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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

An activist wears a gas mask in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where Syrian government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons, August 22, 2013.

© 2013 REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

(New York) – Governments should strengthen the tools to reverse the unprecedented threat to the global ban on chemical weapons, a coalition of 21 human rights and humanitarian groups said today. The continuing unattributed use of chemical weapons in Syria and nerve agents in the United Kingdom and Malaysia highlight the need to assign responsibility for those violating the longstanding and near universally accepted prohibition against chemical weapons.

On June 26, 2018, the 192 members of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will have the opportunity to strengthen compliance with one of the most adhered-to weapons bans in history when they gather for a special meeting in The Hague. The meeting, requested by 11 states parties, aims to take urgent steps to strengthen the implementation of the convention. This should include ensuring that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria and anywhere else they take place.

“The June 26 meeting is an important opportunity for member countries to reaffirm their commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention and strengthen it,” said Sherine Tadros, head of the New York office of Amnesty International. “All states parties should come to The Hague and vote to create a team to clearly identify who is violating the treaty’s core prohibition on using chemical weapons.”

Many member states do not have permanent representatives assigned to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. However, all governments should make attending the meeting and strengthening the ban a priority, the groups said.

The continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria is the biggest threat to the viability of the convention, the groups said. Over 85 confirmed chemical attacks have taken place in the country since August 21, 2013, the day of the deadliest chemical attack in Syria to date, at least 50 of them by Syrian government forces, based on research by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other organizations. Chemical weapons are inherently indiscriminate, and using them constitutes a war crime. Until November 2017, the UN and the OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was authorized to identify who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. But after the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the April 2017 sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent the renewal of the JIM’s mandate.

“The threat of Russia’s veto looms large over any Security Council action for a credible procedure for attributing blame,” said Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect. “Member states should empower the OPCW to urgently fill this gap to help ensure the Chemical Weapons Convention is not undermined further.”

As a first step, states parties should ask the OPCW to take on the task of identifying those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. However, if the June meeting fails to successfully achieve this goal, UN Secretary-General António Guterres should immediately appoint a team of experts who could do so. The lack of attribution of responsibility fuels a cycle of impunity for these attacks and emboldens parties to the conflict to continue the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The situation in Syria is emblematic of a wider problem with the OPCW’s capacity to ensure compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can send fact-finding missions to determine whether chemical weapons have been used but remains unable to attribute responsibility for their use. To better ensure that warring parties responsible for their use can be held to account, the convention’s member countries need a credible way to identify those involved in chemical warfare.

The June meeting comes ahead of a major review conference in November that will take stock of the Chemical Weapons Convention. That conference will offer an opportunity for member states to further strengthen the treaty and to establish a permanent OPCW unit tasked with attributing blame for chemical attacks anywhere and anytime.

“The lesson to take away from the widespread use of chemical weapons in Syria should be ‘never again,’” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries have an opportunity to act to prevent the unraveling of the ban on chemical weapons and make our world that much safer.”

Adopt a Revolution
Amnesty International
Arms Control Association
Baytna Syria
Council for Arab-British Understanding
David Wildman on behalf of General Board of Global Ministries | The United Methodist Church
Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Justice Center
Hand in Hand for Syria
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Open Society Justice Initiative
PAX for Peace
Permanent Peace Movement
Syrian Archive
SCM-Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ
Vision GRAM-International
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We congratulate Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz on his first report. Every country in the world should be able to get behind the idea that violence and discrimination against anyone, including on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), are unacceptable. We appreciate the Independent Expert’s work to highlight unacceptable forms of violence and abuse that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face, including killings, rape, arbitrary arrests, and forced medical interventions.

Most states would agree that these abuses are unacceptable, but they must do much more to end such violence and discrimination. The Independent Expert correctly identifies a deadly combination of discriminatory legislation, stigma, and negation of the reality of anti-LGBT violence that contributes to the perpetuation of such violence. By revoking laws that criminalize same-sex conduct and gender non-conformity, addressing stigma through effective education campaigns, and collecting data on anti-LGBT violence, states can literally save lives.

The past year has been difficult for activists seeking to end SOGI-based violence and discrimination. We witnessed mass detentions and torture of gay and bisexual men in a purge in Chechnya; mass arrests and forced anal exams in Egypt; the closure of LGBT-friendly health services in Tanzania; police raids on LGBT spaces in Indonesia; and systematic efforts to roll back transgender equality in the United States.

But as the Independent Expert reminds us, there have also been progress in state measures to curb discrimination and violence. Legislation in Pakistan and a court ruling in Botswana have affirmed transgender people’s right to change their gender markers on official documents. As Human Rights Watch has long argued, legal gender recognition is critical to end violence and discrimination triggered by bearing identity documents that do not match one’s appearance.

A Kenyan court has ruled that forced anal exams violate constitutional rights to dignity and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and Tunisia has accepted a Universal Periodic Review recommendation to end such exams. Trinidad and Tobago is the most recent country to strike down laws against same-sex intimacy through the courts.

We urge all states to look to these examples for inspiration, and to ensure that their laws and policies protect the basic rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The High Commissioner has played an invaluable role in monitoring and documenting human rights crises around the world. In many cases, his Office has stepped up when this Council has failed to act.

The High Commissioner has rightly brought attention to the growing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Severe shortages of food make it extremely difficult for many families to feed their children, a ruthless government crackdown has led to thousands of arbitrary arrests, hundreds of civilians prosecuted by military courts, and torture and other abuses against detainees. About two million Venezuelans have fled, mostly to neighboring countries. We welcome the leadership of the Lima Group, but the Human Rights Council should also play its part, engage actively with the Office’s report, to be released this week, express collective concern this session through a joint statement or resolution, encourage continued reporting, and establish the investigative mechanism called for by the High Commissioner.

We similarly welcome the High Commissioner’s report on Kashmir, the first-ever by his Office, which highlights the decades of suffering endured by millions of Kashmiris. These human rights concerns have been well documented. Cross-border shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops have killed and injured hundreds. Tens of thousands of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus remain displaced after being forced to flee the valley. Thousands of men have been forcibly disappeared, their wives described as “half widows.” More than 50,000 people have died since the insurgency broke out in 1989. Kashmiris have been tortured or summarily executed by state security forces and threatened or killed by militants. There are serious allegations of sexual violence by all forces.

We are disappointed that the Indian government’s immediate response was to reject the report, calling it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated,” and saying the findings are “overtly prejudiced.” Any responsible government should address human rights concerns, not blame the messenger. The Human Rights Council should act on the call for an independent international investigation into violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict.

The joint statement delivered today by New Zealand on behalf of a group of states appropriately highlighted the further deterioration of the human rights situation in Cambodia. With elections scheduled for late July, the government of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen has dissolved the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party; arbitrarily detained its leader, Kem Sokha, on concocted treason charges; and has harassed, surveilled, threatened, and arbitrarily detained and prosecuted human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians and ordinary citizens critical of the government in violation of their basic rights. We encourage the High Commissioner to keep the Human Rights Council informed through intersessional briefings, and the Council should put in place monitoring and reporting of the human rights situation in Cambodia before, during, and after the elections.

We are similarly dismayed by the unabating extrajudicial killings related to the “war on drugs” in the Philippines, with President Rodrigo Duterte just last month issuing new threats against detained drug suspects in Cebu province, as well as the harassment of outspoken human rights defenders, journalists, lawmakers and members of the Commission on Human Rights. Special Procedures mandate holders have not only been denied access to the country, but in some cases have been targeted for personal attacks and threats by the government, violating the Philippines’ obligations as a member of this Council.

The High Commissioner has called for credible and independent investigations into the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. We welcome the joint statement delivered today by Iceland on behalf of a broad range of states, and urge the Human Rights Council to mandate the independent international investigation that is urgently needed.

