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 Myanmar border guard police officer stands guard in Tin May village, Buthidaung township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar July 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Simon Lewis/Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations needs to insist on its ability to carry out a mandated fact-finding mission on Myanmar, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a series of questions and answers on the topic.

In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Myanmar. Since then, however, various Myanmar government officials have publicly said the government plans to block these efforts by denying visas to mission members. The mission will officially begin its work in August. 

Myanmar’s threat to block the UN Fact-Finding Mission from entering the country will only end up harming the government’s standing on human rights.

John Fisher

Geneva Director

“Myanmar’s threat to block the UN Fact-Finding Mission from entering the country will only end up harming the government’s standing on human rights,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “Even if the mission doesn’t get access, we’re confident that they will carry out their work and produce a report that advances justice for the victims of human rights abuses in Myanmar.”

If Myanmar follows through on its threats and refuses to provide visas to the mission members, it will be joining an ignominious group of pariah states, including North Korea, Syria, Eritrea, and Burundi, that have denied Human Rights Council-authorized fact-finders’ access to their countries. 

Human Rights Watch is issuing the Q&A to emphasize the need for the Fact-Finding Mission’s work, to clarify the scope of its mandate, and to highlight the government’s attempts at obstruction.  

The document answers basic questions about the mission and its mandate, the current human rights situation in Myanmar, and the likely effect of visa denials on the mission.

“The United Nations needs to stand up to Myanmar’s bullying tactics of threatening visa denials,” Fisher said. “The Burmese military has long avoided any accountability for its widespread and serious abuses. Granting entry to the Fact-Finding Mission would send a signal that the government is prepared to work collaboratively with the international community to help identify perpetrators of serious crimes, and deter future crimes by all parties to Myanmar’s armed conflicts.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On March 24, 2017, the UN Human Rights Council authorized a three-member Fact-Finding Mission to Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the country’s civilian government as state counsellor and also serves as foreign minister, has stated that the UN’s decision to establish an independent international inquiry was not “in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground.” Kyaw Tin, deputy minister of foreign affairs, said on June 30 in parliament that, “We will order Myanmar embassies not to grant any visa to UN fact-finding mission members.” Even if the UN team is not granted access to the country, the mission intends to work from abroad and produce a written report by March 2018.

Why did the Human Rights Council set up a Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar?

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution creating the Fact-Finding Mission because it was concerned about the recent serious allegations of human rights abuses there. In a March resolution, the Council pointed to a February 2017 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that found that crimes against the ethnic Rohingya community in northern Rakhine State “seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.” As a part of their violent crackdown on the community since October 2016, Burmese security forces burned at least 1500 buildings in predominantly Rohingya areas, raped or sexually assaulted dozens of women, and committed extrajudicial executions. Human Rights Watch released satellite imagery showing the destruction caused by the arson of these buildings. Human Rights Watch also conducted research among Rohingya who fled into neighboring Bangladesh, documenting the kinds of human rights abuses that Burmese security forces inflicted on them.

What has the Human Rights Council asked the mission to examine?

The Human Rights Council requested the three-person team to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces and other abuses in Myanmar. They have been asked to focus “in particular” on the situation in Rakhine State. But in general, the Fact-Finding Mission received a broad mandate. The mission is empowered to look at all “recent” allegations of situations where the human rights of people in Myanmar have been undermined by any actor, whether they are part of the military or security forces, or non-state armed groups.

How many countries agreed to create the Fact-Finding Mission?

The Human Rights Council resolution was drafted by the European Union, garnered 43 co-sponsors and had broad support from diverse UN regions. No country opposed the resolution when it was considered by the whole 47-member UN Human Rights Council. In recognition of the broad consensus behind the measure, the Council adopted the resolution without a vote. Myanmar and several other countries – the Philippines, India, China, and Venezuela – dissociated themselves from the resolution. While Japan did not support the creation of the Fact-Finding Mission, it nonetheless welcomed the adoption of the resolution by consensus and expressed regret that Myanmar had dissociated itself from that consensus. At the Human Rights Council, in cases where all countries agree in principle to a consensus adoption of a resolution, some choose to separate themselves from that broad agreement. Myanmar’s dissociation does not preclude it from respecting the decision of the Council and cooperating with the Fact-Finding Mission, and the Council resolution itself encourages the government of Myanmar to “cooperate fully” with the mission.

Why are international investigators needed in Myanmar?

National or domestic investigations into alleged crimes committed by the state security forces, especially in the context of recent operations in Rakhine State, will lack credibility, independence and rigor. Human Rights Watch and others identified problems with recent national inquiries led by Myanmar's vice-president and the military, including poor investigation methodology, compromised leadership and bias of commissioners in the domestic inquiries, a history of security forces’ aversion to accountability, and a tendency for covering up rights abuses.

Have domestic investigations helped uncover the truth?

Recent Burmese government-run inquiries have not only lacked credibility, but they have put victims and witnesses to serious offenses at risk. The Burmese military published its findings into alleged crimes committed by its troops, and ignored the voluminous third-party evidence of serious human rights violations, including satellite imagery of burned villages and first-hand accounts of rape and torture. The military concluded that it was only able to find evidence of a motorbike theft and some beating of a few villagers.

The government’s other investigative body, a commission led by first vice-president Gen. U Myint Swe, only issued an interim report in January 2017. Myint Swe’s commission used methods that produced incomplete, inaccurate, and false information. Burmese investigators badgered villagers, argued with them, told them not to say things, accused them of lying, and interviewed victims – including rape survivors – in large groups where confidentiality was not provided. Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, raised concerns about the commission’s methodology in her report to the Human Rights Council, saying that the Burmese government had not met its obligation to investigate the abuses. The commission has made no further conclusions, and has yet to issue a final report.

Myanmar’s state counsellor and de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has set up an “Information Committee” that has publicly accused members of the Rohingya community of fabricating accounts of sexual and gender based violence, labelling alleged cases reported to international journalists and Human Rights Watch as cases of “fake rape.”

Given the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission, is an international Fact-Finding Mission still needed?

The international inquiry is complementary to the Rakhine Commission and is crucial for accountability efforts. Although the Burmese government contends that the Rakhine Commission, created a year ago, makes a UN-led inquiry unnecessary, that is not the case. When asked about the Annan Commission, Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman told the media: “The [Annan] commission is serving as a shield for us. Was it not for Kofi Annan commission, the allegations would be much worse, I think.” The Rakhine Commission is mandated to look at root causes of conflict in Rakhine State. It does not have a mandate to investigate human rights abuses, nor will it address questions of justice and accountability. Additionally, the Fact-Finding Mission has a mandate to work beyond Rakhine State and address rights abuses in other parts of the country, including conflict-ridden Shan and Kachin States.

Will the Fact-Finding Mission only investigate alleged abuses by government forces?

The Fact-Finding Mission has a broad mandate that is not limited to violations by government forces. The Human Rights Council resolution specifically asks the experts to look at violations of international law by government military and security forces, but also asks the mission to examine recent allegations of abuses more broadly, which would include acts by non-state armed groups and private sector companies.

Will the Fact-Finding Mission only examine the situation in Rakhine State?

The Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate is not confined to Rakhine State. So, although the resolution directs the experts’ mission to look at Rakhine state “in particular,” it also gives the team a mandate to consider all “recent” allegations of human rights violations and abuses across the country. The mission’s three experts should also consider violations committed by government security forces in Shan and Kachin state, as well as recent abuses by non-state actors in those areas. The mission is also not restricted to conflict-affected areas of the country and is free to look at other issues of concern as well.

Who are the three experts on the Fact-Finding Mission?

As appointed by the president of the Human Rights Council, the mission is headed by Indonesian human rights expert Marzuki Darusman, and includes Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Australian human rights lawyer Christopher Sidoti.

When will the Fact-Finding Mission begin its work and when is it expected to report its findings?

The Fact-Finding Mission will begin its work in August 2017. It is due to give an oral update of its findings at the Human Rights Council’s 36th session in September 2017 and present its findings in full at the Council’s 37th session in March 2018.

Has the Myanmar government officially denied the three UN experts visas to the country?

The government has indicated it will deny the experts visas but to date it has not done so. Aung San Suu Kyi has made her opposition to this Fact-Finding Mission clear during recent trips to Brussels and Stockholm. Kyaw Tin, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, told parliament on June 30 that, “We will order Myanmar embassies not to grant any visa to UN fact finding mission members.” Similarly, Kyaw Zeya, the Foreign Ministry’s permanent secretary told Reuters, “if they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come.” Zeya also told Reuters that visas would not be issued to members of the mission or those staffing the effort.

In July, Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, reported that she was asked to assure the Myanmar government that she would “not undertake any activities that are to do with the Fact-Finding Mission while conducting” her visit to the country. She described this request as “an affront to the independence of my mandate as Special Rapporteur.”

Isn’t the Myanmar military responsible for most of the abuses reported, and not the civilian-led government?

The government as a whole is ultimately responsible for ensuring that Myanmar meets its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, even when the violations are committed by members of the armed forces or other state security forces. This is true regardless of the constitutional division of authority between military and civilian leaders and lawmakers.  The government’s obligations include facilitating the implementation of the Human Rights Council resolution to send a Fact-Finding Mission to the country.  

Has the Burmese government been cooperating with other UN human rights initiatives in the country?

The government has largely cooperated with the Human Rights Council-mandated special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who made her sixth information-gathering trip to the country from July 10 to 21, 2017. She visited conflict-affected Rakhine, Shan and Karen states but was denied access to some parts of Shan state. In her end-of-mission report, Lee noted that individuals who met with her on the mission “continue to face intimidation, including being photographed, questioned before and after meetings and in one case even followed.” Lee further said that the request for assurance that she would not conduct any activities related to the Fact-Finding Mission was “an affront to the independence of [her] mandate as Special Rapporteur."

Following Lee’s July 2017 end-of-mission report, both the State Counsellor’s office, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the lower house of Myanmar’s parliament issued a statement and declaration, respectively, denouncing her findings.

Many other UN agencies are able to operate in the country to deliver humanitarian aid and help implement development programming. However, the current government has not allowed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to establish an office in the country. The OHCHR’s limited access to the country compelled it to send researchers to Bangladesh earlier this year to gather information from refugees fleeing Rakhine State.

Have other countries completely rejected UN-organized international investigations?

Only a handful of pariah countries – notably Syria, Eritrea, North Korea and Burundi – have completely denied UN investigators access to their country. Other countries that had initial reservations, including Sri Lanka, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eventually cooperated with similar investigations authorized by the Council. If the democratically elected government of Myanmar wants to avoid being linked with the rights-rejecting governments that have barred international investigations, it should change course. 

Even if barred from the country, the Fact-Finding Mission will still be able to carry out its investigation by relying on remote research methodology that allows them to collect testimonies without meeting witnesses in person. This was the case with banned international missions to

Syria, Eritrea, North Korea and Burundi. The 1998 report of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Commission of Inquiry to investigate Myanmar’s breaches of ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labor – over the objections of the military government – still stands as one of the most detailed and incisive human rights-related investigations on Myanmar even though they had no access to the country.

Is Myanmar’s political transition too sensitive to be pressing on justice and accountability right now?

The Burmese military has long avoided any accountability for its widespread and serious abuses – and the country’s failure to address them has not brought the abuses to an end. Human Rights Watch's years of reporting in conflict areas around the world has found that justice can yield short and long-term benefits to achieving sustainable peace. Continuing abuses and impunity often are insuperable barriers to ending a conflict. In contrast, international commissions of inquiry with very similar mandates in Liberia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had a long-term positive effect on peacebuilding in those countries.

Will Myanmar let the Fact-Finding Mission into the country?

A UN spokesman told the media in late June that he still hoped the Fact-Finding Mission would “be facilitated by the government through unfettered access to the affected areas.” He added that the three mission members would try to “reach out to and engage constructively with the government” to seek entry into the country. Hopefully, the Myanmar government will recognize that it is in its own interests to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission. By doing so, the government would be demonstrating its willingness to uphold the rule of law, work collaboratively with the international community to establish the facts, help identify perpetrators of serious crimes, and deter future crimes by all parties to Myanmar’s armed conflicts.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Civilians fleeing Kajo Keji county, toward the southern border with Uganda, April 27, 2017. 

© 2017 Jason Patinkin

(Nairobi) – South Sudanese government and opposition leaders have failed to halt atrocity crimes, including killings, rape, and forced displacement, or to hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 52-page report, "‘Soldiers Assume We Are Rebels’: Escalating Violence and Abuses in South Sudan’s Equatorias," documents the spreading violence and serious abuses against civilians in the Greater Equatoria region in the last year. The report focuses on two areas: Kajo Keji county, in the former Central Equatoria state, and Pajok, a town in the former Eastern Equatoria state.

Nine men – including President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, former army chief of staff Paul Malong, and six other commanders – should face sanctions in view of the mounting evidence of their responsibility for grave violations during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Security Council, European Union, and other states should impose sanctions on the nine men, and the Security Council should also impose a long overdue, comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan.

“Four years into this crisis, gruesome crimes continue, with millions displaced and hundreds of thousands facing a man-made famine,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s well past time to send a strong message to those in positions of power that atrocities will come at a price.”

Human Rights Watch conducted research into the crimes in both states, which have since been divided and renamed by presidential decrees, in May 2017 in northern Uganda, where the vast majority of the victims have fled to refugee settlements. In both South Sudan locations, government soldiers, mostly ethnic Dinka recruits deployed to fight rebels in counterinsurgency operations, committed a range of crimes against Equatorian civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, including unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and widespread looting.

In Kajo Keji county, attacks began with the deployment of new government forces in mid-2016. Witnesses described at least 47 unlawful killings by government soldiers between June 2016 and May 2017, though the total is most likely much higher. In several cases, witnesses said soldiers entered homes and shot civilians, including children, elderly, and people with disabilities.

A middle-aged woman from Romogi village said that soldiers killed her husband, a farmer, and two of her children, ages 5 and 10, on a Tuesday afternoon in January. “I was cooking dinner when about 10 soldiers came to our house,” she said. “My husband went out and they shot him. Then my sons followed him out and they shot both boys.”

Witnesses from Pajok said that large numbers of government soldiers entered the town on April 3, and killed at least 14 civilians on the spot. “They pulled me out of the car and took my keys,” said a man in his 60s. “Then, right in front of me, they shot at a man.” He saw them kill several others as well.

Witnesses and victims from both locations also reported dozens of cases of arbitrary detention by the army, including holding victims in shipping containers for long periods, torture, and enforced disappearances, with the authorities refusing to acknowledge the detention or disclose the person’s whereabouts or fate.

