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

Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

Today, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a United Nations-led independent investigation into the killing of protesters in Ethiopia. Between November 2015 and October 2016, Ethiopian security forces killed hundreds of protesters, and detained tens of thousands. An overly restrictive state of emergency has been in place for the past seven months, and tens of thousands more people have been detained under it. Today’s resolution echoes a previous European Union parliamentary resolution, resolutions by other countries, and last month’s request by the UN’s top human rights chief for access to investigate the abuses.

Ethiopia’s government has always rejected outside scrutiny of its horrific rights record, insisting that it can investigate itself. Yet it has conspicuously failed to do so. Past investigations by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have not met basic standards of impartiality, including its June 2016 report into abuses during the protests’ first six months. In April 2017, the EHRC acknowledged that 669 people were killed in an oral report to parliament, but found that security forces had used excessive force in just a few situations. This stands in stark contrast to what Human Rights Watch and other organizations have found, drawing on evidence that includes a wealth of video and photographic material. The EHRC hasn’t publicly released a version of their findings, so it’s impossible to assess their methodology or learn how they reached their conclusions.

International experts having access to areas where protests occurred and to people still in detention are important first steps towards meaningful investigations. But there are other obstacles too, like victims and witnesses being too afraid to speak out about government abuses. Thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country since the protests, seeking asylum in bordering countries. They too should be part of investigations into what happened, from locations where they may be more free to speak without fear.

Today’s resolution specifically calls on Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, to “mobilise EU Member States” to urgently pursue the setting up of the UN-led international inquiry, and they can take the first step towards this at the upcoming Human Rights Council session next month in Geneva.

It’s hoped that implementing today’s timely resolution can help address the pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia. The resolution also reiterates the EU’s recognition of the importance of justice to ensure Ethiopia’s long-term stability. To the many victims of Ethiopia’s brutality, a UN-led inquiry could at least begin to answer pleas for justice that too often have gone unheard.

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

A protester from the Refugee Action Coalition holds a placard during a demonstration outside the offices of the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Sydney, Australia, April 29, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

This week Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is on a charm offensive at the United Nations in New York in a bid for a Human Rights Council seat in 2018-2020.

Australia, France, and Spain are vying in a competitive election for two seats from the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG). No country has a perfect human rights record. France and Spain fall short in respecting human rights in their responses to terrorism and asylum and migration. But the United Nations General Assembly expects all Council members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”  

Australia’s reputation on rights has been damaged by its practice of sending asylum seekers to Australian-funded centers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island, where abuses are rife.

Human Rights Watch examined firsthand how prolonged, indefinite detention in Nauru and PNG has driven people to the breaking point, with alarming levels of trauma, depression, and other mental health conditions. These refugees and asylum seekers regularly endure violence, threats, and harassment from local residents, with little protection from the authorities.

Repeatedly, UN experts and agencies have urged Australia to address abuses in offshore processing. Most recently, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, in his report dated April 24, observed how Australia’s policies “have increasingly eroded the human rights of migrants, in contravention of international human rights and humanitarian obligations.” He called on Australia to quickly shut these centers and “terminate the offshore processing policy, in order to remedy the systemic human rights violations that the policy creates.”

Crepeau will present his findings to the Council in June.

Australia should adopt Crepeau’s recommendations without delay. While the Australian government has said it will close the Manus processing center by October  31, it seems that people living there will simply be shunted to another center on Manus or given the option of remaining permanently in PNG, a country with little willingness or capacity to integrate these refugees. A deal to resettle some refugees in the United States may come through, yet the fate of those not accepted by the US remains unclear.  

Australia can strengthen its bid for a Human Rights Council seat by proactively addressing Crepeau’s recommendations. That means ending offshore processing for good, and bringing those who remain in PNG and Nauru to Australia without further delay. 

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

General Abdul Raziq, Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahare, addresses officers during their graduation ceremony at the Kandahar Regional Training Center in southern Afghanistan, Jun. 7, 2012.

© 2012 United States Air Force

When the United Nations Committee against Torture grilled Afghanistan’s delegation last month about government efforts to curb torture, members asked about one person in particular: Gen. Abdul Raziq. That was no accident. Raziq, the Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahar, has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

Last Friday, the committee released its report describing “numerous and credible allegations” that Raziq is “widely suspected of complicity, if not of personal implication, in severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and …secret detention centers.” It urged that “all alleged perpetrators, including … General Abdul Raziq” be “duly prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted with penalties that are commensurate with the grave nature of their crimes.”

Those crimes are horrific. The Committee against Torture noted the numerous reports of detainees in Kandahar who alleged torture or ill-treatment, including “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”

During the UN session, one committee member pointedly asked Afghanistan’s attorney general, Farid Hamidi, what the government of President Ashraf Ghani was doing about Raziq. Hamidi  replied that the Afghan government was “very serious and sensitive about cases of torture.” But he said nothing about Raziq.

Even the Ghani administration seems afraid of Raziq, who operates far outside the law and has powerful support, notably from US intelligence and security officials, who consider him an ally in the fight against the Taliban. The speaker of Afghanistan’s senate and several other senators called the committee report “vague,” and suggested it had been fabricated by Pakistani intelligence. Raziq denied the committee’s allegations.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Almost 16 years after the defeat of the Taliban government, Afghans continue to suffer at the hands of abusive strongmen, warlords and government officials. In failing to hold them accountable, the Afghan government along with its international donors have consistently undermined the very institutions Afghans need to rely on for their security.

Afghanistan has one year to respond to the UN committee’s questions. But unless the government gets serious about bringing to book serial rights-violators like Raziq, that response will do nothing to eradicate Afghanistan’s entrenched culture of impunity.

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

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017.

© 2017 Denis Balibouse/Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations high commissioner for human rights called on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan on May 10 and 11, 2017, to turn his government’s pledges for reform into concrete human rights improvements and fulfill its obligations under human rights law, eight human rights groups said today. The rights groups endorsed the high commissioner’s recommendations, calling on Mirziyoyev to end ongoing abuses and deliver on Uzbekistan’s human rights commitments in full.

UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein met with the president, government officials, and representatives of nongovernmental groups in Tashkent and Samarkand. He urged the government to release political prisoners, cooperate with UN rights monitors, and work to end systematic torture, among other issues. He emphasized that the “successful implementation” of human rights reforms could have a “transformational impact” on Uzbekistan’s future.

“While welcoming President Mirziyoyev’s indicated willingness to engage on Uzbekistan’s abysmal rights record, the UN high commissioner rightly called on him to turn positive rhetoric into concrete action,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The burden of proof now lies with the Uzbek government to make good on its promises for reform.”

The rights groups are the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, the Cotton Campaign, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Sans Frontières, and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.

Hussein’s visit was the first by a UN high commissioner for human rights to Uzbekistan. It came on the heels of Tashkent’s recent efforts to step up engagement with various intergovernmental organizations and financial institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Hussein acknowledged certain positive developments, such as Mirziyoyev’s newly adopted Action Strategy, which includes pledges to improve public administration, strengthen protections for vulnerable segments of the population, and liberalize the economy, as well as new legislation to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. But the high commissioner stressed that “frameworks and plans are one thing, and results are another.”

“In recent months President Mirziyoyev may have directed the government to pass laws and regulations that, at face value, carry great potential,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). “But the proof of change is when we start seeing all wrongfully imprisoned activists released from prison, UN human rights monitors and human rights organizations able to visit the country, an end to forced labor, and independent civil society and media able to function without harassment.”

In his remarks, the high commissioner urged authorities to allow a strong, vibrant, and dynamic civil society and media to operate without fear of repression or reprisal, and to release political prisoners as soon as possible. The rights groups have documented the imprisonment of thousands of people on politically motivated charges in Uzbekistan, including dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists.

