(Geneva) – The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has specialized expertise on the United Nations, particularly UN peacekeeping, and the Balkans. Hicks is responsible for coordinating Human Rights Watch's advocacy team and providing direction to advocacy worldwide. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2005, Hicks served as director of the Office for Returns and Communities in the UN mission in Kosovo. She has also worked for the International Human Rights Law Group (now Global Rights), the Deputy High Representative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the former Yugoslavia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as clinical professor of human rights and refugee law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Hicks is a graduate of Columbia Law School and the University of Michigan.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Shortly after arriving in New York as Donald Trump’s representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said she would be “taking names” of those who stood in her way. Most assumed she was referring to governments that blocked U.S. initiatives at the United Nations Security Council. Recently, however, she has started attacking Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation last week, she said that by opposing her reform agenda for the U.N. Human Rights Council, we had “sided with Russia and China.”  

Government hostility is an occupational hazard of human rights work. No one likes having their abuses investigated and exposed, or the resulting pressure for change. After Human Rights Watch revealed Rwanda’s use of torture, for example, the government called us “desperate for attention.” When we described the Venezuelan government’s corruption-fueled repression, it claimed we were “an ideological weapon of the North American empire.” Some years ago, as we described Beijing’s crushing of independent voices, a Chinese government spokesperson colorfully suggested, “Their eyesight has always had problems. ... Maybe they are wearing tinted glasses, or only squinting.”

Successive U.S. administrations never have been immune from our scrutiny. We have challenged, for example, CIA torture and arbitrary detention, U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it bombs starving Yemeni civilians, and continued U.S. security assistance to Egypt as the government crushes any semblance of democracy. Within the United States, we’ve addressed a range of human rights problems, from mass incarceration to the treatment of migrants in detention.

Senior U.S. government officials periodically have disagreed with us, but it was a first to see us accused of siding with Russia and China — even as Presidents Trump and Putin were embracing in Helsinki. Nor can we remember a U.S. government official ever suggesting that we would lose access to them because of our criticism, as Haley also did.  

So what accounted for Haley’s vitriol? The Trump administration’s primary reason for leaving the Human Rights Council was its criticism of Israel. But because the Trump administration routinely opposes any criticism of Israel’s human rights violations, few applauded its move, given that the council inevitably will criticize Israel for its rights violations.

The U.S. government also criticized the composition of the council, because some abusive countries have managed to secure membership in a cynical effort to block council action. The council was designed a decade ago to discourage such members by requiring the U.N. General Assembly to vote on slates of candidates from each of the world’s five regions. When that competitive process works, some abusive governments have failed in their quest to join the council — most recently Russia, which lost a competitive election in October 2016 as it was bombing Eastern Aleppo in Syria.

However, several regions have circumvented the competitive process by proposing only the same number of candidates as open seats. One traditional offender is the Western group, of which the United States is a part, which left the U.S. government hard-pressed to discourage other regions from doing the same.

Despite this gaming of the electoral system, enough governments with a commitment to human rights have secured seats on the council that it has managed to open investigations, issue condemnations and generate pressure for many of the world’s most urgent situations, such as Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Burundi. Yet for the Trump administration’s one-dimensional human rights policy, none of that mattered as much as defending Israel.

Few human rights advocates quarrel with the aim of improving the council. The question is how. The problem is that just as many governments want to enhance the council’s effectiveness, others want to undermine it. A reform process under way in Geneva, where the council sits, proceeds by consensus, meaning that advances are difficult but major setbacks can be avoided.

Because that process was unlikely to remove an agenda item concerning the Israeli-occupied territories that was one basis for the U.S. complaint, the Trump administration preferred a more open-ended but riskier process at the U.N. General Assembly where the possibility of debilitating “reforms” was quite real. No other country joined the U.S. proposal. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International opposed it, leading to Haley’s denunciation.

While defending Israel was the dominant motive for U.S. withdrawal, other factors may have influenced the timing. Haley announced the decision to quit the same week that the U.N. high commissioner for human rights called the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the southern U.S. border “unconscionable,” and just as a U.N. special rapporteur was about to present a report on extreme poverty in America.

That timing suggests a larger problem with U.S. withdrawal from the council. Many Americans falsely believe that human rights protect only other people, as opposed to constitutional or civil rights, which protect Americans. But the withdrawal from the Human Rights Council reflects the Trump administration’s broader rejection of all rights constraints on its actions. The administration’s vendetta against the international human rights system, ironically, could end up reaffirming for Americans how important “human rights” are for them, too.  

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

A still from video shows green smoke from a chlorine attack by Syrian government forces in the Daheert Awwad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 22, 2016. © 2016 Aleppo Media Center

Stalled international efforts to hold to account those responsible for the slew of deadly chemical weapon attacks in Syria are alive again.

In June, countries party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) agreed to develop a plan to determine who is behind specific attacks in Syria, where the government and some armed groups have repeatedly used toxic agents as weapons. The vote to authorize the director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to prepare a plan came in the face of fierce resistance from Russia, Syria’s staunchest ally. The vote also opened up the possibility of conducting similar investigations in countries besides Syria if the need arises.

The courageous decision by delegates at a special CWC conference in The Hague came after Russia used its veto to kill an effort by the United Nations Security Council to hold those in Syria to account for the attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives.

After the Security Council created the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in 2015 to determine responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria, the JIM’s investigators accused both the Syrian government and Islamic State (also known as ISIS) of repeatedly using chemical weapons in the seven-year-old conflict. After the JIM confirmed that the government was responsible for an April 2017 nerve agent attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people, Russia decided to put an end to those investigations using its Security Council veto. Last November, the JIM went silent and was disbanded. Russian state media and its online sycophants filled the vacuum by spreading conspiracy theories and sowing confusion.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch continued to receive reports of air-delivered chemical attacks by the Syrian government. The scuttling of the UN-mandated investigation appeared to green-light new chemical attacks. These attacks continued in January and February, and in April, dozens were killed by what appears to have been a chemical attack in Douma, outside Damascus. 

Human Rights Watch, which has been documenting the use of chemical weapons in Syria since 2013, advocated relentlessly for a new mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria. After Russia used its Security Council veto to protect Damascus from international scrutiny, we partnered with a coalition of human rights, humanitarian and arms control groups to get a new investigation. First we asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to set up a mechanism on his authority, and later urged CWC states to create a permanent investigation mechanism at the OPCW. We warned that the longstanding ban on the use of chemical weapons was under threat due to Syria as well as nerve agent attacks in Britain and Malaysia. Governments heeded the call. Much of the credit goes to France, which first began pushing the OPCW idea, and then the French and British delegations that worked tirelessly to get delegations to show up and vote to help end impunity for using chemical weapons.

Good news on Syria is rare. But this was definitely a positive signal to the victims of these horrific weapons – that those who deploy them can be unmasked and may eventually be prosecuted. The days of Russia using its Security Council veto to suppress the truth about who is perpetrating chemical attacks in Syria are over.

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

People walk around the neighboring streets around the Fred Jordan Mission, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 12, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Is extreme poverty a serious problem in the world’s wealthiest country? Yes, says the United Nations’ expert, Philip Alston, who released a report on severe poverty in the United States last month. No, says the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, or at least not even close to the extent claimed. In fact, the US released a report  last week claiming that the US’ war on poverty was “largely over.” Haley also published an op-ed dismissing the Alston report as “patently ridiculous.” This was in part because, she said, the vast majority in the US do not live in poverty and also because thousands of government officials, non-profit, charitable and religious organizations try to address poverty in the United States.

That is true. And this impoverished minority still deserves our attention – 40 million according to US census data, though the White House prefers to use “consumption-based poverty” to argue that only 3 percent or roughly 10 million Americans are truly poor. The dramatic economic inequality in the US, reported to be the highest among Western countries, is one of the more compelling reasons to focus on American poverty.

Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, called on the US to “decriminalize being poor,” prompting Haley to retort that “nowhere in America is it a crime to be poor.” She’s right that US laws don’t literally make poverty a crime, but scores of state and local laws criminalize acts like loitering, panhandling and public urination that disproportionately impact the poor and homeless.

Human Rights Watch has documented how the cost of private probation supervision disproportionately harms the poor, often criminalizing a person’s inability to pay their probation fees and court costs and driving them further into poverty; how state bail systems penalize the poor; how criminalization reduces access to health care and services for the most vulnerable populations, such as sex workers and those seeking help with drug addiction; and many other ways state policies exacerbate and contribute to poverty here in the US.  

Haley also lambasted Alston for writing a report about the US when it provides the UN with more funding than any other country. Clearly a UN expert should not consider how much money a government gives to the UN when deciding what to investigate – that would risk unacceptable bias.

Rather than attacking the report, the Trump administration’s time would be better spent addressing its many legitimate concerns. 

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

UPDATE: On July 13, 2018, the UN Security Council voted to adopt a resolution extending the sanctions regime in South Sudan, imposing sanctions on two additional individuals and for the first time imposing a globally enforceable arms embargo on weapons sales and transfers to the country.


(New York,  July 12, 2018) - “How can I forget the sight of an old man whose throat was slit with a knife before being set afire?” a 14-year-old girl was quoted as saying in a new United Nations report, laying bare the suffering of South Sudan’s civilians at the hands their own government.

The report, by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), documents murder, rape, and other abuses by South Sudan’s soldiers and armed groups during an April-May military campaign in southern Unity state.

This new information underlines the need for the UN Security Council, which meets tomorrow, to finally level an arms embargo against South Sudan.

Many abuses in the report appear to be war crimes, and are consistent with previous abuses perpetrated during offensives documented by Human Rights Watch. In one attack, a 20-year-old woman – who had delivered a baby just three days earlier – described being raped by a government soldier.

In late May, a frustrated Security Council sent a powerful warning to the warring parties. Extending the UN sanctions regime, the council also said it would impose further sanctions and an arms embargo by July if the fighting between the parties continued and there was still no viable political agreement.

Fast forward to late June, when South Sudan’s leaders – under increasing pressure from the international community – signed another peace deal to end the nearly five-year long war. However, as has happened before, the parties broke the ceasefire within hours of signing it. Moreover, a June 29 letter to the council’s president from the UN secretary-general said the peacekeeping mission had documented “gross violations” in June.

Now, the Security Council has an opportunity to turn its warnings into decisive action. It should impose both individual sanctions and a long overdue arms embargo on the country, which through reducing the flow of weapons can mitigate risk of harm to civilians.

