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

(Beirut) – Qatar submitted documents to the United Nations on May 21, 2018, to join two core human rights treaties, following cabinet approval on March 14, Human Rights Watch said today. But Qatar’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes formal reservations that will deprive women and migrant workers of the treaties’ protections.

Qatar rejected gender equality provisions in marriage, divorce, and child custody on grounds that they contravene Sharia, or Islamic law. It also declared it would interpret several provisions in line with Sharia, including on defining cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment – avoiding bans on capital and corporal punishment – minimum marriage ages, and freedom of religion. And it said it would interpret the term “trade unions” in accordance with its national law, limiting migrant workers’ rights to form unions.

“Qatar’s accession to these core human rights treaties is an important public commitment to uphold the rights of everyone in the country,” said Belkis Wille, senior Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the government undercuts its own actions by falling back on tired and outdated carve-outs to reject equal rights for women and migrant workers.”

Qatar is the third country of the Gulf Cooperation Council states to ratify both covenants, following Kuwait and Bahrain.

Qatar’s reservations relating to equal rights between men and women in marriage, divorce, and child custody are done on religious grounds, a position similar to that of several other countries that cite Sharia or other religious personal status laws for making such reservations. Qatar’s personal status law discriminates against women by requiring a male guardian to approve their marriage. The law gives men a unilateral right to divorce while requiring women to apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds and women are required to obey their husbands.

Qatar also provides that fathers retain guardianship over their children following divorce even if the mother has custody. In most cases, boys live with their mother until age 13 and girls until age 15, when they automatically move to their father’s custody unless the court rules otherwise or extends the custody in the best interest of the child. Women, but not men, lose custody if they remarry. Under inheritance provisions, female siblings receive half the amount their brothers get.

Qatar also said it will interpret the right to profess and practice one’s own religion so that it “does not violate the rules of public order and public morals, the protection of public safe[t]y and public health, or the rights of and basic freedoms of others.” While people of other faiths can practice their religion in Qatar, the penal code prohibits proselytizing.

Article 116 of Qatar’s Labor Law allows only Qatari nationals the right to form workers’ associations or trade unions. As a result, migrant workers, who make up over 90 percent of the workforce, cannot exercise their rights to freedom of association and to form trade unions. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content

Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights welcome the opportunity to provide joint input into the November 2017 request by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for an exceptional report from the Myanmar government on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State.

This submission outlines the findings of our organizations through several separate on-the-ground investigations in 2016, 2017, and 2018 that documented widespread human rights violations committed against ethnic Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces.

Our organizations have documented numerous mass atrocity crimes—including widespread killings, torture, rape and other sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson—committed by Myanmar’s army and other state security forces. Human Rights Watch has found that these atrocities against the Rohingya amount to crimes against humanity.[1] Fortify Rights, along with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Allard K. Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, found strong evidence of genocide being committed against the Rohingya.[2] In November 2017, Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said the Myanmar army’s widespread use of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls was “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group,” adding that she documented the basis for characterizing the crimes as genocide.[3] In December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that one “cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed.”[4] In March 2018, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said the crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar “bear the hallmarks of genocide.”[5]

This latest campaign of violence against Rohingya comes in the context of a long history of abuse and discrimination against Rohingya women by Myanmar authorities. These include sexual harassment and violence as well as denial of access to sexual and reproductive health care for women and girls protected under international law.

We have organized key findings of our research in response to some of the questions posed by CEDAW to the Myanmar government.

Information concerning cases of sexual violence, including rape, against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces, and details on the number of women and girls who have been killed or have died due to other non-natural causes during the latest outbreak of violence.

In December 2016 and January 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers in Bangladesh interviewed 18 women, of whom 11 had survived sexual assault, as well as 10 men, all of whom had fled military-led “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State in late 2016. Altogether, Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault.[6] In September and October 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls, including 29 survivors of rape, who fled to Bangladesh since the 2017 “clearance operations” began.[7] Rape survivors were from 19 different villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, mostly in northern Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships.

In December 2016 and March 2017, Fortify Rights spoke to eight Rohingya women who were raped and gang raped by Myanmar army soldiers in October and November 2016 in seven villages in Maungdaw township.[8] Six of these cases were gang rapes; two were rapes followed by attempted gang rapes. All but one rape survivor who spoke to Fortify Rights witnessed soldiers rape other Rohingya women and girls as well. Fortify Rights also documented and analyzed the testimony of more than 17 witnesses to rapes in October and November, and from 14 Rohingya who provided additional information related to rape committed by Myanmar army soldiers in the above villages and other villages during that period.[9] Five medical doctors and physicians treating Rohingya rape survivors in Bangladesh and three international aid workers provided further information to Fortify Rights on the rape of Rohingya women during “clearance operations” in Maungdaw township in October and November 2016.[10] Fortify Rights also documented rape and sexual violence in August and September 2017 in all three townships of northern Rakhine State, including through interviews with nine witnesses to rapes, gang rapes, and post-rape body mutilation by Myanmar army soldiers.[11]

Witnesses and survivors of rape described to Fortify Rights how Myanmar army soldiers gang raped Rohingya women and girls in homes, schools, paddy fields, forested areas, and other community buildings, often in plain view of other soldiers and civilians.

Human Rights Watch found that Myanmar security forces raped and sexually assaulted women and girls both during major attacks on villages following August 25, 2017, as well as in the weeks prior to these major attacks, sometimes after repeated harassment. In every case described to Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators were uniformed members of security forces, almost all military personnel.

Rape survivors described brutal circumstances of the rapes. All but one of the rapes reported to Human Rights Watch were gang rapes, involving two or more perpetrators. In eight cases, women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers. They described being raped in their homes and while fleeing burning villages. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of “mass rape” by the Myanmar military, including in Tula Toli village, officially known as Min Gyi, in Maungdaw township. In these instances, survivors said that soldiers gathered them together in groups and then gang raped or raped them. Ethnic Rakhine villagers, acting alongside and in apparent coordination with government security forces, were also responsible for sexual harassment, often connected with looting.

The rapes were accompanied by further acts of violence, humiliation, and cruelty. Security forces beat women and girls with fists or guns, slapped them, or kicked them with boots. In two cases, women reported that their attackers laughed at them during gang rapes, and more frequently attackers threatened their victims either verbally or through actions like putting a gun to their heads. Some attackers also beat women’s children during the attacks. Fortify Rights documented instances of soldiers killing Rohingya women and mutilating their bodies after raping them, including cutting off breasts and cutting vaginas and stomachs with long knives.

Rape survivors spoke of enduring numerous abuses at once. In addition to being gang raped, three women described with great distress seeing security forces murder their young children. Other women and girls said they witnessed killings of their elderly parents, their husbands, other family members, and neighbors. Many reported witnessing cruelty toward those especially vulnerable, such as a soldier killing a 5-year-old girl who could not keep pace with her fleeing family, or security forces pushing older persons who could not flee back into burning houses.

