(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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group engaged in a conflict in Yemen which have turned the country's humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

Since the armed conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments. The United Nations has warned that without a dramatic change in the situation, nearly half of Yemen’s population will be at risk of starvation.

“The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have indiscriminately attacked, forcibly disappeared, and blocked food and medicine to Yemeni civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the globe can either do nothing while millions sink closer toward famine or use the leverage at their disposal to press the warring parties to end their abuses and impose sanctions on those obstructing aid.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Yemen’s armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the population. Fighting has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.

The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

The coalition has failed to conduct credible investigations into abuses, and coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks. The Houthi armed group also has not punished its commanders responsible for war crimes. Senior officials implicated in abuses remain in positions of authority across the country.

One cost of Yemen’s war has been the closing space for civil society groups. Warring parties have arrested, harassed, threatened, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders. Women activists, who have played a prominent role documenting abuses and advocating for their end, have been threatened, subjected to smear campaigns, beaten, and detained. Humanitarian aid workers have also been killed, wounded and detained.

“Rather than risk complicity in the next airstrike on a wedding or on a bus filled with children, the US, UK, and France should tell Saudi Arabia that weapons sales won’t continue until war crimes stop and those responsible are prosecuted,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This month, a new group of countries took their place as members of the world’s top human rights body. 

For the next three years, those sitting on the United Nations Human Rights Council will include the likes of the Philippines, where thousands have been killed in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”; Eritrea, found by a UN inquiry to have committed crimes against humanity; Cameroon, where government security forces have committed extrajudicial executions, burned property, carried out arbitrary arrests and tortured detainees while combatting a separatist insurgency; and Bahrain, which routinely retaliates against rights activists who raise concerns about government abuses.

Overview of the United Nations Human Rights Council is seen in Geneva, Switzerland June 6, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

These states will join persistent rights violators ChinaEgypt, and Saudi Arabia on the council.

Of course, no country has a perfect rights record, and many states seeking a spot on the council genuinely want to improve respect for human rights, both at home and globally.

But others vie for a seat on the council specifically to block criticism of themselves and to weaken the body’s ability to address rights abuses elsewhere. Burundi, for example, whose term ended last year, voted against every country resolution, including on its own situation. China has systematically used its position in the council to try and quash critical scrutiny of its own rights crackdown, and to vote against resolutions condemning grave international crimes, including in Syria, Yemen, and Myanmar.

But there is a way to ensure that rights violators who gain a seat on the Human Rights Council are held to account: the UN General Assembly resolution that created the council anticipates that members will be subject to increased scrutiny. It did so by requiring council members to uphold the “highest standards” of human rights, to “fully cooperate” with the council, and to undergo review of their rights record during their three-year term.

It is time for the council to uphold these standards. That means, for example, that the council should investigate China’s mass arbitrary detention of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. It should hold Saudi Arabia to account for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ongoing detention and torture of women’s rights activists. And the Philippines might think twice about seeking a council seat if it knew that doing so would trigger a much-needed inquiry into the thousands of extrajudicial executions on Duterte’s watch.

The Human Rights Council should not be a place where violators come to seek shelter. It should be a profoundly uncomfortable place for rights violators; a place where they know they will be held to a higher standard and put under the spotlight for their abuses. Membership has its consequences. 

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

Smoke is seen rising from Burma’s Taung Pyo Let War village from across the border in Bangladesh.

 

© 2017 Private

United Nations member countries thwarted an attempt by China to slash proposed funding for investigations into Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. This ensures that a newly established UN body will have the necessary financing to gather and preserve criminal evidence for future trials.

After marathon negotiations – during which China called for cutting the proposed budget in half – the UN General Assembly’s budget committee approved without a vote some US$28 million for investigations in Myanmar, only slightly less than the proposed US$29 million budget.

In September, the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an international body to help prepare evidence for future criminal proceedings. A UN fact-finding mission reported earlier this year that Myanmar security forces committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State. The report also examined abuses by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and by government forces and ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin States.

The UN Security Council, where China holds a veto, has been largely passive on the Rohingya crisis. It has held a handful of meetings and adopted several statements, though Beijing has vigorously opposed putting pressure on Myanmar with targeted sanctions or other measures. Unlike the Security Council, no country has a veto in the General Assembly so China was unable to block the push by the European Union, United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Kuwait on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to end debate and approve funding for the investigation.

In recent years, the General Assembly’s budget committee has become one of the UN’s biggest human rights battlegrounds. China and Russia have led an assault on funding for human rights posts in peacekeeping and political missions, targeting for defunding virtually every UN post with the words “human rights” in the job description.

China and Russia seem intent on destroying the UN’s human rights pillar post by post. UN member states, regional organizations like the OIC, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and senior UN officials need to remain vigilant and use their authority to thwart them every step of the way. Otherwise the UN’s ability to protect and promote human rights and expose abuses could become a thing of the past.

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

Introduction

Since Yemen’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the situation in the country has dramatically worsened, severely impeding the government’s ability to implement the recommendations Yemen accepted in 2014. In September 2014, the Houthi armed group took over the capital, Sanaa, and then much of the country. The following March, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of states in a military intervention. The conflict continues, exacerbating what the UN now describes as the world’s largest and worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has taken a terrible toll on Yemeni civilians, including frequent violations of the laws of war and human rights abuses by the warring parties, including the Yemeni government. The discussion below focuses on some of the groups most affected by the conflict and the steps the Yemeni government should take to minimize the harm suffered.

 

Need for Accountability and Redress

In 2014, Yemen accepted recommendations to ratify the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, and core human rights treaties. The conflict has increased the urgency for Yemen to ratify the Rome Statute, but the government has yet to do so.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is operating in Yemen with the consent of the Yemeni government and whom Yemeni government forces fight alongside, has carried out scores of apparently unlawful attacks on markets, homes, schools, and hospitals, killing and wounding thousands of civilians. The coalition has restricted humanitarian aid and access to Yemen and used cluster munitions, which are widely banned weapons. Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented 88 apparently unlawful attacks by the coalition, some of which may amount for war crimes, that killed over 1,000 civilians. The UN and other rights groups have documented dozens of other apparently unlawful attacks.

The Houthi armed group, which continues to control large parts of the country, including Sanaa, has laid antipersonnel landmines, indiscriminately shelled Yemeni cities with a particularly acute impact on Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz, and blocked aid and access. Many of the warring parties, most notably the Houthis, have deployed child soldiers. The Houthis have carried out repeated violations of the laws of war, some of which may amount to war crimes.

Ratifying the Rome Statue would be an important step to ensuring accountability for war crimes by those fighting in Yemen. To date, none of the states parties to the conflict have carried out credible investigations into their forces’ abuses, nor held individuals responsible for war crimes. Coalition promises to establish a redress mechanism have yet to be implemented.

During the 2014 UPR, states recommended that Yemen establish a commission of inquiry to investigate abuses carried out during the popular uprisings in 2011. In 2015, Yemen’s President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi established a national commission to investigate violations of human rights, whose mandate includes the events of 2011. The commission, based in Aden, has released several reports since that time, but has been plagued by a range of challenges, including a lack of independence.