Instead of being drawn in by the latest political maneuvers from South Sudanese leaders, the council should address the suffering of South Sudan’s civilians. They’re the ones who need an arms embargo now.

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

The organizations listed below welcome the adoption on June 26th, 2018 of UN General Assembly Resolution 72/284 reviewing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which reaffirms states' commitment to global responses to terrorism. The UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy, first adopted in 2006, sets out a plan of action for the UN and member states at the global, regional, and national level to counter-terrorism.

Our organizations recognize the value of a global counter-terrorism strategy where human rights are an essential component. The resolution importantly reaffirms states' obligations to comply with international law, including international human rights law, while countering terrorism and that human rights are the “fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.”

We are, however, concerned at member states’ failure to adequately address human rights abuses and the increased militarisation of counter-terrorism approaches.  We are also concerned about member states’ failure to provide an enabling environment for civil society entities, including those relating to women, to be meaningfully engaged in the Strategy review.

In particular, this 6th review of the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy failed to sufficiently address the spread of human rights violations perpetrated while countering terrorism and the erosion of international humanitarian law in armed conflict.

The review missed the opportunity to bolster the Strategy’s too often neglected 4th Pillar that requires the mainstreaming of human rights in all counter-terrorism activity and underscores that the promotion and protection of human rights for all and the rule of law is essential to all components of the Strategy. As successive UN Special Rapporteurs on counter-terrorism and human rights have noted, the mainstreaming and resourcing of an integrated human rights infrastructure in countering terrorism is an urgent priority within the UN system.

Furthermore, references to the inclusion of women have remained unchanged since 2016, limiting an opportunity to strengthen gender analysis. There is a strong need to integrate a gender analysis of power and question systems and practices that deepen traditional gendered roles facilitating conflict and militarised security. Without a gender analysis of discrimination, violence, and lack of access to resources in relation to women and to different groups within societies, efforts to counter terrorism cannot be effective. Indeed, measures developed without gender analysis often prove counterproductive.

These omissions not only erode the protection and promotion of human rights globally, but ultimately are self-defeating in ensuring sustainable long term responses to terrorism. 

Finally, at a time when civic space is being systematically eroded around the world under the pretext of countering terrorism, we are deeply disappointed that the review does not recognize the essential role that civil society plays in guarding against abusive counter-terrorism practices and responding to and preventing the conditions conducive to terrorism. Fundamental rights underpinning the work of civil society must be protected. States can and should do better, and make sure the UN does too.

On a positive note, we welcome the review’s emphasis on the role of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) to share information with relevant United Nations counter-terrorism bodies and relevant international, regional and subregional organizations. However, this sharing can only take place with the permission of those member states under CTED assessment; though we recall, as CTED itself has emphasized, that information may only be shared in a manner consistent with human rights, we urge these states to not require the Directorate to keep such information confidential.

We also welcome the request in the review for the Secretary-General to report annually on the progress of the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism in increasing transparency in selection and funding of projects and their impact, as well as on the efficiency of shared funding arrangements. The aim of this request is to ensure meaningful assessment of the UN Counter-Terrorism Architecture at the 7th review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. We urge the Secretary-General to prioritize this important task.

Co-signatories:

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19

Fair Trials

Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect

Global Center on Cooperative Security

Human Rights Clinic (Columbia Law School)

Human Rights Watch

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Open Society Justice Initiative

Privacy International

Reprieve

Rights Watch UK

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United Nations logo is pictured in front of the United Nations Headquarters building during the 71st United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 22, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Last week was counterterrorism week at United Nations headquarters in New York. Conference rooms and the General Assembly hall were abuzz as national intelligence and security chiefs from around the globe met with UN officials on how to confront the scourge of transnational extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, and al-Shabaab.

In one room, delegates from the African Union, France and Peru discussed freezing terrorist finances. In another, UN officials unveiled their action plan for imams to preach against violence. In a third, European Union and Saudi counterterrorism directors compared notes on prosecuting, rehabilitating and reintegrating nationals who had returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Distressingly, however, few discussions delved into a core element of the UN’s official guide to member countries for countering terrorism. That guide, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, lists human rights as its “fourth pillar.” Not only are violations of human rights unlawful, they can backfire and fuel further terrorism, according to the strategy, which entered into force in 2006 and was reaffirmed by the General Assembly just last week.

To his credit, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the strategy in a keynote speech Thursday, which kicked off a two-day summit of national security and intelligence directors that capped last week’s proceedings.

“No one is born a terrorist, but we know that factors such as prolonged unresolved conflicts, lack of the rule of law, human rights abuses, poverty, lack of opportunities and socioeconomic marginalization can all play a part in transforming ideas and grievances into acts of terrorism,” Guterres said. “So, preventing and resolving conflicts and promoting the rule of law and social and economic progress are our first lines of defense.”

But there is an enormous disconnect between those lofty words and the reality on the ground. Around the world, countries are routinely rolling back human rights protections in the name of countering terrorism. Victims of heavy-handed policies include bloggers, peaceful protesters, civil society activists, and people targeted because of their religion, ethnicity or nationality.

In Australia, the government can strip citizenship from dual nationals as young as 14, without requiring a criminal conviction, if they are suspected of carrying out serious terrorism crimes abroad. In Spain and France, musicians, journalists and others have been prosecuted for “glorification of terrorism” or “apology for terrorism” even if their comments are not intended to incite violence or support an  extremist armed group. In Europe, governments are citing terrorism concerns to justify closing borders to immigrants and refugees.

In Iraq, thousands of suspects are being prosecuted in deeply flawed trials for membership in the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Even cooks, cleaners or supporters not involved in combat are receiving sentences of life in prison, or death.

In Syria, Iraq and Libya, some 3,000 foreign wives and children of ISIS members have been crowded into jails  or cordoned into de-facto detention camps for months. The children are victims of their parents’ decisions and many wives claim they unwillingly accompanied their husbands. Yet most of their governments aren’t lifting a finger to ensure fair trials or, if they aren’t being prosecuted, to help retrieve them from foreign detention.

In Somalia, security agents  are in some cases holding children incommunicado or  physically abusing them to extract confessions when they suspect them of links to al-Shabaab. In Nigeria, women and girls who survived the brutality of Boko Haram have reportedly been raped by security forces who claimed to be rescuing them.

Clearly, governments face enormous challenges in confronting terrorism. Rarely a week goes by without an armed extremist attack on ordinary people in one or more parts of the world, and governments have a responsibility to protect everyone under their jurisdiction from harm. But as the gatekeeper of world peace and security, the UN should be intervening to prevent serious counterterrorism violations of rights with the same urgency that it seeks to stem extremist attacks. Instead, if anything, the UN has been enabling member countries’ heavy-handed tactics in the 17 years since September 11, 2001.

The Security Council in particular has issued a string of binding resolutions that require UN member countries to criminalize an array of potentially terrorist activities but that largely fail to describe what constitutes a terrorist act. This gives governments a green light to concoct definitions that can be broadly used to designate individuals or groups as terrorists simply because they don’t like them or because they’re political opponents.

Much of the UN infrastructure to monitor member states’ compliance with these mandates has been dominated by countries with terrible human rights records, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—although mature democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which have their own histories of counterterrorism abuses, also have played influential roles.

Over at the General Assembly last week, delegates from human rights-respecting countries had to fight hard to keep protective language from being weakened in the June 26 resolution that reviewed and reaffirmed the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

In one positive development, the June 26 statement calls for greater transparency from the UN’s year-old Office of Counterterrorism (OCT), which was established to bring coherence to the efforts of more than three dozen UN entities involved in counterterrorism efforts. The call was timely: the OCT’s dealings remain largely opaque.

The review also calls for the secretary-general to assess the OCT’s work, including its efforts to increase transparency, and to report on its progress next year. The aim is to start a meaningful review of the UN’s counterterrorism architecture. Guterres should take this task seriously.

Member states, in turn, should heed new guidelines drafted by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on responses to the phenomenon of foreign fighters. The guidelines were unveiled in one of last week’s few rights-related sessions. They fill in the blanks in overly broad Security Council mandates by spelling out what member countries need to do to ensure their laws and measures don’t sidestep human rights. As for the Security Council, it should define terrorism narrowly to make it harder for states to infringe on fundamental rights and target dissidents and political opponents.

Absent these efforts, last week’s flurry of UN meetings will end up being just another missed opportunity to transform respect for human rights from a rhetorical pillar into a national security imperative.

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

Newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, speaks with the outgoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, after administrating the oath of office at the presidential building "Shital Niwas" in Kathmandu, Nepal on February 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar
(Geneva) – As the Nepal government begins a process of consultations around proposed amendments to the transitional justice mechanisms, two international organizations have called on authorities to take into account concerns of all stakeholders and to ensure that the amendments comply with international human rights standards and international crimes. The current draft law fails to address the many gaps in Nepali law that make it difficult to prosecute, especially at senior levels, for international crimes such as torture and crimes against humanity. The Nepal government has ensured an extension of its two transitional justice commissions while also committing to future amendments to comply with international standards and Supreme Court rulings, the groups said. The government is holding consultations around a proposed Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CEIDP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (Amendment) Bill.

“While Nepal has engaged in a transitional justice process over the last few years, with official commissions collecting complaints, holding meetings and generic consultations throughout the country, this is still without any tangible result, and victims say it has left them confused,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For a successful, internationally accepted process, the authorities in Nepal should focus on providing justice to victims, not engage in trying to get perpetrators off the hook.”

For a successful, internationally accepted process, the authorities in Nepal should focus on providing justice to victims, and not engage in trying to get perpetrators off the hook.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists issued the statement after the Nepal government shared a draft bill purportedly to amend flaws in the laws of the CEIDP and TRC Acts. Ahead of submitting further analysis and recommendations in the consultative process, the organizations said that Nepal authorities should take into account concerns of all stakeholders, including the groups representing victims of serious crimes by all sides during the civil war, other civil society organizations, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Nepal’s new government under Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli of the Nepal Communist Party promised that the Nepali law on transitional justice would be brought into conformity with international law and standards as had been directed several times by the Supreme Court. After years of previous governments failing to comply with the Supreme Court rulings, the new attorney general had announced that reforms to the law were underway, which victims’ groups said gave new hope, and as explicitly requested by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and human rights organizations.

While positive changes are noticeable including in relation to reparations, the proposed law authorizes the two transitional justice commissions to authorize prosecutions without strengthening the commissions themselves, proposes a special court without clear guidelines on impartial investigations, and includes a section permitting non-custodial sentences for the most serious crimes. These raise concerns that the proposed draft may not meet international standards of justice and accountability.