None of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch or Fortify Rights received post-rape care in Myanmar. Survivors did not receive urgent interventions that must take place within days of the rape, such as emergency contraception (within 120 hours) or prophylaxis against HIV infection (within 72 hours). The Myanmar government continues to obstruct humanitarian access to much of Rakhine State.

Humanitarian actors in Bangladesh have said that they have received and treated or provided support to dozens or, in some cases, hundreds of women who survived rape or other attacks. The UN reported that humanitarian organizations had provided support to 2,756 survivors of sexual and gender based violence.[12] These likely represent only a small proportion of the actual number of women and girls raped, given that they do not include those who were raped and subsequently killed, that survivors may be reluctant to seek assistance due to the stigma attached to sexual assault, and that various other factors discourage reporting, including concern about paying fees for medical care and lack of confidence in future criminal investigations. Of the survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, almost two-thirds had not reported their rape to authorities or humanitarian organizations. Most of the survivors with whom Fortify Rights spoke had not reported their rape to anyone at the time—even members of their families.

UN humanitarian reports indicate that sexual violence has been widespread in the recent attacks against Rohingya, with a cumulative total of 6,097 incidents of gender-based violence reported from late August through late March, including, but not limited to, sexual forms of violence.[13] Between October 22 and 28 alone, 306 gender-based violence cases were reported, 96 percent of which included emergency medical care services.[14] These UN figures aggregate different organizations’ cases. One Bangladeshi organization that does outreach work with survivors of sexual violence told Human Rights Watch in September 2017 that they had received hundreds of new cases of rape and other sexual violence since the August 25 attacks. Another organization said they had provided services to 58 survivors of rape and 12 survivors of sexual assault that had arrived since August 2017. A third organization said they had identified 50 recent rape survivors as of September 2017.

Rohingya women and girls were also raped and subjected to sexual harassment by Myanmar security forces during security operations in late 2016. Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault in this period. Some incidents involved several victims.[15]

Fortify Rights met a local physician in December 2016 in Cox’s Bazar who had treated 13 Rohingya women and girls who survived rape and sexual violence in villages in Maungdaw township between October and December 2016. When Fortify Rights met him again in March 2017, he had treated more than 60 Rohingya women and girls, ages 13 to 30, for rape and sexual violence.

Rohingya women and girls told Human Rights Watch they had been afraid of rape for many months prior to these events, and had often experienced sexual harassment and assault from security forces and civilians aligned with those forces as part of their lives beforehand.

Women continued to suffer even after reaching Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch spoke to 10 women who continued to experience physical injuries, including vaginal tears, bleeding, or infections as a result of rape, without accessing care. Many women interviewed by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, including suicidal ideation. Despite donor governments’ important contributions to the humanitarian crisis, Rohingya rape survivors still lack access to long-term post-rape care.[16] Access to safe abortion care, including for rape survivors, has also been in short supply.[17]

Information on investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences or disciplinary measures imposed on perpetrators, including members of the armed forces, found guilty of such crimes.

As best as we have been able to ascertain, there have been no meaningful, impartial investigations into sexual violence committed by Myanmar security forces, nor arrests, prosecutions, or convictions since the security force operations began in August 2017. On the contrary, Myanmar authorities have on multiple occasions offered wholesale denials of allegations of rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces. During an April 2018 meeting with UN Security Council members in Naypyidaw, Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing responded to concerns from the delegation about sexual violence by the armed forces by stating “that the representatives need to consider the fact that it is a nature to exaggerate the rape case any country does not accept,” according to his office.[18]

The findings of the final report of the Tatmadaw investigation team led by Lt. Gen. Aye Win concerning the conduct of the armed forces during the security clearance operations.

The Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, issued a report on Facebook on November 13, 2017, laying out the key findings from the investigation headed by Lt. Gen. Aye Win.[19] The report claims that state security forces committed no wrongdoing, including that “security forces did not commit shooting at innocent villagers and sexual violence and rape cases against women.” The wholesale denial contradicts considerable evidence to the contrary, including photographic evidence and testimony of thousands of witnesses, as well as satellite imagery collected by Human Rights Watch that shows the partial or complete destruction of 362 Rohingya villages.[20] The military has stated that “all the findings [from the Tatmadaw investigation] are true and correct” as recently as April 30.

The Myanmar government has established several separate commissions to investigate the patterns of violence beginning in Rakhine State in 2016, none of which have been credible or impartial.[21]

Whether instructions have been or are being issued to all branches of the state security forces that torture, gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, expulsions, and other human rights violations are prohibited and that those responsible will be prosecuted and punished.

Myanmar authorities have repeatedly said that their forces are aware of and have followed Myanmar law, military codes of conduct, rules of engagement, and international law, and that forces will be held accountable for any breaches.

Our organizations are troubled by the authorities’ denials of attacks on women. In September, the Rakhine State border security minister denied the reports of sexual violence. “Where is the proof?” he said. “Look at those women who are making these claims—would anyone want to rape them?”[22] When Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights, and others documented widespread rape of women and girls during military “clearance operations” in late 2016 in northern Rakhine State, the Myanmar government crudely rejected these allegations as “fake rape.”[23]

The gender-specific measures taken by the state party to rehabilitate and compensate Rohingya women and girls who are victims/survivors of such violence.

Our organizations are unaware of any such measures taken by the Myanmar government. Nor has the government claimed to have taken such action. Rather, the government has maintained its wholesale denials of any assault perpetrated against Rohingya women and girls. In a May 2018 statement on his meeting with the UN Security Council delegation, the military commander-in-chief claimed that “he heard refugees who fled to Bangladesh said they were raped by the Myanmar Tatmadaw.… If rape cases happen, the victims need to inform the committee [on Rakhine State, led by Aung San Suu Kyi] which will take action against all complaints.… However, there is no complaint till today.”[24]

The number of Rohingya women and girls who have died during childbirth.

We do not have estimates on how many women and girls died in childbirth.

In September 2017, Human Rights Watch documented three cases in which Myanmar security forces obstructed women from accessing emergency maternal health care. For example, one 40-year-old woman from Maungdaw township told Human Rights Watch that she knew of two neighbors who had died during childbirth after soldiers guarding her village would not allow them to leave the village to get medical help. Another woman, also from a village in Maungdaw township, said that her cousin died “on the road” because soldiers at a checkpoint refused to allow her to travel to a hospital. In a third example, highlighting restraints on Rohingya prior to the late 2017 “clearance operations,” a woman from Buthidaung township said her sister died in childbirth around May 2017: “My sister Mumena died giving birth.… We had to wait to get money for a bribe. We needed to get money by phone from outside and then get cash and then go bribe the military. Then we knew we would need to bribe the nurse too. But she died before we got the money.”

