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

A poison hazard danger sign is seen in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province, Syria on April 5, 2017.

© 2017 Abdussamed Dagul/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(New York) – Russia should not block the extension of the inquiry into who is responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today.

The mandate for the inquiry, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), will expire on November 17, 2017, even though it has yet to investigate several alleged chemical attacks in Syria. The United States has circulated a draft resolution at the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the joint UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry for another year. But Russia has threatened to block the renewal, citing concerns over the inquiry’s upcoming report on one attack.

“Russia is basically holding the inquiry’s continued work hostage to its findings on a specific attack,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “There’s a word for that – blackmail.”

Thoroughly investigating these reports is crucial because they suggest a clear pattern of nerve agent use. A Russian veto would effectively prevent a credible investigation into who was responsible for this and other similar attacks.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism is expected to release on October 26 its report on an April 4 chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, a town in northern Syria, which killed about 90 civilians. While investigations by the UN-mandated Syria Commission of Inquiry and Human Rights Watch have concluded that the evidence strongly indicate government responsibility for the attack, Russian officials have claimed that armed anti-government groups were most likely behind the attack.

In a briefing on October 13, the Russian ambassador to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Mikhail Ulyanov, said, based on a transcript posted on the website of Russia’s mission to the UN: “We are going to review [the Khan Sheikhoun report] in most carefully to determine the quality of its work moreover since in November the UNSC will have to determine whether it is appropriate to further extend the JIM mandate. [sic]”

A Russian veto of the mandate extension would be inconsistent with Russian officials’ past statements about the importance of investigating chemical weapons use, Human Rights Watch said. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have on multiple occasions condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and have insisted on a full and impartial investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack to find and punish those responsible.

 “The JIM’s October report is the result of the impartial investigation that Russia has called for,” Solvang said. “There is no point calling for an independent investigation if you are going to kill it for reaching conclusions you do not like.”

Russia supported the creation of the JIM and the extension of its mandate in the past, but has become increasingly critical of its work after the investigation attributed responsibility for three chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 to the Syrian government.

Russia has twice used its veto to block Security Council resolutions related to chemical weapons use in Syria. In February 2017, Russia, together with China, vetoed a resolution imposing sanctions on Syria after the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015. In April, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the attack in Khan Sheikhoun and expressing the Security Council’s determination to hold those responsible for the attack accountable.

The Syrian government’s repeated and systematic use of chemical weapons poses an unprecedented threat to the global ban on chemical weapons, which, with 192 member states for the Chemical Weapons Convention, is the strongest ban on a weapon in international law. An official investigation to identify those responsible for such attacks serves as a crucial deterrent and a basis for Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and UN Security Council action to hold those responsible for attacks accountable and prevent future attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

Other countries should uphold the norm against the use of chemical weapons by urging Russia not to block the extension of this crucial investigation. As a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia should ensure that it is not facilitating violations by another party to the convention, namely Syria.

As of September 15, 2017, 114 countries have endorsed the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, pledging not to vote against a credible draft resolution aimed at preventing or ending serious crimes under international law, as well as supporting timely Security Council action to address such grave abuses. Further highlighting global momentum in favor of restraint in using a Security Council veto, 96 countries support a French and Mexican initiative calling for permanent Security Council members to voluntarily pledge not to use the veto in situations of mass atrocities.

The UN Security Council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism in August 2015 “to identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons…in the Syrian Arab Republic.” At the time, Russia said the establishment of the JIM would close the gap in identifying those responsible for the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria. An OPCW Fact-Finding Mission has the mandate to determine whether chemical weapons are used in Syria, but does not have the mandate to determine who used them.

In reports in August and October 2016, the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons in three attacks and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) for one. The UN Security Council extended the mandate twice, in October 2016 and November 2016.

There is plenty more work for the JIM, Human Rights Watch said. In a July report, the OPCW said that the fact-finding mission was investigating the most credible allegations among 60 incidents of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. In one of those cases, an attack near the town of al-Lataminah on March 30, five days before the Khan Sheikhoun attack, it has already confirmed the use of sarin, a deadly nerve agent. When its report is finalized, it will send the case to the JIM so it can seek to identify who is responsible for the attack.

Human Rights Watch concluded in a report in May that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons had become widespread and systematic and could amount to crimes against humanity.

Russia has been much less critical of the JIM’s finding that ISIS used chemical weapons. For example, commenting on the August 2016 JIM report that found that both the Syrian government and ISIS had used chemical weapons, the Russian ambassador to the UN told reporters that he had “very serious questions” about the two cases the investigation attributed to the Syrian government, but he was pleased the report had confirmed that ISIS had used chemical weapons. The investigation appears to have applied the same methodology to investigate all of these incidents.

“If Russia blocks the renewal of this mandate, it is hard to see how those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria would not take that as a green light to continue using chemical weapons,” Solvang said. “Blocking the renewal mandate would send a message to other members of the Chemical Weapons Convention that ignoring the ban on these weapons is perfectly fine.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human rights activists chant slogans during a protest to condemn the disappearances of social activists in Karachi, Pakistan January 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Akhtar Soomro / Reuters

(Geneva) – The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are urging Pakistan to take immediate steps towards meeting “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” following the country’s election to the Human Rights Council on Monday.

On October 16, the UN General Assembly selected 15 states to serve as members of the UN Human Rights Council from January 2018 to December 2020. From the Asia-Pacific region, Nepal, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were selected out of five candidates.

