saying it “threatens the vital work of civil society.” The Congolese parliament is also working on draft legislation on the protection of human rights defenders, but the bill “seems to lead to further restriction of their role and activities,” the UN experts said. At time of writing, these bills had not passed.

In July 2018, two journalists and two human rights activists in Congo went into hiding over threats following the release of a documentary about mass evictions from land claimed by the presidential family.

(b) Harassment of Opposition Political Leaders

During the period under review, political leaders have been arrested or attacked in what appear to be politically motivated efforts to silence dissent.

On May 4, 2016, Congo’s justice minister opened an investigation into one of the country’s leading opposition figures, Moïse Katumbi, for alleged recruitment of mercenaries. Katumbi was later convicted in absentia for forgery regarding a real estate deal many years earlier and sentenced to three years in prison and a US$1 million fine. One of the judges later told Human Rights Watch that the National Intelligence Agency threatened her and forced her to hand down the conviction. In July 2017, armed men shot and nearly killed another judge who refused to rule against Katumbi. In August 2018, authorities restricted the movement of opposition leaders, arrested dozens of opposition supporters, and prevented presidential aspirant Katumbi from entering the country to file his candidacy for the presidential election.

Opposition leaders Jean-Claude Muyambo, Franck Diongo, and Gérard Mulumba Kongolo were arrested as part of the government’s campaign of political repression. Muyambo and Diongo were sentenced to five years in prison, while Mulumba was sentenced to 18 months. They have suffered deteriorating health in detention. Dozens of other political opposition leaders were arrested since 2015 and later released.

Recommendations

  • Ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are respected and that members of political parties, and pro-democracy and human rights activists can pursue their activities and express criticism of government policies without intimidation.
  • Release all individuals arrested because of their political views or because they participated in peaceful demonstrations and ensure charges against them are dropped.
  • End the excessive use of force against opposition supporters, release arbitrarily detained opposition party members and activists, and investigate serious violations and appropriately hold those responsible to account.
  • Allow all Congolese citizens to fully and freely participate in the electoral process.
  • Establish a proposed National Preventive Mechanism to prevent torture, as supported by Congo in 2014 and obligated by the Convention against Torture’s optional protocol.
  • Actively pursue cooperation with UN mechanisms and the international community to restore security and establish the rule of law.
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the draft NGO and human rights defenders bills according to international human rights standards, in particular the African Guidelines on freedom of association and assembly.
  • Strengthen cooperation with special procedures of the Human Rights Council by responding positively to pending visit requests, as supported by Congo in 2014. 
  • Ensure that the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are respected in conformity with international standards and that members of political parties, journalists and human rights activists are able to exercise their activities and criticize the government without being subject to intimidation, reprisals or harassment.

Obstruction of International Journalists and Researchers, Murder of UN Experts

The government has expelled or kept out of the country international officials, human rights monitors and journalists who have investigated or reported on unlawful government practices. In 2017, two UN investigators were murdered by alleged members of an armed group.

In October 2014, the government expelled the director of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo, Scott Campbell, following publication of a report about summary executions and enforced disappearances during a police operation in Kinshasa. The director of the Congo Research Group, Jason Stearns, was forced to leave in April 2016, following publication of a report about massacres in the Beni region of eastern Congo. In July 2016, the authorities forced two researchers from Global Witness to leave Congo while they were investigating logging practices. In August 2016, the Congolese government blocked Ida Sawyer from Human Rights Watch from continuing to work in Congo. In January 2017, Sawyer was obliged to leave Congo for a second time, a few days after she was permitted to re-enter the country. Authorities refused to renew the accreditation for the Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent in Congo in June 2017, and the visa for the Reuters correspondent in August 2017.

In March 2017, a group of armed men summarily executed two UN investigators—Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán—while they investigated serious rights abuses in the Kasai region. Human Rights Watch investigations and reporting by RFI and Reuters suggest government responsibility for the murders. A seriously flawed trial in Congo began in June 2017.

Recommendations

  • Ensure that international officials, human rights advocates, and journalists are able to work without hindrance, including by granting them the required visas and work authorizations if in compliance with immigration rules.
  • Cooperate but do not interfere with the UN expert team mandated to support Congolese authorities in their investigation into the murder of UN investigators Sharp and Catalán.

Justice and Accountability

The vast majority of human rights abuses committed in Congo have gone unpunished. In many cases, perpetrators have been rewarded by the government rather than brought to justice.

A year after the 2012 mass rape of at least 76 women and girls by soldiers in and around Minova, Congo’s Military Operational Court opened a trial in November 2013, for 39 soldiers, including five high-ranking officers, on charges of war crimes and other offenses. In May 2014, the verdict was announced, with only two low-ranking soldiers convicted of rape. Human Rights Watch research revealed that there was no investigation strategy to tackle such a mass crime scene, a lack of expertise and a weak prosecution file contributed to the poor quality of the investigation, and the rights of defendants to a fair and impartial trial were compromised. There did not seem to be any willingness to seriously investigate the responsibility of certain suspects beyond field commanders, notably high-level officers who were present in Minova and may have had command responsibility.

The government failed to exhume the mass grave in Maluku, a rural area about 80 kilometers from Kinshasa, where it admitted burying 421 bodies in March 2015. In June 2016, family members of those forcibly disappeared or executed by Congolese security forces during Operation Likofi and the January 2015 demonstrations filed a public complaint with the national prosecutor requesting exhumation.

Warlord Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga surrendered in October 2016 after he had escaped from prison in 2011. Authorities have not yet transferred him to prison to serve the remainder of his 2009 sentence for crimes against humanity.

