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

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A civil defense member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Governments supporting an effort to identify those responsible for deadly chemical attacks in Syria need to back their commitment to justice with cash. They will get the chance this week when member states of an international treaty banning chemical weapons vote on the 2019 budget for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In June, parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention agreed to establish a team to determine responsibility for the chemical attacks in Syria, where the government and some armed groups have repeatedly used toxic agents as weapons. The vote to set up the team came despite fierce resistance from Russia, Syria’s staunchest ally, and after Russia vetoed an effort by the United Nations Security Council to hold accountable those responsible for attacks killing hundreds. There have been at least 85 confirmed chemical weapons attacks since August 2013, at least 50 by the Syrian government, according to Human Rights Watch and six other sources.

Russia has continued to lobby against OPCW efforts to get the team up and running. On Monday a Russian diplomat said the effort was based on "out and out lies" spread by Western governments seeking an excuse for "raining down missiles" on Syria.

The OPCW’s budget for 2019 would earmark a modest €2 million (approximately US$2.3 million) for the Syria team, which the OPCW hopes will report in 2019 on responsibility for at least three previous attacks and in 2020 on five more.

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

There’s no veto in The Hague. But members of the Chemical Weapons Convention need to show up and vote for the OPCW draft budget to ensure the attribution team has the resources to get to work. Those who deploy chemical weapons in Syria should be unmasked. It will be a first step towards justice for many of Syria’s countless victims.

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

The facts surrounding the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and Post Global Opinions columnist, have continued to leak into the public view. But what has been missing is any commitment to create a path capable of delivering meaningful justice.

Turkey’s foreign ministerMevlut Cavusoglu, took a first step on Nov. 14 when he called for an international investigation. Under the guidance of the United Nations secretary general, such an effort could get to the bottom of what really happened, determine who was responsible and ensure that they are held to account. It could run parallel to Turkey’s criminal investigation, which is already underway, and add a level of international legitimacy and independence. Furthermore, if conducted by seasoned criminal investigators, it could really dig into finding the suspected killers and murder masterminds, free from any immediate political baggage.

The Saudis have said they will investigate, but the notion that a Saudi inquiry might produce anything meaningful strains credulity, especially given Riyadh’s proven inability to investigate itself. On Wednesday, and without offering evidence, the Saudis announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not responsible and that they are seeking the death penalty for five suspects. Turkey, on the other hand, intends for its inquiry to be legitimate and up to international standards, but the Saudi probe is likely to be a whitewash that deflects pressure and produces a scapegoat. Authorities in Ankara have warned the Saudis against prolonging the investigation while continuing themselves to divulge bits and pieces of information about the murder to the media.

In the weeks since Khashoggi was murdered, the steady stream of disturbing and macabre allegations has presented a file of evidence so damning that even the Saudi government had to reverse its initial denials and acknowledge that he was killed. The process by which the Saudi authorities came to that begrudging announcement was full of fits and starts and, ultimately, appeared aimed not at enabling meaningful justice but at insulating the crown prince and protecting his rule. Even the emergency shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during those early days after Khashoggi’s disappearance was more likely geared to determine how much credibility the United States would be able to extend to the Saudis’ ludicrous narrative, rather than how to achieve justice.

President Trump has threatened “severe punishment” for anyone linked to Khashoggi’s killing, and Pompeo has pledged to hold those responsible accountable. On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions on most of the sacrificial lambs Saudi Arabia offered up as suspects — some of whom may in fact have been involved. But for the most part, Trump’s and Pompeo’s statements belie what we already know: The Trump administration isn’t actually willing to take steps that would rattle the crown prince or undermine the “important strategic relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Consequently, the Turkish foreign minister’s call for an international investigation should lead the way if there is to be movement on the global calls for justice — and to help Khashoggi’s children understand what really happened to their father.

Importantly, there is precedent for this kind of inquiry. In 2008, Pakistan asked U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. And earlier this year, Britain turned to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm British authorities’ findings that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been deployed in Salisbury. The unequivocal message such an investigation would also send about the need to protect journalists, at a time when they are alarmingly under attack around the globe, is a vital complement.

The Trump administration’s reliance on the Saudi investigation gives Congress a valuable opening to weigh in constructively, in favor of a U.N. effort that is independent and more legitimate. Indeed, as the lame-duck session gets underway, members are preparing concrete ways to respond to Khashoggi’s killing, whether legislatively or otherwise. Twenty-two senators have also called for an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act, which could determine whether the Saudis are responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violations of human rights.

These are all important steps that will also help hobble the Saudi coalition’s reckless operations in Yemen, stem the carnage and begin to respond to Khashoggi’s murder. But the circumstances surrounding his death have resonated globally and brought home a level of brutality for millions of people that is usually distant and abstract. Such a heinous act not only demands answers — it also demands truth and justice.

Members on both sides of the aisle have called for accountability and promised a forthright response. Khashoggi’s children and his fiancee have called on the international community to take serious steps to reveal the truth. The Turkish foreign minister has made clear his support for an international inquiry as well. Now is the time.

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

Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 23, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Thomas Peter
The United Nations Security Council, which typically only leaves New York City to travel to conflict zones, is heading to China later this month. Beijing, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council, has planned the trip to showcase the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou and to spotlight its contributions to UN peacekeeping around the world. So far, Council diplomats seem content to take the trip without addressing the elephant in the room: the Chinese government’s ongoing repression of 13 million Turkic Muslims, one million of whom are arbitrarily detained in “political education camps.”

This year, the ambassadors of the 15 member-Council have taken trips to Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to spending time with political leaders in capital cities, the diplomats also met with those affected by conflict and violence. Unfortunately, it appears they won't get that chance in China.

The Chinese government is facing mounting criticism for its persecution of Turkic Muslims, including Uighurs and Kazakhs, in Xinjiang and abroad. Earlier this month, Chinese diplomats faced tough questions from many Security Council ambassadors’ counterparts in Geneva, especially the Dutch, Americans, French, British, and Swedish, who demanded a change in its policies in Xinjiang. While Chinese diplomats asserted that the camps amounted to little more than vocational training, there is strong evidence—including research by Human Rights Watch—that indicates otherwise. Those detained have described torture and ill-treatment including beatings, being hung from ceilings, and shackling. Documents show that local government officials running these camps bought thousands of batons, cattle prods, handcuffs, tasers, and cans of pepper spray – hardly the tools for vocational training.