The “clearance operations” and violence against Rohingya in late 2017 made no exceptions for pregnant women, including those who were heavily pregnant during the attacks on villages. Women in late stages of pregnancy described fleeing from their homes—walking up and down steep hills slippery from monsoon rains, through rivers and dense vegetation, often with little to eat and on sore hips and swollen legs. Several interviewees told Human Rights Watch that six weeks after having fled, they still felt pain that they believed was linked to their forced migration. Human Rights Watch also interviewed three women who gave birth on their journey to Bangladesh without any medical support.

Human Rights Watch collected testimony from women and girls about their lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care in their home villages in Rakhine State. Of the 52 women Human Rights Watch interviewed, only two knew what a condom was, and only one had received prenatal care when she was pregnant. Humanitarian aid workers and Bangladeshi health officials working to provide health care to Rohingya women and girls who had arrived since August 2017 said that they generally found knowledge and experience of maternal and sexual care to be extremely low.

For many years, the Myanmar authorities subjected Rohingya women to a strict two-child policy. Rohingya found to have violated restrictions on childbirth were prosecuted under Criminal Law section 188, which could result in imprisonment for up to 10 years, fines, or both.[25] For several years, Rohingya women told Fortify Rights they feared repercussions from authorities for unauthorized childbirth. This fear, compounded by lack of access to safe, modern birth control options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, forced pregnant Rohingya women to either flee the country or resort to illegal and unsafe abortions. Clandestine efforts to terminate pregnancies rather than face government retaliation for unsanctioned childbirth resulted in death and harmful medical repercussions.[26] Abortions among Rohingya women in northern Rakhine State have traditionally been conducted using the “stick method,” whereby a stick is inserted into the uterus to terminate the pregnancy. Women report being afraid to seek necessary medical attention for subsequent health complications.

The number of clinics providing obstetric services and the ratio of doctors and midwives to the Rohingya population.

We do not have precise figures detailing the number of clinics and doctors available to provide obstetric services, or the ratios. However, several contextual features and figures should be considered with respect to the provision of, and access to, these services. The Rohingya population in Rakhine State has extremely poor access to health care of any kind in all parts of the state due to multiple factors, including the limited number of health care facilities and restrictions on freedom of movement that make routine access to any facilities or care difficult. Prior to the violence in northern Rakhine State beginning in October 2016, UN sources estimated that there was one physician per 75,000 persons and one physician per 83,000 persons in the Rohingya Muslim-majority townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, respectively, whereas in Sittwe, the Rakhine Buddhist-majority capital of Rakhine State, there was one physician for every 681 persons.[27] Additionally, Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have for years been subjected to a network and series of checkpoints where they were often forced to pay bribes, and frequently faced harassment or arbitrary detention, further decreasing the odds of their seeking or receiving health care.[28] Currently, humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State is severely restricted, including lifesaving medical care.

Throughout Rakhine State, access to health care is extremely limited, particularly for Rohingya. Outside of northern Rakhine State, the government confines more than 124,000 Rohingya to dozens of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located in five townships. Access to health facilities for these displaced people is mostly limited to in-camp provisions by nongovernmental organizations whose access is needlessly restricted by the authorities. Rohingya in IDP camps in Sittwe township may be referred to Sittwe General Hospital, but only for life-threatening cases, and they are treated in a Muslim-only ward. Referrals are difficult to acquire, and Rohingya in these camps told Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights in 2017 that they are required to pay for their own security and transportation to the hospital, which is cost prohibitive. Rohingya women in Sittwe township camps reported in 2017 to Fortify Rights that access to health care is the most common reason for taking out loans, and some Rohingya women explained that they elected not to seek medical help in order to avoid acquiring debt that they would be unable to pay off. [29]

In general, state security forces require all Rohingya confined to IDP camps to obtain permission to travel, and Rohingya must also pay a fee to authorities. Moreover, once permission is granted and a fee is paid, Rohingya can only travel in the presence of security forces, if the security agents on duty agree to escort them. This escort “service” is not considered a right but a privilege, and it is not always forthcoming—for example, the authorities only escort Rohingya in the morning or afternoon, regardless of the situation.[30] These restrictions have impacted women’s health and maternal mortality.

The number of Rohingya families displaced by the violence, disaggregated by sex, and measures taken by the government to ensure their voluntary and safe return, economic reintegration, and compensation for loss of land or property.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 94,500 people were displaced in northern Rakhine State in October and November 2016, including more than 74,500 men, women, and children who fled to neighboring Bangladesh.[31] Since August 2017, more than 717,000 have fled to Bangladesh.[32] In addition, untold numbers of Rohingya have fled Myanmar steadily since 2012, including from violence, draconian restrictions, and avoidable deprivations in humanitarian aid. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that from 2013 to 2015, more than 200,000 fled by sea toward Thailand and Malaysia from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area. Many ended up in the custody of transnational human trafficking syndicates who held Rohingya women in conditions of enslavement and, in many cases, sold women and girls to the highest bidder.

The Myanmar government has announced plans for the repatriation of refugees, including hastily built processing centers and transit camps, yet has failed to establish any means of ensuring that returns are safe, dignified, and voluntary, as provided by international standards. Photos of the transit camps reveal buildings enclosed by high barbed-wire perimeter fencing.

The Myanmar government has a poor record of treating Rohingya displaced by past abuses or providing sustainable conditions for their return, such as in the case of the confinement of more than 124,000 Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in 2012 and remain in supposedly “temporary” camps in central Rakhine State. Humanitarian conditions in central and northern Rakhine State remain abysmal, with access for aid agencies reduced since August 2017, according to the UN and aid groups. Protecting returning refugees will not be possible without significant monitoring efforts by international observers. The Myanmar government has largely rejected international demands to allow free access for international aid agencies, the media, and rights observers, allowing only a small number of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid in northern Rakhine State, and denying genuine access to independent journalists and rights monitors.