What all these situations have in common is that the Office of the High Commissioner has rightly flagged areas of serious concern, but the Human Rights Council has yet to put in place the sustained monitoring, investigations and reporting needed to reverse these disturbing developments.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

United Nations Mission in Darfur peacekeepers stand guard in Shagra village, North Darfur, October 18, 2012. 

© 2012 Reuters
(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should ensure that its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region continues to conduct human rights monitoring and public reporting in all of Darfur. The mandate of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is due for renewal by the end of June 2018.
The Security Council is expected to approve drastic cuts in the mission, including closing 14 UNAMID team sites and a plan for withdrawal in two years. The African Union Peace and Security Council has already approved the plan. The plan under discussion would limit the mission’s area of operation to 13 sites around Jebel Marra, the mountainous area where government forces have repeatedly attacked civilians while engaging in operations against rebel groups. 
“The UN’s proposed cuts would effectively end the peacekeeping mission’s core human rights and protection role in most of Darfur, which would be a mistake” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council needs to ensure that UNAMID will continue monitoring and reporting publicly on abuses throughout Darfur or it will share responsibility for pushing Darfur off the world’s agenda.”
A special report on June 1 by the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the UN secretary-general outlines the plan to downsize the peacekeeping mission. Outside the new operational area, the mission would primarily support other UN agencies in development and humanitarian activities. The UNAMID peacekeepers would no longer carry out regular patrols across the region, which humanitarian agencies have often relied on for security. 
The report acknowledges the reconfiguration “would no longer allow UNAMID to continue the monitoring, verification and reporting of protection of civilians’ issues outside the greater Jebel Marra area,” and that the other UN agencies have “limited scope to monitor, raise, and address protection concerns.” 
On June 12, the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed concerns about the proposed reduction in the mission’s area of operation. It said that thedrawdown should be guided by the situation on the ground so as not to “create a security vacuum and expose civilian populations.” It also said that the mission should continue to cover “the whole geographic Darfur,” since it is mandated to protect civilians from imminent threat across the region. 
The review process, which began in 2014 amid Sudan’s insistence that the UN needed an exit plan, led to significant cuts to the mission in 2017, with the closure of 11 team sites and the addition of a presence in Golo in Jebel Marra. Human Rights Watch warned at the time that the downsizing reflected a “false narrative about Darfur’s war ending” and that any reductions should leave flexibility for the mission to respond to evolving threats and to strengthen the mission’s human rights monitoring and reporting capacities. 
Sudan has obstructed the work of the UNAMID human rights staff by delaying visas, denying access and preventing staff recruitment. Instead of accepting these limits, the Security Council should bolster the section’s work and make its responsibility to report on violations across the region more explicit. Even if their physical access is limited by the drawdown, UNAMID human rights officers could still do remote research, which the mission could report publicly, Human Rights Watch said. 
While the African Union Commission’s special report recommends that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should open an office in Sudan, the office has had little success in negotiating permission to work in the country. The Sudanese government’s long practice of intransigence and obstruction leaves little hope that the office would be able to fill the vacuum left by UNAMID, Human Rights Watch said. 
The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, has been marked by large-scale government air and ground attacks on civilians, destruction and burning of civilian property, and mass displacement. More than 2.7 million Darfuris remain displaced, with 1.6 million living in over 60 camps, and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in Chad.
In 2005, the UN Security Council referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court in resolution 1593. The International Criminal Court brought charges against President Omar al-Bashir and four other officials on charges including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan has refused to cooperate in the investigation and no suspects are in custody, but the Security Council has taken no meaningful steps to insist on cooperation with the investigation. The prosecutor will make her 27th report to the UN Security Council on her office’s work in Darfur on June 20 as part of her twice-yearly briefings to the council.
There was less fighting in Darfur in 2017 following the Sudanese government’s ceasefire declarations prior to the US lifting of its economic sanctions against Sudan. However, while government aerial bombing of villages in Darfur declined, government security forces, including the notoriously abusive Rapid Support Forces, continued ground attacks on civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.
During fighting in Jebel Marra between March and April 2018, government forces attacked and burned dozens of villages, killing an unknown number of civilians and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, UNAMID reported. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies documented at least 23 civilian deaths from government attacks. In addition, longstanding patterns of rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as a culture of impunity, persist across Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
In February, the UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict raised concerns about continued reports of sexual violenceespecially against displaced women and girls, and the deep-seated culture of denial in Sudan around sexual violence. In April, following a visit to Sudan, the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan reported that government security forces were committing  sexual violence against women and girls, and that North Darfur authorities were holding 117 detainees without charge under emergency laws.
“Everything we know about Darfur indicates a pressing need for human rights monitors to continue their work, especially where the mission will no longer have team sites and peacekeepers,” Segun said. “The Security Council shouldn’t adopt this shortsighted proposal, but instead should keep a spotlight on Darfur.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


We, the undersigned international human rights organizations, urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus under Item 4 at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

At its 38th session in June, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider the human rights situation in Belarus. Since the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in 2012, there has been no systematic improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus. On the contrary, all legislative and systemic restrictions on freedom of expression and association remain in place, and violations of civil and political rights are coupled by economic and social rights' abuses. The peaceful demonstrations on March 25th 2018, also known as Freedom Day, and which are organized every year, were once again met with preemptive house arrests of civic and political activists and journalists as well as the arbitrary arrest of about a hundred of peaceful marchers[1].

Calls by civil society, the Special Rapporteur and the European Parliament to end the most recent blocking of the charter97.org website have been ignored while the amendments to the Law on Media currently before the Parliament aim to further control access to sources of information, particularly online, including via social networks. Under the proposed law, the authorities would be able to block any online content without a court order on even vaguer grounds than at present.

Authorities continue to pressure human rights defenders, independent journalists and opposition activists, using the court system to harass them, impose preventive or administrative detention and levy severe fines. Moreover, in September 2017, eight  lawyers defending clients in a criminal case assessed by human rights defenders as politically motivated were subject to a qualification process controlled by the Ministry of Justice[2]. As a result, Anna Bakhtina, renown for her work in defending political prisoners, lost her practicing license while the license of the remaining lawyers was prolonged conditionally for 6 months. Even if they all passed the “examination” procedure in March 2018, the legislation that allows the authorities to arbitrarily revoke a lawyer's license remains in place.

Although we welcome the review of Belarus before the Committee Against Torture in April 2018, we also note the Committee regrets that Belarus has not implemented its previous follow up recommendations. It must be stressed that genuine cooperation with Treaty Bodies does not stop at the review but includes the implementation of recommendations made to the State party in line with its international obligations under the treaty.

On the issue of death penalty, the government of Belarus has not shown a real willingness to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms and continues to execute prisoners in violation of international standards. The many requests of the Human Rights Committee to suspend executions continue to be ignored and the rights of persons sentenced to death continue to be violated at all stages of the proceedings and during detention.

The government of Belarus has also ignored the recommendations made by other UN human rights mechanisms, such as the UPR or the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus. As Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe and despite the fact that Belarus has refused to cooperate, the Special Rapporteur remains the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus and a critical tool for international oversight over the situation on the ground. Therefore, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur remains crucial. It has provided constant independent monitoring of the situation, highlighted worrying trends that had not previously received sufficient attention, and detailed the systemic governance issues largely responsible for the systematic human rights violations that occur in Belarus[3]. The mandate holder regularly consults with Belarusian civil society, for whom the mandate has been essential. The work of the mandate holder, particularly his analysis and recommendations, could serve as a roadmap towards genuine reform for the Belarusian authorities. Upon the renewal of the mandate, a new Special Rapporteur will be appointed at the 39th session of the Council, and States should press the government of Belarus to cooperate with the new mandate holder with a view to put an end to the systemic human rights violations in the country.