Traveling to China in 2018 and skipping Xinjiang feels akin to visiting Cape Town at the height of apartheid and ignoring prisoners on Robben Island.

If the 14 other countries currently sitting on the Security Council accept China’s proposed terms for this trip, they risk enabling abuses in Xinjiang. This trip represents a key test of the idea that great powers can use the fig leaf of sovereignty to get away with atrocities without consequences. Will Council diplomats go along with the charade or use their trip to draw attention to this profound injustice?

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

 Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

© 2018 Cemal Kaşıkçı

(Geneva) – Saudi Arabia faced international scrutiny of its human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council on November 5, 2018, as countries pressed for concrete steps to end abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

Country representatives gathering in Geneva for the periodic review of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record made recommendations that included the immediate release of Saudi activists – including women driving activists – jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform. They also called for an end to discrimination against women and justice for the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including assuring accountability for his killers.

“Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression, which have come into focus in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should respond to international criticism of its human rights record and make meaningful changes, including the immediate release of jailed human rights defenders as a first step.” 

Video

Hold Saudis Accountable for Khashoggi Death

We’re asking world leaders to reject Saudi Arabia’s attempted whitewash of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by asking for an independent UN investigation. We are also asking them to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it ends unlawful attacks in Yemen.

Among the recommendations were to respect freedom of expression and the rights of human rights defenders. Since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, Saudi authorities have escalated an intensified a coordinated crackdown on dissidents and human rights activists.

On May 15, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, Saudi authorities began arresting prominent women’s rights activists, accusing several of them of grave crimes such as treason that appear to be directly related to their activism. By September, at least nine women remained detained without charge, though some anticipated charges could carry prison terms of up to 20 years. The nine are Loujain al-HathloulAziza al-YousefEman al-NafjanNouf AbdelazizMayaa al-ZahraniHatoon al-FassiSamar BadawiNassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.

More than a dozen prominent activists convicted on charges arising from their peaceful activities are serving long prison sentences. They include Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer serving a 15-year sentence imposed by the Specialized Criminal Court in 2014, on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism of rights abuses in media interviews and on social media.

Regarding the Khashoggi killing, recommendations during the November 5 session included inviting “a team of international experts to participate in the investigation,” as well as collaborating with the Human Rights Council to “establish a hybrid mechanism for the impartial and independent investigation.” On October 20, Saudi Arabia admitted that people acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia had murdered Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Human Rights Watch has said that other countries should reject Saudi Arabia’s attempted whitewash of the killing and that the UN should open an investigation to independently determine the circumstances surrounding the killing. The inquiry should include determining Saudi Arabia’s role, and identifying those responsible for authorizing, planning, and carrying out the apparently brutal murder.

Saudi Arabia also faced calls to abide by international humanitarian law in its military operations in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including apparent war crimes, and has failed to carry out meaningful and impartial investigations into alleged violations. The work of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), established by the coalition in 2016, has fallen far short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. As of September, the unit had cleared the coalition of wrongdoing in the vast majority of airstrikes investigated.

Country representatives also recommended that Saudi Arabia end discrimination against women, including by ending the discriminatory male guardianship system. Under this system, women are not allowed to apply for a passport, marry, travel, or be released from prison without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. One country urged Saudi Arabia to guarantee women’s rights by enacting anti-discrimination legislation.

Saudi Arabia faced numerous calls to end the death penalty or adopt a moratorium on executions, especially for child offenders and for people convicted of “non-serious crimes.” Saudi Arabia has executed over 650 people since its previous Universal Periodic Review in 2013, over 200 of them for nonviolent drug crimes. International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances.

In 2018, Saudi authorities began seeking the death penalty against dissidents in trials that did not include accusations of violence, including for supporting protests and alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. A handful of men are on death row for offenses allegedly committed when they were children.

Country representatives also said that Saudi Arabia should accede to major human rights treaties and covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which along with Universal Declaration of Human Rights make up the International Bill of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is one of only a handful of countries in the world that have not signed or ratified those treaties, though Saudi representatives have claimed since 2009 that ratification is under consideration.

“The world should seize this opportunity to demand justice for Saudi Arabia’s serious rights abuses and harmful practices, many of which have been going on for decades,” Page said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Your Excellencies,

The undersigned national, regional,y and international civil society organizations urge your government to support resolution A/C.3/73/L.42 on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been presented to the Third Committee in the framework of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. This annual resolution provides an opportunity for the General Assembly to take stock of human rights violations in Iran over the last year and the many other human rights concerns that remain unaddressed in the country, as detailed in reports recently issued by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and offers key recommendations for how the Government of Iran can better implement its national and international human rights obligations.

We echo the Secretary-General’s observation that this year has been “marked by an intensified crackdown on protesters, journalists and social media users,” in the wake of the wave of protests that erupted across Iran in December 2017 and continued into 2018. The Iranians authorities have stepped up their repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, jailing hundreds of people on vague and broadly worded national security charges. Those targeted include peaceful political dissidents, journalists, online media workers, students, filmmakers, musicians and writers, as well as human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, minority rights activists, environmental activists, trade unionists, anti-death penalty campaigners, lawyers, and those seeking truth, justice and reparation for the mass executions and enforced disappearances of the 1980s. In a worrying development, the Iranian authorities this year arbitrarily arrested and detained, prosecuted and imprisoned on spurious criminal charges lawyers representing civil society activists and others charged for politically motivated reasons. Judicial authorities have denied detainees accused of national security-related charges access to a lawyer of their choice, particularly during the investigation process.

The resolution also acknowledges positive steps taken by the Government, including putting into effect an amendment to the country’s drug law which has resulted in fewer executions for drug-related offences being carried out in the country.

Nonetheless, Iran’s wide use of the death penalty remains of great concern. Iranian law still retains the death penalty for a wide range of drug trafficking offences. Iran also continues to use the death penalty for vaguely worded offences such as “enmity against god” (moharebeh) and “spreading corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz), which do not amount to an internationally recognizable criminal offence. The death penalty is also retained for acts that should not even be considered crimes including some consensual same-sex sexual conduct and intimate extra-marital relationships. The penal code also continues to provide for stoning as a method of execution.