The two commissions, which experts say require crucial bolstering, have conducted country-wide hearings and gathered nearly 60,000 cases between them. Victim groups complain that the process has been arbitrary and confusing.

The organizations also noted a number of continuing obstacles to justice, which the bill has not addressed. These include the continued failure to incorporate specific crimes into Nepali law that are serious crimes under international law, including torture, enforced disappearance, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In addition, the bill provides for the wholly inadequate sanction of short-term community service as an alternative punishment for those convicted of serious crimes, which may constitute effective impunity. Nor does the bill address the question of command and superior responsibility for such crimes, leaving doubt as to whether those at the highest levels of authority will be held accountable for these crimes.

The international organizations were invited to a meeting with the attorney general and other stakeholders on June 21 but did not have a translated draft available ahead of the discussion.

However, during the consultation, the groups stressed the need for meaningful consultations on the bill. The organizations noted also that universal jurisdiction, which allows for any state to prosecute those believed to have engaged in torture, enforced disappearance, or other serious crimes under international law, will remain an available option for victims to seek justice in cases of serious abuses during the civil war.

“Without a justice process that meets international standards for prosecuting the most serious crimes, such as torture and enforced disappearances, anyone suspected of such crimes in Nepal risks arrest, extradition, and prosecution in the many countries that are committed to prosecuting such crimes,” said Ian Sedierman, Legal and Policy director at International Commission of Jurists. “It is very welcome that the Nepal government is finally looking to address longstanding demands of war victims and should use this opportunity to abide by its obligations, draw up security sector reforms, and pave the way to end impunity.”

Background:

Nepal’s civil war, fought between the insurgent Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (CPN-M) forces and the government, ended in 2006. The armed conflict lasted a decade and led to nearly 13,000 deaths, 1,300 reported enforced disappearances, abductions, torture, and ill-treatment, including sexual violence; and other abuses by both parties. The war led to an extraordinary effort by the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights to set up an office in the country, charged with monitoring and mapping conflict-related issues. The office issued a report on the violations they monitored. The UN also set up a separate United Nations Monitoring Mission in Nepal, which was charged with monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement.

However, since then, Nepal’s political leaders and security forces have all obstructed any efforts at accountability promised under the peace agreement, leading to concerns over commitment of the government towards its stated goal of securing transitional justice for victims of the war.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Introduction

This memorandum, submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (“the Committee”) ahead of its upcoming review of Russia, highlights areas of concern Human Rights Watch hopes will inform the Committee’s consideration of the Russian government’s (“the government’s”) compliance with the International Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention”). Human Rights Watch proposes recommendations herein that the Committee should raise with the Russian government.

This submission covers Human Rights Watch documentation on the following topics: allegations of torture and ill-treatment against government critics in the Chechen Republic; extrajudicial detention and torture of men presumed to be gay in the Chechen Republic; and allegations of torture and ill-treatment against suspects in terrorism cases.  

The submission also includes several cases of individuals from Crimea who have alleged torture by Russian officials since Russia began occupying the peninsula in 2014. They are: Oleg Sentsov and Gennady Afanasyev, who alleged torture by Russia’s security officials in 2015; and Renat Paralamov, who alleged torture by Russian security services in September 2017. To note, these cases are only a sample and not a comprehensive compilation of torture allegations related to Crimea.

It is important to recognize that violations of Russia’s most basic obligations under the Convention not to resort to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture and to hold accountable those who do are taking place not only in the contexts that Human Rights Watch has chosen to focus on.  On the contrary, the Committee’s upcoming review takes place against the backdrop of a broader deterioration of the human rights climate in Russia, with detrimental effects in particular on freedom of expression, assembly, and association as the authorities have moved to narrow the space for dissent. In implementing their crackdown on these human rights, Russian officials have repeatedly used unlawful and excessive force against those exercising these rights and subjected peaceful protestors and critics to inhuman and degrading treatment, including torture.

Human Rights Watch has closely monitored the human rights situation in Russia for many years. A major focus of our work in recent years has been uncovering extrajudicial detentions and use of torture and ill-treatment—as well as executions and enforced disappearances—by security officials in Russia’s Chechen Republic. Lasting impunity has served to perpetuate these abuses and has also contributed to the gradual loss of trust in Russian and international law by victimized local communities. As part of this work, we have documented grave violations of the Convention by the authorities in Chechnya and have produced materials setting out these findings. These include an August 2016 report[1] about violent government retaliation against critics in Chechnya and a May 2017 report[2] about the anti-gay purge carried out by Chechen security officials from February to April 2017. This submission summarizes elements of those reports.

Human Rights Watch has also closely monitored the Federal Security Service’s use of torture against terrorism suspects. We documented the forcible disappearance of and alleged use of torture against two suspects in the St. Petersburg suicide bombing of April 2017 in an extended press release in December 2017.[3] This submission also summarizes these two cases.

Human Rights Watch’s findings are consistent with patterns of torture and ill-treatment more broadly in Russia as documented by Russian human rights groups and international organizations. In an April 2015 report, the UN Human Rights Committee stated, “While noting that acts that may constitute torture or ill-treatment can be prosecuted under several articles of the Criminal Code, the Committee remains concerned about reports that torture and ill-treatment, including for the purpose of eliciting confessions, are still widely practiced.”[4]

We also wish to draw the Committee’s attention to a particularly prominent case that further serves to illustrate the extent of the crackdown on human rights defenders in Chechnya. Oyub Titiev, the Chechnya director of leading rights organization Memorial, remains imprisoned on spurious marijuana possession charges. To the best of our knowledge, Oyub Titiev has not been tortured. But it is clear that by arresting Titiev, the authorities are attempting to force Memorial, which is the only human rights organization that still maintains a presence in Chechnya, to shut down its operations in the region, leaving victims of the authorities’ egregious abuses—including torture and ill-treatment—nowhere else to turn for redress.

I. Ill-treatment and Use of Torture by Chechen Security Officials (Convention articles 2, 12, and 16)

For almost a decade Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, has steadily tried to eradicate all forms of dissent and has gradually built a tyranny within Chechnya. The repression has intensified since Russia’s last CAT review in 2014. Local authorities are cracking down on critics and anyone whose loyalty to Kadyrov they deem questionable. These include local residents who express dissenting opinions, critical Russian and foreign journalists, and the very few human rights defenders who challenge cases of abuse by Chechen law enforcement and security agencies.

Human Rights Watch’s August 2016 report, “Like Walking in a Minefield,” documented the methods the authorities used to retaliate against critics: abductions and enforced disappearances, cruel and degrading treatment, death threats, and threats against and physical abuse of their family members. We summarize some of these cases below.

Most interviewees from Chechnya asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against themselves or members of their families.

Khizir Ezhiev (forcibly disappeared, probably tortured, killed)

On December 19, 2015, unidentified gunmen abducted Khizir Ezhiev, a senior economics lecturer at the Grozny State Oil Technical University, from a service station where he was fixing his car. His body, which sustained numerous broken bones, was found on January 1, 2016 in the village of Roshni-Chu, about 40 kilometers from Grozny.

Ezhiev’s relatives later found out that the gunmen, who were in civilian clothes, initially took Ezhiev to a police precinct in Grozny. The relatives hoped to get him released in exchange for money, but a police official told them a few days later that Ezhiev had “escaped.”[5]

A close acquaintance of Ezhiev’s told Human Rights Watch that Ezhiev had participated in a closed group on the social media platform VKontakte that discussed the situation in the republic and expressed critical views of the Chechen leadership’s policies. Not long before Ezhiev’s detention, the group’s members apparently made derogatory comments about Kadyrov’s pilgrimage to Mecca, and Ezhiev wrote, “apparently, all sorts are welcome there these days.”[6]

A forensic report stated that Ezhiev allegedly died from internal bleeding after “falling off a cliff,” with one of his six broken ribs piercing a lung.[7] There is no official record of Ezhiev’s detention, and when Human Rights Watch’s report went to press in August 2016, no further investigation had been carried out into his death.

Khusein Betelgeriev (enforced disappearance and torture)

On the evening of March 31, 2016, two men who said they were from Chechen law enforcement forcibly disappeared Khusein Betelgeriev, a middle-aged Chechen poet and performer. They forcibly entered his house and ordered Betelgeriev to follow them, refusing to tell his wife where they were taking him. Betelgeriev’s family filed a missing persons report but received no information about his fate and whereabouts. He returned home 12 days later, badly beaten. It is unknown where Betelgeriev was held and by whom.

One of Betelgeriev’s acquaintances confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Betelgeriev’s captors had “beaten him to pulp” and that the state of his health was “devastating.” The acquaintance also said the he had multiple broken bones.[8]

A member of the Russian Union of Writers, Betelgeriev was also a senior faculty member at the Chechen State University until his sudden dismissal in 2015. An acquaintance of Betelgeriev’s told Human Rights Watch that he had lost his job at the university because of his views favoring Chechen separatism and his reluctance to support Ramzan Kadyrov publicly.[9]

On the day of his enforced disappearance, Betelgeriev had posted comments praising the Chechen separatist movement in a closed Facebook discussion group called “History of the Chechen Republic.”

Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Joint Mobile Group of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya, told Human Rights Watch that his organization approached Betelgeriev’s family and offered to organize medical assistance for him outside Chechnya.[10] The family refused and asked Kalyapin not to contact them again, suggesting that Betelgeriev was released from captivity on condition that he maintains complete silence about what had happened to him, a common practice in such cases.

Ramazan Dzhalaldinov (threats, house-burning, beating and other abuse of family-members, public humiliation)

On April 14, 2016, 56-year-old Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, from the village of Kenkhi, published a video timed for the live call-in show that President Vladimir Putin holds annually. Dzhalaldinov complained that the village was in ruins as a result of the two wars in Chechnya and cited the 2003 government regulation on compensation to civilians who lost housing and property due to military operations there. Dzhalaldinov argued that Chechen officials embezzled the funds allocated for reconstruction. The video was not broadcast during the call-in show but was shared widely online. Dzhalaldinov knew that Chechen authorities viciously retaliate against their critics, so after his video message was widely shared, he and his sons fled to neighboring Dagestan.