To secure the UN Human Rights Council membership, Pakistan pledged its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. However, the pledge failed to address directly many of the most serious human rights issues facing Pakistan, including enforced disappearances, the use of the death penalty, blasphemy laws, the country’s use of military courts, women’s rights including the right to education, and threats to the work of human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists.

According to UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” The Resolution also provides that, “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.”

Pakistan’s abuses have been highlighted by various national and international human rights organizations, UN treaty-monitoring bodies, and special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

Pakistan has affirmed in its election pledge that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

Given the pressing human rights issues in the country, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urge Pakistan to take the necessary action to fulfill these responsibilities.

Background on human rights areas of concern:

The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urge Pakistani authorities to act promptly to address the following human rights concerns:

Enforced disappearances
Despite hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of enforced disappearance reported from across Pakistan, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has noted there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Pakistan authorities should publicly condemn and call for an end to the practice of enforced disappearances; ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; recognize enforced disappearance as a distinct, autonomous offence; recognize the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from on behalf of victims or other state parties; and hold perpetrators of enforced disappearance, including military and intelligence personnel, to account, through fair trials before civilian courts.

Death Penalty
Pakistan has executed at least 471 people since it lifted an informal moratorium on executions in December 2014. In many cases, there are serious concerns that people executed were denied the right to a fair trial. Courts have also imposed the death penalty, in violation of international law, on people with mental disabilities, individuals who were below 18 years of age when the crime was committed, and those whose convictions were based on “confessions” extracted through torture or other ill-treatment.

Pakistan should restore the moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, in line with repeated UN General Assembly resolutions, and pending the moratorium, ensure the death penalty is not applied in violation of international law.

Blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and equal treatment before the law. These laws have been disproportionately applied against religious minorities, they are frequently misused, and people accused of blasphemy offences are often denied the guarantees of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to legal counsel and the right to a fair trial.

Pakistan should repeal or significantly amend its blasphemy laws, in particular sections 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 298-A, 295-B, and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, to bring them in line with international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Military Courts
Since January 2015, Pakistan’s military courts have convicted at least 305 people, out of which 169 have been sentenced to death. Proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall short of national and international standards on fair trial. Judges are part of the executive branch of the State and continue to be subjected to military command; the right to appeal to civilian courts is not available; the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed; the right to a duly reasoned, written judgment – including the essential findings, evidence, and legal reasoning – is denied; the procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and details about the alleged offences are kept secret; the right to counsel of choice is denied; and a very high number of convictions are based on “confessions” without adequate safeguards against torture and other ill treatment.

Pakistan should repeal or amend relevant laws in order to ensure that only civilian courts may try civilians, including for terrorism-related offences, and to ensure that military courts only have jurisdiction over military personnel for military offences.

National Human Rights Institution
Pakistan has committed to provide the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) adequate human and financial resources. However, the NCHR does not have the required independence to fulfill its mandate effectively and impartially. We also note that the NCHR has a limited mandate to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed by military forces, and it does not have jurisdiction over intelligence agencies.

Pakistan should extend the jurisdiction of the NCHR to cover military and intelligence agencies and ensure its autonomy and independence in accordance with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions.

Human Rights Defenders
Authorities in Pakistan have increased restrictions on human rights defenders and attempted to stop the operation of certain nongovernmental organizations for reasons such as “presenting a very bleak picture of human rights” to the UN. In some cases, state agents have perpetrated human rights violations against human rights defenders: activists exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have been subjected to unjustified or excessive force by the police and even prosecuted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws; and many have been attacked, killed, or forcibly disappeared. The onerous and opaque procedures of the international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) policy, coupled with the vague, arbitrary, and at times unlawful reasons for refusing or canceling INGO registrations, have also resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of association for people working for INGOs.

In accordance with international standards including the ICCPR and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Pakistan should guarantee, and ensure that human rights defenders are able in practice to exercise, the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the right to express opinion – whether critical or not – of the state, its agencies and other matters of public interest; and the right to unhindered access to other human rights organisations and institutions – domestic, regional or global.

Cooperation with Special Procedures
Since 2012, Pakistan has accepted country visit requests by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Requests for visits from a number of other special procedures, however, remain pending, including: the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions (pending since 2000); the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (pending since 2003); the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism (pending since 2006); the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (pending since 2006); and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (pending since 2010); among others.

Pakistan should extend a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures, should respond favorably to all outstanding requests, and should facilitate the visits in an expeditious manner.

Refugees
In 2016, more than 380,000 registered Afghan refugees were returned to Afghanistan with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Exit interviews conducted by UNHCR give rise to concern that these returns were not voluntary and therefore were contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, in what amounts to one of the largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times. Of those repatriated, 24 percent said they feared arrest and/or deportation and had therefore decided to leave. Those left behind face an uncertain future, including because of the heightened risk of harassment and intimidation by the Pakistani authorities.

These returns have taken place at a time when Afghanistan has been enduring the highest recorded levels of civilian casualties. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 11,418 people were either killed or injured last year. In the first six months of 2017, according to UNAMA, there have been 5,243 civilian casualties. No part of Afghanistan can be considered safe, putting returnees at a real risk of serious human rights abuses.

Pakistani authorities should immediately halt all returns to Afghanistan and ensure that Afghan refugees can continue to seek and enjoy protection in Pakistan. Pakistani law enforcement agencies should end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of all registered and non-registered Afghan refugees. Pakistan should also ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Optional Protocol while abandoning policies that deny refugees protection in line with international standards.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(New York) – United Nations member countries should not vote for the Democratic Republic of Congo in the UN Human Rights Council election because of the government’s widespread human rights violations and lack of cooperation with UN rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch said today. The annual election for seats on the 47-nation Human Rights Council will be held at the UN General Assembly in New York on October 16, 2017.