Also deeply concerning is Iran’s continued use of sentencing to death and executing those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Despite repeated condemnations by UN bodies, to date in 2018, the Iranian authorities have executed at least five people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime of which they were convicted; according to Amnesty International, at least 85 others remain on death row and the real number could be much higher. This horrific practice is a flagrant violation of Iran’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as under customary international law, and requires urgent action by UN member states.

We, as civil society actors, believe that the UN’s ongoing engagement is necessary in order to press Iran to undertake long-overdue reforms and respect the human rights of all in the country. The Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur have repeatedly stressed that various laws, policies and practices in Iran continue to seriously undermine the fundamental rights of the people of Iran, including their rights to life; freedom from torture and other ill-treatment; fair trial; freedom of religion or belief; peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression (online and offline), association and assembly; and equal enjoyment of all to education, to health and to work.

Violence and discrimination, in law and practice, against individuals on the basis of gender, religion, belief, ethnicity, language, political opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, also remain widespread and continue to be sanctioned by laws, policies and government practices.

Women and girls experience pervasive discrimination, in law and practice, and receive little or no protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading practices, including domestic violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage, and forced veiling. 

In addition, the systematic persecution of Baha’is continues unabated. Other religious minorities including Christian converts, Yaresan (Ahl-e Haq), and Sunni Muslims also face systematic discrimination. This year the authorities have subjected Gonabadi Dervishes to a harsh crackdown, with hundreds arrested and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and over 200 sentenced after grossly unfair trials to harsh prison terms, floggings, internal exile, travel bans, and/or a ban on membership of social and political groups. Ethnic minority activists, including Arabs, Baloch, Kurds and Azerbaijani Turks have also been subjected to widespread patterns of abuse and serious violations of their rights.

Further to this, Iran has by and large failed to implement key recommendations by UN human rights bodies. For instance, torture and other ill-treatment at the time of arrest and in detention, including prolonged solitary confinement, continue to be committed on a widespread basis and with complete impunity. Judicial authorities also continue to impose and implement sentences that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments, including floggings and amputations, which amount to torture. 

Cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms is lacking. The Government’s engagement with these entities, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, has been cursory. Despite the Government’s issuance of a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures in 2002 and dozens of UN recommendations urging the Government’s cooperation with them, pending requests for country visits from 10 thematic procedures remain unaddressed. No special procedure has been allowed to visit Iran since 2005. Furthermore, individuals, including human rights defenders, have faced reprisals on the basis of real or perceived contact with UN bodies.

The continued attention of the international community is required to ensure Iran upholds its international human rights obligations. By supporting resolution A/C.3/73/L.42, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the Iranian authorities that the promotion and respect of human rights is a priority, and that genuine and tangible improvements to the situation are expected to ensure the dignity inherent to all persons in Iran.

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights

All human rights for all in Iran

Amnesty International

Arseh Sevom

Article 18

ARTICLE 19

ASL19

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran - Geneva

AHRAZ - Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran

Balochistan Human Rights Group

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Centre for Supporters of Human Rights

Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM)

Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI)

Human Rights Watch

Impact Iran

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

International Service for Human Rights

Iran Human Rights

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)

Justice for Iran

Kurdistan Human Rights Network

Minority Rights Group International

OutRight Action International

Siamak Pourzand Foundation

Small Media

The Advocates for Human Rights

United for Iran

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

6Rang (Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Chinese Vice-Foreign Affairs Minister Le Yucheng speaks during the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

© 2018 Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

According to senior Chinese diplomats addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council at China’s periodic review on November 6, Xinjiang is “very beautiful, safe, and stable,” and “a nice place.”

If only that were true!

The review of China’s human rights actions and policies featured plenty of profoundly dishonest claims by China. It lied about its failure to ratify core human rights treaties and the broad range of offenses punishable by death, the arrests of human rights defenders, and its record of thwarting international human rights institutions.

But the tidal wave of documentation from academics, journalists, and human rights organizations regarding rampant human rights violations in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region shows just how disingenuous the delegation’s Xinjiang claims are. There is little “stability” or “safety” for the approximately one million Turkic Muslims arbitrarily detained in “political education” camps in Xinjiang, spending their days being forcibly indoctrinated in Xi Jinping Thought.

Those outside the camps have no choice but to “welcome” government and Communist Party officials to stay in their homes, where family members’ behavior is under close surveillance. Human Rights Watch research documents pervasive restrictions on the practice of Islam in the region, ranging from confiscating copies of the Quran to prohibiting daily prayers.

At the Universal Periodic Review, 13 countries challenged China to close the camps, and some echoed the call from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to allow access to Xinjiang investigate the scope of abuse. More expressed concerns about restrictions on the freedom of religious belief and on ethnic minority groups.

But not a single government from an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member country explicitly called out China for its shocking abuses of Muslims, making it easier for Beijing to paint the criticism as another “Western” conspiracy. Only Turkey acknowledged the problem, speaking about “confinement of individuals without legal grounds,” but without specific reference to Xinjiang.  And some of those governments have been complicit in Beijing’s “Strike Hard” campaign – forcibly returning Turkic Muslims, particularly Uyghurs, to China, denying them safe passage to third countries, providing information about their identities to Chinese authorities. Few have even challenged Beijing for persecuting Turkic Muslims who have visited, studied in, or had family members emigrate to their own country.

It’s not clear why the defense of Muslims in China fell almost exclusively to Western governments. But an end to the crisis for that community will need intervention from a broad chorus. Will the Muslim-majority countries step up? 

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

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

United Nations member countries should press China about mass detention in Xinjiang and other serious rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. The “interactive dialogue” portion of China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during which countries make human rights recommendations, will be on November 6, 2018 in Geneva.

The countries should urge China to close the “political education” centers across Xinjiang, where the authorities are arbitrarily detaining an estimated one million Turkic Muslims because Beijing views their distinct identity as evidence of political disloyalty. The other countries should support the call of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for greater UN access to Xinjiang, and for an independent fact-finding mission to the region.