Since the conflict started in December 2013, almost 2 million people have fled South Sudan, and another 2 million are internally displaced with more than 200,000 still in UN protection sites. In the last year alone, the spreading conflict and abuses pushed over 700,000 South Sudanese into refugee settlements in northern Uganda, leaving many areas in the Greater Equatoria region empty.

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An August 2015 peace agreement did not end the fighting, which resumed in Juba in July 2016, and continued in areas south and west of the capital. Human Rights Watch has documented serious crimes against civilians in Yambio, Wau, and Yei, including clear patterns of sexual violence by government soldiers against aid workers and South Sudanese displaced women in the UN protection site.

Human Rights Watch and others have long urged the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan and additional targeted, individual sanctions. The Security Council has not imposed an arms embargo but has placed travel bans and asset freezes on three government and three opposition commanders. The United States and EU also have sanctions in place against the six individuals. The EU has had an arms embargo in place for years but the African Union (AU) has not imposed additional individual sanctions or an arms embargo.

Sanctions should be imposed against the following nine commanders against whom Human Rights Watch has accumulated evidence of responsibility for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law:

  • President Salva Kiir, the army commander in chief;
  • Former Vice Presdient Riek Machar, leader of the opposition forces, in exile in South Africa;
  • Gen. Paul Malong Awan, former army chief of general staff and governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state;
  • Lt. Gen. Johnson Juma Okot, formerly in charge of the army’s Division 6 troops accused of abuses in the Equatorias and now deputy ground forces commander;
  • Lt. Gen. Bol Akot, who was in charge of the Gudele and Mio Saba areas of Juba at the time of killings of Nuer civilians in December 2013, formerly in command of the army commandos accused of abuses in Western Equatoria, currently director of the National Police Service;
  • Lt Gen. Marial Nour Jok, military intelligence chief since April 2014, and the superior of officers accused of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearances in the Equatorias and Wau regions;
  • Lt. Gen. Attayib Gatluak “Taitai,” formerly head of Division 4 of the army, accused of abuses in the Unity region in 2015, and now in charge of Division 5, accused of abuses in Wau late 2015;
  • Gen. Johnson Olony, an opposition commander accused of forced recruitment of fighters, including children, in the Upper Nile region;
  • Maj. Gen. Matthew Puljang, who commanded army forces accused of abuses in the Unity region in 2015, accused of forced recruitment of children.

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan should also urgently investigate the potential criminal responsibility of all these men, both direct and on the basis of command responsibility, Human Rights Watch said. The UN Human Rights Council in March mandated the Commission to collect and preserve evidence with a view to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in fair and credible trials.

While the 2015 peace agreement envisioned a hybrid court for South Sudan to be established by the AU Commission, almost no tangible progress toward its establishment was made in more than eighteen months. A key challenge was that South Sudan’s government had yet to substantively engage with the AU Commission on the court’s creation.

On July 21, 2017, AU Commission, South Sudanese, and UN officials met in Juba to discuss the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and agreed on a roadmap for the court’s establishment, including finalizing the court’s statute by the end of August.

The AU should ensure continued forward momentum – even without cooperation from South Sudan’s leaders, if necessary. If a credible, fair, and independent hybrid court is not established, the option of the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains and should be pursued. As South Sudan is not a member of the ICC, either referral by the Security Council or a request from the government of South Sudan would be needed.

“The proposed AU Hybrid Court for South Sudan raised hopes of ending the cycle of violence and impunity,” said Roth. “Yet, nearly two years later the court still does not exist. The July 21 roadmap could be a breakthrough for victims, but the proof will be in the establishment of the court.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

In late April 2015, the announcement by the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) that Nkurunziza would stand for a third term ignited protests in the capital Bujumbura, and later in other locations. Many Burundians believed that the president’s third term violated a 2000 peace agreement that sets a maximum of two five-year presidential terms. Police suppressed the protests violently, shot dead dozens of demonstrators, and injured many others. Following a failed coup d’état by a group of military officers on May 13, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters. Police arrested hundreds of people, including suspected opponents, many arbitrarily, and detained them for prolonged periods without trial.

The political and human rights crisis that gripped Burundi in April 2015 deepened in 2016, as government forces targeted perceived opponents with increased brutality. The situation did not improve in the first half of 2017. Security forces and intelligence services—often in collaboration with members of the ruling party’s youth league, known as Imbonerakure—were responsible for numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape, and arbitrary arrests. Armed opposition groups also carried out attacks and killed ruling party members. Dozens of dead bodies, some mutilated, were regularly found across the country. The identity of the perpetrators was often unknown.

At least several hundred people have been killed, and more than 415,000 Burundians have fled the country since 2015, most to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government has shuttered Burundi’s once vibrant independent media outlets and left its dynamic civil society in tatters, with most opposition party leaders, human rights activists, and independent journalists forced into exile after repeated threats.

The justice system is manipulated by ruling party and intelligence officials and judicial procedures are routinely flouted. Since the 2012 UPR of Burundi, the prosecutor general’s office has set up multiple commissions of inquiry into human rights abuses, usually following critical reports by Burundian and international human rights groups or the United Nations. The Burundian government has used these commissions to try to show international actors that the justice system is able to investigate reports of abuses. However, these inquiries were biased and misleading, largely exonerating security forces and failing to hold those responsible to account.

Since the start of this crisis, earlier progress the country had made in instituting democratic and judicial reforms, and helping overcome the deep ethnic divisions which led to massacres and other grave abuses since 1993, has been seriously undermined.

This submission provides an overview of the human rights situation in Burundi with emphasis on violations since the current crisis began in April 2015. The submission outlines continuing concerns. This document is not intended as a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation in Burundi.

  1. Killings by Security Forces and Ruling Party Youth

Since the crisis began in Burundi in April 2015, at least several hundred people have been killed by government security forces or members of the ruling party’s youth league, known as the Imbonerakure.

One of the worst incidents was in December 2015. On December 11, opposition members, with support from some members of the military, attacked three military positions and a military training center in Bujumbura. Police, military, and armed Imbonerakure pursued the attackers into Nyakabiga and Musaga, two neighborhoods where residents had demonstrated in large numbers against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term in 2015. In Nyakabiga, armed opponents engaged the security forces in a sustained gun battle. It is unclear how many were killed on each side. Police, military and Imbonerakure then forced their way into houses and ordered residents to show them where young men or combatants were hiding, some shouting ethnic slurs at Tutsi residents. They killed scores of people in Nyakabiga and Musaga and carried out large-scale arbitrary arrests. The following day, some victims were found lying side by side, face down; they appeared to have been shot in the back or the head.

Then-Prosecutor General Valentin Bagorikunda set up a commission of inquiry into the December 11 events. Summarizing its main conclusions on March 10, 2016, he did not mention killings of Bujumbura residents by the security forces. He claimed that those killed on December 11 were armed “combatants” wearing police or military uniforms.[1]

Before the current crisis began, in late December 2014 and early January 2015, the military and police, assisted by Imbonerakure, committed at least 47 extra-judicial executions following a clash with an armed group in Cibitoke province. Cibitoke borders the Democratic Republic of Congo where some Burundian armed opposition groups are believed to operate. The victims were members of the armed group who had surrendered, following gun battles with the security forces. Police, military, or Imbonerakure then shot or beat many of them to death.

Valentin Bagorikunda also set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the killings in Cibitoke, but the commission members failed to talk to key witnesses. Some local authorities intimidated witnesses, especially those who they believed had spoken to “foreigners”, and warned them not to talk about these events. The commission’s report, published in April 2015, was deeply flawed and misrepresented information collected from some witnesses. It claimed that almost all the combatants died during the fighting, with the exception of three who were killed by policemen acting on their own initiative. It stated that these policemen were arrested.

Recommendations

  • Give clear and public instructions to the security forces and intelligence services that extrajudicial killings will not be tolerated and that any individual suspected of carrying out, ordering, or in any way participating in unlawful killings will be brought to justice.
  • Investigate the role of individuals in the security forces and intelligence services alleged to have participated in or ordered unlawful killings and suspend them from active duty until investigations have been completed. If there is sufficient and credible evidence, ensure that these individuals, as well as other individuals involved in such killings, are charged and tried, according to due process and in conformity with Burundian law.
  • Investigate and prosecute Imbonerakure members suspected of crimes.
  • Strengthen the independence of the judiciary, reinforce witness protection, and guard against political interference.
  1. Torture and Disappearances

In 2016, there was a sharp increase in reports of torture by the intelligence services and the police, particularly of alleged opposition sympathizers. Intelligence agents beat detainees with hammers and steel construction bars, drove sharpened steel rods into their legs, dripped melting plastic on them, tied cords around men’s genitals, and used electric shocks. Many tortured or injured detainees were denied medical attention.

Disappearances and covert abductions increased in late 2015 and early 2016. In December 2015, Marie-Claudette Kwizera, of the human rights group Ligue Iteka, was driven away in a vehicle thought to belong to the intelligence services. She has not been seen again.

In late July 2016, Jean Bigirimana, a journalist with the independent newspaper Iwacu, disappeared after leaving his home in Bujumbura for Bugarama, in Muramvya province. Unconfirmed reports indicate he was arrested by the intelligence services. In early August, two decomposed bodies were found in the Mubarazi River in Muramvya, one of which was decapitated and the other weighed down by stones. There was speculation that one of the bodies could have been Bigirimana but local authorities buried the bodies before determining their identities.

In July 2016, the UN Committee Against Torture held a special session on Burundi and raised serious concerns about torture and other violations. The Burundian delegation failed to show up on the second day to answer the committee’s questions, instead sending a statement requesting more time to respond. The committee rejected this request and released its concluding observations in August 2016.

On January 24, 2017, unknown men allegedly attacked Muyinga’s military base, Camp Mukoni. Twenty people were put on trial – seven soldiers, 12 civilians, and one policeman. Many were badly beaten and tortured during interrogations by the intelligence service, witnesses told Human Rights Watch[2].

Recommendations

  • Immediately call for a halt to torture, including by publicly ordering Imbonerakure members to stop illegally detaining and ill-treating people.
  • Seek the assistance of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and humanitarian agencies to identify victims of abuse who need medical assistance, and provide the necessary assistance, including specialized medical care outside their detention site.
  1. Rape and Other Abuses by Ruling Party Youth

Members of the Imbonerakure and police, sometimes armed with guns, sticks or knives, raped women whose male family members were perceived government opponents. In some cases, Imbonerakure threatened or attacked the male relative before raping the woman. Women often continued to receive threats after being raped.

Imbonerakure and police raped women who attempted to cross into Tanzania, apparently to deter them from leaving Burundi.[3] Imbonerakure also set up roadblocks and check points in some provinces. They extorted money, harassed passersby, and, despite having no powers of arrest, arrested people they suspected of having links to the opposition. They also went door to door, extorting money from residents.

In early April 2017, a video emerged on social media showing about 200 members of the Imbonerakure gathered in northern Burundi, singing songs encouraging the rape of political opponents or their relatives.[4] Incitement to hatred, violence, and rape, particularly by the Imbonerakure, has become common in Burundi, almost always without condemnation by Burundian officials.

  1. Mass Arrests

Scores of opposition party members have been arrested, ill-treated, and illegally detained, and other detainees taken to unknown destinations. Police almost never produced warrants at the time of arrest.

Ruling party officials, police, and Imbonerakure arrested at least 16 members of the opposition party National Liberation Forces (FNL) at a bar in Kirundo province in March 2016. The police claimed they were conducting a political meeting without authorization. Many more FNL members were arrested in later months.

On March 8 and 9, 2014, 70 people, mostly members of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) opposition party, were arrested, many of them arbitrarily. On March 21, 48 MSD members received sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment for various charges, such as “rebellion” and “participation in an insurrectionary movement.” In recent years, many other MSD members were arrested in separate incidents, and accused of being criminals or of participating in an insurrection. In late January and early February 2017, Burundian authorities released 58 MSD members in the context of a presidential pardon, which was announced on December 2016.

Large-scale arrests, many of them arbitrary, continued throughout 2016. In May 2016, police arrested more than 200 young men and students in Bujumbura’s Musaga neighborhood. Residents said the police ordered them to produce identity cards and “household notebooks,” an obligatory register of all people living in each house. Police beat some detainees with belts and truncheons.

After a grenade attack in Bujumbura’s Bwiza neighborhood in May 2016, the police detained several hundred people. Police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye told a local media outlet it was “normal” to arrest people near the site of a grenade explosion and “among those arrested, there may be perpetrators of the attack.” Police officials said all those arrested were later released.

  1. Abuses by Armed Opposition Groups

Local journalists and human rights activists reported several grenade attacks and killings believed to have been committed by armed opposition groups. Other armed opposition attacks appeared to be more targeted and covert.

Unidentified people attacked several bars in Bujumbura and elsewhere with grenades. Burundian media reported that in May 2016, an attack on a drinks depot and bar in Mwaro province killed a judicial policeman and injured several customers. During the same attack, a guard at the ruling party offices in Ndava, in Mwaro, was also killed as the attackers attempted to burn down the building. Three men were arrested in connection with the attacks.

In Bururi province, unidentified gunmen shot dead several ruling party members in April and May 2016, including Jean Claude Bikorimana, on April 9. Three ruling party members were among four people shot dead at a bar on April 15; another attack on the same night killed a ruling party member, Japhet Karibwami, at his home.

  1. Civil Society and Media

The country’s once vibrant independent media and nongovernmental organizations have been decimated. In October 2016, the Interior Minister banned or suspended 10 civil society organizations that had spoken out against government abuses. Most leading civil society activists and many independent journalists remain in exile, after repeated government threats in 2015 and arrest warrants against several of them.

On January 20, 2015, Bob Rugurika, director of the private station Radio publique africaine (RPA), was arrested, days after his radio station broadcast a series of reports about the September 2014 murder of three elderly Italian nuns in Bujumbura. He was charged with conspiracy to murder, violating confidentiality in criminal investigations, harboring a criminal, and failing to uphold “public solidarity.” The Court of Appeal ordered his release on bail on February 18.

In late April 2015, soon after protests against Nkurunziza’s third-term bid started, the government closed RPA. It also stopped two other private stations, Radio Isanganiro and Radio Bonesha, from broadcasting outside the capital, disabled their telephone land lines, and prohibited all three stations from broadcasting live from demonstrations.