“Accepting Congo’s election bid would undermine the founding principles and credibility of the UN’s top rights body and its ability to promote respect for human rights,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “It would also be a serious affront to the countless victims of government abuses and to the work of courageous Congolese activists.”

In the UN’s African Group, Congo, Angola, Senegal, and Nigeria are running on a closed slate for the group’s four positions on the council, which virtually ensures a seat for all. But because a majority of votes cast is needed for election, Congo could be denied a spot if half of the member countries voting refrain from casting a vote for it.

Many human rights activists in Congo have spoken out against their country’s candidacy. On October 12, 157 Congolese organizations called on UN member countries to oppose Congo’s candidacy, saying that voting for Congo would “send a wrong signal to a country that is far from exemplary” on human rights. On October 9, the citizens’ movement LUCHA (Struggle for Change) held a sit-in in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi against Congo’s candidacy.

Under UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, UN member states “shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights” and members elected to the council “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the council.” Measured against these standards, the Congolese government does not belong on the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said.

The human rights situation in Congo has rapidly deteriorated in recent years. At its last session in September, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution renewing scrutiny of the human rights situation in Congo for another year. The council also expressed deep concerns “about the continued violations of civil and political rights [...] committed by State actors in the context of important electoral events.”

In the southern Kasai region, government security forces have been responsible for many of the abuses since August 2016 that have left up to 5,000 people dead, 600 schools attacked or destroyed, 1.4 million people displaced from their homes, and nearly 90 mass graves scattered across the region. In March 2017, two UN investigators – Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalán, a Swedish and Chilean citizen – were killed while investigating violence in the region. Human Rights Watch investigations and a Radio France Internationale report suggest government responsibility for the double murder.

When the two experts were first reported missing in March 2017, together with their Congolese interpreter and three motorbike drivers, Congolese government officials and security forces misled, blocked, and distracted UN peacekeepers and prolonged their search until the bodies were finally found on March 27, said UN officials and Congolese security officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The Congolese investigation and ongoing trial of those allegedly responsible for the murders have been seriously flawed and may be a cover-up to protect those ultimately responsible for the crime, Human Rights Watch said.

The Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution on June 23 directing the UN high commissioner for human rights to send a team of international experts to investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses in the Kasai region.

President Joseph Kabila has used repression, violence, and corruption to delay elections and maintain his hold on power, despite the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016. A power-sharing agreement mediated by the Catholic Church in late 2016 called for elections by the end of 2017. But the national electoral commission has now said that the elections could not take place until at least April 2019. Congolese civil society leaders and others have called on Kabila to step down by the end of 2017, and have proposed a brief post-Kabila transition to organize credible elections, led by people who cannot run for office themselves.

The government has systematically banned political opposition meetings and demonstrations, often by firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters. Congolese security forces shot dead more than 170 peaceful protesters in 2015 and 2016, according to Human Rights Watch findings. During protests in December, Congolese authorities refused to cooperate with the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo (UNJHRO), denying it access “to several military facilities and camps as well as hospitals and morgues,” the UN said. In recent months, scores of opposition supporters and human rights activists have been jailed, many in secret detention without charge or access to family or lawyers. Others face trumped-up criminal charges.

The government has also rejected any international cooperation regarding a mass grave in Maluku on the outskirts of the capital, Kinshasa. In 2015, Congolese security forces secretly dug the grave and dumped several hundred bodies inside. Many family members of victims of summary execution or enforced disappearance by Congo’s security forces during protests in January 2015, and in “Operation Likofi,” an earlier police operation against gang crime, suspected that their loved ones were among those buried in Maluku. In both operations, security forces took away the bodies of some of those killed and never returned them to their families for burial. The Congolese government has not responded to repeated calls from the UN and others for an independent investigation.

In October 2014, the government expelled the UNJHRO director, Scott Campbell, following publication of a report about summary executions and enforced disappearances during Operation Likofi. Since then, several international researchers and journalists have been forced to leave or were banned from entering the country, including Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Congo, showing the Congolese government’s increasing resistance to independent human rights reporting. 

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the failed UN Commission on Human Rights, which had largely been unwilling to address real human rights concerns and to which the world’s worst rights abusers could easily get elected. Over the past 11 years, the council has made significant contributions to human rights, reviewing the human rights records of all countries under the Universal Periodic Review process; creating commissions of inquiry on North Korea, Syria, Burundi, and other countries; and appointing numerous special rapporteurs and other independent experts to ensure credible, impartial investigations into alleged abuses even when the government concerned refuses to cooperate.

“Even on a closed slate, a country must still receive a majority of votes cast to be elected,” Charbonneau said. “UN members that withhold their vote for Congo are demonstrating support for high membership standards by rejecting a serial human rights abuser for this important body.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke is seen on Myanmar's side of border as an old Rohingya refugee woman is carried after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, September 15, 2017. 
 

©2017 Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

(Dhaka) – The Burmese military summarily executed several dozen Rohingya Muslims in Maung Nu village in Burma’s Rakhine State on August 27, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Witnesses said that Burmese soldiers had beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound, two days after Rohingya militants attacked a local security outpost and military base.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify estimates of the number of villagers killed. Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows the near total destruction of the villages of Maung Nu (known locally as Monu Para) and nearby Hpaung Taw Pyin (known locally as Pondu Para). The damage signatures are consistent with fire.

“All the horrors of the Burmese army’s crimes against humanity against the Rohingya are evident in the mass killings in Maung Nu village,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities demand more than words from concerned governments; they need concrete responses with consequences.”