Our organizations also underline that the recent creation of an OHCHR technical advisor in Minsk does not have the mandate to take action on information provided by civil society or the ability to publicly report on human rights violations. The creation of this position is a positive step, but should not – and cannot – replace the essential work of the Special Rapporteur.

In light of the “cyclical” nature of human rights abuses in Belarus[4] and of the above concerns, we urge the Human Rights Council to maintain international scrutiny over the human rights situation in Belarus by renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under agenda item 4 until tangible steps are taken by the government of Belarus, including:

  • Full cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms, allowing the current country Special Rapporteur to visit Belarus, and commitment to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and other UN mechanisms;
  • The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty;
  • An end to the harassment of independent journalists, civic and political activists, government critics, and civil society organizations, including by closing politically motivated criminal cases against them, and registering independent human rights organizations and all NGOs that apply for registration;
  • A commitment to bring the legislation of Belarus in line with international human rights standards (in particular to amend legislation to ensure the independence of lawyers and bar association and to repeal legislation that excessively restricts freedoms of expression, assembly and association, including Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes participation in the activities of unregistered organizations) and put an end to politically-motivated prosecutions.

By supporting the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, your delegation would send a strong signal to the Belarusian authorities and civil society that it is committed to human rights progress in the country. We look forward to seeing Belarus move towards a genuine path of human rights reform that would allow human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists to operate without fear of arrest or harassment. However, that will require the government to demonstrate concrete progress on each of the benchmarks above.

We thank you for your attention and would welcome opportunities to provide any further information about the human rights situation in Belarus.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration,


Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)


[1]          Belarus: UN expert calls for end to rights abuses and deplores State repression, 28 March 2018 (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22905&LangID=E)

[2]          The qualification process is a written and oral testing procedure assessing professional knowledge and moral qualities of lawyers. It takes place every five years or is called upon the Ministry of Justice at any time and therefore named extraordinary.

[3]    “Situation of Human Rights in Belarus”, General Assembly Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, A/72/493

[4]          UN expert urges continued scrutiny as Belarus enters new cycle of repression, 14 June 2017 (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21740&LangID=E)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Imports sit destroyed in a damaged warehouse at the port in Hodeida city, Yemen.

© November 2016 Kristine Beckerle / Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – All parties to the conflict in Yemen should minimize civilian harm during military operations against the western port city of Hodeida, Human Rights Watch said today. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, and Yemeni government-aligned forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, stepped up attacks on Houthi forces controlling the port in June 2018.

About 70 percent of Yemen’s aid and commercial imports enter through Hodeida and the nearby Saleef port, providing food, fuel, and medicine that the population needs for survival. To comply with international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties should take immediate steps to provide safe passage and adequate support to civilians fleeing fighting and facilitate the flow of aid and commercial supplies to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies.

“The coalition and Houthi forces now fighting for Hodeida have atrocious records abiding by the laws of war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should urgently warn senior officials on both sides to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid.”

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Up to 600,000 civilians remain in the vicinity of densely populated Hodeida, which the Houthis took over in late 2014. On June 9, the UAE, which has led coalition operations along Yemen’s western coast, informed humanitarian organizations that they had three days to evacuate the city. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations withdrew many of their staff, but the UN aid chief, Mark Lowcock said, “It is our plan, intention and hope to stay and deliver.”

The parties to the conflict are bound under the laws of war to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. Since the coalition began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, coalition forces have committed numerous unlawful airstrikes and used inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions. The Houthis have unlawfully carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, used anti-personnel landmines, and deployed children in combat, as have pro-government Yemeni forces.

The UN has referred to Yemen as the world’s worst and largest humanitarian crisis. As of January 2018, at least eight million Yemenis were on the brink of famine, which is linked directly to the armed conflict. Hodeida’s port is the “single most important point of entry for the food and basic supplies needed to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic,” the UN has said.

UN Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2215 established a sanctions regime that authorizes the Yemen Sanctions Committee to designate those responsible for serious abuses, including obstructing humanitarian assistance, for travel bans and asset freezes. The Security Council should announce that it will impose these penalties on individuals who commit offenses during the Hodeida offensive that meet the sanctions committee’s designation criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

The US became a party to the Yemen conflict soon after fighting began by providing intelligence and refueling for coalition bombing missions. In 2017, the US sent special forces to assist in locating and destroying Houthi caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites, according to the New York Times. The US has also sold thousands of advanced bombs and rockets to Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition. The US could become complicit in violations of the laws of war by assisting coalition forces during the Hodeida offensive. The United Kingdom, France and other countries have also sold weapons to coalition forces. US and other foreign officials may be exposed to potential legal liability by selling weapons likely to be used in unlawful attacks.

“The battle for Hodeida could have a devastating impact on civilians both in the city and elsewhere in Yemen,” Whitson said. “Both sides need to seek to minimize civilian harm at all times, whether in carrying out attacks or by allowing families to flee to safety.”

A worker is pictured in a government hospital's drug store in Sanaa, Yemen August 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Facilitate Humanitarian Access
Health professionals and humanitarian workers in Yemen have described how parties to the conflict have restricted access to aid and essential goods and the impact on the civilian population. This includes repeatedly failing to abide by laws-of-war requirements to facilitate the delivery of aid to civilians, exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Further disruption of humanitarian and commercial imports through Hodeida and Saleef will have predictably devastating consequences for civilians, Human Rights Watch said. The inability of essential supplies to reach their final destinations, including to areas under Houthi or Yemeni government control, would also be disastrous.

On June 8, Lise Grande, Yemen’s UN humanitarian coordinator, said: “In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.… Cutting off imports through Hodeidah for any length of time will put Yemen’s population at extreme, unjustifiable risk.”

The coalition has imposed a naval and air blockade on Yemen since the current conflict began that has severely and disproportionately restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. The coalition closed all of Yemen’s entry points in response to a Houthi missile strike on Saudi’s Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, keeping Hodeida and Saleef ports closed for several weeks. The closures immediately and predictably exacerbated existing food shortages. The port of Aden in the south, which is controlled by the Yemeni government, does not have the capacity to receive the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of food, fuel, medicine, and other imported goods Yemenis depend on for survival.

Houthi forces have blocked and confiscated food and medical supplies and denied access to civilians in need. They have imposed onerous restrictions on aid workers, interfered with aid delivery, and restricted the movement of ill civilians. The cumulative impact of Houthi obstruction and interference with humanitarian assistance has significantly harmed the civilian population.

Parties to the conflict must facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not arbitrarily interfere with it. They must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity. Warring parties are also prohibited from carrying out attacks on objects that are indispensable to the civilian population, such as food stores or drinking water installations intended for civilians. The laws of war prohibit using starvation as a method of warfare, and require parties to a conflict not to “provoke [starvation] deliberately” or deliberately cause “the population to suffer hunger, particularly by depriving it of its sources of food or of supplies.”

All parties to the conflict should:


  • Take all necessary steps to keep Hodeida and Saleef ports open and operational without interruption to humanitarian and essential commercial goods;
  • Take all necessary steps to ensure that aid and essential commercial imports can be taken in at ports and can be transported to civilians throughout Yemen;
  • Cease targeting, damaging or destroying objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population; and
  • Ensure the safety and security of humanitarian workers at all times.


Provide Safe Passage to Fleeing Civilians

Thousands of civilians have been displaced as fighting moved up Yemen’s western coast. In Aden in February, families displaced from their homes said they fled because they did not trust the warring parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their attacks. They described their fear when “the war came” and that the next mortar attack or airstrike would hit their or their neighbors’ homes. Some said that Houthi or UAE-backed fighters had restricted their flight.

A three-story house in Souq al-Hinood, a crowded residential area in Hodeida city, that was hit by an airstrike on the evening of September 21, 2016. A single bomb killed at least 28 civilians, including 8 children.