In July 2017, militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka surrendered to the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO), which then transferred him to Congolese judicial officials. Sheka has been implicated in numerous atrocities in eastern Congo, and he had been sought on a Congolese arrest warrant since 2011 for crimes against humanity for mass rape. His trial was yet to begin at time of writing.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over serious international crimes committed in Congo. It opened an investigation there in June 2004 and has brought several cases to trial but has not prosecuted recent crimes.

Former warlord Bosco Ntaganda stands trial at the ICC for 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in northeastern Congo’s Ituri province in 2002 and 2003.

Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the FDLR armed group, remains at large. The ICC issued an arrest warrant against him in 2012 for nine counts of war crimes allegedly committed in 2009 and 2010 in eastern Congo.

In September 2018, a military tribunal in Bukavu, eastern Congo, convicted two high-ranking FDLR commanders for murder and torture constituting crimes against humanity.

Although Congo has a moratorium on the death penalty and has not carried out executions for a number of years, Congolese law still permits capital punishment.

Recommendations

  • Establish a special judicial mechanism within the Congolese justice system, with the involvement of international prosecutors, judges, and other personnel, to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Congo since 1990 to enable more effective investigations and prosecutions of these crimes.
  • Investigate and prosecute armed group members and security force members responsible for serious human rights abuses in trials that meet international fair trial standards.
  • Direct government officials to stop interfering in judicial proceedings.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Strengthen the capacities of the judiciary, including by increasing the personnel and improving its working conditions.
  • Fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court, especially in the execution of arrest warrants issued by the court.
  • Exhume existing mass graves, including in the Kasai region and Maluku, that may contain the bodies of people forcibly disappeared or executed by Congolese security forces and reveal the identities of those buried there.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Egyptians shout slogans against the government while on a ferry during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clashes with residents of the Nile island of al-Warraq island, when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, Egypt July 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations should ensure an urgent and robust system-wide response to credible reports that the Egyptian authorities have attacked people who engaged with the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, six human rights organizations said today.

The UN expert was in Egypt from September 24 to October 3, 2018, the first visit of a UN human rights expert to Egypt in almost a decade.

A joint statement issued by the special rapporteurs on adequate housing and on the situation of human rights defenders described the attacks as “a worrying pattern of reprisals against individuals and communities directly related to the visit of the special rapporteur on the right to housing.”.

Witnesses said that several people who met with the special rapporteur’s team or provided them with information experienced reprisals. They included the demolition of several homes, the incommunicado detention of one man for two days, summons for interrogation in police stations, and a travel ban against one lawyer.

These recent reports are the latest in what has become a systematic pattern by the Egyptian authorities of attacking or otherwise carrying out reprisals against those who attempt to engage with or provide information to UN entities on human rights violations by the Egyptian authorities. Egyptian security forces also placed restrictions on the rapporteur’s movement in Egypt.

“Restricting the work of a UN team after officially inviting them to visit the country and retaliating against individuals who cooperated with her is a testament to how the Egyptian government deals with human rights: mere decorative actions to cover up unprecedented oppression of civil society,” the organizations said.

During her visit, the special rapporteur visited several areas in Cairo to investigate the right to adequate housing, but the authorities refused to allow her to visit Warraq island, in Giza, where residents are at risk of forced eviction. In Manshiyet Naser, an area in Western Cairo known for unsafe housing conditions and where authorities have been carrying out forced evictions, residents and lawyers operating in the area confirmed that police officers arrested one man the special rapporteur had met with several days earlier. The police held him incommunicado for two days, before releasing him without charge.

In addition, on October 22, the authorities demolished several houses in the neighborhood, including at least one belonging to someone with whom the special rapporteur had met. These demolitions were also reported by Egyptian media, including the pro-government newspaper al-Youm7 which published photos of the demolitions.

The steps the UN has taken to challenge the Egyptian government’s brutal and widespread campaign of repression are commendable. This includes recent statements that strongly denounce the mass death sentences for people who participated in protests in Egypt, and a rare call by a large number of UN independent experts for the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently respond” to the government’s “appalling” behavior.

The organizations said that Egypt appears to be attempting to use the UN to whitewash its abysmal human rights record by agreeing to country visits by a few selected UN experts, including on the right to adequate housing, on the rights of persons with albinism, and the independent expert on foreign debt, among others.

Instead of working on improving its human rights records and ending human rights violations, the Egyptian government’s response to the UN about these violations has been to deny any and all wrongdoing and to accuse the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and other UN officials of breaching UN standards and adopting the “lies” of “terrorist” organizations.

This is happening in the context of a whole-scale repression campaign that the government has been leading to crush civil society and independent organizations by means of intimidation, arbitrary arrests, unfair prosecutions, and travel bans, among other abusive measures. The attacks against those who engaged with the special rapporteur on adequate housing and the restrictions imposed on her team during her visit are a direct attack on the UN system itself and a flagrant example of non-cooperation with the UN human rights system. These may also set a dangerous precedent in which a visit of a UN expert is used by the authorities to target and harass those who denounce human rights violation, including through the commission of further human rights violations. 