He cited torture as “one of the issues that has been most damaging to Uzbekistan’s international reputation.” And he said the government should allow independent monitoring of Uzbekistan’s prisons and other places of detention with the aim of eradicating torture and other forms of ill-treatment and urged it to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The protocol creates a monitoring system and requires that independent entities responsible for such monitoring be able to enter detention facilities at any time, unannounced. In 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) halted its monitoring of Uzbekistan’s prison facilities, citing interference by authorities.

“The high commissioner’s visit brings hope for positive change,” said Ivar Dale, senior adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, “but will only have lasting significance for Uzbekistan’s 32 million citizens if President Mirziyoyev opens the country to the credible scrutiny of rights activists, journalists, and international monitors who have been unable to do their critical work for so many years.”

Hussein also recommended that Uzbekistan cooperate with UN human rights bodies, noting that none of the 14 human rights monitors who have asked to visit the country had been allowed to visit since 2002. The high commissioner announced that an invitation has been extended to the UN special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief.

The visit came just before the anniversary of the May 13, 2005, Andijan massacre, when government forces shot and killed hundreds of largely unarmed protesters in the city of Andijan. In his public remarks, he underlined the importance of ensuring justice and accountability for the “terrible events” in Andijan that day. “While it is important to look forward, it is also important to come to terms with past events and ensure that victims are not forgotten and their grievances are addressed,” he said.

Before dawn on May 13, 2005, armed men broke into the prison in Andijan, a city in the Fergana Valley in eastern Uzbekistan. The gunmen freed 23 local businessmen who had been sentenced for “religious extremism” and took over local government buildings. Throughout the day, thousands of unarmed peaceful protesters flocked to the town’s central square to speak out against poverty, unemployment, and government repression. Government forces in armored vehicles and snipers fired indiscriminately on the crowd, blocking off the square as people attempted to flee, killing hundreds. Government troops then moved through the square and executed wounded people where they lay.

“There is no statute of limitations for the mass killings of hundreds of innocent civilians 12 years ago in Andijan,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “We fully support the high commissioner’s call that the Uzbek government ensure accountability for these terrible events, which should include a review of the criminal sentences of the hundreds imprisoned in the aftermath of the massacre, an end to harassment of witnesses to the killings, and access for human rights organizations to investigate.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

I. Summary

Brazil has taken some positive measures that address recommendations it received during the previous UPR cycle, such as the creation, in 2013, of a National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, and a 2015 disability rights law. Its judiciary has also taken an important step toward addressing prison overcrowding and potentially combatting police abuse by starting, in 2014, to bring some detainees before a judge promptly after arrest, as required by international law.

However, other serious concerns addressed by the UPR recommendations require further measures by Brazil´s government. Confronted with high levels of violent crime, some Brazilian police officers continue to engage, with impunity, in abusive practices, including extrajudicial executions. Torture and ill-treatment in police custody and in prisons and jails is an enduring problem in various states. Many Brazilian detention facilities are severely overcrowded and experience high levels of violence. Some juvenile facilities subject children in conflict with the law to degrading conditions. There has also been little progress in prosecuting those responsible for atrocities committed by state agents during the military dictatorship period from 1964 to 1985. 

II. Human Rights Issues

Public Security and Police Conduct

Widespread violence, often perpetrated by criminal gangs, plagues many Brazilian cities. Police are also implicated in violent abuses, including extrajudicial executions.

The number of killings by police officers, including those off-duty, rose by almost 40 percent, in 2014, to more than 3,000, according to official data compiled by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Forum on Public Security.[i]

Police routinely report these deaths as resulting from shoot-outs with criminals. While some police killings do result from legitimate use of force, others are extrajudicial executions.

In our 2016 report “´Good Cops are Afraid,´ The Toll of Unchecked Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro,” we documented 64 cases showing credible evidence that police sought to cover up unlawful killings.[ii] The 64 cases reflect a much broader problem, according to local justice officials, who told Human Rights Watch that a large number of the “shootouts” reported by police in the state in recent years were in fact extrajudicial executions. Official government data supports this conclusion. For instance, Rio police killed five people per each person they injured from 2013 to 2015, the reverse of what one would expect.

Unlawful killings by police officers take a heavy toll, not only on the victims and their families, but on the police force itself. The killings escalate cycles of violence and poison the police relationship with communities, making residents reluctant to alert officers to criminal activities, including ambushes, or to testify as witnesses. Without the cooperation of local communities in fighting crime, officers become more vulnerable. In 2014—the latest data available—398 police officers were killed in Brazil.[iii]

Justice officials in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo told Human Rights Watch that officers responsible for abuses are rarely brought to justice. A notable exception was the conviction of homicide of 73 military police officers in 2013 and 2104 for their participation in the 1992 killing of 111 detainees in the Carandiru prison in São Paulo state. However, on September 27, 2016, an appeals court voided the convictions. One of the members of the three-judge panel claimed that “there was no massacre” and all killings were in self-defense, despite the overwhelming evidence that the detainees were executed by police.

The prosecutor´s offices in a few states have taken important steps to address police violence by establishing special units to investigate cases of police abuse.[iv] Such units should be created in every state, and in states where they exist, authorities should strengthen them by assigning sufficient personnel, resources, and expertise to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of police abuse cases. Further steps should be taken to implement recommendations 65, 122 and 123, accepted by Brazil during the UPR in 2012, and to ensure that police who commit abuses are held accountable.

Prison Conditions, Torture, and Ill-Treatment of Detainees

Many Brazilian prisons and jails are severely overcrowded and violent. The number of adults behind bars jumped more than 72 percent during the past decade and exceeds 622,000 people, 67 percent more than the prisons were built to hold, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Justice’s Integrated System of Penitentiary Information (InfoPen).[v]

A key contributor to the dramatic rise of Brazil´s prison population has been a 2006 drug law that replaced jail sentences for drug users with such penalties as community service but increased sentences for traffickers. The law was worded vaguely, allowing users to be prosecuted as traffickers, the reverse of the law´s intent. In 2005, only nine percent of those in prison had been detained on drug charges. By 2014, the percentage had risen to 28, and among women, 64, according to the latest data available.[vi]

In a January 2016 report to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment wrote, after a visit to Brazil, that severe prison overcrowding had led to chaotic conditions that amounted to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.[vii] Similarly, the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture, whose members are appointed by Brazil´s government, found human rights violations that could constitute torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in “most, if not all” of the 17 jails and prisons it inspected from April 2015 to March 2016.[viii]

In our 2015 report “´The State Let Evil Take Over,´ Prison Crisis in the Brazilian State of Pernambuco,” we documented dangerous, unhealthy and inhumane conditions in prisons that hold three times as many inmates as their official capacity. For instance, a researcher from Human Rights Watch entered a cell in Curado, the largest prison complex in Pernambuco, which provided only six cement bunks for 60 men and lacked even enough floor space for all to sleep at the same time. Detainees and two state officials told Human Rights Watch that prison officials had delegated authority over prison grounds at Curado and the state’s other detention facilities to inmates known as “keyholders,” who sell drugs and extort payments from fellow prisoner

The situation in the Curado complex continued dire in June 2016, when the Interamerican Court of Human Rights visited. The Court reported that “alarming” conditions there put at risk the lives of both detainees and prison staff.[ix]

In 2015, Human Rights Watch documented a lack of security at prisons in the state of Maranhão. This, aggravated by overcrowding, has been a major factor in the creation of gangs that have spread outside prison walls.[x] Recruitment into gangs has been facilitated by a routine practice of housing pretrial detainees –who accounted for 66 percent of all inmates, in December 2014[xi]– with convicted criminals, in violation of international standards. More than 90 inmates were killed in Maranhão’s prisons in 2013 and 2014, most by members of rival gangs, according to data from the National Council of Justice and the Maranhão Human Rights Society.[xii] 

Brazil´s judiciary took an important step toward addressing prison overcrowding by starting, in 2014, to bring detainees  before a judge promptly after arrest –as required by international law– in state capitals and some other jurisdictions. Such “custody hearings” help judges determine who should be in preventive detention and who should be set free pending trial. In the absence of custody hearings, detainees may wait many months to see a judge for the first time. In Brazil, 40 percent of people in prison are pretrial detainees.[xiii] At time of writing Brazil´s Congress was examining a bill to make such hearings mandatory throughout the country.