© 2016 Priyanka Motaparthy / Human Rights Watch

One man, “Talal,” said that after pro-government fighters pushed the Houthis out of Khawka in late 2017, about a dozen Houthi fighters deployed in the woods near his farm. He was worried that coalition forces would attack, but for two weeks the Houthis refused to allow his family to leave. “They said, ‘We will live together or we will die together.’ It was an order,” said Talal. “We heard the sound of airplanes all the time, stuck between the coalition and the Houthis.” His 4-year-old son “would wake up at night, crying, and yell, ‘The airplanes are coming!’” In December, after the Houthis had retreated to the woods, coalition airstrikes hit the family vehicle and their home. Eleven family members, including Talal’s nine children, were at the farm, and his 12-year-old son was severely wounded. They fled on motorbikes to the city of Hays.

Thousands of people displaced from fighting on the western coast have fled to Aden. “Ahmed,” 27, said UAE-backed forces at checkpoints occasionally refused entry to Aden or sought bribes from displaced people. His brother said, “Some of the people who are coming pay at the checkpoint, but it depends where you are from.” People from Houthi areas in the north pay larger bribes, he said. When Ahmed traveled from Taizz to Aden in early 2018, UAE-backed forces held him and a family traveling on the same bus at a checkpoint overnight with nothing to eat – the soldiers took their food and water. The soldiers let Ahmed go in the morning, but the family from the northern city of Saada, whom the soldiers accused of being Houthis, were still being interrogated when he left.

The laws of war require parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to evacuate civilians from areas of fighting or where fighters are deployed and not to block or impede the evacuation of those wishing to leave. The creation of “humanitarian corridors” and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population do not relieve attacking forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.

Deliberately using the presence of civilians to protect military forces from attack is the war crime of “human shielding.”

The parties to the conflict should:


  • Remove civilians to the extent feasible from areas in the vicinity of military targets;
  • Allow civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to obtain aid; and
  • Never use civilians as “human shields.”


Avoid Civilian Casualties and Damaging Civilian Structures
Human Rights Watch and others have documented dozens of indiscriminate or disproportionate airstrikes by coalition forces and missile attacks by the Houthis that have caused thousands of civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes have killed civilians in attacks on markets, homes, schools, hospitals and mosques. In March, the UN human rights office said that coalition airstrikes caused 61 percent of verified civilian casualties in Yemen.

The coalition has repeatedly hit infrastructure critical to the civilian population, including damaging essential port infrastructure in Hodeida. The coalition has carried out airstrikes using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in densely populated areas, including in Hodeida city.

The coalition has repeatedly pledged to minimize civilian harm in its aerial campaign, but has continued to carry out unlawful attacks. In April, the coalition bombed a wedding in Hajjah, killing 22 civilians and wounding at least another 54, about half of whom were children. As in 23 other apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that Human Rights Watch has documented, the coalition used a US weapon – a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) satellite guidance kit.

Houthi and government-aligned forces have carried out indiscriminate artillery attacks that have struck populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians. The Houthis have repeatedly fired artillery indiscriminately into Yemeni cities, including after withdrawing from city centers. They have failed to take all feasible precautions against harming civilians by deploying military forces in civilian facilities – including a school and a civilian detention facility.   

A so-called dual-use object – one that normally has both civilian and military purposes – is a valid military target so long as the expected concrete and direct military advantage from the attack is greater than the anticipated loss of civilian life and property. Any coalition attacks on Hodeida and Saleef port facilities, which serve a military purpose, will need to take into account the extreme importance of those facilities to the civilian population and the anticipated impact of their destruction, Human Rights Watch said.


All parties to the conflict should:


  • Take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects during military operations;
  • Act to ensure that attacks on military targets do not cause disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects;
  • Take all feasible steps, when operating in areas where civilians and combatants are comingled, to minimize the harm to civilians and civilian objects, including by selecting weapons and specific munitions to minimize civilian casualties; and
  • Cease use of munitions with wide-area destructive effect in heavily populated areas.


Cease Use of Landmines; Increase Efforts to Clear Explosive Remnants of War

Landmines have killed and maimed civilians, disrupted civilian life, hindered humanitarian access, and prevented civilians’ safe return home in affected areas in Yemen. In any battle for Hodeida, the Houthis, as well as pro-government forces, should not use antipersonnel mines, which pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.

Houthi forces have repeatedly laid antipersonnel, antivehicle, and improvised mines, as they withdrew from areas in Aden, Taizz, Marib and, more recently, along Yemen’s western coast. In February, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center’s southern branch found antipersonnel mines, antivehicle mines and other types of explosive ordnance, including improvised antipersonnel mines, near the towns of Mokha, Khawka and Hays. One deminer said that, “Areas that have been mined have never been signed [marked with warning signs].” Three years after the Houthis withdrew from Aden, mine survey and clearance operations continue.

Use of antipersonnel landmines violates the laws of war, and those involved are committing war crimes. The indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines and failure to minimize civilian casualties also violate the laws of war. Yemen suffers from a shortage of equipped and trained personnel who can systematically clear landmines and explosive remnants of war.

All parties to the conflict should:


  • Cease using antipersonnel mines, destroy any antipersonnel mines in their possession, and appropriately punish those using them;
  • Raise awareness among the displaced about the threat of mines, including improvised mines, and develop capacity to rapidly clear homes and residential areas of mines and remnants of war to facilitate the return of the civilian population; and
  • Direct international assistance to equip, train, and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey, clear, and destroy Yemen’s mines and explosive remnants of war. International donors should provide assistance for landmine victims, including medical care, prosthetics, and ongoing rehabilitation.


Ensure that No Children Take Part in Fighting

Houthi forces, pro-government forces, and other armed groups have used child soldiers, an estimated one-third of the fighters in Yemen. 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.

The Houthis have recruited, trained, and deployed children in the current conflict. “Yasser,” 20, 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.” The Houthis provided him with food and qat, but no pay. “He goes with seven of his friends around the same age,” Yasser said. Houthi supporters came to their neighborhood almost daily and talked to young men and boys about becoming fighters.

“Salem,” who was displaced by fighting on the western 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 local leader, who was also trying to send his children away to protect them, said the Houthis were going around to people’s homes, asking how many men and boys lived there, and registering names for fighting. Their neighbors said families had to provide either money or a person to fight, often a child: “They paid, or they take the kids, so they paid… They would take people who were 16, 17, if they can carry a weapon.” His relative, “Ali,” 16, said that in December 2017 Houthi men on a truck came to his secondary school. “I saw three Houthis with guns trying to take the kids… some of the kids were crying.” He and his friend scaled the school’s wall and ran away. Salem, Ali and about 70 other members of 13 related families were staying together in an abandoned school in Aden when Human Rights Watch interviewed them.

International law sets 18 as the minimum age for participation in direct hostilities, which includes using children as scouts, couriers, and at checkpoints. Under Yemeni law, 18 is the minimum age for military service.

Forces that capture child soldiers should treat them as victims of rights violations, not simply as captured fighters, and abide by international standards. The Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups states: “The release, protection and reintegration of children unlawfully recruited or used must be sought at all times, without condition and must not be dependent on any parallel release or demobilization process for adults.”

All parties to the conflict should:


  • Ensure that no children take part in fighting in Hodeida;
  • 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; and
  • Provide former child soldiers all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration.


Investigate Unlawful Attacks

None of the countries that make up the Saudi-led coalition have publicly clarified which alleged unlawful attacks their forces participated in. The investigative body the coalition created in 2016 does not meet international standards and has absolved coalition forces of responsibility in the vast majority of attacks investigated. The coalition has not compensated victims of unlawful strikes or their families, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine.