We recommend that CEDAW call upon the government of Myanmar to:

  • Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations in Rakhine State, including organizations assisting sexual violence survivors and providing sexual and reproductive health care.
  • Ensure unimpeded access for journalists and human rights monitors in Rakhine State.
  • Cooperate fully with international investigations into alleged crimes in Rakhine State, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council.
  • Comply with the UN Security Council November Presidential Statement, which called on the Myanmar government to “implement measures in line with UN Security Council resolution 2106 (2013) to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence and … work with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”
  • Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws, regulations, and local orders and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya. Communicate to central, state, and local governments and the general public that the relevant authorities are to immediately cease all official and unofficial practices related to discriminatory restrictions against Rohingya.
  • Amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to end discriminatory provisions against Rohingya and reduce statelessness by providing Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights.
    • In accordance with the universal prohibition of racial discrimination, amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to use objective criteria to determine citizenship, such as descent, through which citizenship is passed through one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident.
    • Revise the Citizenship Law in accordance with article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that Rohingya children have the right to acquire a nationality where otherwise they would be stateless because they have no relevant links to another state.
  • Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care. This includes making sure such services are available and accessible to Rohingya populations and lifting restrictions on travel and movement.
  • Take appropriate measures and provide means to allow women victims and their families willing to return to their original homes to return in safety and with dignity, and take effective and adequate measures to rebuild the homes and basic infrastructure destroyed.
  • Facilitate the safe reintegration of women victims and their families. Special efforts should be made to ensure the full participation of returned victims and their families in the planning and management of resettlement, reintegration, and rehabilitation programs. Myanmar has the duty and responsibility to assist returned victims and their families to recover, to the extent possible, their property and possessions that they left behind or were dispossessed of. When recovery of such property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities should provide or assist these people in obtaining appropriate compensation or other forms of just reparation.
  • Repeal the four so-called race and religion protection laws, which are discriminatory and violate the rights of religious minorities and women.
  • Ensure that the draft Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Law includes measures for accountability for sexual violence, in particular conflict-related abuses, with provisions for military perpetrators to be tried in civilian courts. Publicize the draft law to solicit input from all civil society prior to its tabling in parliament.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “Crimes against Humanity by Burmese Security Forces against the Rohingya Muslim Population in Rakhine State since August 25, 2017,” September 26, 2017, Human Rights Watch previously determined that the Myanmar government was responsible for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016 when ethnic Rakhine villagers supported by Buddhist monks carried out killings with help from state security forces. Rohingya women and girls have been subjected to rape in past persecution by Myanmar authorities, for example in 1978 when attacks drove 200,000 Rohingya out of the country. See Human Rights Watch, “All You Can Do Is Pray”: Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, April 2013,

[2] Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “They Tried to Kill Us All”: Atrocity Crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Myanmar, November 2017, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Fortify Rights, Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis, October 2015,

[3] Serajul Quadir, “UN Official Says Will Raise Sexual Violence against Rohingya with ICC,” Reuters, November 12, 2017,

[4] BBC, “Myanmar: The Hidden Truth,” December 18, 2017,

[5] “Statement by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council,” March 12, 2018,

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, see also Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Rohingya Recount Killings, Rape, and Arson,” December 21, 2016,

[7] Human Rights Watch, “All of My Body Was Pain”: Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma, November 16, 2017,

[8] Those seven villages are Kyet Yoe Pyin, Pwint Hpyu Chaung, Kyar Goung Taung, Ngan Chaung, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, Wapeik, and U Shey Kya villages. See Fortify Rights interviews with individuals 48, 04, 42, 41, 55, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[9] Fortify Rights interviews with 19, 22, 37, 08, 11, 12, 25, 32, 30, 64, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[10] Fortify Rights interviews with 1, 27, 35, 36, 54, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016.

[11] Fortify Rights interviews with 5-2, 9-2, 11-2, 23-2, 25-2, 33-2, 38-2, 43-2, 45-2, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, August 27 – September 4, 2017.

[12] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence,” S/2018/250, March 23, 2018,, p. 17.

[13] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” March 25, 2018,

[14] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” October 29, 2017,

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017,

[16] Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis, “Women and Girls Critically Underserved in the Rohingya Humanitarian Response,” February 22, 2018,

[17] Ibid. See also Anu Kumar and Sayed Rubayet, “Rohingya Women Have Suffered Enough. They Don’t Deserve Discriminatory Health Care,” Ipas, December 14, 2017,

[18] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018,

[19] Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services (CINCDS) Facebook post, November 13, 2017,

[20] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Scores of Rohingya Villages Bulldozed,” February 23, 2018,

[21] On August 6, 2017, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Vice President Myint Swe, held a news conference on its findings into alleged abuses against ethnic Rohingya, following a nine-month domestic inquiry. Myint Swe told journalists that there was no evidence of crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. However, in Human Rights Watch’s view, the 13-member commission used investigative methods that produced incomplete, inaccurate, and false information. A previous army-led investigation into allegations of abuses against Rohingya communities in late 2016 by Tatmadaw forces led by the same general, Lt. Gen. Aye Win, found that only two minor incidents of abuse occurred during security operations. One of the documented crimes was the theft of a motorbike. Human Rights Watch documented killings, sexual violence including rape, and destruction of civilian property in the attacks that forced tens of thousands of people to flee during the same period under investigation. An investigation into allegations of rape in Maungdaw township in Rakhine State by Myanmar authorities found that no rapes had taken place, but was conducted in a highly problematic way that does not meet basic standards and would not have provided opportunity for women and girls to speak freely. Myanmar authorities announced in April 2018 that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din village in Maungdaw, Rakhine State. Meanwhile, authorities have been destroying evidence of attacks against Rohingya villages. Since late 2017, the Myanmar government has cleared at least 60 villages of all structures and vegetation using heavy machinery. Most of these villages were among the 362 villages completely or partially destroyed by arson since August 25.

[22] Jonathan Head, “Rohingya Crisis: Seeing Through the Official Story in Myanmar,” BBC, September 11, 2017,

[23] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017,

[24] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018,

[25] Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, February 2014, See addendum to regional order 1/2005, “Population Control Activities,” point number 3, original on file with Fortify Rights; see also Chris Lewa, “Two-Child Policy in Myanmar Will Increase Bloodshed,” CNN, June 6, 2013,

[26] Fortify Rights communications with representatives of an international organization, January 2014.

[27] Republic of the Union of Myanmar, “Final Report of Inquiry Commission on Sectarian Violence in Rakhine State,” citing UN reports, July 8, 2013,, p. 41.

[28] See Physicians for Human Rights, “Myanmar’s Rohingya Continue to Suffer Systematic Extortion, Abuse,” October 12, 2016, Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution.

[29] Fortify Rights interviews with Rohingya women, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 2017; see also CCCM Cluster, Danish Refugee Council, and UNHCR, Sittwe Camp Profiling Report, 2017,, p. 7.

[30] Several Rohingya in the camps explained to Fortify Rights how they are unable to travel anywhere in the evening. For example, a resident in Dar Pai camp said: “After the conflict of 2012, if anyone has an emergency case in the nighttime, then there is nowhere for us to get treatment during the nighttime. We cannot go outside in the nighttime.” Fortify Rights interview with 136, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, September 2, 2015.

[31] UN OCHA, “Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot, February 28 – March 6, 2017,” March 6, 2017,

[32] UNHCR, “Refugee Response in Bangladesh,” May 15, 2018,

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya woman walks through Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

(Yangon) – Myanmar should comply with a United Nations committee’s request for information on the military’s responsibility for widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls in northern Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said today. The two groups provided the committee with an 11-page joint report on sexual violence committed by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya villagers in 2016 and 2017.