Recommendations

  • Allow civilians to flee areas of fighting to seek safety in another part of the country and do not interfere with their right to seek to leave Yemen to seek asylum abroad;
  • Grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to all populations at risk;
  • Ratify the Rome Statute and implement the statute in national legislation, including by incorporating provisions to cooperate promptly and fully with the International Criminal Court and to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide before its national courts in accordance with international law;
  • Ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions and implement the statute in national legislation;
  • Urge the Saudi-led coalition, which is operating in Yemen with the government’s consent, to impartially and transparently investigate credible reports of alleged violations of the laws of war, make public their findings and fairly prosecute those implicated in war crimes;
  • Urge the coalition to provide compensation for wrongful civilian deaths, injuries and harm, and to develop effective systems for civilians to file claims for condolence or ex gratia payments and to evaluate the claims;
  • Through the national commission or otherwise, conduct investigations using a full range of tools, including interviews with witnesses, surveillance and targeting videos, and forensic analyses. Public findings should include accountability measures taken against individual personnel, redress provided to victims or their families, and an explanation of the process used to determine to whom redress would be offered. Yemen should ensure investigative bodies and their personnel, including the national commission, are able to operate independently.

 

Forced Disappearances and Other Mistreatment in Custody

During the second cycle UPR, Yemen accepted recommendations to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, take steps to combat forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, and ensure greater effectiveness and transparency in the judicial system.

Yemen’s warring parties, including the Houthis, the United Arab Emirates, UAE proxies and Yemeni government forces, have arbitrarily detained, tortured, abducted and forcibly disappeared scores of people. Given the proliferation of armed groups and unofficial detention facilities, many families do not know where or why their relatives are being held. Even when a detainee’s whereabouts are learned, families have little access. Mistreatment is rampant and conditions poor. There is little due process, though lawyers and activists may seek to intervene. The fate of many remains unknown. Those responsible for abuses retain senior positions, and steps to hold perpetrators accountable have been limited.

While the Yemeni government cannot directly improve conditions for  detainees held by the Houthi armed group, the government can take steps to improve treatment of individuals detained in areas under their control, including to a limited extent, those held by the UAE and UAE proxy forces. Better treatment would also put indirect pressure on the Houthis to likewise improve the treatment of detainees.

Recommendations

  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  • Immediately halt the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment -- and immediately release all persons arbitrarily held, including for the exercise of their basic rights;
  • Ensure that detention center staff act in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Mandela Rules”), particularly with respect to humane treatment and the use of force against detainees;
  • Publish official lists of all individuals currently in detention centers and those who have died in detention, and provide immediate and unhindered access to independent humanitarian agencies to all detention facilities, official and unofficial, without prior notification;
  • Conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, bring the perpetrators to justice, and suspend members of the security forces against whom there are credible allegations of human rights abuses, pending investigations;
  • Urge the UAE, which is operating in Yemen with the government’s consent, to implement the above recommendations.

 

 

Journalists and Rights Activists

During its previous UPR, Yemen accepted a number of recommendations regarding upholding the rights of journalists and human rights defenders, including ensuring “prompt and effective investigation of intimidation and threats against journalists.”

Throughout the conflict, human rights defenders and journalists have been harassed, threatened, beaten, arbitrarily detained, abducted and forcibly disappeared, and killed in both government and Houthi-controlled territory. Some journalists and activists have fled the country. The Houthis have arbitrarily detained at least 10 journalists since early 2015.

Despite these risks, journalists and rights defenders have continued their important work, often the first to report on the impact the conflict has had on Yemeni civilians. The Yemeni government should take immediate steps to ensure their protection and see that all forces affiliated or allied with the Yemeni government, including Saudi-led coalition members, do the same.

Recommendation

  • Uphold the rights of human rights defenders and journalists, release any held arbitrarily, and cease hindrance of human rights work, including by threatening detention or restrictions on travel.

 

Women

In 2014, Yemen accepted numerous recommendations to improve the treatment of women in the country, ranging from lifting reservations to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to establishing a minimum age of marriage and taking steps to better ensure women and girls are not subjected to domestic violence. 

The conflict has had a significant negative impact on women and girls. Violence against women has increased 63 percent since the conflict escalated, according to UNFPA. Forced marriage rates, including child marriage, have increased. While Yemen was making progress in this direction in 2014, efforts stalled when the conflict began: Yemen still has no minimum age of marriage. Women in Yemen face severe discrimination in law and practice. They cannot marry without the permission of their male guardian and do not have equal rights to divorce, inheritance or child custody. Lack of legal protection leaves them exposed to domestic and sexual violence. Women have been consistently underrepresented during the various peace talks during the conflict.

Recommendations

  • Pursue efforts to ensure the representation of women at all levels of the political process and their participation in public life without discrimination, including in any peace and transitional processes;
  • Take measures to protect women and girls from domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and other forms of violence, and to ensure that such acts are fully investigated and those responsible are held accountable;
  • Take effective measures to end the practice of forced and child marriage, including by setting a minimum marriage age of 18 years for both genders.

 

Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants, and Internally Displaced People

Yemen has traditionally been a destination, source, and transit country for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. While many migrate for economic reasons, a significant number have fled because of serious human rights violations in their home countries. In 2014, Yemen accepted  recommendations to take further steps to protect the rights of migrants, refugees, and the internally displaced.

Throughout the conflict, the Yemeni government and the Houthis have detained migrants in poor conditions, refused access to protection and asylum procedures, deported migrants en masse in dangerous conditions, and exposed them to abuse.

The Houthi armed group, which controls the capital and much of northern Yemen, has arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions. A former detainee said the conditions in one Houthi-controlled facility were “inhumane,” including overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse: “Some of the guards were very cruel and merciless. They used to beat us indiscriminately.”

In facilities run by the Yemeni government, migrants have also been mistreated, including guards at these facilities torturing and raping migrants, including women, girls, and boys. The authorities also denied asylum seekers an opportunity to seek refugee protection and deported migrants en masse to dangerous conditions at sea.

The government shut down one such facility in mid-2018 and allowed a number of asylum seekers to seek protection, but humanitarian agencies have continued to raise concerns regarding the treatment of migrants across Yemen, in both government and Houthi-controlled territory.

More than 10 percent of Yemen’s population are internally displaced due to conflict.

Recommendations

Transfer migrant detainees to centers that meet international standards, and work with donor governments and international agencies to bring migrant detention centers in line with international standards under the Mandela Rules;

  • Stop detaining children and their families for immigration violations, and work with UN and other impartial humanitarian agencies to identify children in detention and facilitate their safe release. In the interim, the authorities should ensure that detained children are kept separate from unrelated adults, and have appropriate food and medical care, and can communicate with their families;
  • Ensure that detained migrants who may be facing deportation have the opportunity to make asylum claims or otherwise challenge their forced removal. Detaining asylum seekers should be a last resort;
  • As a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, ensure the rights of asylum seekers and refugees are protected, in particular by scrupulously respecting the principle of nonrefoulement;
  • Incorporate its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention into national legislation and establish a national asylum system;
  • Ensure asylum seekers the right against forcible return to any place where their life, liberty or security would be at risk.  