In response to Human Rights Watch letters in 2016 and 2017, the Houthi-controlled Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed a willingness to investigate reports of landmine use, but not until the conflict ended. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any concrete steps the Houthis have taken to investigate potentially unlawful attacks or hold anyone to account for violations.

Countries that are parties to the armed conflict should:


  • Impartially and transparently investigate credible reports of alleged violations of the laws of war and make public their findings. Individuals implicated in war crimes should be appropriately prosecuted;
  • 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;
  • Provide compensation for wrongful civilian deaths, injuries and harm. The coalition should develop effective systems for civilians to file claims for condolence or ex gratia payments and to evaluate the claims; and
  • The US, UK, and France should cease all weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia because of Saudi Arabia’s widespread violations of the laws of war, and weapons transfers to other coalition members that are likely to use them unlawfully.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A woman watches the funeral of a civilian who, according to local media, was hit by a police vehicle during a protest after Friday prayers, in Srinagar, June 2, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

India’s government dismissed the first-ever United Nations report on human rights in Kashmir as “fallacious, tendentious, and motivated,” saying the findings are “overtly prejudiced” and seek to “build a false narrative.”

India can – and should – do better in confronting its own human rights failures.

While the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) acknowledged the “political dimensions” of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, its report sought to highlight the decades of suffering by millions of Kashmiris.

These human rights concerns have been well documented. Cross-border shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops have killed and injured hundreds. Tens of thousands of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus remain displaced after being forced to flee the valley. Thousands have been forcibly disappeared, their wives described as “half widows.” More than 50,000 people have died since the insurgency broke out in 1989. Kashmiris have been tortured or summarily executed by state security forces and threatened or killed by militants. There are serious allegations of sexual violence by all forces. Now, hardly a day goes by without violent protests, even as scores of young Kashmiris are signing up for militancy.

India’s kneejerk, bombastic statement is hardly the response of a government intent on a seat at the UN Security Council and other global decision-making bodies. Indian authorities, in official statements, have acknowledged the increasing violence in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the government called a ceasefire during Ramadan in the hope of calming the fury stemming from ongoing abuses and failure of accountability, and is now considering an extension.

India should welcome the UN report, and commit to act on its findings, including providing access to the UN human rights office. As a first step it should seek a repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, as has been recommended by several international and Indian experts. It should order an investigation into alleged violations by the security forces and prosecute those found responsible, instead of rewarding abusive soldiers.

Addressing grievances is what responsible governments are supposed to do. They don’t deny and blame the messenger. And they certainly don’t accuse the UN high commissioner for human rights of prejudice.

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

The United Nations Security Council meets on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., May 16, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

South Africa secured a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the third time on Friday. The seat offers a chance for South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to restore the country’s human rights-based foreign policy.

This latest term will be for 2019-2020.

During its January summit, the African Union (AU) endorsed South Africa’s candidacy for the seat. It was the only African country backed by the regional body. South Africa will replace Ethiopia on the Security Council, and will join Cote D’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea – both in the final year of their tenure – in the African Group.  

In bidding for the seat, South Africa declared its intention to promote an African Agenda of peace and security in the region, but it’s unclear if that will involve backing tough measures like sanctions against human rights abusers.

South Africa should use its seat to push for resolutions to stem the abuses against civilians in the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The administration of South Africa’s previous president, Jacob Zuma, actually pursued military cooperation with the South Sudanese government even as it used child soldiers. Ramaphosa’s government has a chance to set things right in South Sudan, for example, by pushing for a much-needed arms embargo.

During its first two terms on the Security Council, South Africa strayed from Nelson Mandela’s hope that “human rights will be the light that guides our foreign policy.”

In its first term on the Security Council in 2007, South Africa voted against an important resolution calling for a cease to military attacks against ethnic minorities in Burma, joining Russia and China as they vetoed. During its second term in 2011, the country began to abstain on all votes relating to the global south after it was criticized as championing a Western agenda when it voted to authorize a no-fly zone in Libya. Just a few months after the Libya vote, it abstained on a resolution that would have “condemned grave and systematic human rights violations” in Syria.

Now, 100 years after Nelson Mandela’s birth, South Africa has an opportunity to create a new legacy on the Security Council.  

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


Ahead of the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Coun­cil”), we write to you as a cross-re­gional group of non-governmental organizations to share our serious concerns over the sys­te­ma­tic, wide­spread and gross human rights violations that continue to be committed with impu­nity in Eritrea.

We urge your Govern­ment to support and co-sponsor at the upcoming session a streamlined reso­lution that accurately reflects the gravity of the situation on the ground, renews the man­date of the Special Rapporteur under the Council’s agenda item 4, and sets out a framework for need­ed reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country and advance ac­count­ability.

At the Council’s last regular session, during an enhanced interactive dialogue on Eri­trea held in March 2018, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore noted:

“In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, per­secution, rape and murder, had been committed since 1991. The Commission noted that despite the State’s increased engagement with the international community, there was no evidence of progress in the field of hu­man rights. I regret to report that this state of affairs remains unchanged.”[1]

In her most recent statement to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keet­ha­ruth, similarly detailed violations per­tain­ing to the right to life, including deaths in custody for which responsibility “falls squarely on Gov­ernment authorities,” the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedoms of expression, assembly and as­so­ciation, and freedom of religion or belief, inc­lu­­ding the harass­ment, mis­treatment, torture and detention of members of unrecognized religions.[2] These continuing violations present a systematic character, meaning, in the words of the Special Rap­porteur, that “they cannot be the result of ran­dom or isolated acts by the autho­rities” and that they occur in a country ruled “not by law, but by fear.”[3]

Since Eritrea was first considered by the Council, the Government has refused to cooperate with the mechanisms the Council set up, including the Special Rapporteur and the Commis­sion of In­quiry (CoI). At the March 2018 enhanced interactive dialogue, Eritrea was not present to take the floor as the con­cer­ned country.

Eritrea’s cooperation with other international bodies, mechanisms or agencies has been extremely selec­tive. While the Government recently invited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Hu­man Rights (OHCHR) for a short-term technical assistance mission, the Deputy High Commissio­ner under­lined that “the test of the merits of our engagement with Eritrea – like Eritrea’s commitments at the international level – lies in whether or not they produce concrete human rights improvements for the people of Eritrea.” She concluded that there had been no measurable progress to date.

Eritrea has consistently denied UN Special Procedures, including the country-specific Special Rap­por­teur, access to the country. At the time of writing, pen­ding visit requests by Special Procedures included requests from the Spe­cial Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (request in 2005; reminders in 2007 and 2010); freedom of religion or belief (request in 2004; reminders in 2005 and 2006); extrajudicial, sum­mary or arbitrary exe­cu­tions (request in 2010); the right to food (request in 2003); and freedom of opi­nion and expression (request in 2003; reminders in 2005 and 2015).

Eritrea has also attacked, intimidated and threatened human rights defenders and independent UN ex­perts, including the Special Rapporteur and members of the CoI. When the latter presented their report in 2015, they noted that “[they] were followed in the streets and in [their] hotels and vilified in blogs on line where the words of [their] report have been twisted and misquoted.” The Com­mission’s Chair added: “Of course this is trivial compared to the day to day experience of people in Eritrea itself, but it is indicative of a determination on the part of the authorities to control anyone they perceive as a critic.”[4]

The gravity, scale and nature of the continuing violations call for justice. Victims, including those who live inside the country and those who have fled it, deserve redress. As domestic avenues for such red­ress are non-existent, the international community must continue to act with a view to en­ding the gene­ra­lized impu­nity that prevails in the coun­try. The Deputy High Commissioner remin­ded the Coun­cil that, as advi­sed by the Special Rapporteur, there could be “no sustain­able solution to the refugee out­flows until the Government complied with its human rights obligations.”[5]

In view of the ongoing crimes under international law and violations of human rights and fun­da­mental freedoms committed in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate remains an indispensable mechanism to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. The mandate holder continues to fulfil an invaluable role by monitoring the dire situation in the country, shining a light on violations, providing a crucial platform to help amplify the voices of victims, and offering Eritreans an opportunity to find long-lasting solutions for the respect of their human rights.

Consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, the Human Rights Council should continue to address the situ­ation in Eritrea. We urge your dele­gation to actively support and co-sponsor a resolution that:

  • Recalls the reports of the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur and continues to ex­press its deep concern over the findings contained therein;
  • Condemns the reported systematic, widespread and gross human rights viola­tions and abuses that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of genera­li­zed im­punity;
  • Reiterates that all perpetrators of such violations and abuses should be held ac­countable;
  • Extends the mandate of the Special Rap­porteur and invites the mandate holder to continue to fol­low up on the findings of HRC mechanisms, including on accountability;
  • Invites the Special Rapporteur to assess and report on the Eritrean Government’s degree of enga­ge­ment and cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms, as well as with OHCHR, and whe­re feasible to develop benchmarks for progress on human rights and a time-bound action plan for the imple­mentation of these benchmarks;
  • Calls on all states to urge the Government of Eritrea to co-operate with the Special Rappor­teur and other UN bodies and mechanisms, including Special Procedures, implement the recommen­da­­tions these bodies and mechanisms made over the years, and allow unfettered ac­cess to the coun­try, including detention centers and training facilities.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and are available to provide your delegation with further information as required.



Africa Monitors

Amnesty International


Asian Legal Resource Centre

Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE)


DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa

Eritrean Lowland League

Eritrean Law Society

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)


Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)

Human Rights Watch

International Fellowship of Reconciliation

International Service for Human Rights                         

PEN Eritrea

Release Eritrea

Reporters Without Borders

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)


[1] The meeting summary can be found at: www.bit.ly/2Fc69BX

[4] www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16731&LangID=E The Special Rapporteur herself has faced personal attacks during an interactive dialogue that was held in June 2017, when she was referred to as a “naked Empress with no clothes” and was accused of carrying out a witch-hunt against Eritrea. See www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior40/8032/2018/en/

[5] See footnote 1 above.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya refugee family cross the Naf River at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh November 1, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Adnan Abidi
On Thursday, Myanmar’s government announced it was launching an “independent commission of inquiry” to “investigate the violation of human rights and related issues following the terrorist attacks” by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The ethnic Rohingya armed group, which first surfaced in October 2016, had attacked more than two-dozen police outposts and a military camp in northern Rakhine State in August 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the government made no mention of its response to the attacks: Myanmar military forces carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population, killing, raping, and looting while torching hundreds of villages. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The government also neglected to mention that an independent investigation already exists. Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council created a fact-finding mission into alleged abuses by Myanmar’s security forces and other armed groups. But instead of assisting the fact-finding mission, the government barred it from entering the country along with  the UN-appointed human rights expert on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee.

The government will doubtlessly try to sell the new inquiry on the basis that one of the three commissioners will be an “international personality,” and that international legal and technical experts will provide support.

But we’ve been down this road before with the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in the driver’s seat. In 2017 a Myanmar national commission rejected UN findings of “very likely” crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in 2016.  A Myanmar army investigation into the 2016 events found only two minor abuses, one a motorbike theft. A second investigation – led by the same army general - said “there were no deaths of innocent people” during the late 2017 military operation.

In fact, it was only after two Reuters journalists uncovered the massacre of 10 Rohingya men that the military held any soldiers responsible for killings. Seven soldiers were sentenced to jail; the two Reuters journalists remain detained, purportedly for revealing state secrets.

Myanmar’s newly proposed independent commission of inquiry is not merely inadequate, but an attempt to delay and deflect real justice. The UN Security Council should urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

Victims of atrocities have little hope for justice without it.

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

The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss adopting a resolution to help preserve evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq, during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(New York) – A new United Nations investigation of crimes committed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq was not given the mandate that the situation calls for, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 31, 2018, the United Nations secretary-general appointed Karim Khan to head a team tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of serious crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq.

The team was created based on a UN Security Council resolution unanimously adopted on September 21, 2017. The resolution mandates the investigative team to document serious crimes committed by ISIS but failed to include within its scope of work the abuses, including war crimes, by anti-ISIS forces.

“In limiting the team’s focus, the Security Council effectively gave cover to one-sided justice in Iraq,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Though this new investigation could help further expose violations by ISIS and identify those responsible, it should not serve as an excuse to delay inquiries into crimes by all sides.”

Khan will undoubtedly face considerable challenges in his new post, Human Rights Watch said. They include the need to coordinate with Iraqi and Kurdish Regional Government authorities on correcting an array of flaws plaguing the Iraqi justice system, to build bridges with victims, and to collaborate with other documentation efforts.

While an initiative aimed at addressing the atrocities committed by ISIS is a positive first step to support accountability efforts in Iraq, it falls short of the comprehensive approach that would be needed to end the selective justice that has plagued Iraq for decades, Human Rights Watch said. Indeed, the ongoing lack of impartial justice in Iraq threatens to open new divisions at a moment when the Iraqi government has a unique opportunity to move the country toward meaningful reconciliation. It could also set a dangerous precedent for governments around the world to pursue a selective approach to justice in the wake of conflict.

Khan was a legal adviser in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He also served as defense counsel on various cases at the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslav tribunal, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Khan has a difficult assignment, Human Rights Watch said. To have any chance of credible, enduring gains in the fight against impunity in Iraq, he will need to execute his mandate independently and innovatively.

Khan will need to ensure that the investigative team does not contribute to proceedings that could lead to capital punishment, in line with the longstanding United Nations policy of not supporting or assisting processes that could lead to the death penalty. Death sentences are a common penalty for those convicted of ISIS affiliation in Iraq.

In addition, he will need to address the ongoing, serious legal shortcomings that undermine the Iraqi justice system. His team will need to press Iraqi authorities to significantly improve respect for due process rights of ISIS suspects and detainees if the team is to share the information it gathers for use in fair and independent proceedings, consistent with their terms of reference.

The team should also urge Iraqi authorities to bring charges against ISIS suspects for the most serious crimes they have committed, and to take a more victim-centered approach to national accountability efforts. Iraq is prosecuting thousands of detainees under counterterrorism legislation for their affiliation with ISIS. But it has not charged any suspects for serious international crimes such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide – which are not criminal offenses under Iraqi law – or even specific violent crimes like murder, rape, or slavery – which are. The authorities have made no efforts to solicit victims’ participation in the trials.

“As things stand, the team won’t be in a position to share its information without significant improvements to the justice system and guarantees on the death penalty,” Jarrah said. “The effort to bring about justice for serious crimes in Iraq will require thoughtful, steadfast, and principled leadership by Khan.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This questions-and-answers document sets out the sanctions regime and other diplomatic measures imposed on North Korea, Human Rights Watch’s position on sanctions, and recommendations for addressing North Korea’s human rights record. It explains how existing sanctions on North Korea operate, why they were imposed, and how they might be relaxed, lifted, or tightened.

Sanctions on North Korea include measures related to nuclear weapons proliferation activities imposed by the United Nations Security Council and some UN member states, including the United States and members of the European Union. They also include targeted economic and travel-related sanctions and measures imposed bilaterally on high-level North Korean officials for human rights reasons.

  1. What types of sanctions are currently imposed on North Korea?
  2. What is Human Rights Watch’s position on non-proliferation and human rights sanctions?
  3. What human rights sanctions against North Korea are currently in place?
  4. Do US sanctions, which only apply to US persons, companies, and financial institutions, have an effect outside of the United States?
  5. How do the UN sanctions work?
  6. Can the Security Council lift its sanctions absent any improvements in North Korea’s human rights record?
  7. How can US-North Korea negotiations address human rights issues?
  8. What concrete steps can the North Korean government take to improve human rights?
  9. Have existing non-proliferation sanctions been effectively enforced?
  10. Have sanctions harmed the North Korean people?