“All UN member states have an equal opportunity to press China on its egregious human rights record, and they shouldn’t waste it,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “If countries join together to raise key rights concerns, Beijing will need to be responsive if it’s going to have any credibility at the UN’s top rights body.”

This will be China’s third review under the Universal Periodic Review, a review which occurs every five years of each UN member country’s human rights record. While China has participated in the process, it has in all three reviews deliberately excluded broad public consultation in preparing its national report, presented disingenuous information during the dialogue with other countries, and sought to limit the scope of the review.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch detailed China’s efforts to undermine not only the UPR but also other key UN human rights mechanisms, including limiting treaty body reviews and access to China by UN experts, and persecuting independent groups and activists critical of Beijing who seek to engage with the UN.

The Human Rights Watch submission for China’s 2018 review focuses on issues including the deaths in detention of human rights defenders, among them Cao Shunli, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Liu Xiaobo, Yang Tongyan, and Muhammed Salih Hajim. Human Rights Watch also urged countries to ask China about arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, mass surveillance, forced conversion therapy, and declining political rights in Hong Kong.

President Xi Jinping’s campaign against human rights defenders has undermined China’s UPR, Human Rights Watch said. In September 2013, Chinese authorities detained Cao Shunli, an activist, while she was boarding a flight to Geneva. After being held for several months without charge, Cao became gravely ill and died in March 2014. The authorities released her days before her death, seeking to avoid being held responsible. When independent organizations attempted to hold a moment of silence in her memory days later at the Human Rights Council, during the adoption of China’s 2013 UPR outcome report, China quashed the gesture through a procedural move. This incident and the broader crackdown on rights defenders have meant far fewer independent voices from China have submitted reports or tried to travel to Geneva for the UPR.

“Chinese activists have been imprisoned, tortured, and fatally mistreated for the chance to challenge Beijing over its human rights record,” Fisher said. “Governments that don’t seize this opportunity to speak out embolden China, weaken the UN, and demoralize activists struggling across the world to hold Beijing accountable.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the Committee against Torture’s adoption of the list of issues prior to reporting on France at its November 2018 session to highlight some concerns regarding France’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereafter “the Convention”), based on recent research conducted by Human Rights Watch.

In our last submission to the Committee against Torture about France, we mentioned our concerns regarding the inadequate detention conditions and insufficient access to mental health services for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in France. These concerns remain strong, and the recommendations provided by the Committee in 2016 are yet to be implemented. Moreover, although, in our April 2016 report Double Punishment – Inadequate Conditions for Prisoners with Psychosocial Disabilities in France, we highlighted the lack of available data on the issue, no comprehensive study had been conducted since 2004.

  • We urge the Committee to question the French government on the measures they have implemented, or are planning to implement, in order to respond to the recommendations it put forward in 2016.

Condition of detention for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in disciplinary quarters

One issue that remains of particular concern is that people with psychosocial disabilities can be held in solitary confinement in disciplinary quarters where their mental health can deteriorate, often resulting in self-harm.

A prisoner punished by detention in a disciplinary cell is held there alone, banned from participating in activities and from working. They have the right to go outside for an hour per day for exercise in a special courtyard, where they are alone with a guard. In such circumstances, prisoners with psychosocial disabilities may experience the punishment as disproportionately harsh compared to prisoners without such disabilities.

According to Juan Mendez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, the imposition of solitary confinement “of any duration, on persons with mental disabilities is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” He has called on governments to abolish it for prisoners with psychosocial or cognitive disabilities.

He has also said that “the longer the duration of solitary confinement or the greater the uncertainty regarding the length of time, the greater the risk of serious and irreparable harm to the inmate that may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or even torture.”

  • We urge the Committee to call on the French government to end the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities.
  • We urge the Committee to call on the French government to commission an independent and comprehensive study of the mental health of prisoners as a first step towards addressing the inadequate detention conditions and gaps in provision of mental healthcare, which place prisoners at risk of prohibited ill-treatment, as recommended by the French National Assembly’s working group on detention conditions.

Abusive practices in psychiatric hospitals

Although specially equipped hospital units exist in the French mental health system, only 9 are currently open in the country, and none outside of continental France. The government had promised to build a dozen more, but no date has officially been set for their opening.

The insufficient number of psychiatric facilities specifically designed to accommodate prisoners—and in some cases the lack of means to transport prisoners to said facilities—encourages prison authorities to bring prisoners in need of medical care to regular mental health facilities instead. Prisoners who had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals without their consent as well as medical staff and the former inspector of prisons described to Human Rights Watch harsh conditions for prisoners in psychiatric hospitals. In such cases, the patients in custody admitted for involuntary psychiatric care are almost systematically placed in isolation rooms and deprived of numerous rights they are entitled to in prison because they are considered dangerous and representing a flight risk, based on their status as prisoners.

“Sarah,” a female prisoner, told Human Rights Watch what she remembered about being held in two psychiatric hospitals in the past: “In both there was a lot of ill-treatment,” she said. “Sometimes […] nurses dragged me by my feet to an isolation room, they attached me to the bed, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I prefer a thousand times to be in a cell than in an isolation room in hospital, my arms and feet tied down as if I were an animal, an injection in my buttocks,” she said.

Some patients have no access to the telephone, are not allowed any visits, personal belongings, walks outside of their room or even access to the open air other than a small window. Such practices, already pointed out in our previous communications, remain clear violations of the fundamental rights of patients with a prisoner status, and can constitute inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment, in breach of Article 16 of the convention.

  • We urge the committee to recommend that France prohibits the use of seclusion and French hospitals respect patients’ right to treatment based on free and informed consent and treat them in a non-discriminatory manner, regardless of their criminal record.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A syringe used for injecting the opioid heroin. 

© Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

As we approach 2019 – the year set out by the UN a decade ago as the target date by which to “eliminate or reduce significantly and measurably” illegal drug markets – the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global coalition of 170 nongovernmental organizations working on drug policy issues, argues that this goal has been “spectacularly missed.”

The Consortium’s report, drawing on data from government and nongovernment sources, provides a comprehensive evaluation of the 10-year UN drugs strategy and concludes by urging UN member states to conduct their own honest and thorough assessment of the strategy, something that has so far not happened.