Custody hearings have potential as a powerful weapon against police abuse of detainees. They allow judges to detect and hear about mistreatment soon after arrest. However, the Institute for the Defense of the Right of Defense (IDDD), an NGO, analyzed more than 700 custody hearings in São Paulo in 2015 and showed that judges asked detainees about their treatment in custody in only about 40 percent of cases, and took no action in a third of the 141 cases of alleged abuse that they heard.[xiv] Judges sent the rest to police internal-affairs divisions. When the IDDD published its report in May 2016, it had received no information from those divisions as to the result of any inquiry into such cases.[xv]

In its January 2016 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment found that torture and ill-treatment by police and prison staff are “frighteningly regular occurrences” in Brazil.[xvi] Impunity for abuses remains the rule rather than the exception, the Rapporteur wrote. The government’s National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture, on visits to six states from April 2015 to March 2016, found cases of torture by police that ranged from beatings to electric shocks to near drownings.[xvii]

Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence that security forces or prison authorities, in 64 cases in five Brazilian states from 2000 to 2014, engaged in cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of people in custody.[xviii] In 40 of these cases, the evidence supported the conclusion that the abuse rose to the level of torture. 

Further efforts are needed to ensure the implementation of recommendations 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, and 78, accepted by Brazil during the previous UPR.

Children´s Rights

Children in conflict with the law live in overcrowded conditions in some juvenile centers in Brazil. Juvenile centers held close to 22,000 children in 2014, but had capacity for only about 18,000, according to the latest data published by the National Council of the Prosecutor´s Office, which inspects those units. [xix]

The National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combatting of Torture visited nine juvenile centers in three states from April 2015 to March 2016, and found that their physical infrastructure did not comply with the Federal Government´s regulations: Instead of promoting rehabilitation and education, those centers were built as places of isolation and punishment.[xx] In most units, children spent more than 20 hours—and in one unit, 24 hours—locked in their rooms.[xxi] Conditions were especially dire in the state of Ceará, where children were kept in units that lacked mattresses, basic hygiene products, and adequate sanitation and ventilation--and that were infested with rats and cockroaches. In one case, children were temporarily held in an adult prison, in violation of Brazilian law and international standards.[xxii] In all the units it visited, the Mechanism collected and reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment. It found that victims of mistreatment were usually not granted medical exams to document their injuries, and their allegations were not properly investigated by Brazilian authorities. [xxiii]

Brazil´s Chamber of Deputies is examining a bill, already approved by the Senate, to raise the maximum time of internment for children in conflict with the law from 3 to 10 years. If enacted, the bill would aggravate overcrowding in the juvenile detention system. [xxiv]

Furthermore, Brazil´s Senate is considering a Constitutional amendment—a version of which was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in 2015—that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds accused of serious crimes to be tried and punished as adults.[xxv] If enacted, the proposal would violate international norms enshrined in human rights treaties ratified by Brazil, which hold that people under 18 should not be prosecuted as adults. 

Confronting Past Abuses

Under international law, governments have an obligation to provide victims of serious human rights abuses with an effective remedy, including justice, truth, and adequate reparations.

In a 2014 report, a national truth commission found that human rights violations during military rule, from 1964 to 1985, were “widespread and systematic,” and planned by officials at the highest level. The report identified 377 individuals responsible for abuses, including torture, killings, and enforced disappearances.

The perpetrators have been shielded from justice by a 1979 amnesty law that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010 in a decision that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights quickly ruled was a violation of Brazil’s obligations under international law.

Federal courts did allow the prosecution of at least two former military officers for killings during military rule, but the Supreme Court temporarily halted those prosecutions in 2014 and 2015, pending its re-examination of the validity of the amnesty law.


III. Recommendations to be made to the government of Brazil

Regarding Public Security and Police Violence: 

  • Ensure that all police officers who commit serious human rights abuses are brought to justice. To this end, Brazil should be urged to create or strengthen permanent units of prosecutors at the state level tasked with investigating and prosecuting police abuses, including extrajudicial killings. 
  • Ensure that homicide divisions within the civil police carry out thorough and independent investigations into all police killings and cover ups.

Regarding Prison Conditions, Torture, and Ill-Treatment of Detainees:

  • Ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of all detainees, including guarantees of due process, detention conditions that comply with international and Brazilian law, and protection against cruel and inhumane treatment.
  • Establish Mechanisms to Prevent and Combat Torture, which are torture-prevention bodies, in all states.
  • Broaden the current custody hearings programs to cover all detainees and approve a bill that is pending in Congress at time of writing that would require those hearings by law.
  • Ensure thorough investigations of all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
  • Decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use.

Children´s Rights:

  • Ensure that conditions at juvenile centers comply with international and Brazilian law. 
  • Ensure thorough investigations of all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of children confined in juvenile centers.
  • Ensure that children under 18 in conflict with the law are not tried as adults, but rather are processed in juvenile justice systems designed to protect children’s rights, and ensure that, in accordance with international standards, children are never incarcerated with adults.

Regarding Confronting Past Abuses:

  • Ensure that those responsible for grave human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship are brought to justice.

[i] Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, “Anuário Brasileiro de Segurança Pública 2015,” October 2015, (accessed October 4, 2016).

[ii] Human Rights Watch, “´Good Cops are Afraid.´ The Toll of Unchecked Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro,” July 2016, See also Amnesty International, “You Killed My Son: Homicides by military police in the city of Rio de Janeiro,” AMR 19/2068/2015, (accessed September 13, 2016).

[iii] Forum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, Anuário de Segurança Pública 2015, 2015, (accessed September 13, 2016).

[iv] For instance, such units exist in the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

[v] Departamento Penitenciário Nacional, “Levantamento Nacional de Informações Penitenciárias,” December 2015, (accessed September 13, 2016).

[vi] Luciana Baiteux and João Pedro Pádua, “A !esproporcionalidade da Lei de Drogas. Os Custos Humanos e Econômicos da Atual Política do Brasil,” Coletivo de Estudos Drogas e Direito, November 2013, (accessed September 13, 2016). Departamento Penitenciário Nacional, “Levantamento Nacional de Informações Penitenciárias,” December 2015, (accessed September 13, 2016).

[vii] Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on his mission to Brazil, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/57/Add. 4 (January 29, 2016), p. 1, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[viii] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 28, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[ix] Interamerican Court of Human Rights, “Corte Interamericana observó in situ las condiciones de detención de personas privadas de libertad en el complejo penitenciario Curado en Brasil,” June 10, 2016, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[x] Human Rights Watch, “Brazil: Prison Crisis Spurs Rights Reform,” April 8, 2015,

[xi] Departamento Penitenciário Nacional, “Levantamento Nacional de Informações Penitenciárias,” December 2015, p. 25, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xii] Human Rights Watch, “Brazil: Prison Crisis Spurs Rights Reform,” April 8, 2015,

[xiii] Departamento Penitenciário Nacional, “Levantamento Nacional de Informações Penitenciárias,” December 2015, (accessed September 13, 2016).

[xiv] Instituto de Defesa do Direito da Defesa, “Relatório do IDDD de monitoramento das audiências de custódia em São Paulo é apresentado em evento do CNJ sobre tortura e violência,” June 27, 2016, (accessed September 13, 2016

[xvi] Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on his mission to Brazil, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/57/Add. 4 (January 29, 2016), p. 1, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xvii] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 28, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xviii] Human Rights Watch, “Brazil: Reforms Fail to End Torture,” July 28, 2014,

[xx] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 49, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xxi] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 54, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xxii] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 50, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xxiii] Mecanismo Nacional de Combate à Tortura, “Relatório Anual 2015-2016,” 2016,  p. 55, (accessed September 14, 2016).