In November 2017, the independent expert committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a global women’s rights treaty, requested the Myanmar government submit a report on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State by May 28, 2018. The CEDAW committee has only requested such an “exceptional report” three times previously.

“The CEDAW committee’s rare request for Myanmar to report on sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls outside normal reporting procedures shows the extreme nature of the military’s mass atrocities,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should cease its shameless denials and start openly cooperating with international monitors.”

The CEDAW committee request followed numerous reports of Myanmar army-led attacks on Rohingya Muslims, including mass killings, rape and other sexual violence, and widespread arson in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages, forcing more than 717,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The joint report by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights includes information based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including 37 women and girls who were raped in August and September 2017, mostly by gangs of uniformed soldiers. Witnesses and survivors also saw many other women and girls raped in groups, which amounted to patterns of gang rapes, as well as biting, kicking, and other physical abuse. Many recounted soldiers killing their elderly parents or children, including by throwing their infants into fires.

The CEDAW committee’s rare request shows the extreme nature of the Myanmar military’s mass atrocities.

Skye Wheeler

Women’s Rights Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch

“I was held down by six men and raped by five of them,” said a 33-year-old Rohingya woman. “First, [the soldiers] killed my brother.… [They] stuck a knife into my side and kept it there while the men were raping me. That was how they kept me in place.… I was trying to move and [the wound] was bleeding more.”

The CEDAW committee requested that Myanmar’s government provide information on the battalions that carried out the attacks in northern Rakhine State and their commanding officers. As a party to CEDAW, Myanmar is required to report on its implementation of the convention, including in the case of exceptional reports, which are requested in situations where there is “reliable and adequate information indicating grave or systematic violations of women’s human rights.”

Myanmar’s government claims it instructs its security forces to respect military codes of conduct that forbid rape. It has repeatedly denied that its forces committed rape, including through biased investigations that lack credibility. A Rakhine State minister responded to reports of sexual violence against Rohingya last year by saying: “Look at those women who are making these claims – would anyone want to rape them?”

“Myanmar’s security forces used brutal gang rapes to terrify and injure as part of their ongoing attack on the Rohingya population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “The authorities’ denials, essentially saying Rohingya women are liars, compound the terrible harms inflicted.”

The CEDAW committee also requested that the Myanmar government report on any efforts to provide justice and other reparations to sexual violence victims, as well as on access to sexual and reproductive health care for Rohingya women and girls. Successive Myanmar governments have persecuted the Rohingya for decades, denying them citizenship rights, freedom of movement, and equal access to education and health care.

CEDAW should call on the Myanmar government to:

Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations, journalists, and human rights monitors in Rakhine State
Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya
Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care

Sexual violence, like torture, is often followed by long-term trauma and serious mental health consequences including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Rohingya survivors of sexual violence and other attacks should be able to access long-term health care services as well as a path to justice and voluntary, dignified, and safe return to their homes.

International condemnation and calls for independent, rigorous investigations have been growing. In April 2018, the Myanmar army was included on the UN secretary-general’s “list of shame,” a register of national armed forces and armed groups whose members are credibly suspected of carrying out sexual violence.

The Myanmar government has continued to deny the UN Fact-Finding Mission and UN special rapporteurs access to northern Rakhine State. The authorities also continue to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations.

“Myanmar has repeatedly ignored international calls for information and access,” Smith said. “The CEDAW committee’s report request was an important step, but the UN should now ramp up its pressure on the government to end its atrocities against women and girls as well as its denials of abuses ever taking place.”

Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

May 23, 2018


Justices of the Constitutional Court of Korea
15 Bukchon-ro, Jae-dong
Seoul 03060
Republic of Korea


Honorable Justices of the Constitutional Court of Korea,

As you prepare to rule on case 2017Hun-Ba127 concerning the laws on abortion in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Human Rights Watch has the honor of submitting the annexed amicus brief on international human rights law and abortion.

Human Rights Watch has extensive expertise on the right to access abortion as an international human rights issue. We have conducted in-depth investigations specifically on access to abortion in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Ireland. Our investigations into related issues, such as sexual violence in armed conflict or on child marriage, have also addressed inaccessibility of safe abortion, including in projects on Brazil, Sudan, Central African Republic, India, Kenya, Uganda, Algeria, Nepal, Burundi, Colombia, Haiti, and Libya. We work to raise public awareness about access to abortion and human rights through advocacy and media work, for example in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Paraguay, Poland, South Korea, Honduras, the United Kingdom, Angola, Papua New Guinea, Italy, the United States, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Spain, Turkey, and Uruguay.

The criminalization of abortion in South Korea jeopardizes many human rights, including women’s rights to life, health, non-discrimination and equality, privacy, information, to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and to decide the number and spacing of children. This amicus brief explains authoritative interpretations of international human rights law, which clearly establish that governments are required to decriminalize abortion and ensure access to safe, legal abortions to be in compliance with international human rights treaties.

We hope that the Constitutional Court will take into account South Korea’s international legal obligations during its deliberations and ensure that those obligations are met by requiring the decriminalization of abortion and safe, legal access to the procedure in South Korea.

Thank you for your consideration.




Liesl Gerntholtz
Director, Women’s Rights Division

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As hundreds gathered in Jerusalem – just this past Monday - to celebrate the move of the U.S. Embassy, a mere 100 kilometers away, Israeli forces, protected by the fence separating Israel from Gaza, fired on Palestinian demonstrators. They killed 60 people and injured well over 1,000 with live fire, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Israeli forces have shot dead over 100 Palestinians in demonstrations in Gaza since March 30, including 14 children, and injured over 3,500 with live fire.

These staggering casualty levels are neither the result of justifiable force nor of isolated abuses; but foreseeable results of senior Israeli officials’ orders on the use of force.

Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza have challenged Israel’s half-century occupation. Sweeping Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, exacerbated by Egypt’s sealed border on the south, have crippled the economy, fed a humanitarian crisis and snuffed out young people’s hope for a brighter future.

While Israeli forces can use non-lethal means to prevent unauthorized crossings of borders, international law prohibits the deliberate use of lethal force in policing situations except when necessary to stave off an immediate threat to life. 

Israeli officials have rejected the international law standard, saying they are justified in firing with live ammunition to prevent violent demonstrators from penetrating the border and attacking Israelis in nearby towns. They have ordered soldiers to fire on anyone who enters an expansive “no go” area inside Gaza, “instigates” demonstrations, or damages security infrastructure. These orders have effectively turned the “no-go” zone into a free-fire zone.

Some States claim this Special Session is about targeting Israel. They are wrong. It is about targeting human rights violations. When security forces open fire on protestors who pose no imminent threat, they should expect scrutiny by this Council.