According to UN data analyzed in the report, illegal cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush increased by 130 and 34 percent respectively between 2009 and 2018; the number of adolescents and adults who had used drugs at least once in 2016 grew by 31 percent compared to 2011; and drug-related deaths surged by 145 percent from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, the global drug market continues to flourish with annual turnover estimated at US$426 to US$652 billion. More than half of the gross profits from the drug trade are laundered, with law enforcement seizing less than one percent of that money.

Overly punitive drug policies have exacerbated violence in countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico, the report said, resulting in countless deaths, enforced disappearances, and displaced persons.

UN data shows that one in five prisoners worldwide is behind bars for drug offences, the overwhelming majority for mere drug possession. In some countries, as many as 80 percent of women in prison are there for drug offences.

Rates of HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis infection among people who use drugs continue to be far higher than in the general population as most countries lack prevention and health services, or people are reluctant to use health services because drug use is criminalized.

At the UN General Assembly, US President Donald Trump recently called for member states to sign a document supporting “action on the global war against drugs”. Sixty-three countries did not sign, saying the document was too narrow, without enough focus on health, human rights, and appropriate punishments.

The report recommends that the next global drug strategy focus not on creating a “drug free world” but on improving health outcomes, compliance with human rights norms, and promoting development, peace and security.

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

(New York) – Turkey should urgently ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a United Nations investigation into the possible extrajudicial execution of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders said today.

The investigation should determine the circumstances surrounding Saudi Arabia’s role in the enforced disappearance and possible killing of Khashoggi. It should aim to identify everyone responsible for ordering, planning, and executing any operations connected with the case.

“Turkey should enlist the UN to initiate a timely, credible, and transparent investigation” said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “UN involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh.”

 Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

© 2018 Cemal Kaşıkçı

Evidence collected by the UN investigation team should be preserved for use in future prosecutions. The investigation team should have complete access to travel where it needs to and to interview potential witnesses or suspects without interference. The team should also recommend avenues for bringing to justice anyone against whom credible and admissible evidence of involvement is found.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 and has not been seen or heard from since. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, claiming he left the consulate on his own shortly after his arrival, but it has failed to produce any evidence supporting this claim.

Saudi authorities have escalated their crackdown on dissenting voices in the country since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, marked by systematic repression of dissent, including peaceful expression directed to the promotion and protection of human rights. Virtually all human rights defenders and critical voices, including religious clerics, journalists, and academics, have been targeted in the recent arrests.

Khashoggi’s disappearance comes after more than a year of arrests targeting journalists who reported on corruption, women’s rights, and other sensitive issues. Several are being held in unknown locations, without charges, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many individuals, including the prominent women human rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef, have been arbitrarily detained without charge for months. These women activists and many others may face lengthy prison terms or the death penalty following grossly unfair trials before the counterterrorism court for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, or assembly.

The Turkish authorities announced that they had initiated a criminal investigation on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2. As part of this investigation, they conducted a forensic examination of the Saudi Arabian consulate on October 15. Information from the investigation has been shared with the media through a series of leaks, including claims regarding the existence of audio and visual records proving that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate.

On October 15, Saudi Arabia’s king ordered the Public Prosecution to open an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. Given the possible involvement of Saudi authorities in Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and possible murder, and the lack of independence of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, the impartiality of any investigation by the Saudi authorities would be in question. 

Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national, told media outlets that when Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate on October 2 to obtain their marriage documents, he left her his phones and instructions to alert the Turkish authorities if he did not return after two hours. That was the last time Cengiz saw him. Turkish authorities believe Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the consulate.

"This demonstrates all the more clearly how imperative an impartial and independent investigation is in order to establish the truth and ensure justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “If the UN is truly mobilized to fight impunity for crimes against journalists, then at the very least they must be fully engaged in one of the most shocking and extreme cases in recent years by undertaking this investigation."

There is a precedent for such a UN investigation. In 2008, Pakistan asked then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish an investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. That investigation uncovered what investigators said was an attempt by Pakistani authorities to whitewash the events surrounding Bhutto's murder.

An investigation into Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and possible murder should start promptly and be thorough, impartial, and independent. UN Secretary-General Guterres should appoint a senior criminal investigator with extensive experience in international investigations to head the team. Once the investigation is concluded, the secretary-general should issue a public report on the overall findings along with his recommendations for following up.

“Jamal Khashoggi’s family and the rest of the world deserve the full truth about what happened to him,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Partial explanations and one-sided investigations by Saudi Arabia, which is suspected of involvement, aren’t good enough. Only the UN has the credibility and independence required to expose the masterminds behind Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and to hold them to account.”

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and all other UN member countries should fully cooperate with the UN investigation to ensure that it has all the access and support necessary to determine what happened to Khashoggi. To facilitate the investigation, Saudi Arabia should immediately waive diplomatic protections such as the inviolability or immunity of all relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for waiving these diplomatic protections in the case. 

Turkey should turn over all evidence, including audio and visual records that Turkish officials have repeatedly claimed to the media reveal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate. A newly formed Turkish-Saudi working group investigating the murder will be unable to make progress in the face of Saudi Arabia’s blanket denials and rejection of any involvement in Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance.

“If the government of Saudi Arabia is not involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, it has the most to gain in seeing an impartial UN investigation determine what happened,” said Sherine Tadros, head the New York office of Amnesty International. “Without a credible UN inquiry, there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Saudi Arabia, no matter what its leadership says to explain away how Khashoggi vanished.”

Jamal Khashoggi is a prominent Saudi journalist with several Saudi Arabia-based Arabic and English-language newspapers including Okaz and the Saudi Gazette, and he served two stints as the editor-in-chief of the Saudi daily al-Watan. In December 2016, Saudi authorities publicly denounced Khashoggi after he criticized then US President-Elect Donald Trump at an event in Washington, and he fled Saudi Arabia to the United States in June 2017, becoming a regular columnist for the Washington Post.
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission summarizes Human Rights Watch’s concerns regarding the government of Tajikistan’s compliance with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Human Rights Watch believes the upcoming review by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“the Committee”) provides a crucial opportunity to highlight the Tajik government’s record on domestic violence and to formulate recommendations for specific steps the authorities should take to address urgent concerns in this area.