[xxiv] Bill No. 2517/2015, 2015.

[xxv] Proposal of Constitutional Amendment No. 33/2012, 2012

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Despite making commitments to act on recommendations from its second UPR cycle, South Africa has struggled to stop attacks on the businesses and homes of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, denying that such attacks were motivated by xenophobia or other forms of intolerance. The government has also failed to realize the right to education for an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities.

Violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, remains very high. Although annual crime statistics for 2015 released by the South African Police Services showed that sexual offences decreased slightly by 3 percent, many gender activists and human rights groups expressed concerns about the continued under-reporting of rape and the failure of the government to introduced a national strategy to combat violence against women. 


Rights of Children and People with Disabilities

The South African government has yet to fulfil its obligation to guarantee the right to education for many children and young adults with disabilities, affecting an estimated half-a-million children. Despite the government’s international and domestic obligations, many children with disabilities do not have equal access to primary or secondary education and face multiple forms of discrimination and barriers when accessing schools. They are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff simply because they have a disability. The referrals system needlessly forces children to wait for up to four years at care centers or at home for placement in a special school. Children with disabilities who attend special schools pay school fees that children without disabilities do not, and many who attend mainstream schools are asked to pay for their own class assistants as a condition to stay in mainstream classes. Once in school, many children with disabilities do not have access to the same curriculum as children without disabilities. Many children are exposed to high levels of violence and abuse by teachers and students.

In 2001, the government adopted a national policy to provide inclusive education for all children with disabilities, but key aspects of the policy have not been implemented to-date. South Africa has not adopted legislation that guarantees the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities. The majority of the government’s limited budget for learners with disabilities is allocated to special, segregated schools rather than to inclusive education.

South Africa became the first country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration at a global conference in Norway in May 2015. By joining the Declaration, it agreed to protect students and education in times of conflict, and to avoid using educational building for military purposes.


  • Adopt new measures to guarantee quality inclusive education for all children, access to free and compulsory primary education and to secondary education, enforce people with disabilities’ right to access adult education, and ensure adequate resources are invested in inclusive education.
  • Implement the Guidelines on Protecting School from Military Use during Armed Conflict in its domestic military doctrine, practice and trainings.


Asylum seekers and foreign nationals

The situation of foreign nationals and asylum seekers in South Africa is precarious and remains an area of serious concern.

In April 2015, thousands of people looted foreign-owned shops and attacked non-South African nationals in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province. The targets of the widespread violence were immigrants of African origin, mostly from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Malawi, and Somalia. Although the police arrested at least 22 people following the violence, the authorities neither thoroughly investigated nor successfully prosecuted those involved. No one was held to account for the attacks.  Authorities also failed to prosecute those who had incited the violence against foreign nationals.

Government officials denied the violence was motivated by xenophobia or other forms of intolerance and said it was a result of “pure acts of criminality.” The secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC) Gwede Mantashe told the media in April 2015 that he believed the solution to xenophobia is the establishment of refugee camps. Xenophobic violence in 2008 led to the deaths of over 60 people across the country.  


  • Ensure that asylum seekers, refugees, and foreign nationals are protected from xenophobic violence throughout South Africa.
  • Ensure justice and accountability for xenophobic crimes.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

South Africa has a progressive constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and protects the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has taken significant steps to improve coordination between government and civil society in combatting violence (including rape and murder) against lesbians and transgender men. Despite the country’s progressive legislation on the rights of LGBT people, discrimination remains institutionalized in families, communities, and in the behaviour of some government officials, such as police, some health care workers, and educators.


  • Require the police services, in collecting data on physical and sexual violence, to disaggregate the data by motive to track incidents of homophobic and trans-phobic violence;
  • Ensure the police and prosecution services have the requisite training to effectively identify crimes motivated by homo and trans phobia;
  • Work with the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that cases of sexual and physical violence against women and transgender persons come to trial in a timely manner, and that prosecutors prioritize cases involving sexual offences.



Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Janeth Mejos reacts as the body of her father Paquito Mejos is taken out of their home shortly after he was killed in a police operation in Manila.

© 2016 Reuters/Damir Sagolj

(Geneva) – United Nations member countries should denounce the Philippines’ brutal “war on drugs” that has killed more than 7,000 people since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The Philippines will appear for the third cycle of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on May 8, 2017, in Geneva.

UN member countries should urge the Philippines to support an international investigation into the killings, given the Philippine government’s own failure to impartially investigate or prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said. Various UN bodies, the media, and Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations have reported on the extrajudicial killings, which may amount to crimes against humanity.

Philippine police are falsifying evidence to justify unlawful killings in a “war on drugs” that has caused more than 7,000 deaths.

“The UN review of the Philippines is critical because of the sheer magnitude of the human rights calamity since President Duterte took office last year,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has been nothing less than a murderous war on the poor.”

At the UPR, the human rights progress of each UN member country is reviewed every four years. Members and observers of the UN Human Rights Council will raise the Philippines’ past human rights pledges and new concerns. The previous reviews of the Philippines were in 2008 and 2012. This year’s review covers the last four years of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III and the period since Duterte took office.

Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has been nothing less than a murderous war on the poor.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

Immediately after the UN review of the Philippines on May 8, Human Rights Watch will moderate a side event in Geneva, co-hosted with other NGOs, to assess the review and the Philippine delegation’s responses. This event will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 14:30 p.m. in room XXIII of the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Human Rights Watch, in its UPR submission in September 2016, highlighted some of the human rights problems the Philippines faces:

Extrajudicial Killings

The killings of activists, peasant and indigenous peoples’ leaders, environmentalists, journalists, and – especially under the Duterte government – suspected criminals, persist. Duterte has instigated the police and incited vigilantes to kill suspected drug dealers and drug users in his anti-drug campaign. He has ignored calls for an official probe into these killings. Instead, he has praised the killings as proof of the “success” of the “drug war” and urged police to “seize the momentum.”


Human Rights Watch has also documented the existence of police-linked death squads in several cities, including Davao City, where Duterte served as mayor for 22 years. A 2014 Human Rights report examined the death squad in Tagum City in Mindanao


The military and police have continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment in custody. The passage in 2009 of the Anti-Torture Act was met with enthusiasm but has resulted in only one torture conviction to date. There is evidence that the military engages in torture of civil society activists and alleged insurgents in its custody. In October 2013, Human Rights Watch documented the mistreatment of detainees, including children, by security forces in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

The national Commission on Human Rights has received numerous torture allegations that mainly implicate the Philippine National Police. An April 26, 2017 raid by the commission on a police station in Manila resulted in the discovery of a secret jail where at least a dozen drug suspects were illegally detained. They alleged mistreatment and extortion by the police.

Enforced Disappearances

In its last UPR review in 2012, the Philippines accepted recommendations to carry out impartial investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearances. Two bellwether tests of military impunity for enforced disappearances are the abduction and alleged torture of activists Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006. Although police eventually arrested retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for his alleged role in that crime, his trial is ongoing. The case of Jonas Burgos, a peasant leader who was abducted by military personnel from inside a mall in Quezon City in April 2007, and has not been seen since is also emblematic of impunity for enforced disappearances.

Indigenous Peoples

Tribal and environmental groups have accused the military of using local paramilitaries to help clear ancestral areas to pave the way for mining companies and other business interests. Military operations against suspected communist New People’s Army rebels have also displaced hundreds of students in several tribal schools in four provinces in Mindanao since 2010. In 2015, domestic human rights groups alleged that the military conducted a series of attacks against indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

Reproductive Health Rights

Human Rights Watch has documented policies designed to derail the full enforcement of the country’s Reproductive Health Law. A temporary restraining order issued in 2015 by the Supreme Court, which was responding to conservative opposition to contraceptives, threatens to render obsolete a considerable number of contraceptives already procured by the government because these would expire in 2018. The court has since expanded the ruling, instructing the Food and Drug Administration to not approve any new applications for contraceptives.