Satellite imagery showing the destruction in Maung Nu Village, Rakhine State, since August 2017.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch
On September 28, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Burma publicly for the first time in eight years, but took no action. Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the council and concerned countries to adopt an arms embargo and individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Burmese military commanders implicated in abuses.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 14 survivors and witnesses from Maung Nu and surrounding villages in the Chin Tha Mar village tract of Buthidaung Township. The witnesses, now refugees in Bangladesh, said that after the militant attacks they feared Burmese military retaliation. Several hundred gathered in a large residential compound in Maung Nu. Several Burmese soldiers entered the compound while others surrounded it. They took several dozen Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and then shot or stabbed them to death. Others were killed as they tried to flee. The soldiers then loaded the bodies – some witnesses said a hundred or more – into military trucks and took them away.

Muhamedul Hassan, an 18-year-old Rohingya man from Maung Nu village who was shot multiple times by Burmese soldiers. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Attacks by Militants

Over 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape mass atrocities by Burmese security forces. The crackdown followed after militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), on August 25, attacked a military camp and about 30 security force outposts throughout northern Rakhine State. The government reported that the militants killed 11 security force personnel during the attacks.

The militants attacked the headquarters of the Western Command’s Light Infantry Battalion 552 in Taung Bazar, about 10 kilometers north of Maung Nu. The government said that at least 10 militants were killed.

One of the post attacks occurred early that morning close to the market in Hpaung Taw Pyin, just north of Maung Nu, when ARSA militants attacked a checkpoint manned by the Border Guard Police (BGP). Residents living near the market told Human Rights Watch that they were sleeping at home and heard heavy gunfire coming from the area near the BGP checkpoint. They said gunfire continued until about 6 a.m.

Mohammad Usman, a 15-year-old Rohingya, said he was awakened by the heavy gunfire. When their homes caught fire, he and other villagers fled, but it was too dark to see who was shooting. “We ran out of our house to other villages,” he said. “Bullets were falling like rain and people were falling down around me. Suddenly, I felt something hit my arm and then my back. I lost consciousness and I woke up in someone else’s home.” Mohammad said he had been shot in the arm and hit by shrapnel in the back.

The Burmese government reported that over 100 militants took part in that attack using “swords, firearms and bombs,” and that two police officers and two militants were killed. There are numerous reports of serious abuses committed by ARSA militants, though Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently verify those accounts, in part because of the lack of access to northern Rakhine State.

Human Rights Watch could not verify the government’s figures, but witnesses said that after the fighting ceased soldiers from the army camp requisitioned a large private boat onto which they loaded an unknown number of bodies from near the village marketplace. The boat owner, Mohammad Zubair, identified the soldier who seized the boat as Staff Sergeant Baju from an army camp just south of the market occupied by Light Infantry Battalion 564. Zubair said he watched the soldiers load the bodies, some of which he recognized as young Rohingya men from the area.

Killing of Villagers by Soldiers

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that after the militant attacks, several hundred frightened Rohingya villagers from the surrounding area fled to the compound of Badrudduza and Zahid Hossain, two well-off men in Maung Nu village, seeking safety and shelter. The large property is less than 200 meters from the main road that runs in a north-south direction through Buthidaung Township. Within the compound were a large two-story, mud-walled structure, several smaller buildings, and a large rectangular pond. Most of the men sought shelter upstairs while the women and most of the younger children crowded onto the ground floor. The witnesses said they gathered together hoping there would be safety in numbers.

Witnesses said about two dozen Burmese soldiers arrived at the crowded property late in the morning on August 27. One soldier, identified by many witnesses as Staff Sergeant Baju, led several soldiers into the courtyard and began calling to the people hiding in the house in the Rohingya language. Villagers said Baju had lived at the nearby military base for 15 years and spoke Rohingya. Several overheard Baju trying to convince the men and boys inside the house that they would not be killed if they left the buildings.

Villagers inside the courtyard as well as some who managed to escape and were observing from hillsides overlooking the compound, said that soldiers brought Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard. The soldiers bound their hands behind their back. Then they beat them, stabbed and slashed them with long knives, and shot them.

Abdul Jabar, 60, said the soldiers made the men kneel down as they struck them with the butts of their rifles and kicked them repeatedly before killing them: “[T]hey killed people from the back with machetes and they also fired on them with their guns.”

Mohammad Ayas, 29, said that he managed to hide in the rafters of the house and saw soldiers kill numerous people: “They are slaughtering them just like they are clearing the jungle with their thin, sharp, and long knives.”

Muhamedul Hassan, 18, said that a dozen soldiers, led by Staff Sergeant Baju, took him and two male relatives, Mohammad Zobair and Foyas, from their house to Zahid Hossain’s nearby courtyard. Hassan said that when they got there, there were hundreds of men and boys tied up. He said:

Four soldiers took [me and my relatives] to the corner of the courtyard and shot us each twice in the back. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw many men still tied and [the soldiers] were still killing people. Many were stabbed to death. When I tried to flee I was shot in the chest but was able to escape.

Muhamedul showed Human Rights Watch his bullet wounds. He said that in addition to the two executed beside him, nearly 30 more male relatives were killed that day.

Witnesses also described seeing children executed. Khotiaz, 28, recounted the killing of her nephew: “When Baju entered the room, there was my nephew, Mohammod Tofail. He was 10 years old. He was a student of class two. First Baju shot him in the head, his skull shattered into four pieces. Then he fell down. I saw there were brain and blood on the floor.”