This submission is based on Human Rights Watch research into the Tajik government’s response to domestic violence. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with survivors of domestic violence, service providers, police, women’s rights activists, government agencies, doctors, psychologists, and international donors and experts in July and August 2015, July and September 2016, and follow-up interviews in August and September 2018. It and its recommendations focus primarily on violence against women by male partners and their relatives, often by mothers-in-law.

Violence against women remains pervasive today in Tajik society. Survivors of domestic violence told Human Rights Watch harrowing stories of the worst kinds of abuse, including sadistic violence committed by perpetrators, all across the country across every socioeconomic category. Officials often neglect survivors’ needs for protection, services, and justice and marital rape is not recognized as a crime under Tajikistan’s criminal law. Yet there are some signs of progress. Civil society groups are providing life-saving assistance. According to service providers and civil society activists, the adoption of the Family Violence Law in 2013 made for some breakthroughs in public awareness about the problem, and the law could be transformative if it is fully implemented across the country. The government has also worked, with support from donors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to establish Gender-Sensitive Police Units in police stations and Victim Support Rooms in hospitals, designed to make these institutions more accessible to and supportive of victims of family violence.

The government is in the process of developing a strategy for handling gender-based violence, which should focus greater government attention on protecting women. In 2014, the government adopted an Action Plan for the implementation of the law through 2023.  A hotline has been set up to refer survivors of family and sexual violence to services. A growing network of activists—many of them also survivors of family violence—are bringing help to some of the most remote areas of the country. However, government efforts to prevent and respond to domestic violence remain inadequate and fail to ensure critical protection and support for survivors.

“The morning after my husband beat me I narrowly escaped from the house and went to the Shaartuz [a city in southwestern Tajikistan] city prosecutor’s office covered in blood, with fresh wounds, and asked to file a complaint,” said Zebo, who told Human Rights Watch that she first reported violence to authorities after more than four years of spousal abuse and rape. “But when I got to the prosecutor’s office and started to describe what had happened the officer interrupted, ‘Aren’t you yourself to blame?’ and immediately called my husband to tell him I was there. He then said, ‘Everything will work out fine. Go straight home.’’’

The night before, her husband had beat her continuously for three hours until her face and his hands were entirely covered in blood. In a drunken rage, he threatened to strangle the couple’s two-year-old son. When Zebo asked neighbors for help, they answered, “How can we take you in? This is a family affair.” Zebo and her three children were left on the street.

Zebo walked out of that prosecutor’s office and straight into the local city court. “I found a judge and told him how my husband had bashed my head against a wall repeatedly,” she said. “He listened and then immediately called my husband, saying to me, ‘Why did you leave the house looking like this? Your husband’s a good man. Just go home.’”

“These officials saw I was covered in bruises and blood, but did nothing,” she said. “They sent me home and promised to send an officer to visit me there. When the officer finally came he said, ‘This is a domestic problem,’ and just told my husband not to do it again.”

Zebo has 3 children. Her husband was abusive from the beginning of the marriage, even during pregnancy. Like many families in Tajikistan, Zebo’s marriage was unregistered with the state, performed only through a religious ceremony (nikoh). Zebo’s husband started to beat her more intensively after their first son was born. “He said he got pleasure from this,” she said. “He would beat me all the time and say he was doing this so that I would end up in heaven.” Once when the couple was driving, and Zebo was pregnant, she said her husband pushed her out of the moving car, accusing her of cheating on him. He would often come home drunk and rape Zebo.

Zebo’s story is sadly representative of the experience of many women in Tajikistan. The precise number of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner is unknown, as the government does not systematically monitor the issue. But experts, including sociologists, government officials, lawyers, and service providers Human Rights Watch spoke to in various regions of Tajikistan found that domestic violence has occurred in more than two-thirds of households.

Survivors and advocates told Human Rights Watch that police often refuse to pursue investigations, issue protective orders, or arrest people who commit domestic violence, even in cases where the violence is severe, including attempted murder, serious physical harm, and repeated rape. Sometimes police tell victims it’s a “family matter” and send them away, or refuse to respond without a medical report, even when victims present with visible wounds. In rural areas, where there is little government presence and where police might have to travel long distances to conduct investigations, survivors and service providers said police often tell victims it is their responsibility to bring the perpetrator to the police station.

When police do get involved in family violence cases they typically fail to maintain confidentiality for victims. They often mandate mediation for the couples involved, in contrast with international best practices, which recommend arrest and prosecution. Even in the limited number of police stations trained in gender-sensitive techniques, police often insist on mediation and signing of an agreement between the victim and perpetrator, even when there is clear evidence that a serious crime has been committed, when the victim reports that abuse is continuing between mediation sessions, and even when the victim tells the police she wants the attacker to be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Survivors of violence face difficulty securing protection orders. Police often fail to tell survivors about protection orders or refer them to court to seek one in cases where they would have been appropriate. Survivors who do seek protection orders often encounter delays and costly fees in the courts.

There is a dire lack of services for people requiring assistance after suffering domestic violence. Tajikistan has a total of three shelters for victims of domestic violence for a population of over 8 million people. Long-term shelters for survivors and access to state-subsidized and affordable housing is badly needed.

Most counseling focuses on reconciling the survivor with her abusive partner, often sending the victims back into situations where they face continued risk of violence. Even in crisis centers, the focus is often on mediation of family disputes with the goal of reconciliation, not ensuring accountability for cases of serious, ongoing violence. Qualified psychosocial counselors are all but nonexistent, and despite a network of women’s crisis centers throughout the country operating with international support, meaningful legal assistance for survivors, including a capacity to represent survivors in criminal, divorce, child custody, and maintenance proceedings, or property division following divorce, is almost entirely absent.

Poor police response acts as a deterrent to reporting. “I didn’t bother going to the police to complain about the violence,” one survivor of domestic violence told Human Rights Watch, “because after the first time I went he began to beat me even harder.”