At least two cities – Sorsogon City and Balanga City – have issued ordinances that effectively banned the sale and distribution of contraceptives, among them pills, implants, and condoms.

Children’s Rights

Human Rights Watch has documented how thousands of children – some as young as 9 – risk their lives in small-scale gold mines, mostly financed by local businessmen. Children work in unstable 25-meter-deep pits and dive underwater to mine along shores or in rivers. Children also work with mercury, a toxic metal that is commonly used to process gold.

Attacks on schools by the military and its paramilitary group continue to be a concern. On September 1, 2015, the Magahat paramilitary group allegedly attacked a tribal school in Surigao del Sur province, torturing and killing an educator and two tribal leaders.

HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The Philippine government is fueling a rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic among men who have sex with men through policies that restrict interventions proven to prevent transmission of the virus.

The Philippines currently has one of Asia’s fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemics. Although the national prevalence rate is still low, the country is experiencing a sharp rise in new infections particularly among men who have sex with men. That increase is linked to policies at the local, provincial, and national level, compounded by resistance of the Catholic Church and other elements hostile to sexual health education and condom use. They include obstacles to condom access and HIV testing, and inadequate educational HIV prevention efforts.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A protest demanding the release of students at Jawaharlal National University, arrested for sedition in New Delhi, February 24, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

(Geneva) – United Nations member countries should call on India to stop targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others who criticize the government or its policies, Human Rights Watch said today. The UN Human Rights Council will conduct its third review of India’s human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure on May 4, 2017, in Geneva.

A Human Rights Watch submission to the UN on India highlights the government’s abuse of overly broad laws to clamp down on NGOs and on the right to freedom of expression. The submission also details India’s failure to contain and prosecute vigilante attacks on minorities by groups supporting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the lack of accountability for killings, torture, and other serious violations by state security forces.

“The UN review comes at a time when freedoms long-cherished in India are seriously being challenged and critics are increasingly under attack,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “UN member countries should raise alarm bells that India’s proud history of respect for peaceful dissent crucial for protecting the poor and vulnerable is at real risk.”

Since its last review in 2012, the Indian government has taken some positive steps. In 2013, the government amended its criminal laws to strengthen legal response to sexual assault against women. It also enacted new laws to protect rights, including to prosecute child sex abuse and to end the degrading and inhuman practice of “manual scavenging,” the cleaning of human excreta by hand. It has amended laws to protect Dalit and tribal communities.

The government has decided to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention Nos. 138 and 182 on minimum age of employment and worst forms of child labor. The Supreme Court of India opposed impunity for security forces under laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The court also recognized transgender people as a third gender, and ordered a review of its earlier judgment that had upheld a discriminatory colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality.

Most urgently, UN member countries should flag concerns over the arbitrary use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to restrict foreign funding for NGOs, which a UN special rapporteur concluded was “not in conformity with international law, principles, and standards.” In October 2016, the government refused to allow foreign funding for at least 25 NGOs, including several human rights groups and those defending the rights of the most marginalized.

Since the BJP-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, extremist Hindu groups have led mob attacks across the country to enforce “Hindu nationalism.” Peaceful critics of the government have been charged with serious crimes such as sedition. There have been numerous incidents of violence against members of Dalit, Muslim, tribal, and Christian communities. Hindu vigilante groups killed at least 10 Muslims in separate incidents across the country since 2015 over suspicions that they killed, sold, or bought cows for beef. Churches were attacked in several states in 2015.

The authorities did not press robustly for prosecution of those responsible for the violence, and impunity for the assailants has contributed to a sense of government indifference to religious intolerance and majority targeting of minority communities.

UN member countries should raise alarm bells that India’s proud history of respect for peaceful dissent is at real risk.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Security forces and public officials remain largely unaccountable for serious human rights abuses. A May 2015 report by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions concluded that “impunity remains a serious problem” and expressed regret that India had not repealed or at least significantly amended the AFSPA.

The government’s failure to ensure justice for crimes committed by security forces in areas facing insurgency, and those under AFSPA, have fueled further violence, including attacks on security forces and public property. The government’s response to violent street protests in Jammu and Kashmir state since July 2016 has resulted in nearly 100 deaths and left thousands injured, including protesters, bystanders, and members of security forces.

Numerous members of tribal communities across the country have been arbitrarily arrested and detained as suspected Maoist sympathizers across the country, as well as journalists, lawyers, and activists in Chhattisgarh state, faced harassment and arbitrary arrest. Police reforms remained stalled even as police were accused of torture and extrajudicial killings in a number of new cases.

The Indian government also failed to carry out recommendations from previous UPR reviews to ratify key human rights treaties. They include the Convention against Torture and its optional protocol, the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights abolishing the death penalty, and the International Labour Organization Convention No. 189 on domestic work.

“India likes to point to its courts as the ultimate defender of human rights in the country, but the government has often ignored judicial orders for police reform or security force accountability,” Ganguly said. “UN member countries should impress upon India that it should treat the UN review as an opportunity for honest reflection and to carve a way forward.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On Friday, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson convened a high-level debate on North Korea’s nuclear program at the United Nations Security Council, as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and foreign affairs ministers took to the floor in turn expressing their growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at a Security Council meeting on the situation in North Korea at the United Nations, in New York City, U.S., April 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

But a number of the speakers went further. Several states, including the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Sweden, and Italy, noted the link between the nuclear program pursued by the regime’s leaders and the gross deprivations faced by North Korea’s people. Tillerson warned that “North Korea feeds billions of dollars into a nuclear problem it does not need while its own people starve.”

Last month, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made the case that, “systematic human rights violations help underwrite the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs” as “the government forces many of its citizens, including political prisoners, to work in life-threatening conditions in coal mines and other dangerous industries to finance the regime’s military.”

The Security Council is increasingly recognizing that Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations are inextricably linked to its cruel treatment of its citizens – which a UN-mandated commission of inquiry found amounted to crimes against humanity. This offers a glimmer of hope to North Korea’s countless victims that their plight will not be forgotten in the pursuit of security.

What was left largely unsaid, however, was the importance of holding people responsible for abuses – abuses that had no parallel in terms of their gravity, scale, and nature, according to the UN commission of inquiry. Asking North Korea to do so is a non-starter, since the state is responsible for the policies that led to gross violations.

In today’s briefing, Tillerson asked “the community of nations to help us preserve security and protect human dignity” of the people of North Korea. A critical part of that effort should include bringing those responsible for crimes of humanity to justice.



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

The detainees, listed as “FreeThe5KH” (Free the Khmer Five), were announced as a finalist for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders on April 26, 2017. 

© 2017 Private

(New York) – The Cambodian government should immediately release five human rights defenders who have spent a year in prison on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. The four current and one former member of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) were placed in custody on April 28, 2016, and later falsely charged with “bribery of a witness.”

On April 26, 2017, the detainees, listed as “FreeThe5KH” (Free the Khmer Five), were named as a finalist for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award will be presented on October 10 in Geneva. Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia’s donor governments and the wider public to participate in the #FreeThe5KH campaign at

“Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the release and dropping of bogus charges against the ‘ADHOC Five,’ which were instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate and suppress human rights work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These human rights defenders are in jail as part of a campaign to destroy the opposition and scare Cambodian human rights workers into silence.”

The ADHOC Five are staffers Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, and former ADHOC staffer Ny Chakrya, a deputy secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Election Committee.

On May 1, 2016, Hun Sen stated in a speech that those arrested in the case (see below) should be jailed. The next day, an investigating judge of the Phnom Penh court filed “bribery of a witness” charges against four of the detainees. Ny Chakrya was charged with being an accomplice. “Bribery of a witness” is set out under article 548 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code as “the direct or indirect giving of a gift, offer, promise, or interest to a witness in order (1) not to testify; (2) to provide false testimony.” The offense is punishable by five to 10 years in prison. Convicted accomplices face the same punishment.

Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the release and dropping of bogus charges against the ‘ADHOC Five,’ which were instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate and suppress human rights work.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

As the #FreeThe5KH campaign states, the five were “detained in regard to the advice and legitimate reimbursement of food and transport costs provided to the woman alleged to have had an extra-marital relationship with the deputy opposition leader.”

The Phnom Penh court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court have each refused bail to the five. The prolonged pretrial detention of the ADHOC Five violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a party. Article 9(3) states, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that “pretrial detention should be an exception and as short as possible.” Pretrial detention should not be used as a form of punishment. The Human Rights Committee has stated that excessive pretrial detention may in itself be a violation of the rights to liberty and presumption of innocence.

In its bail ruling, the Supreme Court cited article 205 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, saying it was necessary to deny bail to maintain public order and prevent interference with witnesses and victims. However, no specific information of the necessity of such prolonged pretrial detention was provided, and no explanation was given as to why non-custodial measures were insufficient to ensure their appearance in court or to prevent any reasonably anticipated interference with the administration of justice.

“Cambodia’s courts have once again done the bidding of Hun Sen’s government to suppress civil society,” Adams said. “Millions of dollars of international training and mentoring has been wasted as the courts remain tools of injustice.”

Article 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that governments shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection for human rights defenders against “any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” related to their efforts to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that the critical test for human rights work worldwide is whether it is aimed at “acting in support of victims of human rights violations,” including by providing those who may be victims of human rights violations with counseling and other assistance.

Over the past year, Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have significantly escalated persecution on political grounds, targeting Cambodia’s political opposition, human rights workers, social activists, and public intellectuals on the basis of their real or perceived political opposition to the government and its leader. These abuses appeared aimed to prevent victory or create conditions for overturning victory by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in local and national elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018 respectively.

“Cambodia now has dozens of political prisoners, which should be an embarrassment to countries whose foreign assistance sustains an increasingly dictatorial and deeply corrupt government,” Adams said. “No one should mistake these prosecutions for anything other than Hun Sen’s effort to undo decades of work by courageous Cambodian human rights defenders to promote rights and democracy in their country.”


The case of the ADHOC Five arose after ADHOC provided human rights advice and assistance to Khom Chandaraty, widely known as Srey Mom. She and her family approached ADHOC for help on March 9, 2016, after she was “invited” for questioning by the Counterterrorism Directorate of the government’s Central Directorate for Security, which is headed by Lt. Gen. Dy Vichea, a member of the CPP Central Committee and Hun Sen’s son-in-law. The summons did not concern any alleged terrorist activity but asked Srey Mom to provide clarifications about a purported surreptitiously made recording of a conversation between her and Kem Sokha, then acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (he is now the official leader after party leader Sam Rainsy resigned after the CPP threatened to liquidate the party ahead of upcoming elections). The recording supposedly demonstrated that she and Kem Sokha were involved in an extramarital affair. On March 11, 2016, when questioned by counterterrorism officers, she denied all allegations. On March 18, she received a second summons, this time from the Phnom Penh court prosecutor, to reply to the accusation she had lied to the counterterrorism unit and that her relationship with Kem Sokha was one of prostitution. 

Srey Mom continued to seek assistance from ADHOC. According to records released by the group, she said that the tapes were faked, there had been no affair with Kem Sokha, she was being intimidated by the authorities, and was suffering livelihood difficulties. As it routinely does for victims of alleged government abuses, ADHOC provided Srey Mom with a small sum of money for expenses, including to help her attend court, and assigned her a lawyer. On April 19, 2016, when she appeared with her lawyer before the prosecution, she reversed her denial of having an affair with Kem Sokha. On April 22, she issued an open letter alleging that the four ADHOC staffers and UN employee Son Saly had enticed her to lie to the authorities by sticking to her original story and suggested that she should leave Cambodia.

On April 23, 2016, the Ministry of Justice, which has a controlling influence over the Cambodian judiciary, cited Srey Mom’s letter and “condemned unreservedly the law-violating conduct” of ADHOC and the UN, and called for “the competent authorities” to “take the most vigorous legal measures” against them. ADHOC publicly denied any wrongdoing and distributed internal records backing up its contention that it had acted entirely in accordance with legal and professional standards for human rights work.

On April 25, the five current and former ADHOC staffers were summoned to present themselves for questioning on April 27 and 28 by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which has judicial police authority to investigate allegations of bribing a witness. The ACU is headed by CPP Central Committee member and long-term Hun Sen confidante Om Yentieng. On April 28, 2016, the ACU placed the five in custody, and on May 1, it brought them before the Phnom Penh court. While in ACU custody, they were not given access to legal counsel.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

It looked like justice for Kosovo’s lead-poisoning victims was finally within reach. Former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson convened a meeting in December 2016, just as he and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were preparing to hand the reins to a new UN administration.

Internally displaced Roma children play on lead contaminated land near the Zitkovac camp in Zvecan. The camp was closed in 2006 and its inhabitants voluntarily relocated to Osterode camp.

© 2006 Andrew Testa

The meeting was to examine how the UN could make amends for the pain and suffering the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) had inflicted on hundreds of families from ethnic minorities who were exposed to toxic lead after being forced to live in UNMIK-run camps in northern Kosovo after the 1998-1999 war.

A Human Rights Watch investigation showed the long-term lead exposure that camp residents were subjected to. While the UN eventually closed the camps, irrevocable damage had been done. Lead is highly toxic and can impair the body’s neurological, biological, and cognitive functions. Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible.

According to an account of the December 2016 session just published in the New York Times, the outcome of Eliasson’s meeting was a draft apology – a first step toward compensation for the victims, who were from Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities. The draft appeared to be in the spirit of a report by the UN’s own Human Rights Advisory Panel, which recommended last year that UNMIK pay compensation and issue a public apology to victims and their families.

But last month, the Times reported, the new UN chief, Antonio Guterres, convened a high-level meeting at which the UN Office of Legal Affairs recommended not to accept responsibility or commit to pay victims individual compensation, even though the tragedy was clearly the UN’s fault.

By refusing to acknowledge its own abuses, the UN seriously undermines its ability to press governments on their human rights violations. This is especially true considering the UN’s own tribunal clearly advised them of the right thing to do.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the Times that discussions were ongoing and that Guterres will make a final decision “very soon.” The victims in this case clearly want the UN to take its tribunal’s advice, and their long-overdue payment of adequate individual compensation cannot come fast enough. 

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

On April 12, Russia’s United Nations ambassador raised his hand to mark Moscow’s eighth veto against a resolution aimed at addressing appalling atrocities in Syria. The failed resolution would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in southern Idlib on April 4 and demanded that Syrian officials cooperate with an investigation.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov votes against a draft resolution condemning the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria at the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S., April 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

European Union states on the Security Council rightly decried Russia’s obstructionism and repeated their calls for justice. But the veto notwithstanding, or maybe even more so because of it, countries on and off the Security Council should take immediate steps to support collection of evidence connected to the April 4 attack and other crimes for use in future criminal prosecutions.

The use of chemical agents and the targeting of hospitals, schools, and civilians in Syria cannot be allowed to become the “new normal.” These are war crimes that should never become accepted weapons of war – not in Syria, not anywhere.

The UN General Assembly took a historic step in December 2016 to establish a new accountability mechanism in the face of Security Council deadlock. The move was aimed at supporting the collection, preservation, and analysis of evidence of crimes committed by all parties to the Syria conflict to be used potentially in future criminal proceedings.

But justice costs money. The new accountability mechanism needs US$13 million to get off the ground, and is dependent on voluntary funding. There is still about a $5 million shortfall. That is inexcusable.