 

Abuses against Children

In 2014, Yemen accepted a number of recommendations related to protecting the rights of children, including increasing efforts to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The recruitment and use of child soldiers has skyrocketed during the current conflict. Houthi forces, pro-government forces, and other armed groups have used child soldiers. By August 2017, the UN had documented 1,702 cases of child recruitment since March 2015, 67 percent of which were attributable to formerly aligned Houthi-Saleh forces. About 100 of the verified cases included recruiting children younger than 15, the recruitment or use of whom is a war crime.

Human Rights Watch has documented the Houthis recruiting, training, and deploying children in the current conflict. One young man said that the fear of forced recruitment drove him and two of his close friends to flee Sanaa in 2017. The Houthis had recruited his younger brother, 15 or 16, who then patrolled neighborhoods, worked at checkpoints, and received training: “He takes our father’s weapon when he goes…He goes with seven of his friends around the same age.” A head of family displaced by fighting on Yemen’s west coast said that children as young as 13 “were ruling us, they have the guns,” while his family remained in Houthi-controlled Mafraq. His family was first displaced to Houthi-controlled Ibb, but they fled to Aden in early 2018 after a local leader warned them the Houthis might forcibly recruit their children.

The warring parties have also arbitrarily detained and mistreated children, including migrant children, and unlawfully held them with adults.

In October 2017, Yemen endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, a pledge to support the protection and continuation of education during armed conflict. However, UNICEF reported in March 2018 that 7 percent of schools in Yemen were used as shelters for displaced persons or for military purposes, in addition to 66 percent destroyed or damaged by fighting.

Recommendations

  • Ensure that children are detained only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate time, and not detained with adults;
  • Ensure no children take part in fighting and clarify to affiliated forces that recruiting children is unlawful even if they are not serving a military function;
  • Appropriately investigate and punish officers who allow children in their units or are responsible for the war crime of recruiting or using children under 15;
  • Provide former child soldiers all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration;
  • Refrain from using schools for military purposes by Yemeni government and allied forces.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

During the two previous cycles of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Cambodia accepted 301 recommendations out of 343, but has largely failed to implement the accepted recommendations. Since Cambodia’s previous UPR in 2014, the government has intensified its onslaught on Cambodia’s political opposition, civil society, and independent media, with the aim of dismantling, silencing, and exiling them in the lead-up to the general election on July 29, 2018.

Apparently responding to significant drop in electoral support for the ruling Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) during the 2013 general election and the 2017 commune election, Prime Minister Hun Sen systematically attacked the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The government has arbitrarily arrested or exiled most of the senior leaders of the CNRP on fabricated charges, and in November 2017 brought a case before the politically compliant Supreme Court that resulted in the CNRP’s dissolution and banning of 118 CNRP members from political activity for five years.

The government has cracked down on civil society groups using threats, violence, and repressive laws against any independent voices challenging the ruling party’s prerogatives. Cambodia’s judiciary, which is not independent of the ruling party, unjustly prosecutes those targeted by the government for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  A rising number of opposition political party leaders and supporters, civil society activists, and journalists have fled the country in fear of arbitrary arrest.

The authorities have harassed independent media outlets, and either shut them down or forced them to change ownership to people close to the ruling party. 

 

Human Rights Defenders and Protesters

Contrary to accepted 2014 UPR recommendation to “revise the Penal Code as well as other laws” to comply with “international freedom of expression standards and prevent the harassment of human rights defenders […] and NGOs,” the Cambodian government adopted new laws or amended existing statutes without public consultations that further restricted the rights to free expression, assembly and association. This includes among others the repressive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), a lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) clause in the Penal Code, and amendments to the Constitution.

On April 28, 2016, five former and current senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), were arbitrarily based on the fabricated allegation that they had committed “bribery.” The charge focused on their human rights and legal protection work.

On June 13, 2016, a Phnom Penh court convicted three CNRP activists for “insurrection,” joining 11 other CNRP activists found guilty on the same trumped-up charge in July 2015, now serving seven to 20-year prison terms for their involvement in a 2014 demonstration in Phnom Penh during which security forces assaulted peaceful protesters.

On January 4, 2018, labor rights advocate Moeun Tola, executive director of NGO CENTRAL; Pa Ngoun Teang, free media advocate and executive director of NGO CCIM; and social activist Venerable But Buntenh, were charged, based on bogus embezzlement allegations for having been members of the Kem Ley Funeral Committee.

Recommendations

  • Immediately drop the charges against Moeun Tola, Pa Ngoun Teang and But Buntenh, and the “ADHOC Five,” and quash the convictions of the 14 CNRP activists and ensure their immediate and unconditional release;
  • Cease harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical assaults on human rights defenders and protesters; and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks;
  • Repeal the LANGO, amendments to articles 34, 42, 49, 53 and 118 of the Constitution, and article 437bis of the Penal Code introducing the crime of lese majeste;
  • Repeal articles 305, 307, 502 and 523 of the Penal Code regarding defamation, public insult, or discrediting of judicial decision that violate freedom of expression;
  • Protect the right of individuals and organizations to defend and promote human rights, and bring laws, regulations and policies on freedom of expression, association and public assembly into accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association and Labor Rights

Cambodia failed to implement the 2014 UPR recommendation to ensure “peaceful demonstrations can occur safely and without fear of intimidation or excessive use of force.”

In January 2014, security forces used excessive to suppress garment and textile worker protests, resulting in at least five deaths. The government then imposed a ban on public demonstrations and arbitrarily prosecuted labor leaders and workers on fabricated charges. On May 30 2014, a court convicted and later suspended the sentences of 23 garment workers and unionists arrested during the protest for committing acts of violence and causing damage with aggravating circumstances, including Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association, and Theng Savuen, coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community. The government failed to conduct an inquiry into the deaths in January.

In April 2016, the government adopted the Trade Union Law, which has severely curtailed the ability of unions to register, collectively bargain, and represent workers. The Trade Union Law has undercut the work of the Arbitration Council, a dispute resolution body that both employers and unions viewed as working credibly and effectively, by restricting workers’ ability to raise collective disputes.

Recommendations

  • Amend the Law on Trade Unions in consultation with workers, labor advocates and other stakeholders, to bring it into full compliance with International Labour Organization Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain), both ratified by Cambodia;
  • Cease the harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks on trade unionists and workers, and investigate and appropriately prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks;
  • Restore the work of the Arbitration Council to hear all collective disputes of workers, irrespective of whether they are represented by a union.

 

Attacks on and Control of the Media

Cambodia failed to implement the 2014 UPR recommendation it accepted to “ensure independence of the media from political influence.” The government has since drastically Cambodia’s media freedom, online and offline.