Other barriers can also keep women from seeking help or halt them in the process. Many women have little or no income of their own and depend on their partners to support them and their children. Women often fear sending an abusive partner to prison, as it would mean the loss of his income. Fathers often fail to support their children financially after a separation, and courts rarely enforce maintenance orders. The government offers no financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence, even those with dependent children. Many women stay in abusive relationships, or even try to get abusive husbands who have abandoned them to return, simply because the alternative is that their children go hungry. Others stay because they fear losing custody of their children, as they have little ability to seek and enforce custody agreements through the courts.

Harmful practices including polygamy, unregistered, forced, and early marriages continue unchecked, although the Tajik government has taken steps to ensure couples officially register their marriages with the state. A man’s marriage to a second wife often precipitates abuse of the first. Patriarchal practices reinforce discriminatory gender norms.

 

Critical Gaps in the Family Violence Law

In 2013, following a ten-year effort by civil society groups, Tajikistan passed a new law, the Law on the Prevention of Violence in the Family (hereinafter Family Violence Law), which, while making key advances in the protection of women, left serious critical areas unaddressed. Most notably the Family Violence Law does not recognize domestic violence as a crime, providing only for administrative liability. It also does not define the term “family” and women in polygamous, early and unregistered marriages as well as women who were previously married, are not protected under the law.

Focusing primarily on prevention, the Family Violence Law recognizes the rights of victims to legal, medical, and psycho-social assistance and individual remedies, including registering a case of violence and obtaining protection orders. The adoption of the Family Violence Law was a positive step in the effort to prevent and combat domestic violence in Tajikistan.

But numerous areas of ongoing concern remain, including women’s lack of awareness of their rights under the Law, which particularly affects women living in rural and mountainous areas of the country. Moreover, predominant patriarchal attitudes in Tajik society contribute to the persistence of violence against women and underreporting to law enforcement bodies.

Victims seeking prosecution and punishment of the abuser must bring claims under the Tajik Criminal Code.

The law aimed to make it easier for victims of family violence to get protection orders and services. Yet five years in, the Family Violence Law has not been meaningfully implemented. The government has issued implementing regulations, and some international organizations such as the OSCE have provided crucial support for the expansion of services, but pervasive patriarchal norms and societal stereotypes, a lack of awareness among victims about their rights and the remedies available to them under the law, and critical gaps in protection mean that domestic violence remains widespread and pervasive. Ambiguity remains about the coordination among government agencies in implementing the law and its various aspects. The Law does not require for the systematic collection of information and data by government agencies of the types of violence against women nor access to long-term shelters for women facing violence.

Limited Definition of Family

The Family Violence Law does not define the term “family,” nor does any other provision in Tajik law define the term. This leaves open the question of what relationships are covered under the Law, consequently leaving women in unregistered marriages who face violence vulnerable to abuse.  Tajik authorities should ensure that a comprehensive definition of “family” is included in the law, in accordance with earlier draft versions of the law that explicitly include the following intimate partner relationships: marriages officially registered with the civil registry; religious marriages performed by nikoh ceremony that are not officially registered with the civil registry; co-habiting partners or couples  without registered marriages; and polygamous marriages. The law should also explicitly protect women who experience violence at the hands of their in-laws as well as other family members, including former in-laws who commit or threaten violence after divorce.

Failure to Criminalize Domestic Violence

The Family Violence Law fails to explicitly recognize domestic violence as a crime under the law. Moreover, no other Tajik law, including Tajikistan’s Criminal Code, criminalizes it as a separate, specific crime.

The Family Violence Law instead places an emphasis on prevention, providing merely for administrative punishment, such as fines and administrative custody of the perpetrator.[1] Exhibiting a bias for reconciliation, the Law provides only for “disciplinary conversations” with perpetrators and victims of violence to identify the causes and circumstances of the violence and explain social and legal consequences of future violence.[2]

Opponents to criminalizing domestic violence argue that it is unnecessary because the Tajik Criminal Code offers sufficient protection to victims. Relevant provisions of the Criminal Code, for example, include intentional infliction of major bodily harm, minor bodily harm, or bodily harm to a lesser degree.[3] While these crimes would cover some instances of violence perpetrated in the domestic context, a conviction requires evidence that a victim sustained physical injuries. Therefore, the Criminal Code provides no accountability in cases in which the physical injury is no longer detectable or for instances of psychological or economic violence.

Survivors of domestic violence report that following violence their husbands, mothers-in-law, and other relatives often actively prevent them from leaving the house until such time as their wounds are no longer visible. “He often beat me up, but I never told my own parents because my in-laws would not allow it. When I had bruises on my face my mother-in-law would make me stay home. She would say ‘He must beat you up a lot because he really loves you,” said a domestic violence survivor in 2016.[4]

Another major shortcoming of the Family Violence Law and Criminal Code is its failure to criminalize spousal rape. Spousal rape is rarely reported in Tajikistan due to social stigma, yet interviewees and advocates told Human Rights Watch that perpetrators of sexual violence are overwhelmingly a woman’s current or former partner.

Criminalization of domestic violence is crucial to overcoming patriarchal norms and recognizing the seriousness of intra-familial violence, including beatings, rapes, humiliation, deprivation of food and property, and other acts of physical, mental, sexual, and economic violence, which disproportionately affect women. The CEDAW Committee has reiterated that all violence against women, including domestic violence, needs to be criminalized, and has urged Tajikistan to amend its legislation.[5]

Unless the Tajik government amends the Family Violence Law to specifically criminalize domestic violence, victims of abuse will have to pursue criminal prosecutions through other provisions of the Tajik Criminal Code that do not adequately recognize the specific protection risks and needs of survivors of domestic violence.