Mustafa, 22, said: “There was a pit with [the bodies of] 10 to 15 children, all under 12 years old. They were all young children hacked to death. I recognized four of the bodies: Hakim Ali, 9; Naim, 8; one child from Pondu Para, who was about 10; and Chau Mong, who was 7.”

Witnesses said that after the killings, the soldiers gathered the bodies on green tarps and loaded them onto pushcarts, then brought the bodies to military vehicles. The removal of bodies took hours, several witnesses said.

“I saw outside that there were piles of dead bodies.” Mustafa said. “I could see the soldiers using carts [to move the bodies] and I recognized one of the carts was mine.” Mustafa said he heard the sounds of the trucks and vehicles for four hours.

Sexual Assault

Human Rights Watch received credible reports that soldiers subjected women to invasive body searches, non-consensual touching, and sexual assault at the compound in Maung Nu.

Khotiaz, 28, said that soldiers targeted women hiding on the property, including the large building where she hid: “They entered the room and stripped some of the women naked. They snatched everything I had. They touched [me] everywhere and tried to take off my clothes.”

A 30-year-old woman said the soldiers were looking for money and other valuables. “One soldier put his hand inside my chest, and he took my cellphone and money, also,” she said. “Then he opened my thami [lower part of a woman’s dress]. And there was some gold and money [he found], which he took. Then he touched me everywhere.”

Witnesses said they fled the village when the military left the area. Many spent weeks trying to reach the Bangladesh border, where they crossed with thousands of other Rohingya.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council agreed to send a fact-finding mission of international experts to investigate the abuses, but the Burmese government said it would not allow the investigators to enter.

“Burmese military commanders cannot use the excuse of militant attacks to avoid justice and punishment,” Robertson said. “The UN fact-finding mission needs to investigate these atrocities, including commanders who ordered the attack or failed to punish those involved.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including seven children, and wounding another 17, including eight children. After an international outcry, the coalition admitted to carrying out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition members involved in the attack. 

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

Bombing and shelling of civilians. Denial of access to food and medicine. Landmines and cluster bombs. Torture and abduction. Child soldiers.

For more than two years, international, regional, and Yemeni human rights groups called on the United Nations to confront a mounting list of abuses. For more than two years, the response hewed closer to indifference – or at least learned silence in the face of bullying by Saudi Arabia and its allies – than to global concern.

But finally, something different.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council took a significant step toward ending war crimes in Yemen. This is a testament to activists across Yemen and around the world who demonstrated that, regardless of the powerful interests at play, the UN’s preeminent human rights institution could do more to protect civilian lives. A Core Group of countries – the Netherlands, Canada, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Ireland – took up the call and made it possible.

The council found a way to bring an unprecedented level of scrutiny to the conduct of all parties to the Yemen war. It created a Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts to examine violations and abuses since September 2014 and to work “to identify those responsible.”

The message to the Saudi-led coalition, Houthi-Saleh forces, and other warring parties was clear: the world – at long last – is watching. The Human Rights Council – silent too long – will ensure that at minimum the crimes of those who kill Yemeni civilians, destroy homes and hospitals, and abduct and torture activists and journalists will be investigated. Those responsible, it is hoped, will be held to account.

However, the import of that message will be in direct proportion to what UN member countries do next. Establishing an inquiry is just a first step; governments need to press for that inquiry to have real effect.

The immediate priority will be to identify strong, principled experts to impartially scrutinize all parties’ conduct. The experts themselves should reach out to Yemeni activists to ensure the investigations are comprehensive. And the UN, backed by its members, will need to make sure the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces overcome past unwillingness to work with international bodies and cooperate with the group of experts.

International human rights and humanitarian law abuses will not cease in Yemen until concerned governments make clear to the parties that the atrocities that have become Yemeni civilians’ daily reality will no longer be tolerated. What happened on Friday is a hopeful step in that direction, but the efforts will need to continue until abuses actually stop and justice is delivered. 

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

The name place sign of Venezuela is pictured on the country's desk at the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

At the UN Human Rights Council session that ended last week, member states, including from Latin America, spoke up clearly and forcefully about the profound human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, placing the issue on the council’s agenda in unprecedented ways. But the real work still lies ahead – the challenge now is to keep up the multilateral pressure on the Venezuelan government.

Governments subjected Venezuela to a barrage of criticism at the September council session for its increasingly brutal crackdown on dissent. Meanwhile, there are signs even allies are wavering in support.

Before the session, 115 NGOs, including 81 from Venezuela, called on the council to address the country’s human rights situation. Human Rights Watch and the other groups highlighted a range of issues, including the brutal crackdown on massive anti-government protests since early April by security forces and armed pro-government groups called “colectivos,” the prosecution of hundreds of opponents in military courts, the frighteningly broad powers of the government’s Constituent Assembly, and ongoing severe shortages of medicine and food.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the session saying the findings of his office’s investigation  report “suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed” in Venezuela. The “Lima 12” – a group of 11 Latin American governments and Canada – collectively condemned the breakdown of democratic order and the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela, stating they will not recognize the Constituent Assembly nor its resolutions, expressing concern about the government’s alleged refusal to accept international humanitarian aid, and agreeing to impose an embargo on arms sales to Venezuela. Several others, including the European Union, the United States, South Korea, and Japan, expressed similar concerns.

Meanwhile, support for Venezuela is dwindling. A year ago, when Cuba pushed for a statement in support of Venezuela, 88 states signed on. This time, a similar statement was supported by only 57 states.

It is now time for UN member states to build on this momentum and request the UN High Commissioner to carry out a briefing to follow up on his August report prior to the Council’s next session in March. Such input will be critical to increase the pressure on the Maduro regime so that the Human Rights Council can act on the High Commissioner’s call to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.