In August 2017, Cambodian authorities the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies, primarily targeting stations relaying Khmer-language news of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air. In September 2017, The Cambodia Daily, one of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers, was after being handed a dubious unpaid tax bill of US$6.3 million. In September 2017, RFA closed its operations in Cambodia, citing systematic harassment by the government. In May 2018, the government coerced the sale of the last independent local newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, to a Malaysian businessman with reported ties to the Cambodian government by hitting the newspaper with a questionable unpaid tax bill of US$3.9 million.

On November 14, 2017, authorities arbitrarily detained two former RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, on fabricated espionage charges for having continued to report for RFA after the closure of RFA’s Cambodia office.

Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. On May 28, 2018, the government a national decree (prakas), which allows the Ministries of Interior, Information, and Posts and Telecommunications to take down content on social media outlets and websites that the government deems to be “incitement, breaking solidarity, discrimination and willfully creating turmoil leading to undermining national security, public interest and social order.” This overly broad regulation, which restrict the rights to freedom of expression, press and publication, as protected under international law and Cambodia’s Constitution, empowers the government to police social media networks to uncover and silence online dissent in Cambodia.

Recommendations

  • Cease the government’s arbitrary interference and surveillance of the online and offline media and use of repressive laws to censor and control the media;
  • Cease intimidation, surveillance and harassment of journalists;
  • Repeal the Law on Telecommunications and No. 170 Br.K/Inter-Ministerial Prakas on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

 

Electoral reforms

Cambodia failed to implement accepted 2014 UPR recommendation to “undertake key electoral reforms to: improve the integrity of the voter registration system and voter list; ensure that all candidates have equal access to the media; and ensure that the National Election Committee retains full independence.”

Cambodia adopted a set of amendments to Cambodia’s election laws in mid-2015, including the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly (LEMNA) and the Law on the National Election Committee, both of which limited the role of NGOs in election monitoring. A second round of amendments to the LEMNA in October 2017 allowed for the of parliamentary seats to other political parties. After the CNRP was dissolved in November 2017 on politically motivated accusations alleging involvement in a so-called “color revolution” to topple the government, its seats were redistributed to a number of minor parties that had failed to win seats in the 2013 election. New voting registration procedures made no to register large numbers of Cambodian citizens living and working overseas as migrant workers.

Cambodia also failed to fulfill its pledge at the UPR to “take the necessary steps to strengthen the legal framework surrounding elections so as to ensure that future elections are free and fair.” In 2017, the government rushed through the National Assembly two rounds of repressive amendments to the Law on Political Parties, empowering authorities to dissolve political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without holding hearings or providing for an appeal process.

Despite accepting 2014 UPR recommendation to “protect opposition party members,” on September 3, 2017, the government CNRP’s leader, Kem Sokha, on bogus treason charges. Kem Sokha, who had assumed leadership of the party after Sam Rainsy’s forced exile and resignation, had already faced de facto house arrest in 2016 in another politically motivated case.

Recommendations

  • Drop all charges against and immediately and unconditionally release Kem Sokha. Quash the political motivated Supreme Court judgment to dissolve the CNRP and lift the ban on the 118 CNRP members;
  • Cease the government’s campaign of harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks on political opposition members and supporters;
  • Repeal the amendments to the Law on Political Parties that permit the arbitrary dissolution of political parties, and ban party leaders from political activity without due process;
  • Repeal amendments to the LEMNA that criminalize actions by NGOs to voice criticism during the election campaigning period and allow for an arbitrary redistribution of parliamentary seats;
  • Establish a genuinely independent National Election Committee, capable of preventing election fraud and prepared to hold all political parties accountable for malfeasance and misdeeds;
  • Provide equal access to state-controlled media for all political parties and seek to provide a level playing field for all parties during election campaigning.

 

Politically Controlled Judiciary

While Cambodia accepted 2014 UPR recommendation to “take all necessary measures to guarantee the independence of justice without control or political interference” and to “establish a judicial reform which provides, inter alia, mechanisms to guarantee an independent justice,” the Cambodian government further its control over the judiciary. Cambodia accomplished this through three laws promulgated on July 13, 2014: the Laws on the Organization of the Courts, the Statute of Judges and Prosecutors, and the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy. As a result, the government now fully controls administrative and budgetary matters of the judiciary, and has removed safeguards for judicial independence in selection, removal, promotion and disciplinary procedures for judges.

Contrary to accepted 2014 UPR pledge to “strengthen independent and impartial investigations into human rights abuses,” the investigation following the fatal shooting of prominent political commentator Kem Ley on July 10, 2016 – who shortly before his murder had spoken in a radio interview on the vast wealth of Hun Sen’s family – was deeply flawed. The trial of suspect Oeuth Ang on March 23, 2017, to establish the truth or investigate complicity of other persons, resulted in his conviction on murder and illegal possession of a weapon charges and a life sentence. The court ignored serious inconsistencies in Oeuth Ang’s confession and shortcomings in the investigation, including the role of other collaborators who allegedly provided the murder weapon.

In May 2016, a court convicted three officers of Hun Sen’s Personal Bodyguard of “aggravated intentional violence” and “aggravated intentional damage” for having brutally assaulted two opposition National Assembly members in October 2015. The court sentenced each to four years in prison but suspended their sentences after they had served one year. The court neglected to consider evidence indicating involvement of other, much higher-ranking officials, in preparing the attacks. Upon release, all three men were reinstated to their units and received .

On November 16, 2017, the Supreme Court, chaired by a judge who also serves on the central committee of the ruling CPP, dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 CNRP members of parliament and party officials from political activity for five years.

Recommendations

  • Promptly, impartially, and credibly investigate all apparent politically motivated attacks and appropriately prosecute those responsible, regardless of title or rank;
  • Establish a new, wholly professional and independent judiciary and prosecution service. Judges and prosecutors should be appointed by an independent judicial commission, which also has the power to investigate complaints and discipline judges and prosecutors who violate a professional code of conduct.
  • Terminate prosecutors with a track record of politically motivated prosecutions.
  • Significantly amend the Laws on the Organization of the Courts, the Statute of Judges and Prosecutors, and the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, to ensure those revised laws actually protect and guarantee judicial independence.
  • Establish a genuinely independent National Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles. Reformulate the Supreme Council of Magistracy as an impartial body, independent of the Ministry of Justice and political parties, so that it can implement its constitutional mandate to ensure judicial independence.

 

Land Grabbing

Cambodia accepted 2014 UPR recommendation to “ensure that the granting of land concessions or the withdrawal of land titles or the legal rights to land use does not lead to violations of human rights.” However, illegal land acquisitions by politically powerful individuals who are high-ranking CPP officials and financiers of the party, or have affiliations with top leaders of the party, as well as senior members of the national armed forces and police, continue to spark land conflicts. The government has repeatedly failed to impartially and transparently resolve protracted land disputes or end unlawful land takings and to issue land titles. The land titling procedure in place continues to exclude many land grabbing victims.

Victims of land grabbing who engage in protests frequently face arbitrary detention and trumped-up charges leading to long prison sentences. Land rights activist Tep Vanny remains imprisoned since being arrested in August 2016, when she led a peaceful protest calling for the release of five human rights defenders. She is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence, with another 6-month prison sentence pending enforcement by the prosecutor, on the basis of bogus charges that stem from 2011 and 2013. As the leader of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh, she represented over 4,000 families stripped off their land to make way for a private development project operated by a CPP senator with very close links to Hun Sen.