In light of these alarming circumstances, the organizations urge the UN to take prompt action to address these attacks, including: 

  • The Coordinating Committee of the UN Special Procedures and all UN Special Procedure mandate holders should ensure that any further visits to Egypt are accompanied by sufficient and credible action by the Egyptian government to guarantee respect for the Terms of Reference for country visits, including: (a) confidential and private contacts with witnesses and others; (b) that no reprisals will occur against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN; and (c) that reprisals that may have occurred are adequately addressed, including by carrying out credible, thorough, and independent investigations into allegations and, where appropriate, providing adequate reparations to victims of reprisals documented by the UN in recent years. If the Egyptian authorities fail to adhere to such measures, the Coordinating Committee should recommend suspending further visits to Egypt.
  • The Office of the Secretary General, represented by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, should ensure an independent UN investigation into allegations of reprisals committed in the context of the visit of the special rapporteur on adequate housing. It should provide a report to relevant UN bodies, including to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, on these attacks and propose steps by the UN system and the Egyptian authorities to address such reprisals and ensure that they are not repeated.   
  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should review any ongoing cooperation between the Egyptian government and the OHCHR in light of numerous and serious reports of reprisals committed by the Egyptian government against those who engage with the UN human rights system. The OHCHR should ensure that any further cooperation includes a clear, time-bound commitment by the Egyptian government to ensure credible, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into allegations of reprisals and, where appropriate, provide adequate reparations for victims.
  • The Human Rights Council President should address allegations of reprisals, including engaging directly with the Egyptian authorities, in line with good practices of Council Presidents.
  • UN member states should initiate action at the UN Human Rights Council to address these reprisals and ensure that Egypt adheres to its responsibilities as a member state of the UN as well as a current member of the UN Human Rights Council, recalling that members are bound to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, and fully cooperate with the Council (GA RES 60/251).

It is critical for the UN and its member states to ensure an urgent and robust UN system-wide response to address the dire situation that civil society is facing in Egypt, including attacks by the government in reprisal against those who met with the special rapporteur on adequate housing, the groups said. Failing to do so will only encourage similar human rights violations in the future and risk undermining the accessibility and credibility of the UN experts and wider human rights system.

The organizations are:

Amnesty International
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
The Committee for Justice
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Eleanor Roosevelt holds up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), New York, 1948. 

© United Nations Photo/Flickr

Today we celebrate the 70th anniversary of a living document. Living not because it evolves and adapts to new times through amendments, like a Constitution, but because the values it enshrines and the promise it holds are as relevant today as when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted it amid the ashes of World War II.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights became seminal because it enshrined a simple yet powerful idea: All human beings are entitled to the same fundamental rights and freedoms, regardless of race, sex, creed, or any other distinction. That is the “universal” in the declaration´s name, which means that those rights and freedoms apply to the people of any country, whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, or whether its government is of the right or of the left.

The declaration´s first article states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Those twelve words portended a seismic shift in a world where some people — royalty, the rich, Europeans, white people, men — had always enjoyed more rights and benefits than others. And they remain acutely pertinent today in Brazil.

When article 3 of the Declaration says that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security, it means the privileged elite but also those who live in slums.

When article 5 says that nobody will be subject to torture or mistreatment, it does not make an exception for people suspected of being leftists during the past military regime, or for the poor young people some police officers think they can beat or kill with impunity. Those who torture, in the past or now, should never be treated as heroes, but instead brought to justice.

When article 19 says that all human beings have the right to freedom of opinion and expression, it does not exclude military police officers, who in Brazil are can be subjected to disproportionate punishments if they advocate police reform or criticize a superior officer or a government decision.

And when article 23 says that all human beings have the right to equal pay for equal work, it includes women, who in Brazil continue to earn far less than men who have the same level of education. 

Brazil has made progress defending some of the rights contained in the Declaration. The National Council of Justice (CNJ), for example, is trying to put into practice the right to a fair and public hearing by establishing that all detainees must be taken before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Yet, despite the CNJ’s order, more than half of detainees languish in jail cells for as long as several months before seeing a judge, the CNJ itself told us.

Other universal human rights face renewed threats in Brazil. Article 14 recognizes the right to seek asylum in other countries, but some Brazilian politicians advocate closing the borders to Venezuelans fleeing their collapsing nation, even to those escaping persecution.  

Article 26 states that education “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” That provision is in conflict with the “School without Party” bill currently under examination in Congress, which would prohibit not just discussion, but even using the terms “gender” and “sexual orientation” in the classroom.

The Universal Declaration itself is not binding, but today its principles are broadly reflective of customary international law that all nations should adhere to, and its provisions were later included in several treaties with which Brazil has a legal obligation to comply.

Ten years after the proclamation of the Declaration, the former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had chaired the commission that drafted it, asked in a speech where universal human rights begin. “In small places,” she answered, “close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.” It was, of course, before Google Maps existed.

But her point stands. The Universal Declaration is unlike any previous international agreement, which dealt with borders or trade or other relations between countries. The Declaration is about each and every human being.

The violation of fundamental rights in any corner of the planet erodes the principles that protect us all from abuse and tyranny. That is why we should cherish and defend the Declaration that put us, the people, at the center of international relations.

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

Kim Jong-Un watches a performance in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 23, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/KCNA

It is a bitter irony that on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Security Council will give North Korea’s atrocious human rights record a free pass.

In 2014, a blistering UN commission of inquiry report found the North Korean government responsible for a laundry list of crimes against humanity over decades. Ever since, the UN Security Council has held annual meetings on the situation in North Korea, which has given states a critical opportunity to discuss Kim Jong Un’s continuing authoritarian rule as a threat to international peace and security.

Until now.

Holding a meeting requires the agreement of at least nine of the council’s 15 members and every year, the usual suspects, led by China, try to block it. This year, there are reports that China leaned heavily on Ivory Coast, the critical ninth vote, in order to tank the United States-led meeting, as it did earlier this year to scupper council discussion of Syria’s disastrous rights record. There are also questions about how much diplomatic muscle the US devoted to securing the needed votes this year.

Whatever the reason, this year’s lapse should not become the new normal.

While the council still hasn’t taken up the commission of inquiry’s key recommendations – referring the situation to the International Criminal Court and adopting targeted sanctions on human rights grounds – these annual meetings have broadened the council’s view from an exclusive focus on North Korea’s nuclear program to the rights violations inflicted on its people. As departing US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council last year, North Korea’s “menacing march towards building a nuclear weapon arsenal begins with the oppression and exploitation of ordinary North Korean people.”