Human Rights Watch urges all Council Members to put principle before politics and support an international inquiry into this latest bloodshed.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tear gas is seen while police take their position in the street of Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 8, 2018.
© 2018 Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain
(Geneva) – The Bangladesh delegation to the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on May 14, 2018, failed to respond to pressing human rights concerns in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The law minister, Anisul Huq, speaking for the government, highlighted only what the government considered to be positive steps and glossed over concerns about critical issues such as enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and a crackdown on freedom of speech and association. Bangladesh should show its commitment to human rights by giving full consideration to recommendations from other countries and accepting those that would significantly improve its compliance with international human rights standards.

“Bangladesh needs to stop ignoring and start addressing serious human rights violations, such as when its security forces engage in enforced disappearances, killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests, many of them politically motivated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Bangladesh government should use the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council as a time for reflection, not self-congratulation.”

The Bangladesh government should use the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council as a time for reflection, not self-congratulation.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

A number of member countries rightly praised the government’s willingness to open the Bangladesh border and provide aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities by the Myanmar military. The Bangladesh delegation spoke at length about the progress on handling the influx of the Rohingya refugees but responded with silence and denial to questions and recommendations by several countries, including concerns about extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and attacks on human rights defenders. Whether Bangladesh formally accepts or rejects the recommendations made by countries will not be known for some time.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported for many years about human rights concerns in Bangladesh, and many of these concerns were simply not addressed adequately by Bangladesh in the hearing. In one example, the government pledged during the previous periodic review in 2013 to thoroughly and impartially investigate and prosecute all allegations of human rights violations, in particular by the security forces. But it has ignored and denied reports of violations since then, including about violence by the security forces during the 2014 elections and against people who protested the conduct of the elections. The government delegation claimed that it is taking action against those responsible for abuse, but there is little evidence or transparency on this.

Human Rights Watch has also documented several cases in which members of the political opposition have been forcibly disappeared or secretly detained without charge. Scores of Bangladesh National Party (BNP) supporters were unlawfully detained and several remain disappeared.

The whereabouts or status of sons of two opposition Jamaat-e-Islami leaders has not been revealed since they were picked up by security forces in August 2016.

A former diplomat, Maroof Zaman, remains disappeared since December 2017. A Bangladeshi-British citizen, Hasnat Karim, remains in custody without charge following the July 1, 2016 attack by militants on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

Another key concern to which the government delegation responded inadequately is attacks against critical media and nongovernmental organizations. Many people have been and continue to be jailed or charged under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, which includes vague and overbroad provisions to target free speech, and under the 2016 law regulating the use of foreign funding by nongovernmental groups. Section 57 has been used to target key civil society leaders and institutions. The government says it will revise Section 57 with its draft Digital Security Bill, but some of its provisions fall short of international standards. The government has also been using sedition and other criminal laws to target free speech.

Labor rights were also not adequately addressed. Although there has been some progress on safety concerns for workers, much remains to be done. Union leaders and those seeking to join unions face threats and opposition from factory owners and managers.

The government has also failed to keep a commitment to end child marriage. In February 2017, the government approved a law with a new exception that allows girls under 18 to marry under special circumstances, with no minimum age stipulated. A promised national action plan to end child marriage is now over three years late.

“Bangladesh says it remains committed to doing right by the Rohingya refugees, but it should embrace that same principle towards its own citizens,” Adams said. “With national elections next year, it is essential for the government to expand democratic space and provide room for debate and dissent.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh on November 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should immediately refer the situation in Myanmar, including the widespread and systematic abuses against ethnic Rohingya, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said today.

During the first week of May 2018, senior diplomats from the 15-member Security Council visited refugee camps in Bangladesh to see first-hand the situation of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar military abuses since August 2017, adding to an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who fled previous violence. The diplomats pledged to take action on their return to New York. UK Ambassador Karen Pierce said all council members considered the Rohingya issue to be “one of the most significant human rights cases that we have ever faced in the last decade and that something needs to be done.”

“Now that the Security Council has heard directly from Rohingya refugees about the horrors inflicted by Myanmar’s army, the need to hold those responsible to account should be clear,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director. “Myanmar’s repeated and implausible denials of responsibility for atrocities and its longstanding culture of impunity mean that the International Criminal Court is the only real hope for victims to see justice.”

Now that the Security Council has heard directly from Rohingya refugees about the horrors inflicted by Myanmar’s army, the need to hold those responsible to account should be clear.

Param-Preet Singh

Associate Director, International Justice Program

During their four-day visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, council members met with humanitarian agencies, civil society groups, parliamentarians, and military and government officials, including Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Myanmar’s de-facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and Myanmar military commander-in-chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

While acknowledging a possible ICC referral, UK Ambassador Pierce told reporters that Aung San Suu Kyi assured council members that if evidence of violations was provided to her, the Myanmar authorities would undertake a “proper investigation.” However, the Myanmar government has long been provided with evidence by Human Rights Watch and other international monitors and has taken no genuine action to impartially investigate the full range of abuses committed against the Rohingya. For more than a year the government refused to allow access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission, created by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to “establish the facts and circumstances” of alleged security force violations. It also barred Yanghee Lee, the UN-appointed human rights expert on Myanmar, from entering the country after she publicly reported on military abuses.

Rejecting detailed accounts of atrocities

The government and military have dismissed voluminous reports from the UN, human rights groups, and the media on killings, rape, and burnings of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State. In November, an army “investigation team” said that at least 376 “terrorists” were killed during fighting but found “no deaths of innocent people.”

While there has been no civilian-led investigation into the post-August 2017 violence, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, established to investigate the violence against the Rohingya in October and November 2016, and headed by Vice President Myint Swe, concluded contrary to the evidence that there was “no possibility of crimes against humanity, no evidence of ethnic cleansing, as per UN accusations.”

Myanmar authorities have convicted soldiers in only one case in Rakhine State for abuses committed after August 25, sentencing seven soldiers in April to 10 years in prison for their role in the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village. Two Reuters journalists who investigated the massacre were detained and face up to 14 years’ imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act.

“By rejecting out of hand detailed accounts of atrocities, Myanmar’s government has shown it has zero intention of addressing the terrible crimes against the Rohingya,” Singh said. “Security Council members should not repeat empty promises by government officials that they will investigate abuses. This is a textbook case for referral to the ICC, which was created to act when governments refuse to do so.”

Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, the court can only act when a state is “unwilling or unable” to investigate or prosecute grave crimes in violation of international law. Because Myanmar is neither a party to the ICC nor has accepted the court’s jurisdiction, the Security Council needs to refer the situation to the court. In April, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to rule on whether the ICC “can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” which is a party to the ICC.

The Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC immediately and not await a court ruling on the crime of deportation, which would not include other crimes against humanity, namely murder, rape, torture, and persecution. The council should act on the secretary-general’s September 2017 call that “the international community has a responsibility to undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis.” Primarily because of objections from China and Russia, the council has adopted just a single Presidential Statement on the issue, in November. It last met to discuss the crisis in February.