Recommendations:

  • Immediately quash the charges against Tep Vanny and unconditionally release her;
  • Cease the harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical assaults on land rights activists and communities, and investigate and appropriately prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks;
  • Provide fair compensation to victims of land grabbing and introduce an effective and fair system of land titling.

 

Cooperation with UN Human Rights Mechanisms

The government and Hun Sen in particular have responded to reports by UN special procedure mandate holders with personal attacks, public insults, refusals to meet, and neglectful silence towards requests to undertake missions to Cambodia. 

After threats of non-renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) by the government in 2016, the MoU was finally renewed for a two-year period – a long battle that has now sparked fears for the Office’s future after December 2018.

The OHCHR has repeatedly been unable to conduct its activities due to arbitrary restrictions imposed by authorities, such as refusal of access to sites of rights violations and to prisons. Authorization procedures for such visits have also become unreasonably lengthy.

Recommendations

  • Issue standing invitations to the UN special procedures, and engage constructively with the special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, the OHCHR, and all UN special procedures;
  • Renew the MoU between the OHCHR for a five-year period after its lapse in December 2018;
  • Cease harassment of OHCHR officials and allow the Office to freely fulfill its mandate without hinderance from authorities. 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Shortly before this submission was filed, Eritrea and Ethiopia jointly agreed to end the “state of war” between them.  (Joint Declaration, Jun. 9, 2018).  Assuming they carry out their pledges, the countries’ intention to open “a new era of peace and friendship” will benefit the entire region.

It is less certain that peace will benefit the citizens of Eritrea.  Since at least 1998, President Isaias Afewerki has used Eritrea’s tense relationship with Ethiopia as the illegitimate justification for unrestrained oppression and the denial of human rights.  With the end of the “state of war,” Isaias’s flimsy excuse for oppression is even less credible.

It is too early to know whether the Isaias government will now permit Eritrean citizens to exercise their human rights.  Certainly, there have been no improvements in Eritrea since the last Universal Periodic Review.

Elections have not been held since independence in 1993.  A legislatively-approved constitution has not been implemented.  No institutional constraints on President Isaias Afewerki, in power for 26 years, exist.  There still is no constitution, legislature, or independent judiciary to rein in the president’s exercise of complete power. The independent media, effectively eliminated in 2001, remains outlawed as are non-governmental organizations.  Peaceful public assembly to protest governmental actions results in mass arrests and, occasionally, the use of security forces’ lethal force.

The Eritrean government took no steps to implement recommendations made during the 2013 UPR, with one exception.  In September 2014, the government acceded to the Convention against Torture.  The step is welcome but there is no evidence of any discernable change.  Reports of torture continue.  No decree has been issued to enforce the Convention’s requirements and Eritrea has no law criminalizing torture.  No torturer has ever been held accountable by Eritrean authorities so far as is known.

Despite recommendations from the Human Rights Council and other international organizations, Eritreans over the age of 17 remain subject to “national service” for unlimited periods rather than the 18 months specified in Eritrean law.[1]  In recent months, Human Rights Watch interviewed former national service conscripts who had been kept in service for well over a decade, in one case for over 17 years, before defecting.  Thousands of Eritrean flee each month because of the endless duration of national service, the abuses to which conscripts are subject, and the financial toll endless conscription exacts.  Children are among the thousands who flee: young teenagers and even pre-teens who fear conscription.  As one young Eritrean recently told Human Rights Watch, military service is “bad treatment without any end in sight.”

Except for its accession to the Convention against Torture Eritrea has implemented few of the UPR 2014 recommendations, including some it accepted.  There is still no progress on issues addressed by recommendations made in 2009 and 2014 that Eritrea “noted” but neither accepted nor rejected.  The president has refused to implement the constitution approved by the then-existing national assembly in 1997.  Among its provisions, that constitution guarantees an independent judicial system. It protects citizens from being deprived of life or liberty without due process.  It outlaws slavery and forced labor.  It guarantees freedom of speech, press, and peaceful assembly, and the free exercise of religion.  It protects the right to vote and to campaign for public office.  The current government does not recognize any of these protections.

On May 24, 2014, shortly after the previous UPR, President Isaias announced that he was preparing a new constitution.  In 2018, on the fourth anniversary (1461 days later) there is no indication of a new constitution. Similarly, no progress has been observed on other recommendations Eritrea “noted” in 2009 and 2014.  The government still jails citizens without trial or means for review.  It does not permit relatives access to certain prisoners, notably government ministers and journalists arrested in 2001 without trial and held incommunicado ever since.  In 2015, the government promulgated a new Criminal Procedure Code theoretically guaranteeing a right to independent judicial habeas corpus proceedings.  Those provisions remain unimplemented.

In addition to seeking implementation of recommendations made during the 2014 UPR, states  should also raise recommendations contained in reports issued by the Commission of Inquiry and by the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea.  They should urge Eritrea to cooperate with and admit the Special Rapporteur and all other United Nations special rapporteurs investigating human rights violations. Eritrea should work with the incoming Special Rapporteur to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound action plan for their implementation, in accordance with the most recent Human Rights Council resolution adopted in June 2018.

Major areas of concern:

 

Indefinite National Service

The government’s repressive policies most severely affect Eritrea’s younger generations conscripted into national service.  National service has become a misnomer. The UN Commission of Inquiry aptly characterized it as “enslavement.” Prolonged national service is not the sole reason so many thousands flee each month but it remains the primary one. As one escaped conscript told Human Right Watch, he fled the country because he saw no future except living “like a slave.”

As noted above, the law establishing national service limited conscription to 18 months.  Conscription for a limited time is not a human rights violation but, since about 1998, the government requires service indefinitely; conscription can last a decade or more.  A former conscript told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t mind military service but in Eritrea it never ends and you have no rights.” Another said he fled because he didn’t want to be “in the military the rest of my life.”

President Isaias tries to justify endless conscription as necessary while Eritrea faces a “no-war, no-peace” stalemate with Ethiopia following the end of a bloody border conflict two decades ago.  Many national service conscripts, however, are not assigned to the military.  Rather, they are used in civilian capacities, as farm laborers, teachers, construction workers, civil servants, and lower level judges.  Conscripts have told of assignments to farms and other properties belonging to military commanders. Other conscripts are assigned to government-owned construction firms which, in turn, assign them to work on building infrastructure at foreign-owned mineral mines. 

Conscripts are also physically abused and mistreated while in service.[2]  Beatings and imprisonment in extremely harsh conditions is common.  Recent interviews reveal that little has changed in national service since the last UPR review. Punishment in national service can be imposed by military commanders at whim, without the possibility of review or redress. Physical abuse, including punishments that qualify as torture, remains extensive.  Among conscripts Human Rights Watch recently interviewed are defectors who spoke of being trussed in stressful configurations and being imprisoned in scorching or freezing zinc sheds (zingoes) for days or in underground cells for weeks or months. 