The day after the attempted coup d’état, on May 14, 2015, people presumed loyal to the president attacked the offices of RPA, Radio Bonesha, Radio Isanganiro, and Radio-Television Renaissance. Armed men in police uniforms threw a grenade in Radio Bonesha’s office and destroyed its broadcasting equipment. The pro-ruling party Radio Rema FM was also attacked. The government announced an investigation into these attacks, the results of which are not known.

On August 3, 2015, an unknown gunman on a motorcycle shot leading human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa in the face, when he was in his car. Mbonimpa survived with serious injuries. An outspoken critic of government abuses, Mbonimpa, president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), had been arrested and detained for four months in 2014 when he was charged with endangering internal and external state security and using false documents.

Mbonimpa’s son-in-law, Pascal Nshimirimana, was shot dead outside his house in Bujumbura on October 9, 2015, and his son, Welly Nzitonda, was shot dead on November 6, 2015, after being stopped by the police.

On August 2, 2015, members of the intelligence services severely beat Esdras Ndikumana, correspondent for Radio France Internationale and Agence France-Presse, as he was taking photographs at the murder scene of former intelligence chief Nshimirimana.

Antoine Kaburahe, director of the independent newspaper Iwacu, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Bujumbura twice in November 2015 in connection with his alleged complicity in the May coup attempt.

Recommendations

  • Allow civil society activists and journalists, as well as international human rights organizations, to carry out their work without obstruction.
  • Create the conditions required to allow civil society members in exile to return home in full security.
  1. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights

In April 2009, Burundi criminalized consensual same-sex conduct for the first time, despite opposition from the Senate and recommendations during the 2008 UPR that Burundi “reconsider the inclusion in the draft criminal code of the provision criminalizing same-sex sexual relations.” Burundi also did not follow the recommendations made during the 2012 UPR to repeal these provisions. Article 567 of the penal code, which penalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations by adults with up to two years in prison, violates the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination. These rights are protected by Burundi's Constitution and enshrined in its international treaty commitments.

Recommendations

  • Decriminalize consensual same-sex relations by revoking relevant articles of the Penal Code. Remove discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity from other laws and state policies, including Burundi’s educational policy.
  1. Non-Compliance with UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

In September 2016, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Burundi since April 2015, and to determine whether they may constitute international crimes.[5] Burundian officials have so far refused to work with the commission. In June 2017, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi stressed the “persistence of serious human rights violations,” which it says are taking place “in a climate of widespread fear.” The Commission added that their “initial fears concerning the scope and gravity of human rights violations and abuses” in the country since April 2015 had been confirmed.[6]

Recommendations

  • Cooperate with the Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and allow its members unhindered access to the country and relevant sites and people.

[1] RTNB Burundi, “Enquête menée par Resultats d'une Commission ad hoc sur les allégations d'exécution extrajudiciaire,” March 10, 2016, video clip, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=048rI7c0vgw (accessed June 28, 2017).

[2] “Justice in Burundi: Torture First, Prosecute Later,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, February 3, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/03/justice-burundi-torture-first-prosec....

[3] “Burundi: Gang Rapes by Ruling Party Youth,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 27, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/27/burundi-gang-rapes-ruling-party-youth.

[4] “A Vile Side of Ruling Party Youth League Members,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, April 7, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/07/vile-side-ruling-party-youth-league-....

[5] “Act Swiftly to End Impunity in Burundi,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, September 28, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/28/act-swiftly-end-impunity-burundi.

[6] “Burundi: Persistence of serious human rights violations in a climate of widespread fear,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights press release, June 15, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21752&L....

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

To avoid the embarrassment of a public loss, the French government has decided to drop out of the race to join the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). Unless another country steps up, Spain and Australia are guaranteed to win seats on the UN’s premier human rights body when votes are cast in the fall. This practice, which spares countries from coming in last in their regional groups, is euphemistically known as advancing a “clean slate.” But there's nothing clean about it.

The credibility of the UN’s Human Rights Council requires genuine, competitive elections. A seat should be a prize to be won, not a gift handed to governments after a back-room deal.

UN member states can’t effectively select countries to sit on its highest human rights body if they must appoint candidates by default. That is why France, Spain, Australia, and 45 other countries promised in June that they would “strive to ensure competitive HRC membership elections, particularly by encouraging more candidates than seats within each regional group.” By bowing out a few weeks later, France undermined its pledge and reduced the Western European race to a fait acompli. Spain and Australia can still preserve the credibility of the race by inviting another competitor to join.

The importance of competitive elections is obvious when you look at last year’s election. Russia lost its seat to Croatia by just two votes. In contrast, despite serious concerns about their fitness for the UN’s premier rights body, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who both ran in uncompetitive races, won with the smallest number of votes in their regions.

This year, the African group nominated just enough candidates to fill its open seats. One country that appears guaranteed to win a seat is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a year where more than 40 mass graves have been discovered there, scores of peaceful protesters remain detained, and two UN experts were killed in cold blood while seeking to uncover human rights violations, a seat for the Congolese government will be a huge blow to the Council’s credibility.

But those that criticize the African group for putting Congo forward without a challenger risk looking hypocritical. Latin America, Eastern Europe, and now Western Europe are doing the same by proposing “clean slates” for their regions. The French may not want to show weakness on the global stage, but their early withdrawal shows the weakness of their commitment to competitive elections at the UN.

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

Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) for its General Comment on the right to live independently and be included in the community. [1]

The issues raised in this submission are based on research and advocacy conducted by Human Rights Watch, in particular on Armenia, Croatia, Ghana, India, Japan, Russia, Serbia, and ongoing monitoring of the right to live independently and be included in the community, including the situation in Brazil.[2]

This submission focuses on the following issues:

  1. The nature of some of the State obligations under article 19;
  2. The need for further guidance on the implementation of the right to be in the community for children with disabilities living in institutions and the right to have a family;
  3. The need for specific mechanisms to strengthen alternative care programs for children with disabilities;
  4. The need to recognize transitional programs as ways to realize and practice the right to live independently and be included in the community; and
  5. The need for further guidance on the implementation of the right of older persons with disabilities.

This document does not review every aspect of the right to live independently and be included in the community; rather, it underscores several concerns that figure most prominently in our research and that significantly influence the degree to which persons with disabilities are able to exercise other rights enshrined in the CRPD.

1. The nature of some of the State obligations 

Paragraph 41 of Draft General Comment 5, notes that states parties’ obligations under Article 19 have a hybrid legal character: a civil right under 19 (a), the right to choose one’s own residence and where, how and with whom to live; and a classic social right under 19 (b), the right to access individually assessed disability support services. Social, economic and cultural rights are subject to progressive realization, however the obligation with respect to non-discrimination vis a vis these rights is an immediate one and it follows that once states have made progress on the implementation of social, economic or cultural rights, persons with disabilities should also benefit from such progress, otherwise it would be discriminatory. While paragraph 43, following the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, calls for a minimum core obligation to be fulfilled to ensure the satisfaction of minimum essential levels, there is no further clarity on what is to be understood by “minimum essential levels” in the context of Article 19 (b).

As it stands, the draft General Comment fails to reflect the interdependent nature of the right to access support services in article 19 (b) and the right to choose one’s own residence and where, how and with whom to live in 19(a). For many persons with disabilities if support is not provided personal choice would be irrelevant. Therefore it is important that the committee does not articulate states’ obligations in a way that may suggest there is a hierarchy in the duty of states to fulfill them.

Any discussion of the hybrid nature of article 19 cannot be allowed to weaken states parties’ obligations under it. Human Rights Watch notes that the CRPD Committee in general comment number 2 on accessibility viewed states’ obligations through the lens of anti-discrimination policies, and urges the committee to consider the same approach here.

We are also concerned that paragraph 47, as drafted, is open to misinterpretation and abuse. The paragraph sets out the principle of autonomy and choice that the right to decide where, how and with whom to live also embraces the decision to live in institutional care settings. However, it could be misused to suggest persons with disabilities are “deciding” to live in institutional care when in real terms they have no meaningful choice. Although the Committee underlines the right to choose residential living does not equate to a state’s duty to maintain institutions, it should for clarity reinforce that on the contrary states parties have to make available meaningful support services to enable persons with disabilities to live independently so that persons with disabilities have genuine choices and can make meaningful decisions about where and how they want to live.

2. The need for further guidance on the implementation of the right to independent living and being in the community for children with disabilities living in institutions

Although the draft general comment 5 addresses the situation of children with disabilities living in institutions and strategies for their deinstitutionalization (paragraphs 11, 23, 34, 51, 69, 70, 73, 74, 84, and 94), and underscores the fact that article 19 also establishes rights on their behalf, further guidance is needed as to how to prevent children from being placed in institutional settings or other places which hinder the possibility of being included in the community and develop skills for independent living.  Similarly, under article 23 of the CRPD, children are not to be separated from their families unless it is believed that doing so is in the best interests of the child. Furthermore, the CRPD states: “In no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or both of the parents,” and requires states parties, in case the immediate family is unable to care for a child with disabilities, to “undertake every effort to provide alternative care with the wider family, and failing that, within the community in a family setting.”

Human Rights Watch research found that states may not have accessible, available services and support systems in place to ensure children with disabilities are not separated from their families and are able to live in the community.[3] For example, due to lack of health care, inclusive day care and education, and support services in the community, children with disabilities in Serbia continue to be placed in institutions, even though many have a living parent. Human Rights Watch documented similar conditions in Armenia and Russia[4].

Governments should be encouraged to establish, staff, and fund social services, including support groups, for parents of children with disabilities led by professionals with appropriate training and knowledge on the rights, dignity, and potential of children with disabilities, and with knowledge of the challenges that children with different type of disabilities and their families face to live and participate in their communities. Professional social work services for parents could facilitate referrals to the appropriate services needed to ensure children with disabilities are not separated from their parents.

Parents of children with disabilities caring for their children at home, may experience challenges such as the lack of accessibility to or the absence of inclusive pre-schools, schools, childcare centers as well as health care, rehabilitation centers with appropriately trained staff.[5] For example, Ana, a single mother of a 12-year-old girl with physical and intellectual disabilities in Serbia[6] who lives five days a week in an institution and spends weekends at home, told Human Rights Watch: 

“Not one single day-care center wanted to accept her. They explained they found her too hyperactive. I’ve spent a year and half begging for an alternative where my daughter could spend her time while I was at work and I did not succeed. Three years ago, with no other option available, I placed her in an institution. Now, she can also access education with other children in the institution.”

Having a person with a disability in the family often places significant financial burdens on families, which cannot be easily absorbed by families without support from the state. In Serbia, Human Rights Watch documented that a parent of a child with high support needs who lives in the community often stays at home to care for the child, forfeiting paid employment and placing financial strain on the family. At the same time, a parent in Serbia cannot be recognized as the caregiver of their child with disabilities in the same way as a foster parent, meaning that a parent cannot be compensated for taking care of a child with disability. This also often means that the family has difficulty paying for the necessary therapeutic services, medication, or transport to appointments. Similarly, in Brazil, Human Rights Watch met a mother of a three-year-old boy who had to quit her job to care for her child at home.[7]

We urge the Committee to recommend governments to ensure the establishment and maintenance of a range of targeted, accessible, diversified community-based services for families in difficult situations, as well as for individuals, including children with disabilities and their families, to prevent institutionalization and to support families to raise their children at home.

Parents with children with disabilities should have access to economic incentives – which could include tax breaks, specific grants, affordable education and housing – to help accommodate for any extra costs that stem from disabilities.

3. The need for specific mechanisms to strengthen alternative care programs for children with disabilities to enable them to live independently and be included in the community

In Armenia, Brazil, Croatia, Russia and Serbia, Human Rights Watch found that alternative care programs in family-based settings for children with disabilities who have been separated from their families – due to poverty, pressure by medical professionals on parents to give up their child with a disability, abandonment, neglect, lack of local support services or other reasons – are unavailable.[8] In Croatia, Brazil, Serbia, Russia, and India, we found that separation from families leads to the placement of children with disabilities in institutions for prolonged periods of time, even for life.

Conditions in these institutions can be dire in terms of lack of access to education, skills development, social interaction, rehabilitation and other life skills that enable children to be autonomous and independent. Human Rights Watch documented in several countries, i.e., Russia, that children with disabilities often face serious neglect and abuse inside institutions, including beatings and psychological violence, involuntary and inappropriate medical treatment, use of abusive physical restraints, seclusion and sedation. These abuses can severely impede their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development, making it difficult for children to become autonomous and independent later in life.

Some governments, including in Brazil, Russia, Armenia and Serbia, justify placement of children with disabilities with high support needs in institutions in the name of “care and treatment”, and fail to include this population in efforts to place children in alternative care programs or adoption. This should be considered a form of disability-based discrimination.[9]

Human Rights Watch research has found that children who were deemed to be “severely disabled” were left behind in deinstitutionalization efforts in Serbia with government officials claiming their needs cannot be answered in a community setting. In Armenia, while the government has plans to close or transform three orphanages for children without disabilities, it has no plans to close or transform orphanages for children with disabilities. Keeping children with disabilities, including those with high support needs, in institutions instead of to a family-based environment is discriminatory against children with disabilities. This practice could also lead to significant numbers of children with disabilities spending the rest of their lives in institutions.

The Committee should include recommendations calling on states to make alternative care programs in family-based settings accessible for all children with disabilities. Governments should ensure that systems promoting and implementing foster care and adoption take specific measures to ensure children with disabilities are placed in foster and adoptive families on an equal basis with children without disabilities. States should pay particular attention to ensuring children with high support needs are included in alternative care programs such as foster care or adoption.  Governments should also conduct outreach and awareness raising campaigns to facilitate inclusion of all children with disabilities in foster care and adoptive families. No matter their level of support needs, every child has the right not to be deprived of a life in a family setting.

4. The need to recognize transitional programs as ways to realize and practice the right to live independently and be included in the community

Draft General Comment 5, paragraph 28, recognizes that residential services could be useful “when persons with disabilities make the transition from institutions to independent and community living and might be necessary for persons who have lived in institutional settings for a long time and need to find out how they prefer to live”. Human Rights Watch found that some countries, such as Armenia, Croatia, Brazil and France, have put in place public and private partnership programs to create residential services (small group homes of no more than 10) for people with disabilities whose purpose is to promote autonomy and living skills for people with disabilities who have lived in institutions for prolonged periods of time. Efforts like this should be encouraged, as long as residential services do not serve as substitutes for institutionalization (with numerous restrictions on liberty and choice), and as long as quality services that allow persons with disabilities to live at home are available and accessible. For example the government of Croatia considers family homes, run by private individuals and which can accommodate up to 20 individuals with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, and foster families where people with disabilities live without their consent as non-institutionalized community living arrangements. However, Human Rights Watch research indicates that family homes are in fact small institutions and that foster homes where people are placed without their consent may amount to institutionalization, allowing people only limited interaction with the community.