Global concern with the Security Council’s inaction on Myanmar has been rising. In February, Sweden’s UN ambassador said, “If the Myanmar authorities do not genuinely address the issue of accountability, help from the international community should be sought, including considering referral to the International Criminal Court.” In May, after visiting a Rohingya camp, an assistant secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that the council’s “powerful members had enough room to play, but failed to do that.” Liechtenstein’s UN ambassador publicly expressed his hope that council members would return from their Myanmar visit with a renewed sense of duty to take action, including an ICC referral.

A former Malaysian foreign minister who had been the OIC’s special envoy to Myanmar until 2017 said he was disappointed with the talks between the council and Myanmar: “They say that they will help Myanmar to investigate. Myanmar is the perpetrator of the crime. How can you want Myanmar to investigate? It must be an independent body.”

“The UK and others should stop wringing their hands and put forward a resolution referring Myanmar to the ICC,” Singh said. “Security Council members should stop deferring to China and Russia and make the victims of atrocities the top priority.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during a ceremony celebrating the 99th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, at Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul, South Korea on March 1, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters / Kim Hong-Ji

(Seoul) – South Korea should raise the dire human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) during the April 27 summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Human Rights Watch said today.

“As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Any long-term resolution of security issues on the Korean peninsula will require the North Korean government’s commitment to fundamental and wide-ranging reforms.”

As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On March 31, 2018, North Korea criticized Kang Kyung-hwa, South Korea's foreign minister, for asking North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and improve its human rights record. According to North Korean media, her remarks were “an open political provocation to the DPRK and an intolerable act of chilling the atmosphere for dialogue.” On April 4, 2018, Kang told journalists that Seoul maintains a “firm stance” on the terrible situation of human rights in the North, but her government will need more preparation to include the issue in the agenda.

On April 10, 2018, 40 organizations, including Human Rights Watch and representing over 200 non-governmental organizations from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and North America, sent a letter to Moon asking him to urge Kim to act on United Nations human rights recommendations; engage on inter-Korean human rights issues, including human rights dialogues and information exchanges; push for regular reunion meetings of separated families; and increase inter-Korean people-to-people contact. The organizations also called on the South Korean government to provide much-needed humanitarian aid with appropriate monitoring.

On April 11, 2018, an official from Moon’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae ruled out North Korea’s human rights record as an agenda item for the summit.

Human Rights Watch called on the South Korean government to rethink its decision and raise human rights in North Korea during the summit. Among other things, it should ask North Korea to engage with the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK and allow him to make a country visit. Other relevant UN human rights rapporteurs should also be given access.

Even if the situation of human rights in North Korea is not included as an agenda item during the summit, the South Korean government and other governments, such as the United States and Japan, should insist on the inclusion of human rights in all future security and other discussions, including possible economic or technical cooperation, investment in North Korea, and offers of humanitarian aid. The North Korean government has ratified one of the main international human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international human rights instruments. It recently agreed with the United Nations on a strategic framework for cooperation (DPRK UN Strategic Framework (UNSF) for Cooperation) in all their cooperation projects between 2017 and 2021, whose goal is to improve the well-being of the North Korean people, particularly vulnerable groups, and applies a human rights-based approach intended to put people at the center of all dealings with the DPRK.

“This summit is a crucial moment for inter-Korean relations and particularly for the long-suffering people of North Korea,” said Adams. “The goal should be to find real, long-term solutions to the security challenges on the peninsula, while taking steps to improve the dire human rights situation in North Korea.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland February 26, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reminded a room of World Bank economists that human rights are “also your job,” and called on the institution to “marry human rights and economics.”

That call, at a World Bank event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, echoes criticism by Human Rights Watch and numerous other civil society organizations that the World Bank needs to do a better job of making human rights central to its mission of reducing poverty through development projects around the world.

Though the World Bank has social and environmental safeguard policies meant to protect people, they fall short. The bank needs to ensure it assesses the human rights risks in each project, take steps to minimize these risks, and ensure that effective remedies exist when harm does occur.

The high commissioner highlighted the need for improved collaboration between those working in development, and those in the front lines of defending human rights. In particular, he offered to share information gathered by human rights monitors – such as indicators of impending violence – that could contribute to the Bank’s risk assessments of potential projects. He shared his vision of more effective shared advocacy between development and human rights professionals “united by a common purpose,” with the goal of building stronger institutions, weaving a more inclusive social fabric, and producing justice.

Hussein emphasized the “colossal economic, social and human cost of violations,” calling on the Bank to address issues of exclusion, inequality, and other human rights, not only because they uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents, but “because they make for good economics, sound development, greater and more sustained prosperity.”

In this year that marks seven decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Bank should heed the renewed calls to put human rights at the core of its work, not only to prevent harm, but to effectively achieve its objectives of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity around the world.

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

Doctors described victims collapsing, gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth.

© Weberson Santiago/VEJA

The First World War demonstrated the cruelty of chemical weapons and led to a ban on their use in 1925. Yet a century later, the Syrian government and others in the Syrian conflict have repeatedly used them to kill and injure men, women, and children.

This month, a deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma killed at least 42 people. Doctors described victims collapsing, gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. In videos shared by activists, bodies of children, their mouths still foaming, lie beside those of adults.

We don’t hear directly from those who perished, nor can we truly imagine how they must have felt as the very air they breathed destroyed their lungs.

Human Rights Watch has analyzed at least 85 chemical weapons attacks in Syria – most by the government – since August 2013. Some employed sarin—the colorless, odorless, nerve agent. Most involved a readily available pale green chemical: chlorine. And ISIS has deployed a blistering agent known as sulfur-mustard gas. They all cause unspeakable suffering and death.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, whose harrowing mustard-gas and chlorine-gas deaths in the trenches of Europe inspired the ban. A Chemical Weapons Convention strengthened the ban 21 years ago, requiring parties to eliminate stockpiles and production capacity. The world celebrated when Syria, already engulfed in war, signed on five years ago.

Yet the government in Damascus has repeatedly broken its promise by deploying chemical weapons, undermining the very treaty it agreed to uphold. The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and France blame it for the Douma attack, and conducted retaliatory strikes over the weekend. We are still awaiting a full investigation.

No government or armed group that uses chemical weapons should get away with it. Accountability—proving who committed an atrocity and bringing those responsible to justice -- is essential to stopping the use of chemical weapons.

Brazil could be a strong voice for enforcing the ban. We hold a seat on the executive council of the agency tasked with implementing it—the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The agency’s experts have concluded that Syria has used chemical weapons. Yet Brazil’s representative cast doubt on those findings and seemed to suggest, absurdly, in November that the agency should not accept testimony from victims of attacks unless they testify in the presence of alleged perpetrators.