On April 3, EU foreign ministers adopted an “EU strategy on Syria,” pledging “support” to the UN Syria accountability mechanism, stressing “the importance of providing sufficient resources” for “its vital work.”

To keep this promise, and in response to yesterday’s Russian veto, the EU and its member states should immediately fill the $5 million funding gap so the mechanism can be implemented.

A young Syrian man who survived torture at the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security apparatus and who is now pursuing justice for the crimes in Germany recently told me: “Justice is an antidote to continued crimes. It can motivate people not to join armed groups opposing Assad, and it can motivate people to defect Assad’s forces.”

I hope the EU and its 28 member states hear his call and dig into their pockets to get the UN accountability mechanism on its feet. They shouldn’t wait another day to do so.

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

This submission highlights concerns about the Republic of Korea (South Korea)’s compliance with its international human rights obligations since its previous Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) in 2012 and 2008. The submission focuses on problems related to National Security Law, the Criminal Defamation Law, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, travel restrictions based on HIV status, and LGBT rights and sex education in schools.

National Security Law

The National Security Law, originally adopted in 1948 as a temporary measure to counter the military threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), criminalizes any sort of positive comments about North Korea or the dissemination of what South Korea classifies as North Korean ‘propaganda.’

The National Security Law imposes significant restrictions on the freedom of South Koreans to create and join political associations, or even to meet with other people. The law imposes severe criminal penalties on anyone who joins or induces others to join an “anti-government organization.” That term is not clearly defined in the law, and has been applied by successive South Korean governments to everything from North Korea itself to organizations that simply express ideological views at odds with those of the South Korean government. The law further imposes criminal penalties on anyone who “constitutes or joins an organization aimed at propagating, inciting, praising, or acting in concert with an anti-government organization.”[1]

Under article 7(5) of the law, the mere possession of books that contain content similar to that disseminated by the North Korean state can lead to a jail term of up to seven years.

Meeting those who are known to express views that the South Korean government deems to be in sympathy with the North Korean government may also incur criminal punishment, as article 8(1) of the law applies to “any person who makes contact with a member of an anti-state organization or a person who has received an order from it, by means of a meeting, correspondence or other method, with the knowledge of the fact that it threatens to endanger the existence and security of the nation or democratic fundamental order.”[2] Article 7(3) of the law states that it applies to “those who organize or join a group intending to commit acts that praise, encourage, disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups, members or those under their control, being aware that such acts will endanger the national security and the democratic freedom.”

In 2012, South Korea rejected a recommendation made during the UPR process to “specify modalities for the implementation of the National Security Law so that this law cannot be used against freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.” Since then, 420 persons have been charged with violating the National Security Law. During that period of 2012-2016, prosecutors indicted 240 of those 420 persons.[3]   

South Korea has been urged by the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Committee, and many non-governmental organizations to abolish or substantially amend the National Security Law to bring it into line with international legal standards. Instead, successive administrations have used the law with increasing frequency.


  • Although total repeal or comprehensive reform of the National Security Law is the best solution there is an urgent need for immediate steps that should be taken by the legislature to strictly limit this law’s application to organizations, actions and expression that create a genuine threat to national security, as follows:
    • The law should make clear that merely expressing views that agree with views of either domestic or foreign “anti-State groups” (consistently interpreted by the South Korean government to mean groups supporting North Korea) or making positive comments about some aspect of North Korea does not by itself create or provide evidence of a risk to national security. In particular, the definition of “anti-state organization” in article 2 should be amended to include only groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government. With respect to provisions that criminalize disclosure of military or state secrets (articles 4(1)(2)(a) and (b)), the law should be amended to establish a “whistleblowing” defense, where it can be shown that benefit from public disclosure of particular military or state secrets outweighs the harm caused by the disclosure in circumstances where no adequate alternative means of exposing wrongdoing is available.
    • Article 7 should be abolished in its entirety as it uses undefined and broad terms to refer to outlawed acts such as praising, spreading or joining an “anti-state organization,” and circulating “false facts” that “threaten confusion of the social order.”
    • Article 8, which prohibits making contact with a member of an “anti-state organization,” should be abolished in its entirety;
    • Article 9(2), which provides a 10-year sentence for offering “any convenience” to someone who has committed or is going to commit one of the very broad “crimes” prescribed in the law, should be abolished in its entirety; and
    • In the meantime, amend each of the provisions that has been held “constitutional on condition of proper interpretation” by the Constitutional Court of Korea, including article 4(1)(2)(b) on disclosure of military and state secrets and article 6(2) on infiltration or escape from an area controlled by anti-state groups. The amended language should explicitly reflect the interpretation that the court found to be constitutional so that prosecutors and the National Intelligence Service are fully cognizant of the limitations imposed by the Constitutional Court.

Criminal Defamation Law

The South Korean government continues to use draconian criminal defamation laws to silence the media and civil society activists expressing views or making reports that go against the government’s views.  Human Rights Watch opposes all criminal defamation laws as a disproportionate and unnecessary response to the need to protect reputations, and note that such criminal laws chill freedom of expression.

International human rights law allows for restrictions on freedom of expression to protect the reputations of others, but such restrictions must be necessary and narrowly drawn. As repeal of criminal defamation laws in an increasing number of countries demonstrates, using criminal laws are not necessary to protect reputations.

Criminal defamation law in South Korea focuses solely on whether what was said or written was in the public interest, and not whether it was factually true or not. If the court finds defamatory intent using “facts,” that is, truthful information, a person can still face as many as three years in prison or a fine up to 20 million won ($US 17,950). Defamation using “openly false facts” can result in a prison sentence of up to seven years or fines up to 50 million won ($US 44,880).[4]

Recent cases in which the criminal defamation laws have been abused to silence activists or reporters include:

  • A 2014 lawsuit by senior South Korean government officials against six reporters and staffers of the Segye Ilbo newspaper, who reported a news story using a leaked official document from then President Park Geun-hye’s office. The lawsuit was only dropped by prosecutors in 2016.[5]  
  • The prosecution of Tatsuya Kato, the Seoul bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun newspaper of Japan, for a report that included information about then President Park’s alleged whereabouts and activities during the initial hours of the MV Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, 2014. While Kato was finally acquitted and left the country, the prosecution caused a serious diplomatic rift between South Korea and Japan.[6] Others, like activist Park Sung-Su, were prosecuted and imprisoned for circulating the same information that Kato had reported on.[7]
  • The National Intelligence Service’s filing of defamation lawsuits against reporters and human rights activists involved in publicizing illegal NIS involvement in the 2012 election, though many of these cases were later dropped after a year or two.[8]​


  • South Korea should immediately end prosecutions of persons under criminal defamation laws, drop criminal defamation cases currently being prosecuted in the courts, and unconditionally release all persons currently imprisoned for criminal defamation. 
  • South Korea should revoke its criminal defamation laws, and instead employ civil defamation and criminal incitement laws, which under international human rights law are sufficient for protecting reputations and maintaining public order. The government should ensure its civil defamation and criminal incitement laws are written and implemented in ways that provide protections for freedom of expression.

Restrictions on Women’s Reproductive Rights

During the 2012 UPR process, South Korea accepted numerous recommendations to further promote and protect women’s rights, such as one recommendation to “take all procedures to prevent all forms of violence against children and women.” Nevertheless, many obstacles remain to fulfillment of such recommendations.