From mid-April through early May 2016, police officials visited Dzhalaldinov’s home several times, pressuring his family to reveal his whereabouts. On the night of May 13, a dozen gunmen in camouflaged uniforms forced their way into Dzhalaldinov’s house. The gunmen ordered Dzhalaldinov’s wife, Nazirat Nabieva, and their three daughters to get into their vehicles with their passports and birth certificates. A gunman pushed Nabieva to the floor with his automatic rifle when she begged them to leave the younger girls behind. The other gunmen dragged the crying children out of bed and into the vehicle and drove to the Sharoi regional police department.[11]

At the station, local police officials threatened and beat both Nabieva and her eldest daughter, demanding that they reveal the whereabouts of Dzhalaldinov and his sons. A police official held Nabieva while a more senior official punched her in the back, ribcage, and kidneys and kicked her with his booted feet. He also hit her with the butt of his gun, put the gun barrel to her head and neck, threatened to kill her, and fired the gun several times above her head. He said that he was punishing her for all the trouble caused by her husband.[12]

The same senior police official choked the eldest daughter and threatened to kill her, forcing her to give up the phone number of one of her brothers. He also hit her on the neck and in the back of the legs, saying she needed to persuade her father to retract all of his complaints if she wanted him and her brothers alive.[13]

After more than an hour, police officials drove Nabieva and her daughters to Chechnya’s border with Dagestan and, without returning their identification documents, told them to go to Dagestan and never return to Chechnya.[14] Unidentified men torched their house in Kenkhi and ordered the neighbors to stay silent. Later that day, Kadyrov said that Dzhalaldinov intentionally “took his family out of Chechnya and simulated an arson attack.”[15]

A few days later, Dzhalaldinov filed complaints with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the prosecutor’s office regarding the ill-treatment of his wife and daughters and house-burning by local police officials.[16] On May 15, unknown men unsuccessfully tried to kidnap Dzhalaldinov in front of a mosque in the Tsumadinsky district of Dagestan.[17]

On May 30, Dzhalaldinov appeared on Grozny TV giving an apologetic speech.[18] On the same day, Kadyrov posted on Instagram that he accepted Dzhalaldinov’s apology.[19] Dzhalaldinov immediately returned to Kenkhi with his family and withdrew his complaints about alleged abuses by police officials.

In November Dzhaladinov, who had begun to take steps to try to get compensation for his burned down house, fled Chechnya after Chechnya’s deputy minister for internal affairs, Apti Alautdinov, threatened him.[20]

II. Anti-Gay Purge (Convention articles 2, 12, 13, and 16)

From late February and through early-mid April 2017, security officials in Chechnya unlawfully rounded up dozens of men they believed were gay, searched their cell phones for contacts of other suspected gay men, and tried to coerce them—including through torture—into naming their gay acquaintances. They kept the men in several unofficial facilities where Chechen authorities have for years held and tortured individuals suspected of dissent, subversion, or terrorism. They exposed some of the captives to their families as gay and encouraged honor killings. At least two high-level local officials watched in some cases as police humiliated and tortured the detainees.

Chechen authorities responded to the allegations by denying the existence of gay people in Chechnya, suggesting obliquely that families should kill their gay relatives, and accusing journalists and human rights defenders of seeking to destabilize the republic. Chechen officials and public figures made serious threats against Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that broke the story.

The Russian LGBT Network opened a special hotline for those in immediate danger and provided evacuation-related assistance to 114 people from April 2017 to April 2018.[21] Most of them eventually found safe sanctuary abroad. Chechen police allegedly harassed relatives of those who fled, attempting to pressure them into disclosing the men’s whereabouts and forcing them to sign documents with false statements that the men were traveling outside Chechnya at the time the purge was occurring.

The Kremlin initially dismissed reports about the violence but, faced with consolidated international pressure, federal authorities eventually opened a preliminary inquest. By summer 2017, the investigation apparently stalled. In April 2018, it was officially closed. In May 2018, Acting Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov told the UN Human Rights Council, “The investigations that we carried out ... did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”[22]  In the course of the Russian authorities’ alleged investigation, no protections were offered to victims and their families, who would likely be at serious risk of reprisals from Chechen authorities if they reported the crimes.

Maxim Lapunov

In September 2017, Russian investigative authorities received an official complaint from one of the victims of the purge, Maxim Lapunov, detailing his detention and torture by Chechen security officials in March 2017. Lapunov is the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality. Since he is not from Chechnya and since he is openly gay, he is not vulnerable to the family pressures and dangers Chechen men face and therefore felt he could step forward.

At a news conference led by Novaya Gazeta, the Russian LGBT Network, and Human Rights Watch, Lapunov described how on March 16, 2017, he was selling balloons in central Grozny when security officials dragged him into a car and took him to a police compound. Lapunov said that security officials showed him torture devices and threatened to use them to “tear him apart.” 

The officials forced Lapunov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting,” which was designed as a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell during his 12-day confinement. He was beaten and witnessed and heard as security officials tortured—through beatings and use of electric shocks—other men presumed to be gay. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there.

Lapunov said that he did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs, and back were covered with hematomas. When he was released, he said that he “could barely crawl.” Six months after his detention, he said that he still suffered psychological distress from his ordeal.

Initially, Russian officials used the lack of official complaints and victims stepping forward to justify the absence of an effective investigation. However, as of May 2018, eight months after Lapunov filed his official complaint, Russian investigators have neither launched a criminal investigation into his complaint nor provided him the protection he requested.

III. Allegations of Torture Against Two Suspects in the St. Petersburg Bombing Case (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

Akram Azimov and his brother Abror, ages 29 and 26 respectively, are suspects in the St. Petersburg suicide bombing of April 3, 2017 that killed 16 people and injured 50 others. Both made credible allegations that Russian security agents forcibly disappeared them, tortured them, and then staged their arrests. In July 2017 the brothers’ lawyers, Olga and Dmitry Dinze, filed joint complaints with Russia’s Investigative Committee about their clients’ allegations of secret detention and torture.[23] Human Rights Watch interviewed the Azimov brothers’ parents and lawyers and reviewed court documents, media reports, Russian government statements, and FSB videos purporting to show the arrests.

The Azimov brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan and became naturalized Russian citizens in 2013. Both are accused of terrorism-related offenses and weapons possession. The FSB alleges that Abror coached Akbarzhon Jalilov, the suspected suicide bomber, by telephone before the attack.[24] Akram is accused of transferring money from an “international terrorist group” in Turkey to finance the attack and forging documents to help the group’s members freely move across Russia.[25]

In his complaint and accompanying statement, Abror said he was held in a black site somewhere in the Moscow area from April 4 to 17, 2017. He accused his captors of keeping his eyes covered for the first full week of his detention and torturing him for three days with methods including waterboarding, electroshocks to his genitals, and severe beatings to his kidneys. During his detention and while inflicting torture, FSB interrogators asked him questions about his religion and involvement in the bombing.

Abror said that on April 17, security agents drove him to a site outside Moscow, planted a handgun under the back beltline of his jeans, and videotaped his staged arrest. The video the FSB released to the public was widely aired and reported by national and international media.[26] Abror later recanted his statement about the torture after FSB agents threatened reprisals against him and his family members, according to a social media posting by his lawyer.[27]

Akram said in the joint complaint and his accompanying statement that on April 15, 2017, Kyrgyz plainclothes security agents forcibly removed him from a medical center in Osh (city in southern Kyrgyzstan) where he had undergone nasal surgery and then summarily transferred him to Russia. Akram’s statement makes no mention of any court approval of his transfer.

Upon arrival to Russia, he said he was held in a basement cell somewhere near Moscow and tortured for nearly four days, including with electroshocks, suffocation, and threats of rape. Interrogators asked him about his brother, other men allegedly involved in the attack, and his recent trip to Turkey. According to his statement, the interrogators made him memorize a detailed statement implicating his brother and several others as “terrorists.”

Akram said that on April 19, security agents drove him to a bus stop on the outskirts of Moscow and videotaped his staged arrest. That day the FSB released a video showing Akram’s purported arrest, which shows three agents approaching him as he sat on a bus stop bench in the outskirts of Moscow and uncovering a hand grenade that appears to be decades old in his hip pack.[28]

Akram’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that FSB agents threatened him after the complaint was filed. They allegedly threatened to rape his wife and continue to torture him unless he retracted his complaint. In October 2017, the Investigative Committee dismissed the complaint.

In the aftermath of the St. Petersburg bombing, Russian courts revoked the citizenship of Akhral Azimov, the Azimov brothers’ father, citing errors in his citizenship application. Akhral told Human Rights Watch that he believes the revocation amounted to “psychological pressure” to keep him from speaking out against his sons’ treatment.

On December 14, 2017, security officials detained Akhral and took him to the Kuntsevsky district police station in Moscow. According to Philipp Shishov, Akhral’s lawyer, a police deputy at that station told him that Akhral had later been transferred to FSB custody.[29] On December 15, Dmitry Dinze told Russian media that Akhral had been returned to Kyrgyzstan. FSB officials allegedly told Akhral that he should not attempt to re-enter Russia.[30]

IV. Allegations of Torture Against Suspected Members of Alleged Terrorist Group ‘Network’ (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

In January 2018, Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin—two left-wing activists in St. Petersburg—were forcibly disappeared and resurfaced two days later under arrest on charges of involvement in a terrorist organization (part 2, article 205.4 of the Criminal Code). A third activist, Ilya Kapustin, was detained as a witness in the case and was later released without charge. Records from medical exams conducted variously during and after their detentions and which Human Rights Watch reviewed indicate that all three men exhibited injuries consistent with electric shocks. Filinkov alleged that he was forced to memorize a confession under torture.

Russian media reported that all three men are suspects in an FSB investigation into the group “Network,”[31] alleged by Russian authorities to be a terrorist organization that they say planned— but did not carry out—violence aimed at destabilizing the country, including during the March 2018 presidential elections and during the World Cup.[32]

Members of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission (ONK, the Russian acronym), an independent body of experts authorized by the government to monitor places of detention,[33] documented Filinkov’s torture allegations and observed injuries consistent with torture on Filinkov and Shishkin, both of whom remain in custody since their arrest. Human Rights Watch spoke with a member of the ONK who documented the torture allegations and injuries.[34]

Human Rights Watch has also reviewed the ONK report detailing its findings, torture complaints submitted to the Investigative Committee, letters from the authorities responding to those complaints, the men’s medical records, and various local media reports. Human Rights Watch also corresponded with Kapustin’s lawyer.

Viktor Filinkov

Viktor Filinkov told ONK members that he was detained on January 23, 2018 at the Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg before boarding a flight to Minsk.[35] He said that a group of five or six men approached him, one of whom introduced himself as an FSB officer. The officers detained him, searched his belongings, confiscated his Kazakh passport (he is a citizen of Kazakhstan), and questioned him for at least an hour in an inspection room at the airport.