  1. What types of sanctions are currently imposed on North Korea?

The primary sanctions imposed on North Korea are counter-proliferation sanctions, designed to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development programs and prevent further weapons’ development. These measures are chiefly imposed through Security Council resolutions, but are also enforced through domestic and regional legal regimes. Besides UN sanctions, measures have also been imposed by the US, the EU, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. They include restrictions on financial dealings with particular North Korean officials and entities, as well as restrictions on travel by North Korean officials.

In addition to non-proliferation sanctions, the United States has imposed human rights-related sanctions. These are targeted economic sanctions and travel restrictions on several high-level North Korean government officials, including Kim Jong Un, in response to their role in gross human rights violations. These sanctions are not imposed on North Korea as a country but are focused on individuals and entities. South Korea, Japan, and Australia have expressed support for these measures, although they have stopped short of imposing similar restrictions in their domestic law.

The US has also imposed a small number of targeted sanctions on North Korean persons and entities implicated in cyberattacks, such as the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures, in which hackers allegedly linked to the North Korean government stole large amounts of confidential information from the movie studio and posted the information online.


  1. What is Human Rights Watch’s position on non-proliferation and human rights sanctions?

Human Rights Watch supports “humanitarian disarmament,” which seeks to strengthen international humanitarian law and protect civilians from weapons that cause unacceptable harm, including weapons that are invariably indiscriminate. We also oppose cyberattacks that violate international human rights or humanitarian law. However, we have not taken a position on sanctions relating to non-proliferation or cyberattacks that are not primarily based on human rights considerations.

Human Rights Watch supports certain types of targeted sanctions (also known as “smart sanctions”) imposed on North Korean officials implicated in serious human rights abuses that restrict their military, trade, financial, economic, and other relations, as well as travel restrictions. We support individual sanctions as a way to focus directly on the individuals believed to be most responsible for abuses, while minimizing any negative impact or damage on the North Korean people themselves, who already suffer tremendously under the North Korean government.

Targeted sanctions emphasize the need for individual accountability by singling out those considered most responsible for the commission of serious human rights abuses. Targeted human rights sanctions place pressure on those responsible to end abuses, hold those responsible accountable, and deter future abuses. Such sanctions may also deter other countries, foreign actors, companies, and others from committing or becoming complicit in the abuses being perpetrated by the target government, especially when combined with efforts to investigate individual criminal responsibility for human rights violations.

As a general matter, Human Rights Watch believes that targeted sanctions are most effective and legitimate when they are imposed multilaterally (by groups of states, such as the Security Council). In its 2014 report, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea expressed this view, urging the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on those considered responsible for alleged crimes against humanity. Because of opposition from China and Russia, the council did not act on those recommendations.

In cases where multilateral action is not feasible or not the most effective option, Human Rights Watch has often supported unilateral targeted sanctions. In the case of North Korea, we have urged individual countries, including the US, South Korea, China, Canada, Japan, and EU member states, to impose their own targeted sanctions on North Korean government officials.


  1. What human rights sanctions against North Korea are currently in place?

Human Rights Watch has called on the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on North Korean government officials implicated in serious human rights abuses, but the council has not done so. Since the release of the COI report, the council has held several public meetings on the human rights situation in North Korea during which some council member countries have raised the idea of targeted sanctions in response to human rights violations. Some states have urged the Security Council to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The council, however, remains unable to agree on a resolution that would take such actions, due to strong opposition from China and Russia, which as permanent members of the council can veto any proposed resolution.

The US has taken several steps to impose sanctions on North Korean government actors implicated in rights abuses, especially after 2015, as increasing attention was focused on North Korea because of the work of the COI. In March 2016, the Obama administration issued an executive order imposing extensive restrictions on US persons or entities engaging in transactions with any North Korean officials or entities implicated in human rights abuses. In July 2016, the US imposed individual sanctions on Kim Jong Un and several other high-level security officials, including the minister of state security, Choe Pu Il, specifically citing their complicity in human rights abuses. In January and October 2017, the US listed additional individuals and entities in its human rights sanction list, including Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister and vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department; Kim Won Hong, the minister of state security; and Jong Yong Su, the minister of labor.

Most of these sanctions were imposed by placing officials on the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, which prohibits any US person, company, or financial institution from engaging in business with the person listed and prohibits their travel to the US. The SDN list in general is used by the US government to impose sanctions on actors around the world who are implicated in criminal activity, corruption, terrorism, and gross human rights abuses. SDN listings are often imposed under a country specific statute or by a presidential Executive Order issued under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977.

In 2016, Congress also passed a law, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, which for the first time obligated the president, as a matter of law, to investigate and list particular persons and entities involved in weapons proliferation, human rights abuses, and cyberhacking, and mandated the president to sanction them. (Previously the president was authorized to do so, but not mandated.) Specifically, the law states that the president “shall designate” any person who “knowingly engages in, is responsible for, or facilitates serious human rights abuses by the Government of North Korea,” or “knowingly engages in, is responsible for, or facilitates censorship by the Government of North Korea,” among other criteria.

In addition, the law specifically mandates that the president must “block and prohibit all transactions in property and interests in property” not only of designated persons, but also “the Government of North Korea, or the Workers' Party of Korea,” which is defined to include the government’s “agencies, instrumentalities, and controlled entities.” In other words, the president is bound by law to impose a financial ban and asset freezes on the North Korean government.

Notably, the act states that sanctions may only be suspended if North Korea is taking major steps on ending weapons proliferation and related activities, as well as “accounting for and repatriating” citizens of other countries who were abducted by North Korea, “accepting and beginning to abide by internationally recognized standards for the distribution and monitoring of humanitarian aid,” and “taking verified steps to improve living conditions in its political prison camps,” among other criteria. This means that President Trump cannot fully suspend sanctions on North Korea unless Congress agrees to repeal them.


  1. Do US sanctions, which only apply to US persons, companies and financial institutions, have an effect outside of the United States?

The US Treasury sanctions, while rooted in US law, can have broad international consequences. Many of the world’s main financial institutions and banks are US-based, have US affiliates, or are traded on US securities exchanges, making them subject to US law or Treasury Department regulations. Other multilateral or transnational financial institutions make use of US financial services and infrastructure. Even banks or financial institutions with no direct US ties may prohibit persons on the SDN list from accessing accounts or use of wire services, including the international SWIFT system. As a practical matter, persons on the SDN list can face major hurdles in holding or moving money through the international banking system.


  1. How do the UN sanctions work?

Current UN sanctions on North Korea are focused solely on addressing the country’s nuclear weapons proliferation activities. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council is empowered to take measures to “maintain or restore international peace and security,” including through binding resolutions obligating UN member states to impose sanctions, travel restrictions, and weapons and economic embargoes on specific states and government officials who threaten international peace and security. In numerous past resolutions, the council has determined that the “proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” After North Korea began testing long-range missile technology and nuclear weapons in 2006, the council began passing resolutions imposing sanctions and setting up a committee and panel of experts to monitor the measures taken.

Among the first UN measures to address proliferation activities, Security Council Resolution 1718 was passed after North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006. It imposed an arms embargo, prohibiting the “direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer” to North Korea of various heavy weapons, missile systems, materials and technologies, as well as luxury goods—a measure meant to impose costs on the highest levels of the government. It also obligated UN member states to freeze the funds or financial assets of entities designated by the council as providing support for North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

The four rounds of sanctions the Security Council imposed between 2006 and 2013 in response to North Korea’s first three nuclear tests and a satellite launch were aimed at its nuclear program and high-level government officials and entities. The sanctions included an arms embargo and import and export ban on related materials; empowered UN member states to seize and destroy cargo suspected to be connected to North Korea’s military; targeted North Korean officials and entities involved in the nuclear program with assets freezes and travel bans; requires banks to ban money transfers and prevent financial transfers that could contribute to the programs; and prohibited exports of luxury goods to North Korea.