The council cannot afford to revert to its nuclear non-proliferation tunnel vision. Keeping human rights on the council’s radar makes it much harder to bargain away the suffering of the thousands of North Korean victims, survivors and their families in the name of security. There are reports that the US may try again in January when new states join the council. If North Korea is truly on the cusp of opening itself up to change, this meeting is needed more than ever. 

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

Turkey: Demand Investigation for Khashoggi's Murder

Turkey should formally submit a request to the UN secretary-general to establish an international, independent investigation into Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

 
(New York) – Turkey should formally submit a request to the UN secretary-general to establish an international, independent investigation into Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Human Rights Watch said today.

An international investigation under the authority of the secretary general would have the mandate, credibility, and stature to press officials, witnesses, and suspects in Saudi Arabia to cooperate with requests for facts and information about the murder in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. It would help cut through efforts designed to shield Saudi officials and obfuscate the truth.

“The Turkish government should make good on its call for an international investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s death by formalizing it with an official letter to the secretary general,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A UN investigation has the best chance of pushing Saudi Arabia to provide the needed facts and information about Mohamed bin Salman’s precise role in this murder, information that is available only from sources in Saudi Arabia.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey said on December 1 in Buenos Aires that Saudi Arabia has failed to cooperate with the ongoing Turkish criminal investigation into the murder, and that the crime was a “world issue.” While Saudi Arabia has conceded that Khashoggi’s murder was carried out by Saudi agents in Turkey, the complete details about the authorization, planning, and execution of this murder, including any role played by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, remain unclear. Saudi Arabia has officially denied that the crown prince had prior knowledge of the plot to target Khashoggi. On December 5, media reported that the Turkish prosecutor issued arrest warrants for two former senior Saudi officials implicated in the killing.

Secretary-General António Guterres has stated that he will establish an international investigation about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder if he receives a formal request from the Turkish government. Three prominent United Nations experts – Bernard Duhaime, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression; and Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on summary executions – have called for an “independent and international investigation” into the Khashoggi killing. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also repeatedly called for an international investigation into the murder.

There is ample precedent for such an international investigation. In 2008, Pakistan asked Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Earlier in 2018, Britain turned to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm British authorities’ findings that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been deployed in Salisbury against a former Russian agent.

“The main thing holding up an international investigation led by the secretary-general right now is the lack of a formal, written request from the Turkish government,” Whitson said. “Turkish officials have made public statements supporting such an investigation, so it’s puzzling why they have not formally requested the inquiry.”

Turkey’s allies and Guterres should encourage Ankara to request an inquiry without delay. This would enable UN investigators to move quickly to circumvent any Saudi attempts at a cover-up.

Saudi Arabia’s own investigation has little credibility and has been riddled with deliberate falsehoods from Saudi authorities. Initially, the Saudi government denied that its agents had detained and murdered Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, claiming he had left the building.

On October 20, Saudi Arabia released two statements confirming Khashoggi’s violent death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The first statement claimed that Khashoggi died as the result of a “brawl and a fist fight” with “persons who met him.” The second statement announced that Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecutor had ordered the detention of 18 Saudi men who “had travelled to Istanbul to meet with…[Khashoggi] as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country.” It also accused the men of attempting to cover up Khashoggi’s killing.

The Public Prosecutor has now charged 11 men whom it accuses of participating in the murder, seeking the death sentence for five. But it has not arrested the most senior officials accused of involvement in the plot to target Khashoggi, including the former royal court adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and the deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, merely announcing their resignations. Qahtani tweeted in August 2017 that he does not act without orders from the king and crown prince but Saudi Arabia also announced, without evidence, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not responsible.

On November 15, the United States announced sanctions against 17 Saudi men allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s killing, including al-Qahtani. According to media reports, al-Qahtani  directed online campaigns against Saudi critics and is known in diplomatic circles as the “prince of darkness.”

“A transnational crime of this nature, implicating not only Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also Egypt and the UAE, where the two planes filled with fleeing murderers holding evidence first landed, desperately needs an international investigation,” said Whitson. “This wasn’t only an attack on a Saudi citizen, it was an attack on a journalist, and a brazen abuse of the system of diplomatic immunity for embassies and consulates.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Shantha Rau Barriga, Director of Disability Rights, delivers a statement at the first-ever Security Council Arria formula meeting on persons with disabilities in armed conflict. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

We would like to extend our appreciation to the Permanent Mission of Poland and the other co-sponsors of this Arria meeting for bringing the situation of persons with disabilities in armed conflicts out of the shadows, particularly on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today.

Council Members, Member States, distinguished colleagues.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed Andet, a 27-year-old man who uses a wheelchair, in Bangui, Central African Republic. This is how he experienced an attack by the Seleka rebels, during which his wheelchair was looted:

“They came and started killing people. I was fast asleep when I heard gunshots and woke up to find myself alone at home. My parents had fled without me. I started shouting and crawled to the entrance of my house but when I looked outside, there was no one.” One day later, a young boy carried Andet – many times his weight – a few kilometres to the nearest IDP camp.

Over the past years, Human Rights Watch has documented the heightened risks faced by people with disabilities in conflict areas including Central African Republic, Colombia, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.   

We have found that persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict have been abandoned, and faced violent attacks, forced displacement, and even ongoing neglect in the humanitarian response. Their plight, however, has been largely invisible.

We therefore hope to bring some of their voices to those with the power and responsibility to act.

In South Sudan, a 45-year-old woman named Mary told Human Rights Watch in 2017:

“When the fighting broke out, we fled to the UN compound. We left my mother and brother-in-law behind because they couldn’t walk, and we couldn’t carry them. [Another relative], who had a mental health condition, would not leave his father behind so they all burned together in the fire.”