 

Recommendations
The government needs to lead the work to end domestic violence in Tajikistan. At present, much of the leadership on this issue comes from civil society activists and service providers outside of government and from international organizations and donors. While these actors have critical roles to play, domestic violence cannot be systemically tackled without full engagement and leadership from the government.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government of Tajikistan:

  • amend the Family Violence Law and Criminal Code without delay so as to explicitly criminalize domestic violence, including marital rape;
  • take measures to ensure that domestic violence is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law;
  • ensure the systematic collection of information and data on violence against women by government agencies, including by types of violence and perpetrator;
  • ensure that women subject to or at risk of domestic violence have full access to essential services, including short and longer-term shelters, medical care, psychosocial support, and legal assistance; material support; and to civil remedies, such as divorce and equitable distribution of property;
  • draft and adopt regulations on coordinated response to domestic violence, including clear roles and responsibilities of agencies including the Ministry of Health, State Women’s Committee, Ministry of Interior, Prosecutor-General, Ministry of Justice, and a referral system for victims of domestic violence;
  • develop and implement mandatory initial and ongoing training for law enforcement and judicial officials on domestic violence response in accordance with international best practice standards on survivor-centered response;
  • take measures to raise awareness among the public regarding domestic violence, available services and how and why to access them, and appropriate police and judicial response;
  • investigate all complaints of police or judicial misconduct in cases of domestic violence and hold law enforcement and justice officials to account for failure to register and investigate domestic complaints and take necessary measures to protect victims;
  • ensure an effective complaints mechanism for victims whose complaints are not treated appropriately by law enforcement or judicial officials; and
  • Ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice and held accountable.

 


[1] Family Violence Law, Art. 22.

[2] Family Violence Law, Art. 20(1).

[3] Tajik. Crim. Code, Arts. 110-112.

[4] Interview with Nargis N., Khurasan, Khatlon province, July 23, 2015.

[5] “Breaking Barriers: Challenges to Implementing Laws on Violence Against Women in Afghanistan and Tajikistan with special consideration of displaced women,” P. 69

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
(New York) – United Nations member countries should oppose the candidacies of the Philippines and Eritrea for the Human Rights Council because of their egregious human rights records, Human Rights Watch said today. Serious rights violations in Bahrain and Cameroon also raise significant concerns. On October 12, 2018, the UN General Assembly will vote to fill one-third of the seats on the 47-member council for the 2019-21 term.  

All five of the General Assembly’s regional groups submitted competition-free slates, meaning that all candidates, regardless of their rights records, are virtually assured seats on the council. The absence of competition reverses the modest progress in previous years when some slates offered a modicum of competition. By putting forward serious rights violators and presenting only as many candidates as seats available, the regional groups risk undermining the council’s credibility and effectiveness.

“UN member countries should show their outrage at the Philippines and Eritrea by leaving two spots on the ballot sheet blank and keeping them off the council,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive ‘war on drugs’ has been a killing frenzy that has left thousands dead. In Eritrea, the authorities persecute and jail government critics and force citizens into indefinite national service.”

Countries need a minimum of 97 votes – a simple majority – to get elected to the council.

The Philippines is undergoing a human rights crisis that may amount to crimes against humanity. Since Duterte took office in July 2016, more than 12,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been gunned down in what they call “legitimate police operations.” Human Rights Watch and other rights groups, as well as the media, have found a pattern of police misconduct, notably the planting of drugs and handguns on suspects’ bodies. The killings continue daily and have spread to cities and provinces outside the capital, Manila. The Duterte administration has sought to quell all dissent and criticism of the “drug war” by jailing, threatening, and harassing critics. No police officer has been convicted for any of these deaths.

The recent arrest of Eritrea’s former finance minister is indicative of the ongoing repression in the country, despite recent progress in its diplomatic engagements. Eritrean political prisoners include 21 senior government officials and journalists detained since 2001 after they criticized President Isaias Afewerki. Some have been in incommunicado detention without charge for over 17 years.

A 1995 proclamation requires 18 months of national service for all Eritreans, but the government forces many conscripts to serve indefinitely. A UN Commission of Inquiry in 2016 said the government’s “totalitarian practices” and disrespect for the rule of law manifested “wholesale disregard for the liberty of its citizens.” Indefinite national service has compelled tens of thousands of Eritreans to flee the country over many years.

As a condition of membership, Human Rights Council members are expected to cooperate with the council and its rights experts. Instead, the Philippines has carried out vicious campaigns against UN officials, including against the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and the high commissioner for human rights. Eritrea has refused all cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry and a special rapporteur, whom the Council appoints.

Human Rights Watch also raised serious concerns about human rights in Bahrain and Cameroon. In Bahrain, the courts have convicted and imprisoned peaceful dissenters, including prominent human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab. Police and National Security Agency officers threaten, coerce, and mistreat detainees into signing confessions. Authorities have failed to hold officials responsible for torture to account.

In Cameroon, government security forces and armed separatists have committed grave abuses against residents of the country’s Anglophone region. The region has been rocked by protests and violent clashes rooted in longstanding political grievances of the Anglophone minority. While the government has taken some positive steps in recent months, including signing the Safe Schools Declaration, violence and abuses in the Anglophone region continue.

In addition to Bahrain and the Philippines, the Asia group has also nominated Fiji, India, and Bangladesh. In addition to Eritrea and Cameroon, the Africa group has nominated Burkina Faso, Togo, and Somalia. The Latin American group has put forward Argentina, Uruguay, and the Bahamas. Eastern Europe has proposed Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. From Western Europe, Austria, Denmark, and Italy are running.

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the failed UN Commission on Human Rights, which had largely been unwilling to address grave human rights concerns and to which the world’s worst rights violators could easily be elected. Over the last 12 years, the council has made significant contributions to human rights, reviewing the human rights records of all countries under the Universal Periodic Review process.

It has created commissions of inquiry on North Korean, Syria, Burundi, Myanmar, Yemen, and other countries. And it has appointed numerous special rapporteurs and other independent experts to ensure competent and impartial investigations into alleged abuses even when the country concerned refused to cooperate.

The council recently displayed its important role protecting and promoting human rights. In its September 2018 session, the first since the US withdrew  from the body, the council created a quasi special prosecutor unit to gather and preserve evidence related to the abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar. It adopted the UN’s first-ever resolution on the crisis in Venezuela, renewed the mandate of the UN investigation into abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, and held the first public discussion of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ report on reprisals against human rights defenders by such countries as China, Egypt, and Bahrain.

“Many UN member states talk a good game about strengthening the Human Rights Council, but this year all regional groups ignored the need for competitive elections,” Charbonneau said. “Instead of pushing candidates to demonstrate they’re worthy of joining the UN’s premier human rights body, the UN membership has put forward a non-competitive vote that makes a mockery of the word ‘election.’”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am