Following additional nuclear tests in 2016 and 2017, the Security Council strengthened measures and imposed more sanctions in five different resolutions. These were significantly tougher than previous resolutions, imposing complete or partial prohibitions on the import of most of North Korea’s key exports. They banned the export by North Korea of gold, rare earth metals and stones, minerals and natural gas; capped exports of coal, iron, oil and all refined petroleum products; and restricted exports of electrical equipment, food, seafood, agricultural products, wood and textiles, among other things. The resolutions also added additional items to the list of prohibited dual-use technologies for import, designated additional individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel bans, mandated limits on overseas North Korean workers, restricted fishing rights, and prohibited various joint investment, business, and scientific projects, among other measures.


  1. Can the Security Council lift its sanctions absent any improvements in North Korea’s human rights record?

Yes. The Security Council can lift its sanctions at any time and for any reason. The Security Council sanctions regime was imposed for non-proliferation reasons and does not include human rights criteria either for the imposition or removal of sanctions. The sanctions allow for humanitarian and development aid to continue.

Human Rights Watch believes, however, that regardless of the reasons the current sanctions were imposed on North Korea, the UN Security Council should not be limiting sanctions solely to nuclear proliferation-related issues, but also impose them for human rights reasons. North Korea is a totalitarian state that severely restricts virtually all basic rights and freedoms and has long been responsible for crimes against humanity against the North Korean people. These are among the reasons Human Rights Watch has supported calls by the UN Commission of Inquiry for the Security Council to sanction North Korean officials specifically for their involvement in grave human rights violations.

North Korea’s nuclear program is also linked to human rights abuses. The program benefits from forced labor. Funds for military activities are obtained from remittances from the forced labor of North Koreans sent overseas. And the massive cost of the nuclear weapons program doubtlessly contributes to the massive poverty in the country, which is among the world’s poorest countries. Only one-third of North Korean homes have electricity, while around half of the population lives in extreme poverty. As stated in Security Council Resolution 2397, North Korea “continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by diverting critically needed resources away from the people in the DPRK [North Korea] at tremendous cost when they have great unmet needs.”

The actions of the North Korean government also present risks to international peace and security: mass levels of abuses raise the risks of volatile destabilization in the long term and potentially enormous flight and displacement.

Promoting respect for human rights in North Korea through sanctions or other means could positively impact non-proliferation discussions. A more open North Korea that affords better cooperation with the UN could facilitate the conclusion of agreements not only on non-proliferation, but on freedom of movement, family reunion, and other human rights issues that could benefit the North Korean population.


  1. How can US-North Korea negotiations address human rights issues?

Human Rights Watch believes that the US and other countries negotiating with North Korea on security issues should do more to focus on human rights issues. Promoting human rights in North Korea, whether through sanctions or other means, should be viewed as a fundamental aspect of any negotiations. And countries that have imposed rights-related sanctions should keep them in place until the human rights concerns they were intended to address result in genuine improvement. 

As noted above, the key targeted sanctions related to human rights include the listing of high-level North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un, on the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list, for complicity in gross human rights abuses. Relaxing human rights-related sanctions and other actions related to the human rights situation without any progress by North Korea on human rights removes an important lever for improving the human rights of the Korean people and could result in greater repression.  

The US, South Korea, Japan, EU member states and others should continue to use whatever influence they have on North Korea through resolutions at the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council; the creation of mechanisms, such as the Commission of Inquiry, to investigate and report on North Korea’s human rights abuses; and encouraging leadership by the UN Security Council to convene sessions on North Korea’s human rights record and adopt human rights resolutions despite veto threats by China and Russia. 

Governments should not lift or weaken human rights-related sanctions until North Korea proves willing to engage on human rights issues and takes concrete steps to implement longstanding recommendations from UN mechanisms to meaningfully address its human rights record.

During the proposed US-North Korea summit, the US should include human rights on the agenda and in the discussions. Human rights sanctions, such as the US Treasury Department’s SDN list, and other human rights measures, should not be lifted or weakened unless North Korean makes substantial progress on rights. Should multilateral negotiations with North Korea take place, all governments should insist that human rights concerns be officially on the agenda and actively discussed. 


  1. What concrete steps can the North Korean government take to improve human rights?

North Korea should immediately act to improve the fundamental human rights of the North Korean people. Concerned states should press North Korea to:

  • Allow visits and unfettered access by UN agencies and offices, including the World Food Programme, the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other UN rights experts. (In 2017, North Korea allowed a visit by the special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities);
  • Take immediate steps to address poor conditions and abuses in the country’s detention and prison facilities, including by allowing visits by the international humanitarian organizations, other relevant UN bodies and officials, and international nongovernmental groups;
  • Engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the upcoming UN Universal Periodic Review and a review under the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while responding seriously to recommendations for compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which North Korea has ratified;
  • Ratify other core human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture and the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance;
  • Discuss with the International Labour Organization (ILO) steps for North Korea to improve workers’ rights, allow visits by ILO officials including to manufacturing areas, and ratify key ILO conventions; and
  • Discuss with UN agencies and other international organizations the creation of a presence in North Korea to assist capacity building, long-term development, rule of law, the development of nongovernmental organizations and independent media, and realization of economic and social rights by ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene, food security, hospitals and essential medicines, and equal access to schools and quality education.


  1. Have existing non-proliferation sanctions been effectively enforced?

For several years many countries have been violating UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea, either intentionally or by inadequately enforcing or investigating actions by private actors. The UN panel tasked with monitoring the implementation of the sanctions has found violations involving China, Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Uganda, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Egypt, among other countries. Violations have ranged from failing to stop imports of prohibited items from North Korea, to violations of bans on sales of military technology, whether through purchases of weapons from North Korea (e.g. Uganda, Burma, Egypt) or sales of technology to North Korea (e.g. Ukraine).

Recently, the US has pressed other governments to intensify their enforcement of existing Security Council resolutions, which appears to have convinced several states, including China, to tighten their enforcement efforts.


  1. Have sanctions harmed the North Korean people?

While Human Rights Watch does not take a position on non-proliferation sanctions or their enforcement, we believe that any UN and domestic sanctions that are applied, for any reason, should be targeted and tailored to avoid bringing humanitarian harm to ordinary North Koreans. The UN Security Council has reiterated that the nine sanctions resolutions adopted since 2006 “are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population” of North Korea.

The newest and toughest sanctions imposed in 2017 negatively affected the North Korean economy on a macroeconomic level. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that, “sanctions may be adversely affecting the essential help” that UN agencies and aid groups were providing as a “life-line” for some 13 million vulnerable North Koreans. In December 2017, Zeid warned that controls over international banking transfers imposed as a part of the non-proliferation sanctions regime have caused a slowdown in United Nations ground operations, affecting the delivery of food rations, health kits and other humanitarian aid. Zeid asked council members to conduct an assessment of the human rights impact of sanctions and see that action is taken to minimize their adverse humanitarian consequences.

It is less clear how sanctions imposed for non-proliferation reasons affect the day-to-day lives of North Koreans. There is little or no evidence that human rights-related targeted sanctions have caused significant humanitarian hardship on the people of North Korea.

Ultimately, responsibility for the poverty and deprivation faced by North Koreans rests with the totalitarian rule of the Kim dynasty since coming to power 70 years ago. The government’s poor governance, mismanagement of agrarian policies, prioritization of the elite and military over the general population, and misguided economic policies have contributed to the country’s egregious economic situation.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am