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

The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council should take immediate steps to address the human rights abuses and humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya population, Human Rights Watch and 87 other nongovernmental organizations said today.

“As more evidence emerges, it is clear that the atrocities committed by Myanmar state security forces amount to crimes against humanity,” the coalition of nongovernment groups said. “The United Nations and its member states need to take urgent action.”

Human Rights Watch and the other groups are urging UN delegations to immediately undertake efforts to adopt a resolution in the UN General Assembly addressing the situation. The coalition is also calling on the Security Council to seriously consider an arms embargo against the military and targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for crimes and serious abuses.

“All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government,” the coalition said. “In particular, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.”

Human Rights Watch and the other organizations warned governments, UN officials, and diplomats that if they simply hold meetings and make speeches as atrocities continue in Myanmar, they bear the risk of failing to use every diplomatic tool at their disposal to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign and further crimes against humanity.

“In the face of mass destruction, killings, and hundreds of thousands displaced, inaction should not be an option,” the coalition said.

Below, please find the full text of the appeal.

UN member states should act to pressure Myanmar to end crimes against humanity

We, a global coalition of 88 civil society organizations, urgently call upon UN member states to take immediate steps to address the human rights abuses and humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya population. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein have described the Myanmar security forces’ ongoing campaign against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State as ethnic cleansing. As more evidence emerges, it is clear that the atrocities committed by Myanmar state security forces amount to crimes against humanity. The United Nations and its member states need to take urgent action.

We urge UN delegations, especially those from the 114 countries committed to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, who made a pledge to support “timely and decisive action” to prevent or end the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, to immediately undertake efforts to adopt a resolution in the UN General Assembly addressing the situation, and call upon the UN Security Council to consider measures to be imposed on the Myanmar government.

Over 400,000 Rohingya have fled across the border into Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar security forces launched operations in response to coordinated attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Rakhine State. These operations, involving widespread killing, laying of landmines, looting, and arson targeting the Rohingya, have resulted in the mass destruction of more than 200 villages, according to satellite imagery and eyewitness testimony. Tens of thousands of people from other ethnic minorities have also been displaced as a result of the violence.

Strong condemnations by the UN and world leaders have not brought an end to Myanmar’s atrocities. In his opening statement to the Human Rights Council on September 11, al Hussein noted that in 2016 he “warned that the pattern of gross violations of the human rights of the Rohingya suggested a widespread or systematic attack against the community, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity.” Civil society organizations have warned that the campaign of Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya since August 25 amounts to crimes against humanity. It is crucial for UN members to take concrete action and place direct pressure on Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders.

The European Union, until recently, was the chief sponsor of an annual resolution on human rights in Myanmar at the General Assembly. Last year, the EU decided to stop the effort even in the midst of government violence against the Rohingya beginning in October 2016. Now, we urge members of the EU to work with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as other concerned states to jointly revive this resolution as a means of pursuing decisive action by the General Assembly in response to the gravity of the ongoing situation in Rakhine State and the evolving human rights and humanitarian crisis.

A General Assembly resolution should demand an immediate end to the abuses, that humanitarian aid agencies have immediate and unhindered access to populations in need, and for the UN Fact-Finding Mission authorized by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to be allowed unfettered access into and within Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses across the country. It should also demand that the Myanmar authorities commit to ensuring that all Rohingya and other refugees and displaced people are able to return to their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity, and to dismantling the institutional discrimination and segregation of Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State that forms the backdrop to the current crisis. The resolution should also urge member states and the Security Council to explore possible avenues to bring perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice.

We also urge members of the Security Council to add to the pressure on Myanmar authorities by seriously considering options such as an arms embargo against the military and targeted financial sanctions against individuals responsible for crimes and serious abuses.

All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government. In particular, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.

If governments, UN officials and diplomats simply hold meetings and make speeches as atrocities continue in Myanmar, they bear the risk of failing to use every diplomatic tool at their disposal to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign and further crimes against humanity. In the face of mass destruction, killings and hundreds of thousands displaced, inaction should not be an option.

Signatories:

AFL-CIO

American Jewish World Service

Amnesty International

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN

Asociación Pro Derechos Humano - Peru (APRODEH)

Asylum Access

Avaaz

Burma Campaign UK

Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)

Burma Task Force

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Center for Civilians in Conflict

Center for Development of International Law

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Coalition for Justice and Accountability (COJA)  

Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP)

Council for Humanitarian Networking of Sheikul Islam Office

CREDO Action

Cross Cultural Foundation (CRCF)

Development and Justice Initiative, India

Equal Rights Trust

Fortify Rights

Foundation for Rural Development (FRD)

Front Mahasiswa

Genocide Watch

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)

Global Progressive Hub

Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)

Human Rights Now

Human Rights Watch

Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)

Institute for Asian Democracy

Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion

International Campaign for the Rohingya

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect

International Detention Coalition

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Justice Project

International Organization for Victim Assistance

International State Crime Initiative

Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights

Justice Centre Hong Kong

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Migrant 88

Migrant Working Group (MWG) 

Minority Rights Group International

Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies

National Council of Churches

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Odhikar

Pan African Lawyers Union's (PALU)

Partners Relief & Development

Pemuda Anti Kekerasan Acheh

Persatuan Darul Fitrah Terengganu

Persatuan Ulama Kedah

Physicians for Human Rights

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Progressive Voice Myanmar

PROHAM (Society for the Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia)

Refugees International

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Restless Beings

SANRIM

SHARP-Pakistan

Society for Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak

Society for Threatened Peoples-Germany

STAND Canada

STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities

Suaka Indonesia

Swedish Burma Committee 

The Arakan Project

The Episcopal Church

The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights 

The Stanley Foundation

Ummatee 

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Nations Association – UK

US Campaign for Burma

Win Without War

World Federalist Movement - Canada

World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy

Yateem TV

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

For the third consecutive year, the High Commissioner has appealed to this Council to do what it should have done long ago: create the independent, international inquiry into violations and abuses in Yemen that is so desperately needed.