In many cases, persons with disabilities could not escape the violence simply because they had no wheelchairs, tricycles, or crutches, which were lost in the chaos, left behind, or looted.

In other cases, persons who are deaf or have a psychosocial or intellectual disability were shot or attacked simply because they didn’t hear, know about, or understand the danger they were facing.

Persons with disabilities who managed to reach sites for internally displaced people or refugees often faced difficulties accessing food, sanitation, and medical assistance.

“François,” who fled Ndassima, Central African Republic, described his struggles at the PK8 camp to Human Rights Watch in 2017. He said: “The access to the toilets is so difficult. I have to walk with my hands and I don’t have gloves. I must wrap my hands in tissue if I can find it. Most of the time I can’t find it. Honestly it makes me pity myself.”[1]

Hanan, a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and epilepsy in Yemen, needs medications that have become unaffordable as the conflict has continued. Hanan’s father told Human Rights Watch: “[With regular] medication, she experienced an epileptic seizure only once every two weeks. But now she experiences a seizure twice a day.”

Protracted conflicts – such as in Central African Republic, South Sudan or Afghanistan – have increased or exacerbated disabilities and trauma.

Two years ago, I met a woman who fled Afghanistan who told me she regularly wakes up with nightmares, because of the violence and brutal killings she witnessed in Kabul. She told me that she has suicidal thoughts when she looks at herself in the mirror, but she has had almost no access to psychosocial support.

Council Members, Member States, distinguished colleagues,

Today’s landmark Arria formula meeting – held on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - sheds light on the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on people with disabilities. This is a great step forward.

But, more needs to be done.

First, the Security Council should step up efforts to gather evidence about the risks faced by people with disabilities. Without effective UN monitoring and reporting, the full impact of conflicts on people with disabilities will remain unclear.

Second, every UN peacekeeping mandate should explicitly call for the protection of people with disabilities as part of its protection of civilians mandate. We were pleased to hear the representative of the United Kingdom call on the Council to commit to this today.

Third, the Security Council should also urge governments and UN agencies to take a more inclusive and participatory approach toward people with disabilities during conflicts, in the spirit of “Nothing About Us Without Us”, as the US representative reminded us.

Building on this meeting today, we urge the Security Council to hold an open debate on the situation of persons with disabilities as part of the peace and security agenda in 2019.  

The Security Council’s mandate on protection of civilians includes all civilians – including people with disabilities. Let’s make sure that the voices of Andet, Mary, Hanan and countless others with disabilities resonate in this chamber and echo across all relevant UN agencies.  

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – On December 3, 2018, United Nations Security Council members will shine a spotlight on the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. People with disabilities have been invisible on the peace and security agendas of many countries around the world but are among the people most at risk during conflicts and humanitarian crises.

More than one billion people worldwide, or about 15 percent of the global population, have a disability. People with disabilities are recognized as among the most marginalized and at-risk population in any crisis-affected community. An estimated 9.7 million people with disabilities are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution and are victims of human rights violations and conflict-related violence.

The December 3 informal “Arria” meeting of members of the Security Council will be the first time the Security Council had devoted a separate discussion to the impact of conflict on people with disabilities, though it has recognized the particular risks experienced by people with disabilities in some resolutions about individual countries.

A relative pushes John Biel Dup’s wheelchair through the dirt paths of Protection of Civilians Camp 3 in Juba,. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps..

© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

“The Security Council’s mandate on protection of civilians includes all civilians – including people with disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s crucial for the Security Council to gather the information needed to make sure that ‘No one left behind’ is not mere rhetoric.”

Research by Human Rights Watch over the last five years in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Yemen shows that people with disabilities in situations of armed conflict have faced violent attacks, forced displacement, and ongoing neglect in the humanitarian response to civilians caught up in the fighting. In some cases, people with disabilities were abandoned in their homes or in deserted villages for days or weeks, with little access to food or water. Many died because they could not flee attacks. People with disabilities who reached sites for internally displaced people or refugees often faced difficulties accessing food, sanitation, and medical assistance.

The Security Council should step up efforts to gather evidence about the risks faced by people with disabilities and to include people with disabilities in its efforts to protect civilians during conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. Every UN peacekeeping mandate should explicitly call for the protection of people with disabilities.

During conflicts, many challenges arise for all civilians affected. These challenges are heightened for people with disabilities, as institutional, attitudinal, and environmental barriers and risk factors are exacerbated in crisis or conflict situations.

In South Sudan, during the conflict that has been under way since 2013, a 45-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch:

“When the fighting broke out, we fled to the UN compound and we left my mother and brother-in-law behind because they couldn’t walk, and we couldn’t carry them. The son of my brother-in-law, who had a mental health condition, would not leave his father behind so they all burned together in the fire.”

Conflicts also affect support networks and access to services, including protection and humanitarian assistance. In South Sudan, Human Rights Watch found that people with limited mobility were sometimes not able to reach aid hubs far from their displacement camps and could not always rely on family or friends to carry them there.

“François,” who fled Ndassima, Central African Republic, described his struggles at the PK8 camp to Human Rights Watch in 2017. “The access to the toilets is so difficult,” he said. “I have to walk with my hands and I don’t have gloves. I must wrap my hands in tissue if I can find it. Most of the time I can’t find it. Honestly it makes me pity myself.”

In camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, people with disabilities and older people have had trouble navigating the steep and slippery footpaths that were often the only way to move in and out of their huts. Kahimullah, who is 70-years-old and partially blind with respiratory problems and difficulty walking, told Human Rights Watch in May that he was not receiving any specialized services or assistance.

Data on people with disabilities is essential to adequately guide protection efforts that reflect the realities of all civilians, Human Rights Watch said. The Security Council should instruct peacekeeping missions and relevant UN bodies to monitor and report on abuses against people with disabilities. Without effective monitoring and reporting, the full impact of conflicts on people with disabilities will remain unclear.