Physical punishment begins early.  Students are initially assigned to a defense training center at Sawa for their last year of high school before being drafted into national service.  In recent interviews, defectors told of physical punishments for even minor infractions, such as being late for class: “they hit you hard, until you are injured”; victims were ordered to roll on the ground, “some would fall and vomit when they stood up.”  One conscript summarized the Sawa experience as “[t]hey are making us into slaves, not educating us.”

Pay during national service remains inadequate.  Pay increased after 2016 but those interviewed insisted it remains insufficient to support a family.  Pay increases were partially offset by higher deductions for food.  A teacher told Human Rights Watch, “Sometimes I didn't even have enough money to go and visit my children.”  As a result, conscripts still provide the state, foreign mining companies, and high military officials with cheap labor. 

Conscripts report that they receive a minimal diet of lentils or faro, occasionally supplemented by pasta. Living conditions, other than for those assigned as teachers, civil servants, or to other professional positions, are generally in barracks that are cramped and insufficiently protected from the elements. Medical care is rudimentary, provided by conscripts with elementary training, and consisting of a few pills.

While conscripts are technically allowed about a month’s leave each year, this leave is routinely denied and they have no say about when it occurs. Conscripts have told Human Rights they were denied leave to attend to sick or dying family members.

Recommendations

  • Enforce the 18-month time limitation in Article 8 of the national service Proclamation and   allow substitute service for conscientious objectors;
  • Prohibit the use of national service conscripts on private projects as forced laborers, including, but not limited to mineral mines and government officials’ farms and businesses.

 

Interference with religious beliefs and practices

Since 2002, Eritrea has “recognized” only four religious groups: Sunni Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches. Although the government professed it would allow other groups to be recognized, it has not acted on applications for recognition pending since 2002, including those of the Baha’i community and the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist churches.

At times, security personnel raid private homes where devotees of unrecognized religions meet for communal prayer.  Arrests and imprisonment of attendees often follow.  Imprisonment can involve being packed together with others in shipping containers or being subject to other harsh conditions.  Reliable sources reported as many as 170 arrests of Evangelical Christians in May-June 2017 alone.  Some reportedly were sent to an infamous Red Sea Dahlak Island prison.

Torture intended to compel renunciation of “unrecognized” religious beliefs happens with some frequency.  Repudiation of the “unrecognized” religion is typically the price of a prisoner’s release.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been especially harshly treated since independence. Because of their religious beliefs, they declined to participate in the 1993 referendum on independence and refuse to serve as soldiers in national service.  Eritrea provides no substitute service for conscientious objectors.  President Isaias revoked their citizenship in 1994.  Since then, their punishments have been severe. They have been denied ration cards and work permits.  Young and old, including some individuals in their 70s, have been imprisoned for long periods.  Fifty-three are known to be imprisoned at the time of this submission, including three arrested and sent to Sawa 24 years ago. 

Prison conditions for Jehovah’s Witnesses improved somewhat in 2017 when all, including those held in Sawa, were transferred to the Mai Serwa prison. There, they have been allowed visitors for the first time during incarceration and conditions are believed to be less oppressive.  Nevertheless, a 77-year-old Jehovah Witness died in custody at Mai Serwa in 2018. His cause of death is unknown.

“Recognized” religions are not immune from government repression.  The government deposed Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios in 2007, placed him under house arrest, and imposed their own Patriarch on the church.  In July 2017, the 89-year-old former patriarch was brought to a church service for the first time in 11 years but not allowed to speak.  He has not been seen in public since.  The government has also interfered in Islamic affairs, including by appointing the Mufti of Eritrea’s Muslim community.  Religious leaders and laymen who protested the Patriarch and Mufti appointments remain imprisoned.

Recommendation

  • Permit all religions, end interference with religious practices, and release all prisoners being held for their religious beliefs and practices.

 

Absence of the Rule of Law

Eritrea’s citizens remain subject to arbitrary mistreatment without legal protections.  No means exist for citizens to express personal views or to question government policies affecting them.  They have no legislative representation, no independent press, and no non-governmental organizations to which they can turn.

Citizens who speak out or question policies during government-called community assemblies have been punished without trial or means of appeal. Indefinite imprisonment is the most likely punishment, sometimes accompanied by corporal abuse. In addition, families are denied government ration cards to buy scarce but essential provisions.

Arrests based on suspicion are frequent. Incarceration without judicial review is the norm, except for petty crimes. Prisoners are seldom told the reason for the arrest.  If they learn why, it is because of questions raised during interrogations.

Incarceration can be indefinite and is often incommunicado; relatives are not given the whereabouts of a prisoner, much less allowed to visit.  Family members have told Human Rights Watch about relatives who disappeared for years until their bodies ware returned without explanation; they were warned not to ask questions and directed not to have an autopsy conducted.

In November 2017, the government arrested 93-year old Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur, chairman of Al-Dia, a private Muslim school in Asmara, after he criticized a government-plan to take over administration of the school.  Two weeks later, a rare protest at the school took place was broken up when security forces fired into the air. Students and others then began to march toward government offices in protest.  They were met by security forces firing into the air.  Dozens were arrested.  Hajji Musa remained jailed without trial for over four months until March 2018, when the government returned his body to the family. The cause of death is unknown.  Multiple sources report that members of the school’s executive board remain jailed without trial as of the date of this submission.

The most prominent prisoners who have disappeared are journalists and government officials arrested in September 2001 after newspapers reported the contents of a letter the officials – the so-called “G-15” – signed protesting President Isaias’ policies and rule.[3]  They have not been publicly seen since 2002 and are believed to be held at a remote jail at Eiraeiro.  A guard, who fled in 2004, reported that half of them had died by then.   Haile Woldetensae, a former foreign affairs minister incarcerated at Eiraeiro, died in early 2018 according to an unconfirmed report.

Eritreans are not allowed to leave the country without permission, which is seldom granted for those under 50 unless it profits the government in some way.  The government confiscates property without recompense.  In 2015, it confiscated? traditional Afar land near Assab for construction of a military base for use by the United Arab Emirates.  No compensation was paid and Afar leaders were reportedly told not to complain. 