The arguments in favour of an international inquiry are the same as they were last year, and the year before. The only difference is that the civilian death toll is higher, the humanitarian catastrophe worse.

Since March 2015, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has bombed Yemeni homes, markets, schools, and hospitals. Opposing Houthi-Saleh forces have shelled populated areas of cities and laid landmines that will harm civilians for years to come. Both sides have carried out arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced disappearances.

At least seven million people are on the brink of famine and several hundred thousand suffering from cholera. Yet, both sides are impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid.  President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, has said that the humanitarian crisis will only worsen unless parties to the conflict change their behavior to respect the laws of war.

Violations and abuses have continued, even during the current session of the Council. Just last week, Houthi-Saleh shelling killed three children in Yemen’s third largest city, two of whom were playing football in the street, and gravely wounded nine more. A coalition airstrike killed 12 civilians, including five children, as they travelled home after seeking medical treatment.  It is clear that the existing national processes are not sufficient to stem the abuse.

Things will not change unless something different is tried. Yet the Arab Group text merely offers more of the same. Yemeni civilians do not need more of the same. They need to know that someone’s in their corner, that UN member states actually care whether they live or die.                                                         

In recent days, it has come to light that Saudi Arabia has been threatening states with economic and political consequences if they support the initiative to create an international inquiry. These are not the actions of a state that is seriously committed to stemming the abuses. These are the actions of a state that will do everything in its power to bully and buy its way out of accountability. The Council cannot allow that to happen. Not this time. The UK, US and France, all arms suppliers to the Saudi-led coalition, are in the Core Group in support of a COI on Syria, yet have been hypocritically silent when it comes to supporting a COI in Yemen.

States that stand up this week and support the resolution calling for an international inquiry will be standing with Yemeni civilians who deserve to have the international community scrutinize the conduct of those who have destroyed their families, homes and livelihoods. Do not fail them.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

While Bangui and parts of the west remain stable, the surge of violence in the central provinces reveals the fragile situation for civilians in the Central African Republic, as described in the report of the Independent Expert and OCHA head Stephen O'Brien who has warned of “another large-scale humanitarian crisis”. Human Rights Watch shares that concern.

We have documented hundreds of unlawful deaths in the past five months. Both Seleka factions and anti-balaka fighters have attacked civilians and committed other abuses.

In Alindao, at least 136 civilians were killed on May 9 in attacks by the UPC, a Seleka faction. Our researchers also documented 26 cases of rape by UPC fighters in the Basse Kotto province that month. This is in the context of a conflict where all parties have used rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war on an alarming scale.

On May 13 in Bangassou town, anti-balaka forces attacked the town’s mosque, killings scores. Muslim civilians continue to seek shelter at the town’s Catholic parish.

After the reporting period of the Independent Expert’s report ended, since late June, armed Muslims have killed at least 28 civilians in Zemio. The assailants had no clear link to the Seleka and apparently conducted a pre-emptive attack due to more anti-balaka in the town.

On July 29, fighters from the MPC, a Seleka faction, attacked neighborhoods near a displacement camp in Batangafo. They killed at least 15 civilians and burned roughly 230 huts and homes. The fighters attacked the area again this month, killing at least six.

Two steps are essential to help stop this violence against civilians: 1) peacekeepers should do more to protect civilians; and 2) perpetrators must be held to account.

On the first, some UN officials have requested more personnel and resources for the mission. The Security Council and member states should give the mission the tools it needs so peacekeepers can fulfil their mandate to protect civilians. On the second, the UN and its member states should support the unique opportunity presented by the Special Criminal Court. This hybrid body offers a chance to end the impunity that has dominated the country for so long. We’ve seen progress recently to operationalize the court, but success depends on sustained financial, technical and logistical support, including protection for witnesses and court personnel. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sudan’s human rights record remains deeply troubling, defined by government repression and violations of basic civil and political rights as well as disregard for obligations on civilian protection under international humanitarian law.

In the conflict zones of Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile the Rapid Support Forces and other government aligned forces continued to carry out attacks on civilians. In Darfur, these forces looted and burned several villages in May and June, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

The humanitarian situation in many areas of the three conflict zones remains dire. The failure of government and armed opposition to agree on aid delivery to hundreds of thousands of civilians living in the rebel controlled areas has deprived them of necessary food and supplies essential to fundamental rights such as rights to life and health.

The Sudanese government has lobbied for a reduction in UN/AU peacekeepers in Darfur on the basis of improved security, but it is clear from the mission’s reporting that civilians, especially in displaced persons camps, remain vulnerable to attack by armed actors, including government soldiers and militia.

The government has not brought a stop to violations of human rights or humanitarian law nor investigated or prosecuted the vast majority of documented cases, and has not followed up on promises to provide justice for the serious crimes in Darfur nor cooperated with the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has continued to use excessive force to break up protests across the country, including at several university campuses. Just days ago, government security forces fired live ammunition to disperse protests at Kalma displaced person’s camp in South Darfur, killing at least 5.    