South Korea’s laws on abortion are punitive and harmful to women and girls. Abortion is considered a crime, and any woman who undergoes an abortion is subject to up to one year of imprisonment or fines up to 2 million won (US $1800), and healthcare workers who provide abortions can face up to two years in prison.[9]

Exceptions are permitted only in cases of rape or incest, if the parents cannot marry legally, if continuation of the pregnancy is likely to jeopardize the pregnant woman’ health, or when the pregnant woman or her spouse has one of several hereditary disorders or communicable diseases that are designated by government decree.  Women who are married must have their spouse’s permission to obtain an abortion, and all abortions, for any reason, are prohibited after 24 weeks of pregnancy.[10]

The criminalization of abortion means that many abortions are illegally performed in South Korea. This reality forces women and girls who seek abortions into a legal no man’s land where abortion care is unregulated, clandestine, and far more dangerous than if the procedure were legal. In 2016, the South Korea government threatened to make this law even worse by toughening penalties on medical providers who perform abortions illegally. Public protests opposing these changes took place in Seoul in October.[11] 

The government has expressed concern about the country’s falling birth rate, but further restricting abortion is not an appropriate or legal response. To accomplish policy goals related to population, the government should respect women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions, and instead consider adopting measures that make it easier for people to have children, or have more children.


  • The South Korean government should immediately amend its laws to decriminalize abortion and remove all penalties for women who seek abortions, and for doctors and other medical personnel involved in providing abortions.
  • The South Korean government should adopt regulations and policies that enhance access to quality pre-natal and obstetric care, provide parental leave for both women and men, and eliminate discriminatory provisions in law and policy that disadvantage a single parent, or parents who are not officially married, and their children.

Travel Restrictions Based on HIV Status

In 2016, National Human Rights Commission of South Korean (NHRC) issued two important rulings on South Korea’s discriminatory travel ban for people living with HIV. Under South Korea’s Prevention of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Act, foreigners who want apply for a visa for an extended stay in the country are required to prove that they are HIV negative in order to be eligible.[12]

In August 2016, the NHRC ruled that regulations banning people who are HIV positive from receiving scholarships to study in South Korea are discriminatory.[13] The decision focused on the Foreign Graduate School Students Program's policy of turning away HIV-positive applicants, or taking away their scholarships, based on their HIV positive status.

A week later, the NHRC ruled that mandatory HIV testing of foreign English language teachers was discriminatory since Korean nationals are not subjected to the same requirement, and stated the requirement was not justified on public health or any other grounds.[14] Specifically, the NHRC found that mandatory HIV testing of foreigners holding E-2 teaching visas (foreign English language teachers) amounted to racial discrimination, since ethnic Koreans were not subject to the same requirement. The NHRC decision related to the May 2015 UN CERD case L.G. v. Republic of Korea[15] in which Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) made the same determination, which was ignored by the South Korean government.

Both decisions noted that restrictions on the entry of people living with HIV into the country do not yield any public health benefit.

Public health experts long ago concluded that travel restrictions based on HIV status are ineffective and discriminatory. As early as in 1987, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that there was no justification for such restrictions, and that screening international travelers was not an effective strategy to prevent the spread of HIV.[16] In 2006, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and UNAIDS reiterated that the practice is “discriminatory and cannot be justified by public health concerns.”[17]

International human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which South Korea is a state party, has been interpreted to prohibit travel bans based on HIV status.[18]

In June 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found South Korea’s mandatory HIV testing of foreign teachers to be in violation of the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.[19]                               

In 2010, the South Korean government itself recognized that the restrictions constituted a form of discrimination and pledged to remove all HIV-related travel restrictions on foreigners.[20] Moreover, during its 2012 UPR, South Korea accepted a recommendation to “continue efforts to strengthen access to quality education and health services, especially for the vulnerable segments of society.” However, for reasons that remain unclear the government never fulfilled its pledge. In the hearing before the Commission in 2016, the government justified the policies claiming that people living with HIV have “difficulty studying for a long term as they are likely to contract various infectious diseases…and are medically incurable”; that physical exchanges between students at school facilities could promote HIV infection in South Korea; and that treatment of HIV would place a financial burden on the government. In early 2017, the South Korean government announced it would not implement either of the Commission’s rulings.


  • South Korea should immediately amend the Prevention of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Act, and all relevant related regulations and policies, to eliminate all aspects of discriminatory travel restrictions against persons with HIV and AIDS.

LGBT Rights and Sex Education in Schools

Education ministry officials in Seoul stated in February 2017 that South Korea’s new national sex education curriculum will not mention homosexuality. This continues a backsliding that began nearly two years ago, when the government started training district education officials country-wide on new sex education guidelines that made no mention of sexual minorities.[21] In 2012, South Korea rejected four out of five recommendations related to discrimination against citizens based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including one recommendation to “include in the Anti-discrimination Law a specific prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

This policy discriminates against LGBT youth and violates their right to education, information, and health. Human Rights Watch believes the policy also violates South Korea’s international human rights commitments, and could be harmful to young people and negatively affect public health. Human Rights Watch notes that HIV infections have increased sharply in South Korea since 2000, and infections are increasing fastest among men in their 20s.[22]

The South Korean government has attempted to clarify that the curriculum’s silence should not be taken as exclusionary, with an official saying that, “The fact that the guideline does not contain sexual minorities does not necessarily mean that teachers should not do the related lessons.”

But a curriculum that neglects inclusion of information about sexual orientation and gender identity fails students. Ad hoc or optional training programs for teachers are not an adequate substitute.


  • The government should immediately reverse this decision to exclude mention of homosexuality in the national sex education curriculum, and halt teacher training programs under the new sex education guidelines until the policy can be amended in to comport with the government’s international human rights obligations to ensure the rights to information, education, and health for all persons in South Korea.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “South Korea: Cold War Relic Law Criminalizes Criticism”, May 28, 2015,, (accessed March 27, 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Statistics Korea, (accessed March 23, 2017).

[4] Human Rights Watch, “South Korea: Stop Using Criminal Defamation Laws”, December 14, 2014, (accessed March 17, 2017).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, “South Korean Government Accused of Using Defamation Laws to Silence Critics”, March 5, 2016, (accessed March 20, 2017)

[8] Manyan Lai, Pen America, “South Korea’s Defamation Laws: A Dangerous Tool”, December 28, 2016, (access March 21, 2017).

[9] Heather Barr, “Abortion Should Not be a Crime”, The Korea Times, November 10, 2016,, (accessed March 22, 2017).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Amnesty International, “South Korea: Stop Criminalization of Abortion”, October 28, 2016, (accessed March 15, 2017).

[12] Law on the Prevention of AIDS (1987), (accessed March 21, 2017).

[13] National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Discrimination Remedy Committee Decision, “Discrimination against HIV-infected Persons during Selection of Government-invited Foreign Students,” August 31, 2016.

[14] National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Standing Committee Decision, “Recommendation for revising the medical examination requirement for foreign E-2 visa holders and preparing domestic procedures for individual communications under U.N. human rights treaties,” September 8, 2016.

[15] UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights,, (accessed March 26, 2017).

[16] World Health Organization, "Statement on Screening of International Travelers for Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus," WHO/GPA/INF/88.3, 1988.

[17] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), "International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights."

[18] Human Rights Watch, “Discrimination, Denial and Deportation: Human Rights Abuses Affecting Migrants Living with HIV”, June 18, 2009,, (accessed March 29, 2017).

[19] International Labor Organization, “UN CERD Committee strikes down mandatory HIV testing of foreign teachers in South Korea,” 2015, (accessed March 21, 2017).

[20] UNAIDS, “UN Secretary-General Applauds the Removal of Entry Restrictions Based on HIV Status by United States of America and Republic of Korea,” 2010, (accessed March 21, 2017). Statement by the Republic of Korea at the 13th session of the Human Rights Council on March 2, 2010, (accessed March 21, 2017).

[21] Kyle Knight, Human Rights Watch, “South Korea Backslides on Sex Education”, February 17, 2017, (accessed on March 27, 2017); and Human Rights Watch, “Letter to the Government of South Korea on Human Rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education”, July 20, 2015,, (accessed on March 15, 2017).

[22] Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of HIV and Tuberculosis Control. “HIV/AIDS Control in the Republic of Korea.” 2011.; Hae-Wol Cho. “What’s next for HIV/AIDS in Korea?” Osong Public Health Res Perspectives. 2013 Dec; 4(6): 291–292.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am