Afterward, Filinkov was taken to the Krasnogvardeiski District police station, where he was questioned and fingerprinted. Around 1 a.m. on January 24, he was taken to Aleksandrovskaya hospital for a medical examination. Between 3 and 7 a.m., Filinkov said that he was taken back into the van where there were several FSB officers and at least one man in a mask.

Filinkov said that the men drove him around a wooded area for several hours. One officer allegedly punched him several times in the chest, back, and back of the head and administered electric shocks to his leg, chest, neck, groin, and hands. The men threatened to administer electric shocks to his genitals and to leave him in the woods without his clothes. During that time Filinkov said that the FSB agents forced him to memorize a confession implicating himself in a terrorism plot and threatened that if he refused to confess, his current treatment would merely be a “softer version of what will be.”

At around 7 a.m. he was returned to the police station and wrote a confession. He was then taken to his home for a search, where he was also asked to change out of his bloodstained clothes. He did not have a lawyer present during the search. That evening, nearly 30 hours after he was detained at the airport, he was officially charged with involvement in a terrorist organization (part 2, article 205.4 of the Criminal Code), and the Dzerzhinskii District Court in St. Petersburg remanded him to pretrial custody.[36]

Filinkov’s lawyer, Vitaly Cherkasov, visited him in detention on January 26 and observed numerous burns on his body that appeared to be from electric shocks. On January 27, Cherkasov filed a complaint with the Federal Prison Service about his client’s injuries, as well as Filinkov’s allegations that he had been tortured.[37] On February 27, Cherkasov received a reply from the Ministry of Justice indicating that an investigation had revealed that Filinkov exhibited bodily injuries but that according to Filinkov, they were not life-threatening.[38]

Filinkov also provided testimony alleging torture to two St. Petersburg ONK members during a January 26 visit. ONK member Ekaterina Kosarevskaya filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee on January 27 detailing Filinkov’s torture allegations and the injuries that she observed during a visual examination, including burns on his chest and right hip.[39] On February 2, St. Petersburg ONK members performed a secondary examination together with prison medical staff and observed approximately 33 marks that appear to have been caused by electric shocks on Finiknov’s right hip and chest area.[40]

Filinkov and his wife also filed separate complaints with the Investigative Committee about the torture Filinkov sustained while in FSB custody. On April 17, the Investigative Committee issued a decision declining to open a criminal case in relation to the complaints filed.[41]

On March 14, Filinkov was moved from Federal Remand Center No. 3 to Federal Remand Center No. 6, where St. Petersburg ONK members do not have access. Leningrad Region ONK members have been able to visit him there and reported no further allegations of torture or ill-treatment as of April 16.[42] On June 19, the Dzerzhinskii District Court extended Filinkov’s pretrial detention until October 22.[43]

Notably, Filinkov’s lawyers and the two St. Petersburg ONK members who first documented the torture allegations were the target of a smear campaign by NTV, a pro-Kremlin nationwide television station. In April, an NTV program aired which accused them of “defending terrorists.”[44]

Igor Shishkin

Igor Shishkin disappeared around 5 p.m. on January 25, 2018 as he was walking his dog. His wife told media that FSB agents arrived at their apartment later that evening with the dog and a search warrant but did not inform her about her husband’s whereabouts. The agents searched the apartment.[45]

ONK members assisted Shishkin’s family in trying to locate him by contacting the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region FSB offices, the prosecutor’s office, and the St. Petersburg Human Rights Ombudsman.[46]

Shishkin’s location became known only on January 27, when he resurfaced at the Dzerzhinskii District Court in St. Petersburg. The court remanded him to pretrial custody, as he had been charged with involvement in a terrorist organization. Journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, but a friend of Shishkin’s who was present at the hearing said that Shishkin had bruising around his eyes.[47]

Members of the St. Petersburg ONK visited Shishkin on January 27 and observed bruising around his left eye, an abrasion on his left cheek, and a split lower lip. Shishkin told ONK members that he received the bruises from sports training. In the ONK’s report, it was noted that “Shishkin looked badly beaten and depressed, asked permission from prison officers before taking any actions, and asked ONK members not to do anything that could displease the officers.”[48]

On February 2, ONK members examined Shishkin again in the presence of prison medical staff and noted numerous bruises on his back that appeared to be burns. They reviewed a detention center medical record that noted the existence of “small-dot bruises” that could be observed “on the entire surface of [his] back,” as well on on his buttocks and back of his thighs.[49] An ONK member who observed the injuries told Human Rights Watch that the bruises were identical to the electric shock burns on Filinkov’s body.[50] At the time, Shishkin told ONK members that he did not know how he got the bruises.[51]

At time of writing, Shishkin had not filed a complaint about ill-treatment. He remains in Federal Remand Prison No. 3. On June 18, the Dzerzhinskii District Court extended Shishkin’s pretrial detention until October 22.[52]

Ilya Kapustin

Ilya Kapustin alleged that he was tortured by FSB officials in a complaint he filed with the Investigative Committee and in an account he gave to Russian media.[53]  The accounts are nearly identical. He said that he was detained in St. Petersburg on January 25 around 9:30 p.m. by several masked men who threw him to the ground, kicked him several times, placed him in handcuffs, and dragged him into a minivan. The handcuffs were tightened to the extent that they left visible marks on his wrists.[54]

Kapustin said that the men drove him around in the minivan for four hours while they questioned him about his participation in political organizations, trips to the city of Penza, and the political activities of his acquaintances.[55] He said that during the questions, one of the men administered no fewer than 40 electric shocks to his groin and the sides of his abdomen. Kapustin said that at one point, one of the men stood on his legs to hold him down while the other men administered electric shocks. Russian media released photographs of burns on his body. Kapustin said that officers threatened to break his legs and leave him in the forest.[56]

Around 1:30 a.m. on January 26, Kapustin said, he was taken to an FSB facility in St. Petersburg and was interrogated for about an hour. He said that he was threatened with a “second round” if he did not answer all of the questions. He was then taken to his home, where FSB officers led a search. During the search, FSB officers threatened to plant grenades in his apartment and to launch a criminal case against him. The officers left without charging him.[57]

Later that day, Kapustin went to a clinic to seek treatment for his injuries. Documentation from the clinic noted the existence of multiple contusions on his face and ribcage; electrical burns on his stomach, right hip, and groin; and linear bruising on his wrists.[58] On January 29, the St. Petersburg Health Committee carried out a forensic medical exam to determine the cause and extent of his injuries. The exam summarized Kapustin’s injuries as noted in his medical record from the clinic and detailed Kapustin’s allegations that he had been subjected to electric shocks by masked individuals who Kapustin said he later learned were FSB officers. The survey concluded that the injuries did not cause serious harm to health.[59]  

On February 9, Kapustin filed a criminal complaint with the Investigative Committee regarding his treatment by FSB officers.[60] On April 20, the Investigative Committee informed him that a criminal case would not be opened in relation to his complaint.[61] According to Kapustin’s lawyer, Dmitry Gerasimov, investigative authorities claimed officers needed to use electric shocks because Kapustin had resisted FSB orders during his detention. Gerasimov said that he and Kapustin plan to appeal against the Investigative Committee’s decision not to open a criminal case.

Gerasimov told Human Rights Watch that Kapustin has since fled Russia and is seeking asylum in Finland.[62]

V. Crimea-Related Cases (articles 2, 12, 13, 15, and 16)

Allegations of Torture in the Case of Oleg Sentsov

In August 2015, a Russian military court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in a high-security penal colony for supposedly running a “terrorist organization.” His alleged accomplice, Crimean activist Olexander Kolchenko, received a 10-year term for his role in an alleged “terrorist attack” and participation in a “terrorist organization.” When Russia occupied Crimea in spring of 2014, Sentsov spoke out against the occupation and helped to evacuate stranded Ukrainian soldiers from military bases in Crimea.

The organization that Russian authorities accuse Sentsov of running allegedly carried out two arson attacks in Crimea in April 2014—one on the offices of the Russian Community in Crimea association and another at the headquarters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party in Simferopol. No one was injured in either attack. During his trial, prosecutors provided no evidence of his personal involvement in the arson attacks.

The charges against Sentsov for running a terrorist organization were based solely on testimony from two other alleged members of the group. One of them, Gennady Afanasyev, withdrew his testimony toward the end of Sentsov’s trial, saying it had been extracted under torture. In court, Afanasyev alleged that Russian security service officials viciously beat him during interrogations, suffocated him with a gas mask, stripped him naked, and threatened him with rape to force him to testify against Sentsov. Sentsov also made allegations of ill-treatment in custody and claimed that law enforcement officials hit him on his back.

The authorities did not investigate these allegations. During Sentsov’s trial, prosecutors argued that his visible wounds were the result of a long-standing involvement in sadomasochistic sexual practices.[63]

Torture of Renat Paralamov in Nizhnegorskiy, Crimea

In September 2017, Russia’s security services detained Renat Paralamov, a Crimean Tatar who worked as a trader at a local market in the town of Nizhnegorskiy, on suspicion of involvement with the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned as a terrorist organization in Russia since 2003 but is not proscribed in Ukraine or in most of Europe. Paralamov later alleged that the officials tortured him to coerce him into becoming an informant.

On September 13, a group of masked men in Nizhnegorskiy searched the house where Paralamov lived with his family. They said that they needed to search for “weapons and drugs.” During the search, they seized Paralamov’s laptop and tablet, as well as a book on Islam belonging to his mother-in-law. After the search, the men put Paralamov in a van and drove away.

For more than 24 hours, Paralamov’s family and lawyer had no contact with him or information about his whereabouts. Paralamov’s lawyer and a group of activists called and visited police and FSB departments in Nizhnegorskiy and Simferopol asking about him, but they got no answers as to his whereabouts or even a confirmation of his arrest. On the morning of September 14, a policeman told Paralamov’s family and friends, who had gathered outside a Nizhnegorskiy police station, that the local FSB department had released Paralamov the day before but that he “voluntarily” went back to “provide further answers” to the authorities’ questions.

At around about 12:30 p.m. on September 14, Paralamov called his family from a bus station in Simferopol. He said he had been badly beaten and was shaken and unable to walk. Paralamov’s family took him to a hospital in Simferopol to document his injuries, which included multiple hematomas and bruises.

At the end of September, Paralamov managed to leave Crimea with his family. After he arrived in Kyiv, he spent 15 days in a hospital to get treatment for his injuries.