Persons with disabilities should be actively involved in the management of residential service programs to prevent them from becoming institutionalization with a different name. Some small group homes visited by Human Rights Watch in Brazil are run by service providers who formerly managed institutions for persons with disabilities and they have the tendency to replicate the culture and attitudes of institutionalization in the residential service programs.[10] In at least two inclusive residencies visited in Brazil, staff has a very paternalistic approach in the management of this new policy, undermining the purpose of these program which is to enable persons with disabilities to acquire new capabilities to live independently and be included in the community.

In Croatia, Human Rights Watch research found that there is limited community housing and support for persons with disabilities even if they are permitted to leave an institution. Many individuals with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities that Human Rights Watch interviewed said they have no real choice in deciding their living arrangements and from whom they get support once they leave an institution. To benefit from state assistance for housing and support services, they usually live in community-based living arrangements established and monitored by the institution and continue to receive assistance and service from the institution. Those who would prefer to live with friends or family or on their own are no longer entitled to government financial assistance for housing and support services.

To address these challenges, the CRPD Committee should clarify that no person can be placed in group homes or other residential services without a real choice and consent. Also, residential service offered as an option should be done as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure that community services, such as personal assistance outside the residence, are available for persons with disabilities. Governments should also ensure that staff in residential service programs are trained on the standards and spirit of the CRPD.[11]

5. The need for further guidance on implementation of the right of older persons with disabilities to independent living and being in the community 

Older persons with disabilities are also rights holders under article 19, as the Draft General Comment 5 rightly acknowledges (paragraph 23). However, more guidance is needed as to what specific policies states should implement to ensure this right is adequately implemented to benefit older persons with disabilities. Among other things, governments should develop specific awareness raising campaigns for older persons with disabilities to let them know the scope of the right. The government should also develop or strengthen support services and supported decision making mechanisms for older persons with disabilities. Governments should never place older persons with disabilities in residential services against their will, and should ensure that older persons with disabilities have access to all support services designed for persons with disabilities.

Governments should assess existing residential services that lodge older people with disabilities without their consent and include these facilities in deinstitutionalization programs. This will facilitate their reintegration into the community with proper support.


[1]   Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted December 13, 2006, G.A. Res. 61/106, Annex I, U.N.GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 65, U.N. Doc. A/61/49 (2006), entered into force May 3, 2008, art. 19.

[2]   Human Rights Watch, "When Will I Get to Go Home?”: Abuses and Discrimination against Children in Institutions and Lack of Access to Quality Inclusive Education in Armenia, February 22, 2017 https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/02/22/when-will-i-get-go-home/abuses-and-discrimination-against-children-institutions; Human Rights Watch, “Once You Enter, You Never Leave”: Deinstitutionalization of Persons with Intellectual or Mental Disabilities in Croatia, September 23, 2010 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/09/23/once-you-enter-you-never-leave; Human Rights Watch, “Like a Death Sentence”: Abuses against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Ghana, October 2, 2012 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/10/02/death-sentence; Human Rights Watch, “Treated Worse than Animals”: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India, December 3, 2014 https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/12/03/treated-worse-animals/abuses-again... Human Rights Watch, Without Dreams: Children in Alternative Care in Japan, May 1, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/05/01/without-dreams/children-alternativ... Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by the State: Violence, Neglect and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages, September 15, 2014 https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/15/abandoned-state/violence-neglect-a... Human Rights Watch, “It is My Dream to Leave This Place”: Children with Disabilities in Serbian Institutions, June 8, 2016 https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/06/08/it-my-dream-leave-place/children-d... Human Rights Watch Letter to Senator Lidice da Mata, “Brazil: Reject Bill Undermining the Rights of People with Disability, Establish Special Multi-stakeholder Legislative Commission”, December 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/20/brazil-reject-bill-undermining-right...

[3] Human Rights Watch, “When Will I Get to Go Home?”; Human Rights Watch, “Once You Enter, You Never Leave; Human Rights Watch, “Treated Worse than Animals;  Human Rights Watch, Without Dreams; Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by the State; Human Rights Watch, “It is My Dream to Leave This Place; Human Rights Watch Letter to Senator Lidice da Mata, “Brazil: Reject Bill Undermining the Rights of People with Disability, Establish Special Multi-stakeholder Legislative Commission”.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “When Will I Get to Go Home?”; Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by the State.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Interview with Daniel Sol, parent of a three-year-old with a disability. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 8, 2016.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Once You Enter, You Never Leave”;  Human Rights Watch, “Abandoned by the State; Human Rights Watch, “It Is My Dream to Leave This Place”; Human Rights Watch, “When Will I Get to Go Home?”

[9] Human Rights Watch Letter to Senator Lidice da Mata, “Brazil: Reject Bill Undermining the Rights of People with Disability, Establish Special Multi-stakeholder Legislative Commission”; Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by the State; Human Rights Watch, “It is My Dream to Leave This Place.

[10] The manager of an inclusive residence in São Paulo, Brazil, told Human Rights Watch that institutions and inclusive residencies were the same thing but with a different name.

[11] Ongoing research HRW is performing in Brazil has shown that residential services program managers understand the new policy only as building smaller institutions, instead of framing residential services as a life-skills building program.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Countries voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York on July 7.

© 2017 Bonnie Docherty/Human Rights Watch

History was made at the United Nations on Friday as 122 countries adopted the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

This outcome resulted from a process – which began in Oslo, Norway in 2013 – to address the humanitarian consequences of using and testing nuclear weapons. It is rooted in more than 70 years of activism that began with the deaths of thousands from atomic weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The treaty is a milestone in part because it ensures that all weapons of mass destruction are banned. It complements the conventions prohibiting chemical and biological weapons.

In addition, the treaty was inspired by and advances humanitarian disarmament law, exemplified by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. “Humanitarian disarmament” seeks to strengthen international humanitarian law and protect civilians from weapons that cause unacceptable harm, including weapons that are invariably indiscriminate in populated areas.

To prevent future harm, the new instrument categorically prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, transfer, and other activities involving nuclear weapons. It also requires countries that have joined the treaty to address the consequences of nuclear weapon use and testing – in particular by assisting victims and remediating environmental contamination.

The collective efforts of countries, United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons led to the success of the recent negotiations.

Countries attending the negotiating conference voted overwhelmingly in favor of the treaty. Only the Netherlands, which called for the vote, voted against adoption, and only Singapore abstained.

Although no countries that possess nuclear weapons participated in the process or adopted the convention, it can still have a far-reaching impact. It provides a framework for the elimination of an inhumane and invariably indiscriminate weapon that causes unacceptable harm. It also reinforces the principle that disarmament law should focus on ending the human suffering caused by such weapons.

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

 

Today, the UN Secretary-General appointed Catherine Marchi-Uhel to head a new UN team tasked with investigating serious crimes committed in Syria since 2011. For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.

The General Assembly voted on a draft resolution establishing an investigative mechanism in Syria on December 21, 2016. The text was adopted by a vote of 105 countries in favor. 

© 2016 United Nations

The UN General Assembly created the team, formally referred to as the “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism,” in an unprecedented resolution passed last December in response to Russia’s relentless obstruction on Syria at the Security Council, where it has used its veto eight times since 2011 to block council action on the Syrian conflict. The team will work to gather, preserve and analyze potential evidence for use in courts that may have a mandate over these crimes now or in the future. Similar to a prosecutor’s office, the team will also prepare files on specific individuals to facilitate criminal proceedings.

Marchi-Uhel’s appointment is part of a push to bring justice to victims in Syria despite the blockages that exist. She has extensive international criminal law experience and was previously head of chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, among other posts. Marchi-Uhel will undoubtedly face challenges ahead, including developing strong cases, building bridges with victims, collaborating with other documentation groups, as well as ensuring financial and diplomatic support from states. The UN team’s estimated cost for the first year is about $13-million; as of June, it had received pledges of a little more than $6-million from 26 countries. It’s essential for all UN member states to help close the funding gap. The team is expected to have a staff of 50 when it reaches its full size.

The creation of the team, along with other documentation efforts, are a critical part of the long march to justice for Syria’s victims after years of unchecked atrocities. Several countries, including Sweden, Germany, and France, are already in the process of investigating some individuals alleged to have committed serious crimes such as torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The UN team under the leadership of Marchi-Uhel can further contribute to these efforts. Their work should help to ensure that the horrendous atrocities committed in Syria over the past six years cannot be swept away with a veto.

 

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

Summary

The human rights climate in northern and increasingly central Mali remains precarious as a result of abuses and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal clashes, surges in violent crime and rights violations by state security forces engaged in counterterrorism operations.  

Slow implementation of the 2015 peace accord and the failure to disarm thousands of combatants involved in the 2012-2013 armed conflict, deepened a security vacuum that increasingly has placed civilians in the north at risk. Meanwhile, from 2015, Islamist armed groups have increasingly carried out operations and abuses in central and southern Mali, including the capital, Bamako. 

The insecurity undermined efforts by the Malian government and its international partners to strengthen the rule of law and deliver basic health care, education, and humanitarian assistance. Persistent intercommunal conflicts in central and northern Mali left dozens dead and were exploited by armed groups to garner support and recruits.

The Malian security forces responded to attacks by Islamist armed groups with counterterrorism operations that often resulted in arbitrary arrests, summary executions, torture, and other ill-treatment. In general, abuses by the security forces have gradually decreased. They have been either unable or unwilling to protect citizens from rampant and rising crime, but have made meaningful effort to respond to communal violence.

Malian authorities made scant effort to investigate and hold accountable those implicated in recent abuses or those committed during the 2012-2013 armed conflict. The criminal justice system and other rule-of-law institutions remain weak. Corruption was endemic at all levels of government, further impeding Malians’ access to basic health care and education.

  1. Malian Security Force Violations

During its 2013 UPR review, Mali accepted to “guarantee the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law by the defense and security forces.” While serious human rights abuses by the security forces have steadily declined since 2013, abuses including extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention have persisted.  

The vast majority of these abuses were committed by the Malian army during counterterrorism operations in Mali’s northern and central regions, usually during ad hoc interrogations in the first two days after detention, though the soldiers are not authorized to interrogate detainees. In several cases, officers were present during the abuse. The vast majority of detainees with whom we spoke said the abuse stopped after they were handed over to government gendarmes who usually provided medical care to the detained.

Since 2013, a Human Rights Watch researcher has conducted in-depth interviews with several hundred men detained for their alleged support for or membership in Islamist armed groups in central and northern Mali, and scores of other witnesses to serious abuses by the Malian security forces. 

During this time, Human Rights Watch documented the extrajudicial killing of 43 detainees; the enforced disappearance of 17; and the severe mistreatment of over 70. 

With respect to torture and mistreatment, Mali accepted to adopt and implement measures to ensure that international human rights standards are observed by the Malian Armed Forces, in particular the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment. Scores of detainees interviewed between 2013 and 2017 told Human Rights Watch that they had been severely mistreated during interrogation by army soldiers. The detainees, many of whom had scars and showed visible signs of torture, described being hogtied, pummeled with fists and gun butts, kicked, suspended from trees, burned, and subjected to simulated drowning akin to waterboardingand other mock executions. Several had broken bones, lost teeth, or permanently lost their hearing or sight. They were also routinely denied food, water, and medical care.

Frequent acts of bribe-taking, extortion, and theft from detainees and civilians by the Malian security forces has undermined confidence and been exploited by Islamist armed groups to garner support and recruits.

During its 2013 UPR, Mali committed to undertake effective and impartial investigations into all reports of extrajudicial executions, torture, other ill-treatment and violence by its security forces and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. This has not occurred. Despite having been made aware of serious violations, by way of letters, reports by human rights groups and the media, and meetings with high-level government officials, the military and civilian justice systems made next to no effort to investigate and hold to account soldiers implicated in violations against detainees. However, progress was made in staffing and equipping the Military Justice Directorate in Bamako. 

Mali committed to taking measures to “provide for the effective protection of human rights and due process of law.” While nearly all detainees accused of supporting Islamist armed groups are promptly brought before a judge, several have been nevertheless held without respect for due process within the confines of the state security services, which is not an official detention center. 

Mali accepted to provide “human rights training to law enforcement officials and judges to reinforce a culture of human rights.” There has been considerable progress in this area.  The Malian army consistently trains personnel in international humanitarian law (IHL) and has increasingly worked to ensure provost marshals are included in field operations so as to ensure IHL is respected. Both of these efforts appear to have led to a reduction in abuses against detainees.

Mali accepted to “take all necessary measures to avoid collective and arbitrary punishments of presumed rebels' collaborators,” however this appears to be a continuing problem. Lawyers, judges and community leaders consistently told Human Rights Watch they believe the evidentiary basis for many detentions is weak and sometimes based on false intelligence provided by people to settle personal scores. That scores of men detained and accused of being collaborators are quickly let go on the basis of no evidence after their cases have been reviewed by a judge, suggests this is the case.  

Recommendations

  • Take necessary steps to ensure that security forces abide by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
  • Investigate and prosecute, in accordance with international standards, members of the security forces against whom there is evidence of criminal responsibility for past and ongoing abuses.
  • Ensure government gendarmes fulfill their mandated role of provost marshal by accompanying the Malian army on operations at all times.
  • Desist from holding suspects in unauthorized detention facilities, notably the General Directorate of State Security (Direction générale de la sécurité d’État, or DGSE).  
  1. Impunity for Abuses by Armed Groups in North and Central Mali

During their year-long occupation of the north (2012-2013), Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and separatist ethnic Tuaregs from the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) committed numerous grave human rights abuses against civilians and prisoners from the Malian army.

Serious crimes included the summary execution of some 150 Malian soldiers in Aguelhok, the limb amputation of some 15 men accused of theft and robbery,  the destruction of cultural and religious shrines by Islamist armed groups, and sexual violence and widespread pillage by the MNLA. All sides recruited and used children.

Since 2013, Islamist armed groups operating in central and southern Mali have executed dozens of suspected government collaborators including mayors, village chiefs and members of armed groups signatory to the 2015 peace accord; and frequently attacked and killed over 75 peacekeepers since the 2013 deployment of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA.) 

In 2013, Mali accepted to take measures to “hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations by the armed groups and to offer redress to the victims in Northern Mali.” There has been little progress in this area. With a few exceptions, judicial authorities failed to investigate over 100 complaints filed by victims of alleged crimes by armed groups during the 2012-2013 armed conflict. There has similarly been little progress in investigating abuses allegedly perpetrated by these groups in central Mali between 2015-2017.  