The Security Council should also urge governments and UN agencies to use a more inclusive and participatory human rights-based approach toward people with disabilities during conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. To build on the December 3 meeting, the Security Council should hold an open debate in 2019 on the situation of persons with disabilities in relation to peace and security issues.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been ratified by 187 countries, including all 15 current Security Council members except the United States. It includes a specific provision on people with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies. The Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, announced by then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, is also now endorsed by 26 countries and over 200 UN agencies; global, regional, and national organizations of persons with disabilities; and civil society organizations.

“Full and meaningful consultation with, and participation of, people with disabilities is essential to understanding the risks they face during wartime and allows the Security Council to draw from their experience and expertise,” Rau Barriga said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A civil defense member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Governments supporting an effort to identify those responsible for deadly chemical attacks in Syria need to back their commitment to justice with cash. They will get the chance this week when member states of an international treaty banning chemical weapons vote on the 2019 budget for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In June, parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention agreed to establish a team to determine responsibility for the chemical attacks in Syria, where the government and some armed groups have repeatedly used toxic agents as weapons. The vote to set up the team came despite fierce resistance from Russia, Syria’s staunchest ally, and after Russia vetoed an effort by the United Nations Security Council to hold accountable those responsible for attacks killing hundreds. There have been at least 85 confirmed chemical weapons attacks since August 2013, at least 50 by the Syrian government, according to Human Rights Watch and six other sources.

Russia has continued to lobby against OPCW efforts to get the team up and running. On Monday a Russian diplomat said the effort was based on "out and out lies" spread by Western governments seeking an excuse for "raining down missiles" on Syria.

The OPCW’s budget for 2019 would earmark a modest €2 million (approximately US$2.3 million) for the Syria team, which the OPCW hopes will report in 2019 on responsibility for at least three previous attacks and in 2020 on five more.

After the Security Council created the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in 2015 to determine responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria, the JIM’s investigators accused both the Syrian government and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) of repeatedly using chemical weapons in the conflict. After the JIM confirmed that the government was responsible for an April 2017 nerve agent attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens, Russia used its Security Council veto to put an end to those investigations. In November 2017, the JIM was disbanded. Russian state media and its online enablers filled the vacuum by spreading conspiracy theories and sowing confusion.

There’s no veto in The Hague. But members of the Chemical Weapons Convention need to show up and vote for the OPCW draft budget to ensure the attribution team has the resources to get to work. Those who deploy chemical weapons in Syria should be unmasked. It will be a first step towards justice for many of Syria’s countless victims.

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

The facts surrounding the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and Post Global Opinions columnist, have continued to leak into the public view. But what has been missing is any commitment to create a path capable of delivering meaningful justice.

Turkey’s foreign ministerMevlut Cavusoglu, took a first step on Nov. 14 when he called for an international investigation. Under the guidance of the United Nations secretary general, such an effort could get to the bottom of what really happened, determine who was responsible and ensure that they are held to account. It could run parallel to Turkey’s criminal investigation, which is already underway, and add a level of international legitimacy and independence. Furthermore, if conducted by seasoned criminal investigators, it could really dig into finding the suspected killers and murder masterminds, free from any immediate political baggage.

The Saudis have said they will investigate, but the notion that a Saudi inquiry might produce anything meaningful strains credulity, especially given Riyadh’s proven inability to investigate itself. On Wednesday, and without offering evidence, the Saudis announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not responsible and that they are seeking the death penalty for five suspects. Turkey, on the other hand, intends for its inquiry to be legitimate and up to international standards, but the Saudi probe is likely to be a whitewash that deflects pressure and produces a scapegoat. Authorities in Ankara have warned the Saudis against prolonging the investigation while continuing themselves to divulge bits and pieces of information about the murder to the media.

In the weeks since Khashoggi was murdered, the steady stream of disturbing and macabre allegations has presented a file of evidence so damning that even the Saudi government had to reverse its initial denials and acknowledge that he was killed. The process by which the Saudi authorities came to that begrudging announcement was full of fits and starts and, ultimately, appeared aimed not at enabling meaningful justice but at insulating the crown prince and protecting his rule. Even the emergency shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during those early days after Khashoggi’s disappearance was more likely geared to determine how much credibility the United States would be able to extend to the Saudis’ ludicrous narrative, rather than how to achieve justice.

President Trump has threatened “severe punishment” for anyone linked to Khashoggi’s killing, and Pompeo has pledged to hold those responsible accountable. On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions on most of the sacrificial lambs Saudi Arabia offered up as suspects — some of whom may in fact have been involved. But for the most part, Trump’s and Pompeo’s statements belie what we already know: The Trump administration isn’t actually willing to take steps that would rattle the crown prince or undermine the “important strategic relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Consequently, the Turkish foreign minister’s call for an international investigation should lead the way if there is to be movement on the global calls for justice — and to help Khashoggi’s children understand what really happened to their father.

Importantly, there is precedent for this kind of inquiry. In 2008, Pakistan asked U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. And earlier this year, Britain turned to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm British authorities’ findings that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been deployed in Salisbury. The unequivocal message such an investigation would also send about the need to protect journalists, at a time when they are alarmingly under attack around the globe, is a vital complement.

The Trump administration’s reliance on the Saudi investigation gives Congress a valuable opening to weigh in constructively, in favor of a U.N. effort that is independent and more legitimate. Indeed, as the lame-duck session gets underway, members are preparing concrete ways to respond to Khashoggi’s killing, whether legislatively or otherwise. Twenty-two senators have also called for an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act, which could determine whether the Saudis are responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violations of human rights.