Sudan’s national security agency continues to detain student activists, human rights defenders, members of opposition parties and others who are critical of government policies. Authorities have brought trumped up charges against defenders and activists such as “crimes against the state” that carry the death penalty. All detainees are at risk of torture.

This is not the time to weaken scrutiny of the situation in Sudan. As Sudanese and international human rights organizations have repeatedly asserted, the situation in Sudan continues to warrant a Council mandated Special Rapporteur under Item 4 to monitor and publicly report on violations of human rights and humanitarian law in all parts of the country. 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human rights conditions in Libya continue to deteriorate. Political divisions and protracted conflicts since 2011, resulted in internal displacement of over 200.000 people, a collapsed economy and lack of basic services including the public health system. Militias and armed groups, including some who are affiliated with the two governments vying for legitimacy in the east and west of the country, have attacked civilians and civilian property. They have tortured, unlawfully killed, disappeared and forcibly displaced people. Thousands of detainees languish in long-term arbitrary detention in prisons nominally under the justice, defence and interior ministries as well as unofficial detention centres around the country. Violence is the order of the day.

Despite a recent drop in numbers, thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing conflict and persecution or hoping for better economic opportunities, continue to flock to Libya on their route to Europe. While in Libya, they face horrific abuse by guards, militias, smugglers and coast guard forces. Over the past years, we documented conditions in migrant detention centres that are nothing short of inhumane. Detainees, including children under 18 years, are subject to torture, extortion, sexual violence, food deprivation and forced labour.

Human Rights Watch has documented violations in Libya since 2011. Notably, we have seen no shift in the prevailing culture of impunity. On the contrary, six years after the end of the 2011 uprising, Libya has transformed into an accountability-free zone. The judicial system has partially collapsed, police officers have no clout, while prosecutors, judges and lawyers risk attacks, threats and harassment. The International Criminal Court has opened one investigation into ongoing crimes in eastern Libya. Many more are needed to deter violent warlords and criminal networks.

There are no quick fixes to any of these issues. But this council has the power and responsibility to establish investigative mechanisms for future justice and accountability. High Commissioner, there is an urgent need for public documentation of the most serious crimes and human rights violations by all sides. Which concrete recommendations would you propose to the Human Rights Council for such an instrument on Libya?

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Since the last resolution adopted on Cambodia, the civil and political rights environment has worsened significantly and, as we’ve heard today, further deteriorated since the Council heard the Special Rapporteur’s previous report last September, culminating in the shuttering of the Cambodia Daily and the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha just before this session started.

On June 29, the four senior staff members of the Human Rights and Development Association, held in pre-trial detention for 427 days, were released on bail in the wake of sustained international pressure. Yet, authorities are proceeding with their prosecution and they still face 5 to 10 years in prison. The Boeung Kak Lake activist Tep Vanny, who has spent over one year in prison, continues to be imprisoned.

In July, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to investigate two members of the “Situation Room”, a group of civil society organizations coordinating election monitoring, alleging that they violated the vague and undefined concept of “political neutrality” enshrined in the Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations.

Almost all domestically-broadcast media is now under government control. In August, orders were issued to close and revoke the license of Mohanokor Radio and its affiliates, which broadcast Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Independent radio station Voice of Democracy was also closed. In August and September, authorities used the General Department of Taxation to intimidate and shut down civil society groups and independent media outlets, including the Cambodia Daily.

The arrest of Kem Sohka, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, on charges of treason, followed earlier politically motivated prosecutions of several other elected opposition leaders, as part of an unprecedented surge in the detention of opposition supporters and civil society activists, with at least 35 documented cases since July 2015.

The Cambodian government’s actions amount to a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election. In view of this campaign, pre-election reporting, followed by Council discussion, should be a red line in the resolution currently under consideration. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the Independent Expert’s new report. As noted, much needs to be done to ensure that Somalia’s state-building efforts improve civilian protection, respect basic rights, and tackle impunity.

Civilians continue to face a dire humanitarian and rights situation. Al-Shabab militants target civilians across the country, while Somali government forces and allied militia indiscriminately kill and on occasion unlawfully target civilians during military operations against Al-Shabab and clans fighting over resources and political power.

Recruitment and use of children as fighters, particularly by Al-Shabab, continues. Despite commitments by the federal government to rehabilitate children formerly associated with Al-Shabab, many are held for prolonged periods of time without access to relatives, lawyers, and on occasion sentenced to harsh prison terms by military courts.

Drought, clan conflict, the fighting with Al-Shabab and clan militia, and forced evictions, have resulted in hundreds of thousands displaced since late 2016, primarily into government-controlled urban centers. Many live in unsafe settlements where they face serious abuses, such as sexual violence, including by government soldiers and militia.

Federal and regional governments have adopted measures to improve accountability for sexual violence, but significant efforts and reforms are still needed to ensure fair and safe prosecutions. 

We urge the independent expert to use his mandate to promote fair prosecutions of sexual violence and to ensure that children formerly associated with Al-Shabab are promptly supported and that detention be a measure of last resort.

Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) and its military courts, which have a broad mandate over alleged terrorism-related crimes, have repeatedly flouted due process rights, including in death penalty cases, with no accountability.

The government and its international partners need to prioritize efforts to address impunity through the establishment of effective civilian oversight mechanisms, vetting and fair prosecutions.

Journalists continue to be killed and face harassment and threats by all sides. Regular public reporting by UNSOM and the Independent Expert on the human rights situation and abuses by all parties to the conflict is therefore critical.

Human Rights Watch encourages the OHCHR to undertake an exercise to map and document serious international crimes committed by all sides in Somalia throughout the conflict and recommend measures to improve accountability.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am