Recommendations:

  • Release unconditionally all persons detained without trial, including the G-15 officials and journalists held incommunicado for nearly two decades;
  • Fully implement the right to habeas corpus review embodied in the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code;
  • Fully implement other protections in the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code, including, but not limited to, the requirements for appointed defense counsel and search and arrest warrants;
  • Establish an independent, impartial, and transparent judiciary;
  • Inform family members of the whereabouts of prisoners and permit reasonably frequent visit to places of incarceration;
  • Immediately respect international standards of law on treatment of prisoners including providing prisoners adequate food, water, medical assistance and ending overcrowding;
  • Allow independent monitors access to all Eritrean detention facilities;
  • Investigate all government officials suspected of torture or cruel and degrading treatment;
  • Permit the establishment of independent media outlets, both print and electronic;
  • Allow the establishment of independent non-governmental organizations, including labor unions, and allow them to operate without interference;
  • Implement immediately the human rights provisions of the 1997 constitution, especially articles 8 (independent justice system), 15 (due process of law), 16 (slavery and forced labor), 17 (fair criminal procedures), 19 (freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly, religion, and citizen access to travel documents permitting unrestricted travel to and from Eritrea);
  • Hold democratic elections, with independent monitoring, to a legislature and to the offices of president and vice president.  In that connection, issue a proclamation permitting independent political parties to operate;
  • Allow the incoming Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea access to the country and cooperate in the Rapporteur’s work, including identification of reform benchmarks and an implementation plan, as requested by the Council in its most recent resolution;
  • Issue standing invitations to other UN special procedures and allow independent monitors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and UN and African Commission special mechanisms access to all detention facilities;

  • Ratify the Rome Statute and implement  the statute  in national legislation, including incorporating provisions to cooperate promptly and fully with the International Criminal Court and to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war  crimes before its national courts in accordance with international  law;

  • Sign, ratify, and enforce the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
 

[1] In the past decade, Human Rights Watch issued two reports describing the oppression Eritreans face in national service: Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea (2009); and Hear no Evil, Forced Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Eritrea’s Mining Sector (2013).

[2] See art. 1.1 of the Convention against Torture.

[3] See Human Rights Watch, Ten Long Years (2011).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Introduction

Afghanistan’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was in January 2014, when most international forces were preparing to withdraw and hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces. Afghanistan’s human rights situation has deteriorated since then, as fighting has intensified between government forces and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, which emerged in 2015. Civilian casualties have steadily increased. In 2013, at least 8,638 civilians were killed or injured; in every year since, civilian casualties have surpassed 10,000.

Widespread fraud and violence marred the 2014 presidential elections, and the resulting impasse ended with a deal between the candidates and the establishment of a national unity government. President Ashraf Ghani came into office vowing to undertake a number of reforms to tackle corruption. He also made commitments regarding specific human rights concerns in the areas of torture, women’s rights, and media freedom.  While some of these reforms have resulted in legislation or new policies, these have had minimal effect in curbing abusive practices by state security forces, the judiciary and other institutions. Torture of detainees is routine, and the government has failed to hold perpetratorsincluding senior police officials—accountable. Afghan special police units have carried out forced disappearances and summary executions with impunity. Violence against women, including rape, murder, mutilation and assault—is widespread, and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. The number of girls in school is falling due not only to insecurity, but to discriminatory practices, lack of female teachers, and schools that lack boundary walls and toilets. While the media remain a vibrant part of Afghan civil society, the government has failed to investigate and prosecute dozens of cases of violence against journalists by security forces.

 

  1. Torture, Enforced Disappearances and Summary Executions

During Afghanistan’s second cycle UPR, several member states made recommendations urging that the Afghan government take steps to eliminate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Denmark); elaborate a road map to improve prison conditions and to prevent mistreatment of prisoners (Poland); deploy possible additional efforts to prevent cases of torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute perpetrators (Italy); and intensify the fight against impunity (Germany).

In its response to recommendations made during the interactive dialogue, the Afghan delegation initially indicated that it would intensify its efforts to curb torture and prosecute perpetrators; implement, in the national legislation, provisions of the Convention against Torture; consider ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and respond positively to requests to visit made by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.[1] Only the recommendation to respond positively to requests to visit made by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment made it into the government’s written response. However, as of July 2018, the government had not extended an invitation to the Special Rapporteur.

In the first year after the National Unity Government took office in September 2014, President Ghani announced a “zero-tolerance” approach toward torture and launched a national action plan to end it. Human rights activists in Afghanistan reported a slight decrease in the incidence of torture at that time, as police and intelligence officials were under increased scrutiny. However, by mid-2015, as fighting with the Taliban intensified, human rights activists reported that torture had resumed to previous levels or had increased in many places. In its 2017 report, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) found the highest levels of torture of conflict-related detainees in police custody since it began monitoring detentions in 2010. The UNAMA report said that 39 percent of detainees were subjected to beatings, electric shocks, or near suffocation by the Afghan police and intelligence agents. Police in Kandahar province tortured or mistreated a reported 91 percent of detainees, including by “forcibly pumping water into their stomachs, crushing their testicles with clamps, suffocating them to the point of losing consciousness, and applying electric current to their genitals, among other practices.”

In April 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture reported that it was “gravely concerned about the general climate and culture of impunity in Afghanistan as evidenced by the large number of cases of alleged human rights violations’ cases involving senior State officials,”  and that it was concerned at the numerous reports, including from UNAMA, the International Criminal Court, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and human rights groups “that beatings, electric shocks, suspensions, threats, sexual abuses, and other forms of mental and physical abuses are largely and increasingly practiced on detainees” by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Police (ANP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP) in order to extract confessions.

While the Afghan government has fulfilled its obligation to bring national legislation into conformance with the Convention against Torture, incorporating the crime of torture in domestic law, it has not enforced the law.  The government withdrew its reservations to the Convention against Torture and ratified the Optional Protocol.  However, amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code allow security personnel to hold suspects accused of terrorist crimes and crimes against internal and external security for up to 70 days without requiring those suspects to be brought before a judge. Such provisions increase the risk of torture.

Impunity remains the norm among the country’s security forces. The government has established human rights units in the relevant agencies, required personnel to participate in training on human rights, and reformed the law, but it has not prosecuted any ANP, ALP or NDS officials for torture. Those responsible for the most egregious practices, including senior police officials in Kandahar such as Gen. Abdul Raziq, continue to enjoy government support. Human Rights Watch have received reports that ANP forces under Raziq have been responsible for forced disappearances and summary executions in Kandahar. There have been no official investigations into these incidents and no prosecutions.

The Afghan government is also failing in other areas to comply with its obligations under international human rights law. Human Rights Watch has documented summary executions of civilians by NDS special police units in Nangarhar, Kabul and Kandahar, and has received reports that other ANSF special forces, including the Khost Protection Force, have been responsible for extrajudicial executions of civilians . The Afghan government has continued to rely on militia forces, some of which have killed and assaulted civilians. Afghan security forces have been complicit in the sexual exploitation and recruitment of children, and as with other kinds of abuse, the government has failed to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Recommendations

  • Promptly and thoroughly investigate all allegations of torture of detainees, enforced disappearances, and summary executions and appropriately prosecute all those found responsible for committing, ordering, or acquiescing in these crimes.
  • Enforce the existing legal prohibitions on the use of coerced confessions in judicial proceedings and take appropriate disciplinary action against prosecutors and judges who permit the use of such information.
  • Provide compensation for all victims of torture in accordance with Afghanistan’s Anti-Torture Law.
  • Promptly and thoroughly investigate all allegations of and appropriately prosecute all those found responsible for the recruitment and sexual exploitation of children.
  • Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to visit Afghanistan.