Furthermore, the government’s release of over 100 men from detention between 2014-2015, including several men allegedly implicated in serious international crimes during the 2012-2013 armed conflict, raised concern of a de facto amnesty. The releases, characterized by the government as a “confidence-building measure” in the context of negotiations, were carried out without regard to whether the men might have been responsible for serious crimes. More generally, the accord lacked provisions to address impunity and the need for justice for serious crimes committed by all sides during the conflict.

There has been some progress in the fight against impunity. Mali carried through on its commitment “to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.”  Mali joined the ICC treaty in 2000 and referred crimes committed within the country since January 2012 to the ICC prosecutor. In September 2016, the ICC sentenced Malian Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, formerly with Ansar Dine, to nine years in prison for his role in destroying historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu in 2012. ICC investigations in Mali are ongoing.

Progress in the recommendation to investigate the “enforced disappearances and torture carried out against members of the armed and police forces who were opposed to the military junta after the attempted coup d'état in April 2012” was made:  The trial of those implicated in the 2012 abduction and killing of 21 elite “Red Beret” soldiers -- former coup leader Gen. Amadou Haya Sanogo and 17 co-defendants -- began on November 30, 2016.

Recommendations

  • Ensure the prompt investigation and appropriate prosecution of those from all sides of Mali’s recent armed conflict responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
  • Consider the establishment a special investigation cell to investigate grave crimes committed by all sides during and since the 2012-2013 armed conflict.
  • Continue full cooperation with the International Criminal Court.    

 

  1. Rampant Banditry and Crime in North and Central Mali

The 2013 UPR contained no recommendations addressing the government’s obligation to protect its citizens from common crime. However, victims describe their lives and livelihoods as being torn apart by rampant and often violent crime that has risen steadily since 2013 and is particularly acute in Mali’s north and center.

The robberies target transport vehicles, buses, animal herders, and traders who travel from village to village buying and selling their wares. Entire herds of livestock are often stolen, while drivers and traders describe ambushes by well-organized groups of armed men.  Increasingly, they occur in major towns and villages. Scores of people have been wounded or killed, and several women have been raped during these attacks. 

Victims reported little confidence in government security forces to protect them from the rampant banditry or investigate and arrest alleged perpetrators. Victims’ requests for security measures to deter crime were often unmet; victims said they rarely saw armed government patrols on the highways, much less on the smaller roads, allowing bandits to operate with little fear of being apprehended. Few incidents of banditry reported to the authorities were investigated.

The delivery of health services, education, and aid to north and central Mali by both the Malian government and aid agencies has been severely hampered by banditry, armed group attacks, and inter-communal violence. As a result, there has been insufficient progress in the implementation of the UPR recommendation to “[i]mprove and ensure adequate access to health care and education for children.

Since 2013, armed criminal elements have frequently targeted vehicles used by aid groups, while many offices or staff residences were burglarized. On several occasions, the attackers threatened, tied up, or beat aid agency personnel.  On at least 12 occasions, ambulances and vehicles used by both the Malian government and aid organizations to deliver health care were attacked or robbed. In some, sick passengers and health workers were forced out of the vehicles, which were then stolen.

In November 2016, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of schools affected by insecurity and threats in north and central Mali had increased, with 421 schools closed at the beginning of the 2016 school year in October. In 2016, some 2.5 million people nationwide face food insecurity. 

Recommendations

  • Provide regular and adequate patrols to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in areas at particular risk from violent crime and banditry, particularly on market days. 
  • Accelerate redeployment of police, gendarmes, and Justice Ministry personnel to towns and villages in the north.
  • Investigate and prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards those implicated in criminal conduct. 
  • Establish a 24-hour telephone hotline, staffed by relevant Malian authorities, for victims and witnesses to report complaints about criminal activity. 
  • Ensure effective and rapid communication between hotline staff and Malian authorities mandated with civilian protection, including UN peacekeepers.
  1. Episodes of Deadly Communal Violence

Since 2013, numerous episodes of  communal violence, underscored by ethnic tension over banditry and access to land and water, have left several hundred dead and displaced thousands. The army has generally tried to calm tensions by patrolling, though they have on occasion failed to act with impartiality towards opposing ethnic groups and militia groups engaged in the violence. Only one of these incidents - near the central town of Dioura in 2016 -- has resulted in arrests of the alleged perpetrators.    

Recommendations

  • Take all necessary measures to protect civilians at risk from communal violence in areas under government control.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute all those responsible for communal violence.
  • Investigate sources of weapons used by self-defense groups and Islamist armed groups.
  • Investigate the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in central Mali, including government corruption, resolution of farmer-herder tensions, and the crucial need for civilian protection from – and justice for – rampant banditry.  
  1. Children’s Rights

In 2013 Mali committed to “take all feasible measures to protect children from recruitment by State-allied and non-State armed groups.” However, a self-defense militia credibly believed to be supported by Mali’s government -- the Imghad and Allied Toureg Self-Defence movement (GATIA) - continues to use and recruit child soldiers.  Progress was made in the 2013 establishment and consistent implementation of a protocol to ensure child combatants are promptly handed over to humanitarian actors and reunified with their families.

Mali accepted to “combat effectively the child labour and trafficking of children.” However tens of thousands of children continue to work in artisanal and small-scale gold mines in highly dangerous conditions, despite a legal ban on hazardous child labor. On the positive side, Mali ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which will enter into force on August 18, 2017, and obligates parties to take steps to reduce the use of mercury for gold processing in small-scale mines, and specific measures to protect children from mercury exposure.

Recommendations

  • Immediately demobilize all children being used by government-supported militias.
  • Improve child labor monitoring, including in artisanal and small-scale gold mines.
  • Enforce the legal ban on hazardous child labor.
  • Include measures to protect children from mercury exposure when developing a National Action Plan on Mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining.
  1. Judiciary and Legal Framework to Protect Human Rights and Truth Seeking   

Mali accepted to strengthen the legal framework for human rights protection. However, the Malian judiciary countrywide was characterized by insufficient staffing and logistical constraints. These shortfalls hindered efforts to address impunity for perpetrators of all crimes, contributed to violations of the right to due process, and led to incidents of vigilante justice. Due to the courts’ inability to adequately process cases, numerous detainees are held in prolonged pretrial detention.

There was progress in improving prison conditions, however the country’s largest prison, in Bamako, remained extremely overcrowded.

Mali has not abolished the death penalty, or ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

During its 2013 UPR, Mali accepted recommendations to adopt measures guaranteeing the right to justice, truth and reparation for victims and their family members in cases of serious human rights violations. The establishment of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission by executive order of the president in 2014 represents progress in this area.  The commission has a three-year mandate and  has made progress in fulfilling its mandate. However, the credibility of the body was undermined by the government’s failure to sufficiently consult with a wide variety of stakeholders on the commission’s membership, mandated powers, and degree of independence. The commission’s inclusion of nine members of armed groups and lack of inclusion of those representing victims’ groups drew sharp criticism from Malian civil society.

Recommendations  

  • Provide adequate resources to the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to address the deficiencies in the criminal justice system, to ensure victims’ access to justice.  
  • Ensure all persons accused of criminal offenses have access to adequate legal representation regardless of their means.
  • Improve prison conditions by ensuring adequate nutrition, sanitation, and medical care.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Ensure the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission works to expose less well-known abuses, explore the dynamics that gave rise to and sustained successive periods of conflict, and make recommendations aimed at ensuring better governance and preventing a repetition of past violations.
  • Establish an independent, adequately funded, anti-corruption body empowered to investigate, subpoena, and recommend prosecution of public officials implicated in corrupt practices.
  • Publish the national budget and issue regular updates that accurately detail expenditures. Information on government revenues and expenditures should be made easily accessible and presented in a form that can be understood by the public.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Human Rights Watch’s key human rights concerns on Serbia are reflected in the 2017 World Report chapter on Serbia. Accountability for war crimes is hampered by slow progress on prosecutions. Concerns over freedom of the media continue amid repeated threats against journalists and failure by authorities to investigate cases of threats and violence against investigative reporters. Roma also face discrimination, as do lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Members of these communities face threats, discrimination and harassment. The situation for refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs remains a concern, particularly inadequate asylum procedures, pushbacks, and limited capacity of reception centres. Moving children with disabilities out of institutions and into family-like environments has been a limited and slow process.

In light of the serious human rights concerns that persist in Kosovo, scrutiny by international human rights bodies is vital. We therefore urge the Human Rights Council to ensure that Kosovo is subject to the Universal Periodic Review process and other human rights monitoring in an appropriate and robust fashion. Our concerns on the human rights situation in Kosovo are available on our website: https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/serbia/kosovo

 

1.Treatment of Migrants and Asylum seekers

While Serbia has seen a significant decrease in the number of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving since 2016, there continue to be serious obstacles to accessing protection and humane treatment including for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. There are credible reports of on-going summary returns of asylum seekers from Serbia to Macedonia.

According to the UNHCR, partner organizations and the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration there were 6,600 asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants in Serbia at the time of writing.

According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior’s Asylum Office, 2,922 individuals expressed intentions to seek asylum in the Republic of Serbia in the first five months of 2017. Most are Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis. Asylum seekers are housed in overcrowded camps and often in unsuitable mixed accommodation with single males, families, single women and unaccompanied children sharing living space.

In 2012, Serbia accepted a recommendation to “Take all necessary measures to ensure the improvement of socio-economic conditions of refugees and internally displaced persons.” Yet, as of June 9, 2017, Serbia had not granted anyone the status of a refugee. In 2016, Serbia granted refugee status to only 19 asylum seekers and subsidiary protection to 23. In addition to low recognition rates, and problems registering asylum claims, there are significant backlogs in the country’s asylum procedure with thousands of pending claims.

During the first five months of 2017, the Ministry of Interior registered 46 unaccompanied children in Serbia, from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Serbia lacks formal age assessment procedures for unaccompanied children, putting older children at risk of being treated as adults instead of receiving child protection. Only three institutions exist in Serbia for unaccompanied children and have a total of 32 places. Other unaccompanied children stay in temporary shelters known as “refugee aid centers” together with unrelated adults or open reception centers, where in some cases unaccompanied children can be accommodated separately from unrelated adults. The number of unaccompanied children is, based on the observations of our researchers, likely much higher than the officially reported 46.

Progress in finding durable solutions for refugees and internally displaces persons (IDPs) from the Balkan wars living in Serbia was insignificant. According to UNHCR, as of June 2017, there were 29,414 refugees in Serbia, 20,334 from Croatia and 9,080 from Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Serbian government recorded 203,000 internally displaced people from Kosovo.

In an April 2015 report, Human Rights Watch interviewed migrants and asylum seekers who described violent assaults, threats, insults, and extortion, denial of the required special protection for unaccompanied children, and summary returns to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. There is credible evidence that summary returns from Serbia to Macedonia continue. Serbian authorities have not taken adequate steps to address halt these abuses.

Recommendations

  • Issue clear guidance to police officers that they should treat asylum seekers and migrants with respect and in a manner consistent with Serbia’s human rights obligations, in particular the prohibitions on ill-treatment and non-refoulement, and ensure access to asylum procedures in Serbia;
  • Ensure that anyone who expresses a wish to apply for asylum should have a meaningful opportunity to register their asylum claim and present their case;
  • Ensure humane and suitable conditions for asylum seekers and migrants accommodated in asylum facilities across Serbia, with special attention given to vulnerable groups, including families with children, unaccompanied children, single women, older persons and people with medical conditions and/or disabilities;
  • Issue clear guidance to police officers to provide unaccompanied children with special attention and care as required by domestic and international law.

 

  1. Lack of Accountability for War Crimes

Despite accepting recommendations to take all necessary measures to end to impunity by prosecuting alleged perpetrators in accordance with international standards, war crimes prosecutions in Serbia are hampered by a lack of political support, resources or staff at the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor and inadequate witness support.

Since the establishment of the War Crimes Prosecution Office in 2003, 110 judgments have been issued: 75 convictions and 37 acquittals. But few high-ranking officials have been prosecuted for war crimes in Serbian courts.

Despite the war crimes strategy adopted by the government in February 2016, which sets out criteria for prioritizing cases and commitment to prosecute high-ranking officials suspected of war crimes, progress appears to have stalled. Between January 2017 and June 2017, the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office issued only 1 indictment against 1 person. During the same period, no one was convicted or acquitted by the first instance court for war crimes and two persons were acquitted at the appeals stage.

The most notable example of the lack of progress in war crimes accountability is the failure to bring charges in relation to the organized removal of more than 900 Albanian bodies from Kosovo to Serbia in 1999 and their reburial in mass graves, including on the grounds of a police training center. Some of the people allegedly involved in this crime were named in 2011 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its judgment against Serbian police chief Vlastimir Đorđević but, to date, no one has been indicted.

Another case involves the apparent execution in custody of three U.S. citizens – the brothers Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi – who were arrested in Serbia in June 1999, transferred to a police training center, and killed in July 1999. Despite assurances in June 2015 to US State Department officials by then Serbian Prime Minister Vucic that there would be progress in the case, no one has been brought to justice for this crime.

In June 2017, ICTY President Carmel Agius asked the UN Security Council to ensure that three members of the Serbian Radical Party, indicted for contempt of court, are extradited to the Tribunal. So far Serbian authorities have not obliged. During its previous UPR, Serbia accepted the recommendation to continue its cooperation with the ICTY and to ensure that other perpetrators are prosecuted in domestic courts in accordance with international standards.

Recommendations

  • Ensure greater efficiency in war crimes investigations and prosecutions, particularly against higher ranking military and police officials who may bear command responsibility;
  • Ensure an effective investigation into the 1999 transfer of bodies of hundreds of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to Serbia; investigations should include the persons named in the 2011 ICTY decision against Vlastimir Đorđević;
  • Ensure an effective investigation into the apparent extrajudicial executions of the three Bytyqi brothers, including responsible commanders;
  • Ensure that the three indicted persons in the contempt case of Jojić et al. are extradited to the ICTY.

 

3.Restrictions on Media Freedom

Human Rights Watch research in Serbia shows that journalists and other media workers operate in a hostile environment where threats, smear campaigns and political interference with their work is commonplace. Media freedom is a critical precondition for the development of a democratic society, as well as a condition of closer ties to the European Union.

The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) registered 69 incidents against journalists in 2016, and 40 in the first six months of 2017. The incidents in 2017 included 3 physical assaults, 12 verbal threats and 25 incidents involving pressure.