During a news conference in Kyiv in early November, Paralamov described his detention and torture. He said that after the FSB took him to the station, they put a bag over his head, put tape over his mouth, and tortured him with electric shocks. They also punched him in the chest and hit him on the back of his head. When he asked for a lawyer, an FSB agent punched him in the chest and told him, “I’m your lawyer.”

Paralamov said the FSB agents asked him about his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and demanded that he become an informant, attend Crimean Tatars’ gatherings, collect information, and pass it on to the authorities. They also forced him to sign a document claiming that he left the FSB station in Simferopol on September 13 and voluntarily returned to confess to involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir and that he voluntarily agreed to “cooperate” with the FSB.

Paralamov said that the next day, the authorities took him to a forest, where they made him repeat his confession on camera. The authorities told Paralamov that if he cooperated, he would get a three-year conditional sentence rather than real prison time and told him not to use a Crimean lawyer but the lawyer that they would provide.[64]

Recommendations for Steps the Government of Russia Should Be Urged to Take:

Regarding Russia’s obligations under the Convention

  • Publicly affirm Russia’s commitment to support and abide by the international prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, including by adopting and enforcing a policy of zero tolerance for ill-treatment and torture, whether on the streets, during arrests, or in detention. This includes the robust and effective investigation of allegations of ill treatment, coupled with prompt and effective sanctions against all officials found to be responsible for or complicit in prohibited treatment. Such sanctions should include criminal prosecution and penalties.
  • Ensure anyone who alleges that they have been the victim of prohibited treatment at the hands of a state agent—no matter which agency or rank and whether at a regional or federal level—has access to an effective remedy, meaning an effective complaint mechanism that will carry out an independent and thorough investigation into the allegations and is capable of leading to reparations for the victim and accountability for those responsible. All findings of such investigations should be made public.
  • Respect, protect, and facilitate the work of independent civil society groups and activists to monitor and report on Russia’s compliance with its Convention obligations and to provide assistance to victims of violations, including by ending the crackdown on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and by repealing legislation that restricts these freedoms and allowing human rights defenders to carry out their work without undue hindrance or fear of persecution.

Regarding the anti-gay purge and other abuses in Chechnya

  • Publicly condemn in the strongest terms the 2017 anti-gay purge in Chechnya. The authorities should lead a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment against gay men in Chechnya and ensure genuine anonymity and other protections for victims, witnesses, and their families so that they may participate in the investigation. This includes allowing them to testify remotely.
  • Ensure all Chechen authorities—including law enforcement and security agencies—fully comply with Russia’s obligations under the Convention, including by immediately shutting down all unofficial detention facilities in Chechnya.
  • Immediately and unconditionally release Oyub Titiev and drop the false charges against him so that he may continue his work in documenting human rights abuses—including torture and ill-treatment—in Chechnya.

Regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment, particularly against alleged terrorism suspects

  • Conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state officials tortured and ill-treated Akram and Abror Azimov at an extrajudicial detention facility in the course of their investigation into the St. Petersburg metro bombing of April 3, 2017.
  • Conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state officials tortured and ill-treated suspects in the FSB’s investigation into the group “Network.” This should include reopening criminal complaints filed by Viktor Filinkov and Ilya Kapustin and launching a thorough investigation into the treatment of other suspects in the case who are currently in detention in St. Petersburg and in Penza. In the course of the investigation, protections should be granted to victims of torture. Those responsible for any mistreatment should be held accountable, and Filinkov and Shishkin should be provided remedies. Any incriminating testimony Filinkov and Shishkin gave under duress should be deemed inadmissible in court.
  • Examine the Investigative Committee’s role and effectiveness in conducting investigations into torture allegations to determine whether they meet Russia’s obligations under the Convention.

Regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Crimea

  • Conduct a thorough investigation into use of torture and ill-treatment against those accused of terrorism in Crimea, including the use of torture to extract confessions. Immediately release Oleg Sentsov, whose imprisonment is politically motivated and based on a witness account extracted under torture. Drop all charges against Renat Paralamov.

[1] Human Rights Watch report, “Like Walking in a Minefield,” August 2016, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/chechnya0816_1.pdf.

[2] Human Rights Watch report, “They Have Long Arms and Can Find Me,” May 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/chechnya0517_web.pdf.

[3] “Russia: Threats, Alleged Torture in Bombing Case,” Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/05/russia-threats-alleged-torture-bombing-case.

[4] United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7, April 28, 2015, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7&Lang=En (accessed May 31, 2018).

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with a close acquaintance of Ezhiev (name withheld), July 7, 2016.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kheda Saratova post to Facebook, January 2, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201097921207796&set=a.27564223... ater (accessed June 5, 2018).

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with an acquaintance of Khusein Betelgeriev (name and relationship withheld), April 9, 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Igor Kalyapin, April 27, 2016.

[11] GazetaChernovik, “Ramazan Dzhalaldinov’s wife and daughter say they were expelled from Chechnya [Жена и дочь Рамазана Джалалдинова рассказали, как их прогнали из Чечни],” video clip, YouTube, May 13, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-A7HQLVTws (accessed June 9, 2016). Also based on information Human Rights Watch received in May 2016 from Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, Elena Milashina who covered his case for Novaya Gazeta, and human rights lawyers of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture who interviewed Ramazan Dzhalaldinov and his immediate family members.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Kadyrov says arson attack on the Dzhalaldinov’s home is a lie [Кадыров назвал ложными сообщения о поджоге дома Джалалдинова],” Caucasian Knot, May 14, 2016, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/282459/ (accessed June 9, 2016).

[16] Human Rights Watch communications in May 2016 with Elena Milashina who covered Dzhalaldinov’s case for Novaya Gazeta, with Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, and with human rights lawyers of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture who interviewed Dzhalaldinov and his immediate family members.

[17] “Witnesses informed about attempted kidnapping of Dzhalaldinov [Очевидцы заявили о попытке похищения Джалалдинова],” Caucasian Knot, May 18, 2016, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/282719 (accessed June 9, 2016).

[18] “Kenkhi resident Dzhalaldinov apologized to Kadyrov for unreasonable accusations [Житель села Кенхи Джалалдинов принес извинения Кадырову за необоснованные обвинения],” TASS, May 30, 2016, http://tass.ru/obschestvo/3325442 (accessed June 9, 2016).

[19] Ramzan Kadyrov (Kadyrov_95) post to Instagram, “Assalamu alaikum! Anybody can make mistake [Ассаламу алайкум! Любому человеку свойственно ошибаться],” https://www.instagram.com/p/BGCk4xrCRjF/?hl=ru (accessed August 4, 2016).

[20] Tanya Lokshina, “Tyranny Versus a Village Man in Chechnya,” Human Rights Watch, December 12, 2016.

[21] Rosbalt press conference with Igor Kochetkov and Elena Milashina, April 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKXe0j_7zqg&feature=youtu.be (accessed June 6, 2018).

[22] “Russia Tells UN There Are No Gays in Chechnya,” Moscow Times, May 15, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-tells-un-there-are-no-gays-in-chechnya-61450 (accessed June 6, 2018).

[23] Nurjamal Djanivekova, “St. Petersburg Blast Suspects Claim Torture in Russian Jail,” Eurasianet, July 31, 2017, https://eurasianet.org/node/84571 (accessed May 29, 2018).

[24] Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation statement, April 17, 2017, http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/press/message/single.htm%21id%3D10438115%40fsbMessage.html (accessed May 29, 2018).

[25] “St. Pete Metro Blast Suspect Received Money from Terrorist Group in Turkey,” Sputnik International, April 20, 2017, https://sputniknews.com/russia/201704201052820547-st-petersburg-metro-blast-suspect-money-turkey/ (accessed May 31, 2018).

[26] “FSB publishes video of arrest of organizer of explosion in St. Petersburg metro,” 24.kg News Agency, April 18, 2017, https://24.kg/english/49773_FSB_publishes_video_of_arrest_of_organizer_of_explosion_in_St_Petersburg_metro_/ (accessed May 29, 2018).

[27] Dmitry Dinze post to Facebook, July 26, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1561547997229669&id=100001234515802 (accessed May 29, 2018).

[28] “The FSB detained the brother of the suspected organizer of the terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg metro [ФСБ задержала брата предполагаемого организатора теракта в метро Петербурга],” YouTube, April 19, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_YLp2pA5KY (accessed May 29, 2018).

[29] Margarita Alekhina, “Police announce the detention of St. Petersburg terrorist attack suspects’ father [В полиции заявили о задержании отца обвиняемых в петербургском теракте],” https://www.rbc.ru/society/14/12/2017/5a32c49c9a7947d76c0b31eb (accessed May 31, 2018).

[30] “Father of St. Petersburg terrorist attack suspects expelled from Russia [Отца обвиняемых в теракте в петербургском метро выдворили из России],” Republic, December 15, 2017, https://republic.ru/posts/88439 (accessed May 31, 2018).

[31] Russian media reported that some of the other men arrested in connection with the case also sustained torture while in custody of the FSB. Anna Kozkina and Yegor Skovoroda, “Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Torture in Remand Prison [Арестованные в Пензе антифашисты рассказали о пытках током в подвале СИЗО],” Mediazona, February 9, 2018, https://zona.media/article/2018/02/09/penza-tortures (accessed June 2, 2018).

Russian human rights defenders have made public statements indicating that there is credible reason to believe that this is true. Rosbalt press conference, YouTube, February 15, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jBQ-NbNIUs&feature=youtu.be (accessed June 3, 2018).

[32] Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy, “Connected by one ‘Network.’ The developing case of the ‘anarchists’ who planned to overthrow the regime [Связанные одной ‘Сетью’. Как раскручивается дело об ‘анархистах’, планировавших свергнуть режим],” Republic, January 31, 2018, https://republic.ru/posts/89236 (accessed June 1, 2018).

[33] See the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission website at: https://onk.su/about-onk/

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Ekaterina Kosarevskaya, member of the St. Petersburg POC, June 5, 2018.

[35]Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018, publicly available at http://onkspb.ru/files/download/27/0a4628cc (accessed June 6, 2018). Also see: Viktor Filinkov, “’You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!’: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services,” Open Democracy, February 28, 2018, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way (accessed June 1, 2018). Filinkov was en route to Kyiv, Ukraine via Minsk, Belarus.

[36] St. Petersburg Courts Press Service post to Telegram, January 25, 2018, https://t.me/SPbGS/1620 (accessed June 2, 2018)

[37] Letter from Viktor Cherkasov to the director of the Federal Prison Service and to the manager of Remand Center No. 3, January 27, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[38] Letter from the Ministry of Justice to Viktor Cherkasov, February 27, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[39] Complaint on file with Human Rights Watch.