These are all important steps that will also help hobble the Saudi coalition’s reckless operations in Yemen, stem the carnage and begin to respond to Khashoggi’s murder. But the circumstances surrounding his death have resonated globally and brought home a level of brutality for millions of people that is usually distant and abstract. Such a heinous act not only demands answers — it also demands truth and justice.

Members on both sides of the aisle have called for accountability and promised a forthright response. Khashoggi’s children and his fiancee have called on the international community to take serious steps to reveal the truth. The Turkish foreign minister has made clear his support for an international inquiry as well. Now is the time.

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

Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 23, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Thomas Peter
The United Nations Security Council, which typically only leaves New York City to travel to conflict zones, is heading to China later this month. Beijing, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council, has planned the trip to showcase the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou and to spotlight its contributions to UN peacekeeping around the world. So far, Council diplomats seem content to take the trip without addressing the elephant in the room: the Chinese government’s ongoing repression of 13 million Turkic Muslims, one million of whom are arbitrarily detained in “political education camps.”

This year, the ambassadors of the 15 member-Council have taken trips to Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to spending time with political leaders in capital cities, the diplomats also met with those affected by conflict and violence. Unfortunately, it appears they won't get that chance in China.

The Chinese government is facing mounting criticism for its persecution of Turkic Muslims, including Uighurs and Kazakhs, in Xinjiang and abroad. Earlier this month, Chinese diplomats faced tough questions from many Security Council ambassadors’ counterparts in Geneva, especially the Dutch, Americans, French, British, and Swedish, who demanded a change in its policies in Xinjiang. While Chinese diplomats asserted that the camps amounted to little more than vocational training, there is strong evidence—including research by Human Rights Watch—that indicates otherwise. Those detained have described torture and ill-treatment including beatings, being hung from ceilings, and shackling. Documents show that local government officials running these camps bought thousands of batons, cattle prods, handcuffs, tasers, and cans of pepper spray – hardly the tools for vocational training.

Traveling to China in 2018 and skipping Xinjiang feels akin to visiting Cape Town at the height of apartheid and ignoring prisoners on Robben Island.

If the 14 other countries currently sitting on the Security Council accept China’s proposed terms for this trip, they risk enabling abuses in Xinjiang. This trip represents a key test of the idea that great powers can use the fig leaf of sovereignty to get away with atrocities without consequences. Will Council diplomats go along with the charade or use their trip to draw attention to this profound injustice?

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

 Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

© 2018 Cemal Kaşıkçı

(Geneva) – Saudi Arabia faced international scrutiny of its human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council on November 5, 2018, as countries pressed for concrete steps to end abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

Country representatives gathering in Geneva for the periodic review of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record made recommendations that included the immediate release of Saudi activists – including women driving activists – jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform. They also called for an end to discrimination against women and justice for the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including assuring accountability for his killers.

“Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression, which have come into focus in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should respond to international criticism of its human rights record and make meaningful changes, including the immediate release of jailed human rights defenders as a first step.” 

Video

Hold Saudis Accountable for Khashoggi Death

We’re asking world leaders to reject Saudi Arabia’s attempted whitewash of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by asking for an independent UN investigation. We are also asking them to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it ends unlawful attacks in Yemen.

Among the recommendations were to respect freedom of expression and the rights of human rights defenders. Since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, Saudi authorities have escalated an intensified a coordinated crackdown on dissidents and human rights activists.

On May 15, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, Saudi authorities began arresting prominent women’s rights activists, accusing several of them of grave crimes such as treason that appear to be directly related to their activism. By September, at least nine women remained detained without charge, though some anticipated charges could carry prison terms of up to 20 years. The nine are Loujain al-HathloulAziza al-YousefEman al-NafjanNouf AbdelazizMayaa al-ZahraniHatoon al-FassiSamar BadawiNassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.

More than a dozen prominent activists convicted on charges arising from their peaceful activities are serving long prison sentences. They include Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer serving a 15-year sentence imposed by the Specialized Criminal Court in 2014, on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism of rights abuses in media interviews and on social media.

Regarding the Khashoggi killing, recommendations during the November 5 session included inviting “a team of international experts to participate in the investigation,” as well as collaborating with the Human Rights Council to “establish a hybrid mechanism for the impartial and independent investigation.” On October 20, Saudi Arabia admitted that people acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia had murdered Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Human Rights Watch has said that other countries should reject Saudi Arabia’s attempted whitewash of the killing and that the UN should open an investigation to independently determine the circumstances surrounding the killing. The inquiry should include determining Saudi Arabia’s role, and identifying those responsible for authorizing, planning, and carrying out the apparently brutal murder.

Saudi Arabia also faced calls to abide by international humanitarian law in its military operations in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including apparent war crimes, and has failed to carry out meaningful and impartial investigations into alleged violations. The work of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), established by the coalition in 2016, has fallen far short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. As of September, the unit had cleared the coalition of wrongdoing in the vast majority of airstrikes investigated.

Country representatives also recommended that Saudi Arabia end discrimination against women, including by ending the discriminatory male guardianship system. Under this system, women are not allowed to apply for a passport, marry, travel, or be released from prison without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. One country urged Saudi Arabia to guarantee women’s rights by enacting anti-discrimination legislation.

Saudi Arabia faced numerous calls to end the death penalty or adopt a moratorium on executions, especially for child offenders and for people convicted of “non-serious crimes.” Saudi Arabia has executed over 650 people since its previous Universal Periodic Review in 2013, over 200 of them for nonviolent drug crimes. International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances.

In 2018, Saudi authorities began seeking the death penalty against dissidents in trials that did not include accusations of violence, including for supporting protests and alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. A handful of men are on death row for offenses allegedly committed when they were children.