 

  1. Women’s Rights

In the 2014 UPR, the Afghanistan delegation accepted numerous recommendations[2] on improving implementation of the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW law), including the measures recommended to Afghanistan by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in July 2013. During the review (A/HRC/26/4), the Afghan delegation responded to some of the questions raised regarding the EVAW law, stating that the government strongly believed in the implementation of the law, and that perpetrators of violence against women would be prosecuted and punished. The government included none of these recommendations in its written response. It did accept the recommendation (Mexico) to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. In November 2014, the Special Rapporteur visited Afghanistan and issued a report in May 2015.  

In research carried out in 2017 and 2018, Human Rights Watch found that Afghan women seeking justice after facing violence continue to face formidable obstacles. Police routinely refuse to register cases and instead tell women who have been the victims of domestic violence to return to their husbands. In May 2018 UNAMA reported that even the most serious cases of murder and rape often never reach the courts. Afghan authorities routinely turn victims away or pressure them to accept mediation. Mediation does not provide justice to female victims of serious crimes, offering victims only a promise from her abuser not to repeat the crime. In some case, mediators themselves inflict abuse, for example by ordering girls or women to be given as compensation for murder, forcing women and girls to marry men who raped them, or excusing murder in the name of “honor.” 

Despite a pledge from President Ghani in 2016 to end the imprisonment of women accused of running away from their families, Afghan police and prosecutors continue to jail women and girls for on charges of “moral crimes” that include “running away” from home, and committing or attempting to commit zina, or having sex outside of marriage. Rape victims can be charged with zina and imprisoned. These girls and women are subjected to invasive vaginal and anal examinations performed by Afghan government doctors, sometimes repeatedly on the same girl or woman including young girls, purportedly to determine whether a woman or girl is a “virgin.” These tests have no scientific validity and can constitute sexual assault. In a 2016 report, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission called “virginity tests” a form of sexual assault that should be abolished. Afghan officials claim that the government had since banned the examinations, but officials have told Human Rights Watch that the practice remains widespread, and many judges, prosecutors, and police officials told us they routinely order “virginity tests.”

In the second cycle, eight countries, including Bhutan, Chile, Croatia, Djibouti, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, and Switzerland, made specific recommendations urging the Afghan government to ensure equal access to education for women and girls. In its opening statement during the review, the Afghan delegation stated that “women’s rights and gender equality remained a top priority for the Government. … Girls currently represented about 40 per cent of the nearly 9 million children attending school in Afghanistan. About 30 per cent of the school teachers and 15 per cent of the university lecturers were women.”

By 2018, those percentages have fallen, and the situation for girls’ education is getting worse. For the first time since 2002 the number of Afghan children studying is falling. A June 2018 UNICEF report found that up to 3.7 million children in Afghanistan – nearly half the children in the country – are out of school, and 60 percent of those are girls. In six of the country’s 34 provinces–Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Wardak and Zabul–only 15 percent or less of girls are in school. The UNICEF findings are consistent with an October 2017 Human Rights Watch report that found that while deteriorating security is a significant barrier to girls’ education, girls were at increasing risk of missing school due to discrimination against girls within the school system; child marriage; lack of female teachers; and lack of facilities including boundary walls and toilets. The Afghan government has 5,260 boys’ schools but only 2,531 girls’ schools, and 60 percent of Afghan government schools have no toilets, which deters girls, especially those who have begun menstruation, from attending school.

Recommendations

  • Promptly investigate and appropriately prosecute cases of violence against women, including so-called “honor killings.” EVAW institutions should refer criminal offenses of violence against women to the criminal justice system, not to mediation or traditional dispute resolution mechanisms.  Disciplinary action should be taken against EVAW judges and prosecutors who seek mediation in criminal cases.
  • End the abusive practice of “virginity examinations,” and discipline police, prosecutors and judges who order them.
  • Enforce the Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing “running away” and discipline police, prosecutors and judges who continue to prosecute and imprison girls and women on such grounds.
  • Take concrete steps to realize the right to primary and secondary education for girls by ending discriminatory practices; recruiting more female teachers and providing financial incentives to encourage female teachers to work in underserved areas; and ensuring that all schools have adequate boundary walls, toilets, and access to safe water.
  • Promptly implement the National Action Plan to end child marriage.

 

  1. Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom

In the second UPR cycle, Afghanistan accepted recommendations from Belgium, Lithuania and the Maldives that the government ensure the right of free expression and investigate and prosecute all cases of violence against journalists.

Attacks on journalists have increased since Afghanistan’s previous UPR in 2014. In 2017, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) documented 169 cases of violence and threats against journalists—the highest number since the group was established in 2009. Government officials and security personnel were responsible for slightly more than half of the cases in the 2014-2016 period. Since then, insurgent attacks targeting journalists have increased. On April 30, a suicide bomber disguised as a photographer killed nine journalists in Kabul. Even though the government has vowed to investigate all cases of threats and violence by security personnel, members of parliament and other officials, and in some cases has launched investigations, it has consistently failed to prosecute the perpetrators. In 2015, Human Rights Watch documented 15 cases of threats and violence against journalists by government officials; there have been no prosecutions in any of the cases. In addition, Afghan journalists have reported that the government has failed to fully implement the Access to Information Law, enacted in 2014, making it difficult and dangerous for the media to obtain information from public officials.

Recommendations

  • Promptly and impartially investigate all attacks on journalists, and ensure that any officials or security force personnel found responsible for obstructing, abusing, or assaulting journalists are appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.
  • Fully implement the Access to Information Law.

 

  1. Transitional Justice, Impunity and the 2007 Amnesty Law

During Afghanistan’s second UPR, three recommendations focused on amending the government’s amnesty law and ending impunity, and one from Belgium urging the government to prosecute officials implicated in unlawful violence and to put an end to impunity. The government also accepted three recommendations to this effect: to amend the National Reconciliation, General Amnesty and National Stability Law to allow for prosecutions of certain crimes, such war crimes and torture (Sweden); remedy past human rights violations through the establishment of a transitional justice strategy (Morocco); and release the Human Rights Commission’s conflict mapping report and ensure adequate security assistance for its staff (Netherlands).

The government of Afghanistan has made no progress on any of these.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking to open an investigation into alleged crimes in Afghanistan since 2003, when Afghanistan became a member of the court. Article 88 of the ICC’s founding treaty requires members to adopt procedures under their national law to ensure full cooperation with the court. Afghanistan has yet to do so.

 

Recommendations

  • Repeal the National Stability and Reconciliation Law and take action to end impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes in Afghanistan’s national courts.
  • Publish the Conflict Mapping Report, and initiate a consultative process involving representatives from civil society and communities across Afghanistan to assist in creating an appropriate transitional justice mechanism.
  • Ensure full cooperation with the ICC, including through legislation to regulate the relationship between Afghanistan’s domestic law enforcement agencies and the court.

 

 

[1] Italy, Russian Federation, Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, Hungary, Latvia, Mexico, Tajikistan, Thailand, France, Czech Republic, Poland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Morocco, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Uruguay, Estonia, Slovakia, Austria, Denmark, Algeria and Portugal.  A/HRC/26/4, 136.82-84., 137

[2]Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Indonesia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uruguay, and the US.  (A/HRC/26/4, 136.131-153)

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