That same month, Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council once again halted an independent investigation.

Casting doubt on the results of credible international investigations merely emboldens the Syrian government and others who have no qualms about killing and injuring civilians with toxic chemicals. 

Brazil should join the call for UN Secretary General António Guterres to bypass the Security Council and appoint independent investigators to identify those responsible for the Douma attack. And Brazil should condemn Syria’s repeated violations of the treaty and press for sanctions, as well as Syria’s suspension from the OPCW—until it complies with its obligations.

A hundred years after the end of World War I, the world needs to end impunity for chemical weapons attacks. Inaction should not be an option.

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

(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council needs to be strengthened by measures to enhance its impact on the ground, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Service for Human Rights said in a report released today.  The Human Rights Council is approaching a critical juncture in 2018, as countries discuss various measures to strengthen it or make it more efficient.

The report, “Strengthening the UN Human Rights Council from the Ground Up,” outlines the discussions and key recommendations during a dialogue convened by the organizations in February. The dialogue brought together a broad range of human rights defenders working at the national, regional, and international levels with representatives of national human rights institutions, countries from various regions, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The focus was on making concrete and implementable recommendations that do not require institutional reform.

Tawanda Mutasah, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said:   “To be credible, any discussion of Council strengthening should focus primarily on enhancing its contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights – its impact on the ground. As the council’s Bureau launches discussions this year on enhancing the efficiency of the council, we reiterate that measures to strengthen the council’s efficiency should not, and cannot, be separated from efforts to enhance its effectiveness.”

Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s human rights council advocate, said: “It is therefore imperative that discussions on strengthening the council – and making it more efficient – be informed by the experience and expertise of national and regional level actors, including rights-holders, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, victims/survivors (and their representatives), national human rights institutions and UN country teams.”

Many participants at the February dialogue affirmed the value and relevance of the council in responding to human rights crises and in encouraging a broad range of human rights reforms and commitments by individual countries.  At the same time, they shared concerns about issues that limit the council’s ability to effectively deliver on its mandate.

The Human Rights Council plays a vital role in addressing many human rights concerns, but its impact is limited and credibility eroded when it fails to address grave human rights violations for primarily political reasons. Individual countries should strengthen the council’s ability to promote and protect human rights on the ground, particularly through prevention, implementation and accountability.

John Fisher

Geneva Director, Human Rights Watch

Maryam Al Khawaja, special advisor on advocacy at the Gulf Center for Human Rights and ISHR board member, said: “The selectivity and politicization of the council’s response to country situations allows some governments to escape scrutiny for serious human rights violations.”

Hassan Shire, executive director of DefendDefenders, said: “Having States that commit gross and systematic human rights violations sitting on the Council negatively impacts its credibility in the eyes of people around the world.”

Gustavo Huppes, officer for democratic space at Conectas said: “To have impact on the ground, follow-up and implementation are key, though often neglected priorities of the council”.

Yashasvi Nain, program officer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said: “An effective council is one that is accessible and visible to a broad range of actors, including victims, rights-holders, civil society, and human rights defenders.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rescue workers search for bodies still trapped under mounds of debris in Raqqa, Syria April 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

The United Nations Security Council meets again today on Syria – for the sixth time in just over a week. While it’s tempting to ask what the deadlocked council will achieve with more talk, this meeting is an important opportunity for it to address the dire situation in another part of Syria – Raqqa city, recently freed of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) forces. 

During a visit to Raqqa in late January, Human Rights Watch documented the devastating impact that ISIS’s homemade landmines, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices inflicted on the city’s residents. Although ISIS forces are gone, these weapons still kill and injure civilians, including more than 150 children. Civil authorities are overstretched. In just one Raqqa neighborhood, the local council reported receiving about 10 requests a day for help with explosive devices that residents uncover. Yet the authorities can only handle 10 requests a week. 

Mines are not the only concern in Raqqa. Airwars, a nongovernmental group tracking military operations, has called Raqqa a city “destroyed and then forgotten.” A recent UN mission found that 70 to 80 percent of buildings there were “destroyed or damaged,” with corpses decomposing under the rubble. The city has only three functioning health facilities. Lack of schooling mean many children cannot read or write.

Raqqa’s residents are also waiting for accountability. The capture in Syria of two foreign ISIS suspects should inform international discussions about securing justice for ISIS’s crimes – including by ensuring due process rights and encouraging victim participation in the justice process. We still do not know how many civilians died in the US-backed militia’s campaign to oust ISIS, but the information gathered by independent on-the-ground investigations, including by the New York Times, suggest civilian casualties were far more numerous than the US military estimated or reported. For example, when Human Rights Watch investigated a strike on a boarding school, we collected the names of 40 civilians who were killed. The US-backed coalition says the strike only harmed ISIS fighters. Incidents like this should be re-investigated.

While the world’s attention is rightly focused on identifying those responsible for the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, it’s worth noting that conventional weapons – airstrikes, artillery, and small arms – have claimed the lives of the vast majority of Syrian victims during the conflict’s seven years.

The people of Raqqa who suffered through the conflict under ISIS deserve our attention and assistance, too.

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

Rohingya refugees walk across a bamboo bridge in the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, February 11, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The United Nations secretary-general for the first time has included Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, in his annual list of parties that have committed sexual violence in armed conflict. Presented today to the UN Security Council, the report details conflict-related sexual violence carried out in 2017 by national armed forces and non-state armed groups in 19 countries, spotlighting its use as a weapon of war and persecution.

The report finds that the Myanmar armed forces’ “widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to their strategy, humiliating, terrorizing and collectively punishing the Rohingya community.” Rohingya women and girls – “seen as custodians and propagators of ethnic identity” – were targeted for both their ethnicity and their gender. Human Rights Watch similarly found that the military engaged in widespread sexual violence against women among the crimes against humanity committed during “clearance operations” starting in October 2016 and August 2017. Security forces used rape to humiliate and brutalize, not only driving victims from their homes but also instilling a deep fear of ever returning.

The Rohingya women and girls who fled to neighboring Bangladesh – 60 percent of more than 680,000 Rohingya refugees since August – face severe challenges, including inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health care, long-term psychological trauma, and the risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Myanmar’s military has long been implicated in the country’s ongoing ethnic armed conflicts, and the secretary-general’s report notes that security force abuses against women and girls have also taken place in recent fighting in Kachin and Shan States.

The military denies such abuses and has taken no apparent action to end them. A Rakhine State minister responded to reports last year saying: “Look at those women who are making these claims – would anyone want to rape them?”

Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, met Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military officials in December to secure commitments to address conflict-related sexual violence. But the government has repeatedly refused to engage. 

The Security Council also heard today from Razia Sultana, a Rohingya lawyer and advocate who appealed to the council to refer the full range of atrocities in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. It’s now up to the council to take action on the military’s egregious crimes and heed her call.

Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State.

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