The work of a national commission established to investigate the murders of three prominent journalists, Slavko Curuvija in 1999, Dada Vujasinovic in 1994, and Milan Pantic in 2001, has made limited progress. The widow of Slavko Curuvija has criticized the slow progress of the trial against four state security officials suspected of alleged involvement in her husband’s murder. The deaths of the remaining two journalists remained unsolved. In 2012, Serbia rejected a recommendation to establish an “International Commission for Investigation of Murders of Journalists”.

Government officials and pro-government media have repeatedly criticized independent news organizations. The former Prime Minister Vucic, now President, was quoted in 2015 criticizing the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network as liars funded by the EU to speak against the Serbian government.

In research carried out in 2015 and updated in 2016, Human Rights Watch found that journalists in Serbia face physical attacks and threats, including death threats, as a result of reporting on sensitive issues including war crimes and government corruption. The state response to attacks and threats against journalists appears to be weak, despite accepting recommendations during their previous UPR to create a climate in which journalists are able to report on sensitive issues without fear or harassment and reprisal.

Recommendations

  • Publicly and unequivocally condemn all attacks against journalists and media outlets carried out in retaliation for their work and ensure swift and thorough investigations into all such incidents;
  • Conduct prompt, effective, impartial, and thorough investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets, including cybercrimes, and bring prosecutions as appropriate.

 

4.Treatment of Minorities

During the second cycle UPR, Serbia accepted all recommendations received relating to the treatment of minorities, including one recommendation to “Enforce legal safeguards to ensure fair and equal access to housing, education, employment and government services for Romani individuals and protection against arbitrary, forcible evictions and displacement from their homes or temporary residences”. Yet, Roma often live in informal squalid settlements lacking basic services such as schools, health care, water and proper sewage. Roma in such informal settlements are also vulnerable to forced evictions without offers for adequate alternative accommodation. Segregated education remains a problem, with Romani children often attending mainstream schools in separate classes and are overrepresented in schools for children with special needs.

Recommendations

  • Ensure procedural safeguards and adequate alternative accommodation in cases of forced evictions of Roma;
  • Ensure that everyone in Serbia, regardless of ethnicity, age, or employment status can access public services, including healthcare and education;
  • End segregation of Romani children in mainstream schools and ensure that all children are provided quality education in an inclusive setting.

 

5.Disability Rights

Human Rights Watch documented in its 2016 report ‘It Is My Dream To Leave This Place’: Children with Disabilities in Serbian Institutions that hundreds of children with disabilities in Serbia live in state institutions where they are likely to experience neglect and isolation, have no privacy and have little or no access to education. They also may be given inappropriate medication, and may not be allowed to make their own decisions even when they become adults. The majority of these children have at least one living parent, but given the dearth of community-based services, parents often do not have the support they need to care for their child with a disability. Instead, parents may be advised by health professionals to give up on their child with a disability.

Human Rights Watch research found that some young women with disabilities who live in institutions experienced invasive medical interventions without their free and informed consent, but rather based on the consent of their guardian. The interventions included the insertion of intrauterine devices (for birth control), administration of pap smear tests (Papanicolaou test, a screening procedure for cervical cancer) and termination of pregnancy. According to institution staff interviewed by Human Rights Watch, anaesthesia was used in every case so that the women would not resist the interventions. 

Despite accepting all recommendations on the topic of disability rights during both previous UPR cycles, in April 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expressed deep concerns about the number of children and adults with disabilities living in institutions and about the poor living conditions in institutions in Serbia. The committee urged Serbia to deinstitutionalize people with disabilities and to ensure access to inclusive and quality education. The committee also called on Serbia to replace its guardianship system and ensure all people with disabilities have access to services and support in the community of their own choice and preference.

In February 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of Child adopted concluding observations on Serbia and urged the government to “urgently reduce placement of children under the age of 3 in residential care institutions, including those with disabilities, and expedite the placement in family-based care.” The Committee further raised concerns about segregation, neglect, limited privacy, exclusion from education and play, forced and inappropriate medical treatment that children with disabilities experience in orphanages in Serbia. The Committee urged Serbia to end such practices and to make sure children with disabilities are safe and have the right to live with their families or in other family-like environments.  

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the Serbian government continues to invest in institutionalization despite ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009. This despite the fact that Serbia accepted a recommendation in 2012 to “Consolidate the constitutional and legislative framework to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities”.  In March 2014 and in April 2016, Serbia opened two newly built institutions for children and young people with disabilities. It cost the Serbian government 66 million Serbian dinars (or 600,000 EUROS) to build one of the two facilities. 

As of June 2017, the Serbian government has not yet adopted a de-institutionalization plan or followed up with other previously expressed commitments to transition people from institutions into community-based living arrangements.  According to UNICEF and local activists, Serbia has yet to take steps to end neglect of children living in institutions and hold those responsible for treatment of children to account. In a phone conversation with the Serbian Ministry of Education in March 2017, a representative of the Ministry told Human Rights Watch that no concrete steps have been taken to ensure children with disabilities who live in institutions have access to education.

Recommendations

  • Protect children and young people with disabilities in institutions from harm and abuse;
  • Provide necessary support and services to move children and adults with disabilities from institutions to communities, in line with Article 19 of the CRPD;
  • Ensure all children and young people with disabilities enjoy their right to an inclusive, quality education, on an equal basis with others, in line with Article 24 of the CRPD;
  • Protect the right to legal capacity and supported decision-making for persons with disabilities, in conformity with Article 12 of the CRPD.
  • Ensure persons with disabilities enjoy their right to health, including the right to free and informed consent to medical treatment, is respected.

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Discrimination on grounds of origin or religion remains a significant problem in France. Abusive police identity checks disproportionally affect minorities, which France has failed to address despite a commitment to do so at its last UPR. Migrants and asylum seekers lack access to basic services and are subject to harassment and abuse and France is failing to adequately protect unaccompanied children. Counterterrorism laws, including exceptional powers exercised under the state of emergency, undermine fundamental rights and lead to human rights abuse.
 

  1. Discriminatory Identity Checks

In 2012, Human Rights Watch research showed that the identity check system is open to abuse by the police, and found that recurrent and abusive identity checks and searches targeting minority youth nurtured a sense of exclusion and discrimination among those stopped. France accepted recommendations to adopt measures to stop racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement officials, in particular during identity checks.

In France’s 2016 mid-term follow-up report to the Human Rights Council, France outlines the measures taken to fulfill its commitments. In 2013, France adopted a Code of Ethics for the Police and National Gendarmerie, prohibiting police from basing decisions on who to stop solely on physical characteristics and distinctive signs. 

However, these measures have not prevented the use of ethnic profiling by the French police when performing identity checks. According to two recent studies by independent French institutions, the French Ombudsman and the French National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH), young men from visible minorities are overrepresented in police checks and are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police than members of the majority population. In November 2016, the Court of Cassation ruled against the State in three cases of police identity checks involving ethnic profiling, finding that the checks were “discriminatory” and that the state committed a “gross fault.”

In July 2016, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to require police officers to draw up stop forms—a written record of each identity check—on the grounds it would be too costly. Stop forms are a simple yet effective way to measure stops and promote accountability; their use has shown positive results in other countries.

On February 16, 2017, the French parliament adopted a law on public security that increases the penalty for insulting an officer and for refusing to cooperate. Human Rights Watch research found that people complaining about discriminatory treatment during identity checks are often charged with these offenses. The new higher penalties create a risk that young people expressing their discontent at recurrent police stops they perceive as discriminatory and abusive, will face increased sanctions.

These new measures also threaten to further discourage people from reporting abuse, which will affect not only their right to access a remedy, but also the capacity of law enforcement to ensure discipline and accountability. The Ombudsman warned against this increase in the severity of sentences, which he said would threaten to “widen the existing gap between law enforcement and the population.”

Recommendations

  • Reform the Code of Criminal Procedure to require that all identity checks be based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion.
  • Introduce stop forms and ensure that these forms include at a minimum the name and age of the person stopped, information allowing the identification of the law enforcement officer(s) conducting the stop, the legal basis for the stop, whether a pat-down or search of belongings was conducted, and the outcome of the procedure.
  • Adopt clear guidance for law enforcement officers with respect to identity checks, including a requirement to inform anyone stopped of the legal basis for the stop and of their rights during a stop, as well as instructions on stops and searches of children.
  • Take concrete steps to document, analyze, and address ethnic profiling by the police. Ensure that abuse during police stops is systematically investigated and prosecuted, and hold officers to account through internal mechanisms for failure to abide by instructions.
  • Monitor use of the offense of outrage, or insulting an officer, to detain and/or prosecute persons stopped for identity checks, in particular with a view to assessing whether the offense is used in retaliation for those who complain about treatment, or as a means to deter complaints. Reverse the penalty increases for the offences of insulting an officer and for refusing to cooperate.

 

  1. Concerns in the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors

Human Rights Watch welcomes France’s implementation of one of the recommendations made at its previous UPR by reforming in 2015 its asylum law to institute a suspensive appeal before the National Court of Asylum for all asylum seekers, including those whose claims are examined under the priority procedure.

Since France’s last UPR, Human Rights Watch has documented abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by the French police forces, and lack of access to basic services. Human Rights Watch has also expressed concerns on the treatment of unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children, with some unable to access services or receive protection as guaranteed by the law.

Early in 2015, Human Rights Watch documented cases of harassment and abuse against asylum seekers and migrants in Calais, in northern France, by French police. These abuses included beatings and use of pepper spray by police as migrants and asylum seekers walked in the street or hid in trucks trying to reach the United Kingdom. Until the camp was dismantled in October 2016, several thousand asylum seekers and migrants were living in dire conditions in makeshift camps or on the streets. Some said that their treatment by police, a lack of housing for asylum seekers, and delays in the French asylum system had deterred them from seeking asylum in France.

In 2013, France accepted the recommendation to “limit the use of detention of migrants and asylum seekers, especially when families with young children are concerned.” In its response, France mentioned a circular adopted on July 6, 2012, instructing administrative authorities not to place children in detention. Human Rights Watch reported in April 2014 that France was detaining each year up to 500 unaccompanied children in transit zones at the borders, where they were being denied the protection and due process rights afforded other unaccompanied children on French territory. French NGOs report that children, both unaccompanied and with their families, continue to be detained in transit zones.

France accepted the recommendation to “pay particular attention to unaccompanied migrant children to undertake specific measures to ensure their adequate protection.” Although French law provides that unaccompanied children may not be deported and must be integrated into the regular child protection system, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the French authorities created a parallel system for unaccompanied children from the migrant camp in Calais that is separate from the regular child protection system after it closed the camp.

Following the camp’s closure, an estimated 1,900 unaccompanied children were registered in Calais and moved to provisional receptions centers across France. There, they were interviewed by the UK Home Office to assess their eligibility for family reunion under European regulations or UK’s 2016 immigration law. These centers were established under the Interior Ministry, outside of the regular child protection services. Human Rights Watch found that children in the provisional centers did not have access to full information about asylum procedures or the regular child protection system in France, pending transfer decisions by UK authorities. Some centers lacked staff experienced in refugee support, translators, and, systematic, professional support by psychotherapists despite the clear need for such support. In January 2017, the French government informed Human Rights Watch that it had started the process of age assessment, transfer to the child protection system, and asylum processes.

Since January 2017, many unaccompanied migrant children have left the reception centers and returned to Calais and the surrounding areas. As of June 2017, there are reportedly between 400-600 migrants, including up to 200 unaccompanied minors, in Calais.

The French Ombudsman reports after a visit in the area on 12 June 2017 that many of these migrants in Calais, including unaccompanied children, have no access to shelter and are sleeping outside. They also lack access to sanitation, food and in the case of children, education. Local organizations report that police harassment against migrants in Calais has worsened in recent months. Volunteers report that they have seen unaccompanied children who have sustained injuries as a result of police treatment, including from being teargassed.

Recommendations:

  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold anyone found responsible for abuse to account, and issue clear guidance to police officers clarifying the prohibition of unjustified and disproportionate use of force.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children on French territory have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services, and are not placed in detention in transit zones.
  • Comply with its obligations under the EU reception directive and immediately provide accommodation to all asylum applicants while their claims are processed.

 

  1. Counterterrorism laws and state of emergency

In its 2012 UPR submission on France, Human Rights Watch expressed concerns about France’s broad counterterrorism laws that allowed the authorities to investigate, detain and prosecute suspects with insufficient fair trial safeguards. Since 2012, those concerns have intensified. France adopted additional counterterrorism laws and declared a state of emergency following the November 2015 attacks, which has since been renewed five times,

In November 2014, France adopted counterterrorism law n° 2014-1353 allowing authorities to prevent anyone from leaving France if they suspect that he or she would participate in terrorist activities abroad or threaten national security upon their return without providing sufficient opportunity for the affected person to challenge the decision. The law also transferred the criminal offenses of publicly “inciting” or “glorifying” terrorism from the French press law of 1881 to the criminal code. The terms of “inciting” and “glorifying” terrorism are overly broad and can capture speech that has no direct causal link to directly inciting violence or a terrorist act, in breach of the right to freedom of expression. In 2015, France adopted intelligence law n° 2015-912 and surveillance law n° 2015-1556 allowing the government to conduct sweeping digital surveillance on broad grounds and without prior judicial authorization, in breach of the right to privacy.

Human Rights Watch documented repeated abuses during policing operations carried out under the state of emergency, which allows police to search homes and place people under house arrest without prior judicial approval. Some Muslims appear to have been targeted mainly on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal behavior. Administrative authorities are empowered to order house arrest, conduct searches of residential and commercial premises, seize computers and devices containing data found during raids, and to block websites deemed to glorify terrorism without prior judicial authorization. As of December 2016, at least 612 people had been put under house arrest, some for over a year, but none of them had been prosecuted on terrorism charges. The state of emergency also allows authorities to ban gatherings as a precautionary measure on very broad and undefined grounds of ‘threat to public order.’  In a June 9, 2017, ruling, the Constitutional Council found the provision that allows barring people from participating in protests to be too broad and lacking sufficient safeguards.

The July 2016 law extending of the state of emergency also toughened several terrorism-related provisions in France’s laws. One measure increases allowable pretrial detention periods for children by one to two years. It re-instated warrantless seizures of computer and cellphone data that the Constitutional Council had earlier in the year struck down as unconstitutional, adding safeguards that still fall short of proper judicial oversight. It significantly expanded emergency powers of police search, seizure and detention.