[40] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[41] Decision not to open a criminal case, Investigative Committee, April 17, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch. Also see: Correspondance from Viktor Filinkov to the Investigative Committee, posted to Vitaly Cherkasov’s Facebook account, May 21, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=824089214467908&id=100006005109621 (accessed June 1, 2018).

[42] Yana Teplitskaya, St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee member, post to Facebook, March 16, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/yana.teplitskaya.5/posts/1778849432166672 (accessed June 5, 2018).

[43] Vitaly Cherkasov, Filinkov’s lawyer, post to Facebook, June 19, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006005109621. Also see: “Court in Petersburg extended arrest of suspect in ‘Network’ case [Суд в Петербурге продлил арест фигуранту дела ‘Сети’ Виктору Филинкову],” OVD-Info, June 19, 2018, https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/19/sud-v-peterburge-prodlil-arest-figurantu-dela-seti-viktoru-filinkovu (accessed June 20, 2018).

[44] “A dangerous network [Опасная сеть],” NTV, April 20, 2018, http://www.ntv.ru/peredacha/proisschestvie/m4001/o494876/video/ (accessed June 11, 2018).

[45] Alexander Maier, “Russian Activists Forcibly Disappeared, Allegations of Torture in Custody,” Human Rights Watch, February 1, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/01/russian-activists-forcibly-disappeared-allegations-torture-custody.

[46] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[47] “In St. Petersburg the judge did not let journalists in to the arrest hearing of antifascist activist Shishkin [В Петербурге судья не пустил журналистов на арест антифашиста Шишкина],” Mediazona, January 27, 2018, https://zona.media/news/2018/01/27/shish-spb (accessed June 5, 2018).

[48] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Ekaterina Kosarevskaya.

[51] Report from the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Committee, February 2, 2018.

[52] “In Petersburg ‘Network’ suspect Igor Shishkin’s arrest was extended another four months [В Петербурге фигуранту дела «Сети» Игорю Шишкину продлили арест на четыре месяца],” OVD-Info, June 18, 2018, https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/18/v-peterburge-figurantu-dela-seti-igoryu-shishkinu-prodlili-arest-na-chetyre (accessed June 20, 2018).

[53] Complaint filed by Ilya Kapustin with the Investigative Committee, February 9, 2018, publicly available at https://www.fontanka.ru/2018/02/13/145/report.2.html#/?0. “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him [‘Они сказали, что могут переломать мне ноги и выбросить в лесу.’ Илья Капустин из Петербурга рассказывает, как его пытали сотрудники ФСБ],” Mediazona, January 27, 2018, https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin (accessed June 6, 2018).

[54] “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him,” Mediazona, January 27, 2018.

[55] Penza is a Russian city located approximately 1,300 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg. Six men were arrested in Penza in October and November 2017 in connection with the FSB’s investigation into “Network.”

[56] “Ilya Kapustin from St. Petersburg talks about how the FSB tortured him,” Mediazona, January 27, 2018.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Medical record of Ilya Kapustin, City Polyclinic No. 3, January 26, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[59] St. Petersburg Health Committee, judicial-medical survey of Ilya Kapustin, January 29, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[60] Post by Pavel Chikov on Telegram, February 13, 2018, https://t.me/pchikov/768 (accessed June 6, 2018).

[61] Investigative Committee, decision not to launch a criminal case, April 20, 2018, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Nina Järvenkylä, “Ilya Kapustin: ‘When the Stamp Thudded in My Passport, It Was Like a Huge Weight Had Been Lifted from My Shoulders’ [Turvapaikkaa Suomesta hakeva venäläisaktivisti Ilja Kapustin: ‘Kun passiin jysähti leima, oli kuin valtava paino olisi pudonnut harteilta’],” Iltalenti, March 10, 2018, English translation available at https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/13/ilya-kapustin-asylum-finland-iltalehti/ (accessed June 6, 2018).

[63] Yulia Gorbunova, “Russia Should Free Oleg Sentsov Before FIFA World Cup,” May 24, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/24/russia-should-free-oleg-sentsov-fifa....

[64] “Crimea: Persecution of Crimean Tatars Intensifies,” Human Rights Watch, November 14, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/14/crimea-persecution-crimean-tatars-in....

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Spiralling downwards with no end in sight”: That’s how a group of UN Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteurs on health, adequate housing, extreme poverty and food categorized Venezuela in January of this year. This is also the title of a report released by the OHCHR on June 22, which paints a devastating picture of arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial killings coupled with a severe shortage of food and basic medicines.

One Venezuelan mother interviewed by OHCHR said: “I have a little baby that cries and cries because I can´t feed her. The baby’s milk formula costs 3 million Bolivars and my husband only makes 1.2 million a month. (…) My neighbours told me that if I don’t vote for the Government they will take the food, the cash bonus and my house from me. They control the electoral authority, so they know for which party you vote.”

The UN Human Rights Council can no longer look away. Venezuela has spiralled into a human rights and humanitarian crisis that demands urgent action. The crackdown on dissent continues. The population has lost an average of 11 kilos in 2017. Most Venezuelans go to bed hungry, and according to the UNHCR, more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, for reasons including political persecution, violence, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As a result, a 2,000 percent increase in asylum applications has been recorded across Latin America since 2014, and hundreds of thousands remain in an irregular situation, which increases their vulnerability.

Today’s joint statement delivered by Peru on behalf of 53 States adds to the chorus of international concern. The Human Rights Council also needs to step up and address the human rights violations suffered by the Venezuelan people at the hands of a member of this Council. We encourage continued reporting by the High Commissioner, and hope that today’s joint statement paves the way for the for more formal consideration of Venezuela on the Council agenda. 

Acceso a la Justicia

Acción Solidaria

ACCSI Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA

Action for Solidarity

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies

ALAPLAF

Ana Belloso

ASOADNA

Asociación Civil Fuerza, Unión, Justicia, Solidaridad y Paz (FUNPAZ)

Aula Abierta

Canada Venezuela Democracy Forum

Cátedra de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centrooccidental Lisandro Alvarado

Center for Justice and International Law

Centro de Acción y Defensa por los Derechos Humanos - Cadef

centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana (CDH-UNIMET)

Centro de Derechos Humanos, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello

Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo S.J." (CSMM)

Centro de Formación para la Democracia (CFD Venezuela)

Centro de Justicia y Paz - CEPAZ

Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos - PROMSEX

Centro para la Paz y los DDHH de la Universidad Central de Venezuela

Centro para la Paz y los DDHH Universidad Central de Venezuela

Centro Regional de derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero: Corporación Humanas

Cisfem

CIVICUS

Civilis Derechos Humanos

Clínica Jurídica de Migrantes y Refugiados de la Universidad Diego Portales

Codevida

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Políticas de la Universidad del Zulia

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Federación de Colegios de Abogados de Venezuela del Estado Tachira

Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del estado Zulia, Codhez

Comisión para los Derechos Humanos y la Ciudadanía (CODEHCIU)

COMITE POR UNA RADIOTELEVISIÓN DE SERVICIO PÚBLICO

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Convite AC

Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos

Defensa y Justicia Carabobo

Defiende venezuela

Dejusticia

Epikeia, Observatorio Universitario de Derechos Humanos

Espacio Público

EXCUBITUS derechos humanos en educacion

FADNNA

Federación interamericana de Abogados capitulo Venezuela seccional Anzoategui

Foro Penal

Franciscans International

Fundacion Aguaclara

Fundación Espacio Abierto

FUNDACION ETNICA INTEGRAL

Fundación Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes

Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)

Fundamujer

Humano Derecho Radio Estacion

Human Rights Watch

Iniciativa Por Venezuela

Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

International Commission of Jurists

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)

International Service for Human Rights

Ipys Venezuela

Juventud Unida en Acción

Laboratorio de Paz

Madres de Soacha (Colombia)

María Estrella de la Mañana

Maria Eugenia

Misión Scalabriniana Ecuador

Monitor Social A.C. (Venezuela-Edo. Nva Esparta)

Movimiento Vinotinto

Mulier

Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Los Andes

Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS)

Observatorio Venezolano de la Salud

Organización StopVIH

PADF Honduras

Padres organizados de Venezuela

Paz y Esperanza

Pedro Luis Echeverria

PEDRO NIKKEN

Prepara Familia

Promoción Educación y Defensa en DDHH (PROMEDEHUM)

Revista SIC del Centro Gumilla

Robert F Kennedy Human Rights

Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)

Sin Fronteras IAP

Sinergia, Red Venezolana de Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil

Thais Parra

Transparencia Venezuela

UCV

Una Ventana a la Libertad

Unión Afirmativa de Venezuela

Union Vecinal para la Participación Ciudadana A.C

West African Human Rights Defenders Network

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Overview

Since President Maduro came to power in 2013, there has been an alarming rise in the intensity of abuses and the severity of the rights crackdown in Venezuela. Political and civil society repression has stifled dissenting voices. Severe shortages of food and essential medicines have created life-threatening conditions. More than one and a half million Venezuelans have fled the country in response to the human rights and humanitarian crisis. In its report launched during the current Council session, OHCHR highlighted the climate of complete impunity, leading the High Commissioner to comment that “the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela”.

 

Civil and political crackdown

In its recent report, OHCHR highlighted that arbitrary arrests and detentions have been used increasingly by the Venezuelan intelligence and security forces since July 2017 to repress and intimidate civil society, political opponents, or any voices that might criticize the government or publicly express discontent. More than 12,000 people have been arbitrarily detained since 2014, with at least 570 people, including 35 children, detained in the period of 9 months between August 2017 and May 2018 alone. Many who have been detained have been held incommunicado, and have suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which clearly amounts to torture, including electric shocks, severe beatings, asphyxiation, and sexual abuse including rape.

Many of those who protest against the government have been summarily executed by security forces. The Bolivarian National Guard has actively blocked attempts to identify perpetrators, creating a climate of impunity. Between July 2015 and March 2017, 505 people including 24 children were murdered by security forces in ways that could amount to extrajudicial killings. In February, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office is opening a preliminary investigation into the use of excessive force, including killings and unlawful detentions.