Country representatives also said that Saudi Arabia should accede to major human rights treaties and covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which along with Universal Declaration of Human Rights make up the International Bill of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is one of only a handful of countries in the world that have not signed or ratified those treaties, though Saudi representatives have claimed since 2009 that ratification is under consideration.

“The world should seize this opportunity to demand justice for Saudi Arabia’s serious rights abuses and harmful practices, many of which have been going on for decades,” Page said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Your Excellencies,

The undersigned national, regional,y and international civil society organizations urge your government to support resolution A/C.3/73/L.42 on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been presented to the Third Committee in the framework of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. This annual resolution provides an opportunity for the General Assembly to take stock of human rights violations in Iran over the last year and the many other human rights concerns that remain unaddressed in the country, as detailed in reports recently issued by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and offers key recommendations for how the Government of Iran can better implement its national and international human rights obligations.

We echo the Secretary-General’s observation that this year has been “marked by an intensified crackdown on protesters, journalists and social media users,” in the wake of the wave of protests that erupted across Iran in December 2017 and continued into 2018. The Iranians authorities have stepped up their repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, jailing hundreds of people on vague and broadly worded national security charges. Those targeted include peaceful political dissidents, journalists, online media workers, students, filmmakers, musicians and writers, as well as human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, minority rights activists, environmental activists, trade unionists, anti-death penalty campaigners, lawyers, and those seeking truth, justice and reparation for the mass executions and enforced disappearances of the 1980s. In a worrying development, the Iranian authorities this year arbitrarily arrested and detained, prosecuted and imprisoned on spurious criminal charges lawyers representing civil society activists and others charged for politically motivated reasons. Judicial authorities have denied detainees accused of national security-related charges access to a lawyer of their choice, particularly during the investigation process.

The resolution also acknowledges positive steps taken by the Government, including putting into effect an amendment to the country’s drug law which has resulted in fewer executions for drug-related offences being carried out in the country.

Nonetheless, Iran’s wide use of the death penalty remains of great concern. Iranian law still retains the death penalty for a wide range of drug trafficking offences. Iran also continues to use the death penalty for vaguely worded offences such as “enmity against god” (moharebeh) and “spreading corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz), which do not amount to an internationally recognizable criminal offence. The death penalty is also retained for acts that should not even be considered crimes including some consensual same-sex sexual conduct and intimate extra-marital relationships. The penal code also continues to provide for stoning as a method of execution.

Also deeply concerning is Iran’s continued use of sentencing to death and executing those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Despite repeated condemnations by UN bodies, to date in 2018, the Iranian authorities have executed at least five people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime of which they were convicted; according to Amnesty International, at least 85 others remain on death row and the real number could be much higher. This horrific practice is a flagrant violation of Iran’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as under customary international law, and requires urgent action by UN member states.

We, as civil society actors, believe that the UN’s ongoing engagement is necessary in order to press Iran to undertake long-overdue reforms and respect the human rights of all in the country. The Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur have repeatedly stressed that various laws, policies and practices in Iran continue to seriously undermine the fundamental rights of the people of Iran, including their rights to life; freedom from torture and other ill-treatment; fair trial; freedom of religion or belief; peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression (online and offline), association and assembly; and equal enjoyment of all to education, to health and to work.

Violence and discrimination, in law and practice, against individuals on the basis of gender, religion, belief, ethnicity, language, political opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, also remain widespread and continue to be sanctioned by laws, policies and government practices.

Women and girls experience pervasive discrimination, in law and practice, and receive little or no protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading practices, including domestic violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage, and forced veiling. 

In addition, the systematic persecution of Baha’is continues unabated. Other religious minorities including Christian converts, Yaresan (Ahl-e Haq), and Sunni Muslims also face systematic discrimination. This year the authorities have subjected Gonabadi Dervishes to a harsh crackdown, with hundreds arrested and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and over 200 sentenced after grossly unfair trials to harsh prison terms, floggings, internal exile, travel bans, and/or a ban on membership of social and political groups. Ethnic minority activists, including Arabs, Baloch, Kurds and Azerbaijani Turks have also been subjected to widespread patterns of abuse and serious violations of their rights.

Further to this, Iran has by and large failed to implement key recommendations by UN human rights bodies. For instance, torture and other ill-treatment at the time of arrest and in detention, including prolonged solitary confinement, continue to be committed on a widespread basis and with complete impunity. Judicial authorities also continue to impose and implement sentences that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments, including floggings and amputations, which amount to torture. 

Cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms is lacking. The Government’s engagement with these entities, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, has been cursory. Despite the Government’s issuance of a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures in 2002 and dozens of UN recommendations urging the Government’s cooperation with them, pending requests for country visits from 10 thematic procedures remain unaddressed. No special procedure has been allowed to visit Iran since 2005. Furthermore, individuals, including human rights defenders, have faced reprisals on the basis of real or perceived contact with UN bodies.

The continued attention of the international community is required to ensure Iran upholds its international human rights obligations. By supporting resolution A/C.3/73/L.42, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the Iranian authorities that the promotion and respect of human rights is a priority, and that genuine and tangible improvements to the situation are expected to ensure the dignity inherent to all persons in Iran.

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights

All human rights for all in Iran

Amnesty International

Arseh Sevom

Article 18

ARTICLE 19

ASL19

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran - Geneva

AHRAZ - Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran

Balochistan Human Rights Group

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Centre for Supporters of Human Rights

Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM)

Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI)

Human Rights Watch

Impact Iran

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

International Service for Human Rights

Iran Human Rights

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)

Justice for Iran

Kurdistan Human Rights Network

Minority Rights Group International

OutRight Action International

Siamak Pourzand Foundation

Small Media

The Advocates for Human Rights

United for Iran

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

6Rang (Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am