A draft law presented to the Council of Ministers on June 21, 2017 proposes incorporating several of the above powers introduced temporarily under the state of emergency into regular domestic law. These include powers that have led to significant abuse, such as the power to order people considered a threat to national security to live in an assigned place of residence and to carry out house searches. The inclusion of these powers in the regular domestic law without adequate judicial oversight would weaken safeguards over the exercise of police and prosecutorial powers in ways that undermine human rights and the rule of law.

Recommendations

  • Lift the state of emergency and do not incorporate powers intended for limited use in times of emergency into regular domestic law.
  • Ensure that counterterrorism measures are carried out in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner and that raids, house arrests and other intrusive actions are subject to prior judicial authorization.
  • Ensure that rights are fully respected in all security and counterterrorism measures, in particular the rights to due process, non-discrimination, freedom of speech, and privacy.
  • Review all surveillance and intelligence gathering laws, including the 2015 surveillance law, with the purpose of passing reforms needed to ensure that all surveillance is strictly necessary and proportionate, and subject to safeguards to guarantee privacy protections.  Cease using any existing mass surveillance programs.

 

  1. Lack of adequate and appropriate mental health services in prisons

In 2013, France accepted a recommendation to address high suicide rates in prisons and to improve detention conditions for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities. Thousands of men and women detained in French prisons are estimated to have a psychosocial disability such as severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Yet they are held in conditions that do not accommodate their disability and can worsen their physical and mental health, and even put them at a heightened risk of suicide.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch visited eight prisons across France and documented the inadequate conditions for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities. The lack of adequate and appropriate mental health services and reasonable accommodation for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in French prisons results in the deterioration of prisoners’ mental health, and abuse of their rights. Human Rights Watch found that the situation is exacerbated by overcrowding, stigma, and isolation. A shortage of mental health professionals in many prisons means that appointments are infrequent and often brief and limited to prescribing medication. The lack of adequate conditions and care also results in difficult working conditions for prison staff. Human Rights Watch found particularly harsh conditions for women prisoners, including discrimination in accessing mental health care.

In her 2016 activity report published in March 2017, the Inspector of Prisons found that “women face difficulties in … accessing psychiatric care.” In April 2016, the UN Committee against Torture, following the Inspector of Prisons’ findings, urged France to improve detention conditions, including with regard to “factors contributing to suicide risks [and] the difficulty to access psychiatric care for prisoners.”

Recommendations

  • Commission an independent study of mental health condition of prisoners in French prisons with details on the number of prisoners (disaggregated by gender) who have psychosocial disabilities and the type of disability. 
  • Provide more effective daily care and appropriate living conditions to prisoners with psychosocial disabilities based on their needs and wishes and an assessment of the current shortcomings.
  • Introduce policies that ensure prisoners with psychosocial disabilities cannot be held in solitary confinement.

 

  1. Discrimination and hate crimes affecting members of religious minorities

France rejected recommendations made during its previous UPRs to repeal the 2004 ban on students wearing ostentatious religious symbols in public schools and the 2010 law prohibiting the concealment of one’s face in public.

By declaring the aim to counter full-face Muslim veils, the ban violates the fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination, freedom of religion and the right to autonomy. The measure is neither necessary nor proportionate. It has a disproportionate impact on Muslim women, is discriminatory in practice on both gender and religious grounds and interferes with women’s rights to express their religion and beliefs freely and to personal autonomy.

In August 2016, mayors in about 30 towns adopted decrees prohibiting women from wearing full-body covering swimsuits (known as “burkinis”) or any other skin concealing outfits on the beach, arguing that they may pose a risk to public order. The French Human Rights League and the Collective against Islamophobia in France contested those bans before administrative courts. In August 2016, the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, ruled that the ban in one town illegally breached fundamental freedoms and ordered it to be suspended. Some bans were subsequently withdrawn by some towns or struck down by lower courts, while other courts upheld bans despite the Council of State ruling.

In 2013, France accepted recommendations to step up its efforts to fight against discrimination, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. France adopted a National Action Plan against racism and anti-Semitism for 2012-2014, renewed for 2015-2017. The April 2015 CNCDH annual report still recorded an increase of over 100 percent in Anti-Semitic acts, including violent attacks and threats, in 2014 compared with 2013. The National Observatory against Islamophobia publishes annual reports on anti-Muslim acts, based on figures from the Interior ministry. It recorded a spike of anti-Muslim acts in 2015 (429 recorded acts) compared with 2014 (133 recorded acts). Despite a decrease in 2016, numbers remain higher than in previous years.

Recommendations

  • Repeal or amend the law instituting the ban on full-face concealment in public spaces to ensure that women who choose to veil their faces for religious reasons may do so without fear of legal sanction.
  • Ensure an effective state response to anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks and incidents and to wider racism, discrimination and xenophobia in society, and ensure that authorities investigate and hold to account those responsible for these attacks.

 

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Israel’s abuse of human rights within the Occupied Palestinian Territories further deteriorated since its last Universal Periodic Review in 2012. This submission covers five categories of systematic Israeli violations during this period, many of which have recurred consistently over the past 50 years of prolonged military occupation: (1) unlawful killings and war crimes without accountability; (2) illegal settlements and institutional discrimination; (3) forced displacement; (4) prolonged closure of Gaza and unjustified movement restrictions in the West Bank; and (5) abusive detention. While the submission focuses on violations by Israel, as the state under review, Human Rights Watch has documented severe rights violations by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups.

 

  1. Unlawful killings and war crimes without accountability

In its last UPR review of Israel, a number of states recommended Israel to “fight impunity by thorough and impartial investigations on all the allegations of human rights violations, including when these allegations involve members of security forces or settlers.” However, Israel has continued to fail to credibly investigate unlawful killings and hold violators to account for wrongdoing.

In the single bloodiest escalation during the review period, Israeli forces killed 1,462 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including 551 children, in July-August 2014 according to UN figures. Many of these attacks amounted to violations of international humanitarian law, some war crimes, including:  the targeting of civilians and apparent civilian structures; indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including the use of weapons with wide area affects; and the failure to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians. Armed Palestinian groups also committed war crimes during this period and at other times, including rocket attacks targeting Israeli population centers.

Israel’s military advocate general received over 500 complaints from individuals and human rights groups with regard to 300 attacks that occurred during this war, but launched criminal investigations into only 37. At time of writing, Israeli authorities had filed criminal charges against only three soldiers, for theft.

In policing situations in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli security forces repeatedly used excessive force, killing or grievously wounded demonstrators, rock-throwers, suspected assailants and others with live ammunition when lesser means could have averted a threat or maintained ordered.

In October 2015, a new escalation of violence broke out, characterized by demonstrations, some violent, in the West Bank and at the Gaza border with Israel that Israeli forces have suppressed, often using live fire. There has also been a wave of stabbings and attempted stabbings during this period by Palestinians against Israeli passersby and security forces, both in the West Bank and Israel, it appears in most cases by people acting without the sponsorship of any armed group.

Israeli security forces used lethal force against Palestinians suspected of committing attacks in Israel and the West Bank, killing more than 160. Video footage, eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence indicate that Israeli forces used excessive force on numerous occasions—intentionally using lethal force when not absolutely necessary to protect human life.

In a March 2016 incident captured on film, an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, fatally shot 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who along with another Palestinian had stabbed a soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron. Soldiers fatally shot one of the assailants and wounded al-Sharif. A few minutes after the incident, as al-Sharif lay unmoving on the ground, a video showed Azaria shooting him in the head. In 2017, a military court convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. The prosecution has appealed the lightness of the sentence, and Azaria has appealed the conviction.                                                                                                                                                                    

This verdict, though, marked a rare exception—Israeli official investigations into alleged security force abuses have largely failed to hold the preparators to account. In May 2016, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem announced that after 25 years of referring to the IDF reports of alleged human rights and humanitarian law abuses by its personnel and urging the IDF to investigate them, it would henceforth halt such referrals, describing the IDF’s apparatus for investigating abuses as a “whitewash mechanism.” The impunity for illegally killing Palestinians, encouraged by statements made by senior officials who advocate a shoot to kill policy, make these abuses likely to continue.

The restrictions imposed by Israel authorities on the space for local and international rights defenders to operate in Israel and Palestine further hamper efforts to combat impunity. A law passed by the Knesset in July 2016 targets human rights groups, imposing burdensome financial reporting requirements that encumber their advocacy. In addition, Israeli authorities have systematically barred human rights workers from traveling into and out of Gaza, impeding their ability to bring relevant information to light.

Israeli authorities often fail to apprehend or prosecute Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians and destroy or damage Palestinian mosques, homes, schools, olive trees, cars, and other property in the West Bank, even though required as the occupying power to protect Palestinians. According to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, between 2005 and 2014, police closed 92 percent of cases of reported settler violence without prosecuting anyone.

Recommendations

  • Refrain from indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilians in any ongoing or future conflicts; investigate alleged violations of the laws of war with civilian oversight and prosecute those violations, including at the senior, policy-making level of the military
  • Issue clear directives publicly and privately to all security forces to only use intentional lethal force when strictly necessary to protect life
  • Conduct independent, through and impartial investigations into all incidents in which Israeli military or police forces may have been responsible for human rights violations, including in the Gaza Strip
  • Facilitate access to and from Gaza for Palestinian and international human rights workers
  • Ensure adequate steps by law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute Israeli civilians who attack Palestinians or their property

 

  1. Illegal settlements and institutional discrimination

 

Since its last UPR review, Israel continued to systematically expand its settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to transfer Israeli citizens into the settlements in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention barring an occupying power’s transfer of its civilians to occupied territory. By 2017, Israel had established 237 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, housing approximately 580,000 settlers. Israel has unlawfully confiscated Palestinian land and resources to support its settlement enterprise and forcibly displaced Palestinians from their land.

To facilitate its settlement enterprise, Israel maintains an entrenched system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank.  Israel applies Israeli civil law to settlers, affording them legal protections, rights, and benefits that it does not extend to Palestinians living in the same territory, who are subject to Israeli military law. Israel provides settlers with infrastructure, services, and subsidies that it denies to Palestinians, creating and sustaining a separate and unequal system of law, rules, and services.

In January 2017, the Knesset passed legislation legalizing previously unauthorized settlements it calls “outposts,” which the government built on land stolen from individual Palestinian landowners.

A number of laws within Israel itself also discriminate against non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

Recommendations

  • Accept that human rights prohibitions against discrimination, including with regard to the rights to housing, education, medical care, freedom of movement, access to water and other rights, apply to Israel’s actions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem
  • Cease construction and expansion of settlements, dismantle existing settlements and bring its citizens inhabiting settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem back within its existing recognized borders
  • Suspend unlawful and discriminatory policies that privilege settlers and harm Palestinians and afford Palestinians treatment that is at least equal to that afford to settlers
  • Cease providing financial incentives, including subsidies for development costs in settlements and lower tax rates, to Israeli and international businesses located in the occupied West Bank

 

3.  Forced displacement

In the period under review, Israel continued to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for settlements and their supporting infrastructure. Discriminatory burdens, including making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem and in the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C), have effectively forced Palestinians to leave their homes or to build at the risk of having their “unauthorized” structures bulldozed. For decades, Israeli authorities have demolished homes on the grounds that they lacked permits, even though the law of occupation prohibits destruction of property except for military necessity.

Israel continues to apply similar discriminatory policies towards the Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel, refusing to legally recognize their communities and making it virtually impossible for residents to build homes lawfully. Eighty thousand Bedouin live under constant threat of home demolitions in 35 villages that Israel does not recognize in the Negev. Israeli authorities consider their homes built illegally even though most of the villages existed before the state of Israel was established in 1948 and others were created in the 1950s on land to which Israel transferred Bedouin citizens. The establishment of Jewish towns and cities uprooted many Bedouin communities.  A succession of Israeli governments has subsequently moved them from place to place, failing to provide adequate housing. Israeli authorities refused to prepare plans for the communities or approve construction permits, and rejected plans that the communities submitted that would allow them to build lawfully.

Israel has also punitively demolished Palestinian homes of families of Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis, even though international humanitarian law prohibits such collective punishment.

Israel has also arbitrarily excluded hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from its population registry, restricting their ability to live in and travel from or to the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli authorities have justified these actions by citing general security concerns, but have not conducted individual screenings or claimed that those excluded posed a threat themselves. Israel has also revoked the residency of many Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, largely on the claim that they had been away too long.

Recommendations

  • End the forced displacement of Palestinians, including through unreasonable restrictions on access to their lands and homes
  • End selective enforcement of planning, permit, and building laws and regulations that subject Palestinian property to higher rates of demolition orders in the West Bank compared to Israeli settlers
  • Ensure that demolition of Palestinian homes and other property are carried out only as a last resort, are strictly necessary as required by a legitimate state purpose in accordance with Israel’s human rights obligations and its obligations as an occupying power, and are fully compensated
  • Declare an immediate moratorium on demolitions of Bedouin homes and create an independent commission to investigate pervasive land and housing discrimination against Bedouin citizens in the Negev

 

4.  Gaza closure and unjustified restrictions on movement in the West Bank

Israel has further tightened its effective closure of the Gaza Strip since 2006 and continued to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. These measures adversely affect nearly every aspect of everyday life.

For the last two decades and especially since 2007, Israel has kept the Gaza Strip mostly closed. Travel through the Erez Crossing, Gaza’s passenger crossing to Israel, the West Bank, and the outside world, is limited to what the Israeli military calls “exceptional humanitarian cases,” meaning mainly medical patients, their companions, and prominent businesspeople. Israel has restricted entry even for exceptional humanitarian cases; the World Health Organization announced that Israeli authorities only granted 41.7 percent of applications for hospital appointments in December 2016, marking the lowest approval rate it recorded in more than seven years.

Egypt has kept its border with Gaza, the Rafah crossing, mostly closed since 2013, which has contributed to this de facto closure. These restrictions affect nearly every aspect of everyday life, separating families, restricting access to medical care and educational and economic opportunities, and perpetuating unemployment and poverty. Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.9 million people rely on humanitarian assistance, and as of last year, Gaza’s GDP was 23 percent lower than in 1994. 

Israeli authorities have also declared an area inside Gaza near the border with Israel, encompassing 17 percent of its territory and 33 percent of its arable land, a “no-go” zone and fired at people who entered it. Citing concerns about weapons smuggling, the Israeli navy, which patrols Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, limits Palestinian fishing to a zone south of the Israel-Gaza border and north of the Egyptian border, up to six nautical miles (recently extended on a temporary basis to nine) west of the Gaza coast.