The OHCHR report documents numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, perpetrated with impunity, including the following testimony from a mother whose sons were killed by State security forces:

“In August 2016, I was at home with my two sons; the oldest was 22 years old and the youngest 16. I was doing laundry in the courtyard when CICPC officers broke into my house. … One officer was leaning over my son who was on the floor and I heard [the officer] ask his boss if he should arrest him. The boss answered that the instruction was to kill him. I was taken to another room and I heard two shots…. If he had done something bad, they should have taken him back to court, rather than simply kill him. …

I was brought to a police station where they told me that I did not have the right to sit in a chair. They started asking questions about my son. They beat me and threw me on the floor. They kept me there for one day without food and water and told me that I was responsible for having given birth to a criminal. They also told me that they would visit my home whenever they wanted and that within less than a year they would come back for my other son. 

On 19 July 2017, the OLP came back to my neighbourhood. This time they arrested my youngest son who was out in the street with some friends. After searching for him at hospitals and police stations, someone told me that he was in the morgue. They showed me a photo of his body.”  

 

Humanitarian crisis

Severe shortages of food and medicine are making it increasingly difficult for many Venezuelans to feed their families and have access to the most basic healthcare. The population lost an average of 11 kilos in 2017. Most Venezuelans go to bed hungry, and moderate to severe malnutrition among children under age 5 increased by more than 50 percent in 2017. Venezuela’s then-health minister released official data last year indicating that, in 2016 alone, infant mortality increased by 30 percent, maternal mortality 65 percent, and malaria cases 76 percent. Days later, she was fired.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food has said that strategies to cope in times of crisis have “dramatic longer-term effects, particularly for women and children”. Stories such as Kim’s - a nurse who worked two jobs to provide for her children, trying to cure the sick amid the country’s shortages of basic medicines and supplies, but at the cost of barely seeing them – tells of how the crisis has disproportionate effects on women, who remain, in many families, the primary caregivers for children or other family members.

Earlier this year, a group of Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteurs on food, health, adequate housing and extreme poverty issued a joint statement, saying: “Vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiralling downwards with no end in sight”.

 

Refugee crisis

According to UNHCR, more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, for reasons including political persecution, violence, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As a result, a 2,000 percent increase in asylum applications has been recorded across Latin America since 2014. Those caught in this state of limbo are "particularly vulnerable to exploitation, extortion, violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, forced recruitment into criminal groups, discrimination and xenophobia". Despite this, many interviewed by HRW hope to return home — but cannot do so, until they can return to a Venezuela where they do not have to fear that they, their family or friends will face execution, starvation, or enforced disappearance.

 

Need for Human Rights Council action

The Lima Group has shown consistent leadership in bringing attention to the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, but the Human Rights Council should also play its part. Ultimately, the Council should put in place the international investigation that the High Commissioner has called for, and which is desperately needed.

This session, Human Rights Watch urges States to express a strong, clear message of collective concern at the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and to encourage continued reporting by the High Commissioner to the Council. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Make no mistake, the Rohingya crisis continues unabated. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are at risk in both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Around 500,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, where the government of Myanmar has taken paltry few steps to reform and revise the laws, policies and practices that have effectively made many of them prisoners in their own villages or in internally displaced persons camps. The consequence of these failures and deliberate policies means that Rohingya in Myanmar continue to face deprivation of their basic rights, including to their freedom of movement, education, and health care. This is all facilitated and exacerbated by the Myanmar government’s unwillingness to address and amend the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law.

In Bangladesh, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees forced to flee their homes after a campaign of ethnic cleansing led by the Myanmar military are languishing in the squalor of large, densely packed, poorly constructed, unplanned, and extremely vulnerable camps. As the monsoon and cyclone seasons reach their apogees in the coming weeks, the risk only increases. The population endures the physical threats of landslides, flooding and the spread of communicable disease with no real relief in sight as attention and funding for critical programming has ebbed. The international community should not turn its gaze from this cascading crisis. 

The recent agreement concluded between the Myanmar government, UNHCR and UNDP on the agencies’ participation in the process of returning Rohingya refugees and access to communities in northern Rakhine State could be a step in the right direction. But a lack of transparency and the Myanmar government’s history of hostility, obstruction and repeated denial of access to critical UN officials cast doubt about what the agreement actually says and whether it will be implemented.

Refugee return cannot be divorced from the question of impunity for the alleged crimes against humanity that caused the refugees to flee. Efforts by the Myanmar government to create a new commission of inquiry with a token international member and international staff cannot overcome a system known for partiality, lack of independence, and propensity to whitewash grave international crimes.

We support the High Commissioner’s call to create an accountability mechanism. A IIIM (international, impartial and independent) mechanism is urgently needed to gather evidence on perpetrators of grave crimes and prepare case files for prosecution.  This should supplement, but is no substitute for, a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.  Until there is genuine accountability, there will be no end to Myanmar’s cycle of impunity.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An internally displaced girl from Daraa province carries a stuffed toy and holds the hand of child near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria June 29, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

(Beirut) – Jordanian and Israeli authorities should allow Syrians fleeing fighting in Daraa governorate to claim asylum and protect them, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 16, 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance opened an offensive in Daraa and Quneitra governorate, one of the last anti-government held areas in Syria. The United Nations estimates that 271,800 people have fled the hostilities thus far, moving toward the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

On June 26, 2018, Jordan’s new prime minister, Omar Razzaz, said at a news conference that Jordan “will not receive any new refugees from Syria.” On June 28, the Jordanian foreign affairs minister, Ayman al-Safadi, met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and told him that Jordan will provide all support necessary to Syrians “on their own soil.” In response, dozens of Jordanian citizens have taken to social media to call on their government to open the border for Syrians. The Jordanian border has been closed to fleeing asylum seekers since at least June 2016.

“The abject refusal by Jordanian authorities to allow asylum seekers to seek protection not only goes against their international legal obligations, but against basic human decency,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordanians themselves are appealing to their government’s basic decency and calling for those in need to be let in.”

Since June 27, no aid convoy has been able to cross the border into Syria from Jordan due to their security concerns and the Syrian government has not authorized aid deliveries across the fighting lines. Residents told Human Rights Watch that displaced people residents along the border lack access to shelter, clean water, and food.

Daraa and Quneitra, which adjoin the occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, are part of one of four de-escalation zones in Syria established to stop hostilities and facilitate aid access until a political resolution is reached. The zone was negotiated by the United States, Jordan, and Russia. Local media activists reported relentless strikes and shelling by the Syrian-Russian military alliance onto towns in Daraa governorate since June 16, leading to extensive displacements.

Human Rights Watch spoke to five people, including three displaced Daraa residents who traveled to the Jordanian border attempting to flee the violence in the area, but could not due to the Jordanian border closure.

“There are displaced persons about two kilometers away from the border, but of course they can’t cross,” an activist who lived in Ghasam, a village near the Jordanian border, told Human Rights Watch on June 29. “Those who try face warning gunshots.”

The activist, whose name is withheld for his protection, said that almost every area in Eastern Daraa had been shelled or struck: “I visited most places that were struck except Reef al-Atash, given there are intense strikes and heavy clashes. I went to Busra, al-Karak, al-Musayfirah, al-Hirak, al-Jiza, al-Naihmah, Umm al Ma’azen, Al-Sahwah – and they were all hit by the Syrian government.”

He said that the towns are now entirely empty: “Nothing is left but stones…Have you ever heard of Grozny? This is how I’d compare the situation. It’s Grozny. The destruction is unbelievable,” he said, referring to the capital of Russia’s Chechnya region during the conflict there. Another resident said: “I was in Daraa al-Balad and I left to al-Karak, they shelled us there, I went to al-Jiza. There, the house I was staying in was shelled and we miraculously survived. From there, we fled to an area close to the Jordanian border. There is nowhere to go from here.”

He said he would enter Jordan if Jordanian authorities opened the border, but that it is clearly closed.

Mousa Zobi, the head of the Emergencies Committee for the Daraa Local Council, said that people are fleeing strikes and shelling but are also afraid of incoming Syrian government forces and pro-government militias retaking their areas. A resident of Tafas village in Daraa governorate confirmed this, saying that he was the only one left in his village but would leave if Syrian forces entered the village.

Zobi said he had visited the Jordanian border numerous times over the past two weeks and was trying to support the displaced people, but that humanitarian conditions were very difficult with limited and dwindling access to shelter, clean water, or food, and that he anticipates that the situation will only get worse as numbers of displaced people increase.

On June 29, the UN humanitarian arm, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the displaced population is in urgent need of assistance, and that while this agency is able to provide support through supplies already there, the Syrian government has yet to give them permission to provide aid across the line of fighting.

The activist from Ghasam said that he visited the border regularly: “We have been trying to return [the displaced people] into the towns near the border because there’s nothing to shelter them on the border, no tents, no water, no sanitary services. Everything is unavailable.”

OCHA said that the area near the Jordanian border is also at risk from the ongoing hostilities, with aid convoys unable to cross since June 27 due to bombardment a few kilometers from the border.

Thousands of displaced Daraa residents have also gathered along the outskirts of the occupied Golan Heights. Media reports indicate that the delivery of aid from Israel is continuing to camps close to the occupied Golan Heights, though residents indicate that this is not nearly sufficient for their needs. On June 29, the Israeli army, which controls entry into the Golan Heights, said it will not allow Syrians fleeing the fighting in Daraa to enter, but will continue to provide aid. There is no access to the Golan Heights for residents of Syria without Israeli authorities’ permission.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented the Syrian government’s use of unlawful tactics in retaking territory from anti-government groups in places like Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, including using prohibited weapons such as chemical weapons and incendiary and cluster munition attacks. The Syrian government, with the backing of its Russian ally, also restricted access to humanitarian aid and struck medical facilities during fighting in Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta.

On June 27, a hospital supported by the Syrian-American Medical Society in Daraa was attacked with six airstrikes, severely damaging the facility and killing one doctor, according to the organization. The attack on the hospital was the eighth reported on a medical facility by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in as many days.

International humanitarian law prohibits attacks directed against health facilities and medical workers. All parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to save civilian lives and should cease the use of prohibited weapons and unlawful attacks on civilians and medical facilities. All parties should all facilitate unimpeded humanitarian aid and access. All warring parties should provide permission for and facilitate cross-line and cross-border assistance.

Jordan and Israeli authorities operating in the occupied Golan Heights should allow asylum seekers to seek asylum in areas under their control, and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to serve the displaced population fleeing violence. The international community should also provide support to countries that are hosting refugees and providing humanitarian assistance.

“The situation in the southwest is so dangerous that even humanitarian convoys cannot cross to provide aid to populations in need,” Fakih said. “There is no stronger signal that Jordan and Israeli authorities should not close the door on Syrians fleeing to safety.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am