Israel severely restricts the entry and exit of goods into and out of Gaza and refuses to allow Gaza to operate an airport or seaport. Israeli restrictions on the delivery of construction materials to Gaza and a lack of funding have impeded reconstruction of the 17,800 housing units severely damaged or destroyed during Israel’s 2014 military operation in Gaza. About 65,000 people who lost their homes remain displaced. Israel allows only limited quantities to enter under the supervision of international organizations.

Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank include checkpoints, both within the West Bank and on the Green Line separating the West Bank and Israel, and the separation barrier, ostensibly solely built for security, but in fact slicing through the West Bank significantly more than it runs along the Green Line, contrary to international humanitarian law, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice. The barrier isolates 11,000 Palestinians to its west, who are not allowed to travel to Israel and forced to cross the barrier to access their own property as well as services in the West Bank.

Recommendations

  • End the generalized ban on travel to and from Gaza, and permit the free movement of people to and from Gaza, subject to individual security screenings and physical inspection
  • Halt construction of the wall inside the West Bank and dismantle the segments of the barrier not built along the Green Line

 

5.  Abusive detention

In the period since its last UPR review, Israel has placed hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention based on secret evidence without charge or trial. As of May 31, 2017, Israel held 475 Palestinian administrative detainees, according to Israel Prison Service figures obtained by the Israeli nongovernmental group B’Tselem. While international human rights law may permit administrative detention as a temporary and exceptional measure in declared states of emergency, Israel’s continued expansive use of this form of internment after 50 years of occupation raises important due process concerns.

Israeli security forces continued to arrest children suspected of criminal offenses, usually stone-throwing, often using unnecessary force and in some cases beating them. Israeli forces also routinely interrogate children without a parent present, violating international and domestic Israeli laws that provide special protections for children, detain them with adults immediately post-after, and coerce them to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they did not understand. As they do with the majority of Palestinians incarcerated in the occupied territory, the Israeli authorities try children in military courts, which have a near-100 percent conviction rate. Some adults and children are detained or imprisoned for engaging in nonviolent activism.

Israel jails Palestinian detainees inside Israel, violating international law requiring that they be held within the occupied territory and thus leading to restrictions on the ability of family members to visit them, due to Israel’s requirement that visiting family members clear security screenings and receive permits to enter Israel. A number of Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest their detention without trial.

Recommendations

  • Charge or release Palestinians held in administrative detention for prolonged periods and stop denying them and their lawyers access to evidence of their alleged crimes; end the use of secret evidence as a basis for detention
  • Ensure detained children have a parent or lawyer present for interrogations except in the most exceptional circumstances; end the detention of children with adults; uphold international standards that require protections for children accused of crimes and require rehabilitation, not punishment, to be the primary aim
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

The United Arab Emirates has continued to violate human rights norms since its last Universal Periodic Review in 2012. This submission provides an update on the continued lack of adequate legal protections for migrant workers, women, and members of the LGBT community, suppression of the freedom of expression, and arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances carried out by the UAE both at home and during the military campaign in Yemen.

 

  1. Migrant Workers and Migrant Domestic Workers

Despite labor reforms, the UAE’s large migrant worker population remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. Foreigners account for more than 88.5 percent of UAE residents, according to 2011 government statistics.

The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system, with some reforms, continues to tie migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave can be punished for “absconding” and fined, imprisoned, and deported. In 2016, a Labor Ministry decree outlining the rules for terminating employment and granting work permits to new employees took effect, which should theoretically make it easier for workers to change employers before their contract ends if their rights are violated. These reforms however, do not apply to domestic workers.

The UAE rejected recommendations during its previous UPR to ensure swift and effective implementation of legislation protecting the living and working conditions of foreign workers and abuses continue to occur. For example, in 2015, Human Rights Watch documented employers at the Saadiyat Island project withholding wages and benefits from workers, failing to reimburse recruiting fees, confiscating worker passports, and housing workers in substandard accommodation, nearly five years after Human Rights Watch first revealed systematic human rights violations associated with the project. The UAE summarily deported Saadiyat workers who went on strike to protest low pay after their employers contacted the police in 2015.

Migrant workers have no right to organize or bargain collectively, and they face penalties for going on strike.

The UAE continues to exclude domestic workers from UAE labor law protections.  At least 146,000 female migrant domestic workers are in the Emirates – primarily from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – cleaning, cooking, and caring for families. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented a range of abuses against domestic workers including unpaid wages, confinement to the house, workdays of up to 21 hours with no rest breaks and no days off, and in some cases, employers physically or sexually assaulting them. Domestic workers face legal and practical obstacles to redress, and many return home without justice.

The UAE has made some reforms to increase domestic worker protection. By the end of 2017, domestic workers are to move from the Ministry of Interior’s jurisdiction to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, which oversees all other workers. While an important move, this has not resulted in domestic workers benefiting from labor law protections, or labor ministry enforcement mechanisms such as the wage protection system, or reforms to the kafala system. In 2017, the UAE also moved to adopt a new law that would strengthen domestic worker protections, including granting them a weekly rest day and paid leave, but these protections remain weaker than those in the UAE labor law.

As with past labor reforms, strong regulation, inspections, and enforcement of penalties are critical to ensuring that recruitment agencies and employers are held accountable and made to follow the law.

Recommendations

  • Pass the draft domestic workers bill. After the bill becomes law, develop implementing regulations that will bring the country into line with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention.
  • Ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention and align national laws to the treaty.
  • Pass legislation that prohibits employers from retaining their employees’ passports and provides for meaningful sanctions for offenders.
  • Abide by the obligation under UAE Labor Law of 1980 to implement a minimum wage and cost of living index.
  • Ensure that criminal justice authorities aggressively investigate, prosecute in good faith, and impose meaningful penalties on employers that violate relevant provisions of the labor law, penal code, and anti-trafficking law.
  • Pass legislation that requires companies to escrow funds to ensure workers receive all benefits and payments in event of bankruptcy or other liability issues.
  • Amend UAE labor law to guarantee workers’ right to strike—including by establishing explicit voting and notification procedures for strikes—and to provide for binding arbitration of collective labor disputes only upon workers’ request and only in limited circumstances.

 

  1. Freedom of Expression

Despite accepting a recommendation in 2012 to “respect the right to freedom of expression and association, and make the minimum use of criminal proceedings against persons availing themselves of those rights”, people in the UAE who speak about human rights abuses are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture, and many are serving long prison terms or have felt compelled to leave the country.

The UAE’s 2014 counterterrorism law provides for the death penalty for people whose activities are found to “undermine national unity or social peace,” neither of which are defined in the law.

UAE authorities have launched a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011.

In March 2017, the UAE detained Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender. He remains detained and is facing speech-related charges that include using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.” A coalition of 20 human rights organizations said Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been able to criticize the authorities publicly. UAE authorities have harassed and persecuted Mansoor for more than six years.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had called for the release of Osama al-Najjar, who remains in prison despite having completed a three-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful activities on Twitter.

In March 2017, the UAE also sentenced prominent academic Nasser bin-Ghaith to 10 years in prison, whom authorities forcibly disappeared in August 2015, for charges that included speech-related offenses, including peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities. UAE-based Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar was also sentenced to three years in prison that was related to his online criticism in 2016 of Israeli military actions in Gaza and Egyptian security forces’ destruction of tunnels. All of these arrests despite accepting a 2012 UPR recommendation to “Take steps to protect human rights defenders, journalists and religious minorities from discrimination, harassment or intimidation, including the arbitrary deprivation of nationality”.

The UAE has also used the pretext of national security to prosecute protected expression. In July 2012, the authorities intensified a crackdown on dissidents with alleged ties to an Islamist group, al-Islah. The mass trial of 94 defendants for alleged links with al-Islah began on March 4, 2013 on charges that they had been part of a group that aimed to overthrow the country's political system. Authorities detained 64 of the men and held them at undisclosed locations for up to a year before the trial, and defendants later claimed in court that they had been ill-treated in detention. The UAE Federal Supreme Court found 69 of the 94 defendants guilty on July 2, 2013.

UAE authorities have also used citizenship revocation as a tool to punish peaceful dissidents and critics. In December 2011, the UAE announced through its official news agency that it had stripped six men of their UAE citizenship for "acts posing a threat to the state's security and safety" based on their membership in al-Islah. In March 2016, the UAE revoked the citizenship of two daughters and a son of imprisoned political dissident Mohammed Abdulraziq Al-Siddiq, who is serving a ten-year sentence following his conviction on charges stemming from peaceful political activities.

According to a 2016 report from Citizen Lab, a research institute at the University of Toronto that focuses on internet security and human rights identified a series of digital campaigns against UAE dissidents, dating back to 2012. Citizen Lab described the operator of these campaigns as “a sophisticated threat actor,” and said that it was implausible that a state-actor was not behind the campaign. The research identified several pieces of information suggesting a connection between the operator and the UAE government.

Recommendations

  • Release all prisoners held solely for their peaceful practice of their rights to free expression and association, including prisoners convicted of alleged crimes, prisoners currently on trial, and prisoners held arbitrarily.
  • Revoke Penal Code articles and other criminal legislation used to prosecute individuals for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, or peaceful assembly, or amend such articles so that they comply with international law.
  • Review all laws in the area of cybercrime, information and communications technology (ICT), and telecommunications to ensure their compliance with international human rights standards.
  • Review all laws in the area of counterterrorism to ensure their compliance with international human rights standards.
  • Halt arbitrary withdrawals of citizenship in retaliation for peaceful criticism and provide judicial remedies for those who have faced withdrawal of citizenship.

 

 

  1. Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Mistreatment of Detainees

The UAE arbitrarily detains, and in some cases forcibly disappears, individuals who criticize the authorities, and its security forces face allegations of torturing detainees both in the UAE and in Yemen. The UAE accepted just 2 out of 17 recommendations related to the issue of torture during its 2012 UPR, including those proposing a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Torture, or calling on the UAE to ratify the OP-CAT.

In February 2017, a group of United Nations human rights experts criticized the UAE’s treatment of five Libyan nationals who had been held in arbitrary detention since 2014. Individuals arrested at the same time but subsequently released alleged that authorities tortured them to secure confessions and said they heard other detainees being tortured. The Libyans said their interrogators asked them about supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood – which the UAE has designated a terrorist organization – and described being subjected to beatings, forced standing, and threats of rape, electrocution, and death. The special rapporteur on torture said he had received credible information that authorities subjected the men to torture. In May 2016, the Federal Supreme Court acquitted the men of having links to armed groups in Libya.

In another case involving the UAE’s state security apparatus, the son of an adviser to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy claimed that UAE authorities subjected him to “brutal physical and psychological torture” to get him to confess to membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. The allegation echoes numerous others that state security detainees have made since 2012.  

In March 2016, a Dubai court acquitted British businessman David Haigh of charges brought under the UAE’s cybercrime laws. Haigh claimed after his release that Dubai police had punched and tasered him in an unsuccessful effort to make him confess to accusations of fraud. Haigh said that he regularly witnessed prison officers beating inmates during his two years of incarceration butwas not able to see the evidence against him at his trial norgive evidence or cross-examine witnesses. 

The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has conducted aerial and ground operations in Yemen since March 2015, including scores of apparently unlawful attacks. The UAE supports Yemeni forces that have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of people during security operations in Yemen. Human Rights Watch has documented UAE-backed security forces arbitrarily detaining or forcibly disappearing at least 38 individuals. The UAE also runs at least two informal detention facilities, and its officials appear to have ordered the continued detention of people despite release orders, and forcibly disappeared people, including reportedly moving high-profile detainees outside the country.

Recommendations

  • Grant lawyers, journalists, independent monitors of detention facilities and human rights monitors access to both official and unofficial detention facilities in the UAE and to any UAE-run facilities in Yemen.
  • Provide independent forensic medical examinations to defendants who say they have been tortured.
  • Exclude evidence obtained by torture from any trial proceedings.
  • Ensure prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and other serious human rights violations and bring those responsible to justice in proceedings that comply with international fair trial standards;
  • Ensure that victims of torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention receive full reparations.
  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

 

  1. Women’s Rights, Children’s Rights and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

 

Discrimination on the basis of sex and gender is not included in the definition of discrimination in the UAE’s 2015 anti-discrimination law, despite accepting during its 2012 UPR to “Fully incorporate in the Constitution or other national legislation the principle of equality between men and women”.

Federal law No. 28 of 2005 regulates matters of personal status in the UAE, and some of its provisions discriminate against women. For instance, the law provides that, for a woman to marry, her male guardian must conclude her marriage contract; men have the right to unilaterally divorce their wives, whereas a woman who wishes to divorce her husband must apply for a court order; a woman can lose her right to maintenance if, for example, she refuses to have sexual relations with her husband without a lawful excuse; and women are required to “obey” their husbands. A woman may be considered disobedient, with few exceptions, if she decides to work without her husband’s consent.

In 2010, the Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling—citing the penal code—that sanctions husbands’ beating and inflicting other forms of punishment or coercion on their wives, provided they do not leave physical marks.

UAE law permits domestic violence. Article 53 of the UAE's penal code allows the imposition of “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Sharia, or Islamic law. Marital rape is not a crime in the UAE. 

Article 356 of the penal code criminalizes (but does not define) “indecency,” and provides for a minimum sentence of one year in prison. In practice, UAE courts use this article to convict and sentence people for zina offenses, which include consensual sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage and other “moral” offenses, including same-sex relations. Different emirates within the UAE have laws that criminalize same-sex sexual relations, including Abu Dhabi where “unnatural sex with another person” can be punished with up to 14 years in prison, and Dubai which imposes 10 years of imprisonment for sodomy. The UAE rejected both recommendations it received in 2012 to de-criminalize consensual same-sex marriage.

Recommendations

  • Enact a law prohibiting any form of discrimination against women in practice, policy or regulation.
  • Amend or Abolish Penal Code Article 53, explicitly stating that no family member has the authority to “discipline” female dependents using violence and that “discipline” is not a legal defense in cases involving family violence.
  • Enact a law criminalizing domestic violence and that provides for prevention of domestic violence, protection of survivors, and prosecution of abusers. Establish separate units within police stations focused on domestic violence and ensure that all police stations employ female officers. Issue guidelines to police on how to deal with domestic violence cases, including penalties for officers who do not allow women to file a complaint.
  • Reform the Personal Status Law to provide women with equal rights in entering marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution, including in all issues concerning children, inheritance, and property rights.
  • Undertake a thorough review and issue guidance to judges prohibiting them from enforcing a male’s authority over a woman through the legal system.
  • Decriminalize adult, consensual sexual relations conducted in private.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am