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

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Palestinian man stands next to a cart carrying a flour sack distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip January 3, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

The US government has announced it will cut its expected January contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by half – a move that could undermine efforts to educate children, provide health care to mothers, and feed babies.

The US gives this money voluntarily, but, since it’s the agency’s largest donor, this sudden and unexpected decision to withhold US$65 million could have an immediate impact on the Palestinian refugees who rely on UN operations.

US President Donald Trump hasn’t been shy about politicizing humanitarian aid. He has already used it to pressure the Palestinian Authority into joining peace negotiations led by his administration. On January 2, Trump tweeted, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED (sic) OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” At one point, it looked like the US might withhold all funding, before deciding to cut its first payment of the year in half, pending a “fundamental review” of the way the agency operates.

The UNRWA provides critical services to 5.3 million refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, including educating over a half million girls and boys in 700 schools and handling over 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 health clinics. Many of these refugees live in extreme poverty – 95 percent of those in Syria require humanitarian assistance, for example – and UNRWA assistance serves as a lifeline for them.

Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the US cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees, among other basic humanitarian needs. Even the US government’s own spokesperson recognized that without the expected US contribution, “UNRWA operations were at risk of running out of funds and closing down.”

Of course, UNRWA, as an aid agency, is not a party to the peace process. But the administration seems intent on holding them hostage – and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees – as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks.

When the Trump administration ended its support to the UN Population Fund in April 2017, the Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Belgian governments stood up for reproductive rights, started a “She Decides” fundraising appeal, and stepped in to fill the vacuum. Already, Belgium has begun to help fill the US$65 million gap to UNRWA left by the US, making its three-year US$23 million payment to UNRWA all at once. If other governments stand up for Palestinian refugees and make similar unconditional front-loaded donations to UNRWA, it will send a strong message that humanitarian aid shouldn’t be used as a form of political blackmail.

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

New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on April 4, 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 90 people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017. 

When the UN Security Council meets this week to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria, its 15 members should send a strong message to the Syrian government that those responsible for dozens of chemical weapon attacks will be held accountable and may face future prosecution. It should do so first by imposing sanctions on people suspected of involvement in the illegal use of toxic agents, which have killed hundreds of Syrians and seriously injured many more.

By failing to hold those responsible for these appalling crimes accountable, the Security Council has effectively given perpetrators a green light to deploy sarin and other nerve agents, as well as mustard or chlorine gas against men, women and children.

Russia has used its Security Council veto 11 times to shield its allies in Damascus from condemnation, sanctions or referral to the International Criminal Court. Most recently, Russia vetoed renewing a joint investigation of the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whose job it was to identify the culprits behind chemical attacks.

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) had accused both the Syrian government and Islamic State (also known as ISIS) of repeatedly using illegal chemical agents. In October, the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the April 2017 sarin gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens, mostly women and children. This echoed Human Rights Watch’s findings.

Russia has in the past taken positive steps urging Syria to change. In 2013, Russia helped pressure Syria to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and begin dismantling its chemical weapons program, and Moscow played a key role in establishing the JIM in 2015. But this time around, Moscow has helped Syria’s government evade responsibility for Khan Sheikhoun, alleging that armed groups carried out the attack themselves but offering little evidence to support this claim.

The Russian government should change course, and support UN Security Council in holding those responsible for chemical attacks accountable. Even if it does not, UN members should continue to fund other UN investigative teams established to investigate crimes in Syria and ferret out those responsible for the chemical attacks.

If perpetrators know that evidence of their crimes is being gathered for future prosecution, that may make them think twice before launching another bomb filled with sarin.  

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

Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, speaks at a news conference in Rangoon, July 1, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The Burmese government plans to permanently bar entry to Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma. With this decision, Burma joins a handful of pariah governments – notably Eritrea, Syria, Burundi, and North Korea – that have outright refused to engage with UN experts assigned to their countries.

This refusal to cooperate is just Burma’s latest move in its efforts to conceal the military’s crimes against humanity, including killings, rape, and mass arson, against the ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State, which have forced over 645,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh since late August. It echoes the government’s refusal to grant access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established in March to investigate allegations of rights abuses in Rakhine State and elsewhere in the country.

In early December, Burma promised cooperation with UN experts.... The claim, then feeble, now appears patently false.

The decision was reportedly a response to the special rapporteur’s July 2017 end of mission statement, in which she highlighted ongoing abuses against Rohingya and noted she was “disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous Government still being used” by the new administration.

In lieu of allowing independent investigators access to northern Rakhine State, the government has carried out domestic investigations that lack any credibility, the latest of which found that security forces had committed no abuses and caused “no deaths of innocent people.” As Yanghee Lee stated yesterday, the decision to bar her “can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine.”

Lee has conducted six visits to Burma since being appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, yet she has recently faced growing hostility from the government and increasing restrictions on access to conflict areas and victims of abuses. Both the State Counsellor’s Office, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the lower house of parliament denounced her July report, claiming it contained factual errors and unverified allegations.

In early December, Burma promised cooperation with UN experts at both a Human Rights Council special session and UN Security Council briefing. “We always choose the path of engagement and cooperation,” Burma’s permanent representative in New York asserted. The claim, then feeble, now appears patently false. 

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

December 20, 2017

 

Sooronbai Jeenbekov

President

Kyrgyzstan 

 

Dear President Sooronbai Jeenbekov,

On behalf of Human Rights Watch, please accept my regards.

As you may know, Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization working in over 90 countries worldwide. We have conducted research and carried out advocacy in Kyrgyzstan for over 20 years. In 2013, we opened an office in Bishkek. Throughout, we have consistently sought out a constructive dialogue with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan on a range of issues related to human rights and the rule of law, including, for example, freedom of expression, fair trial standards, the prevention of torture, and domestic violence.

I am writing now, in the spirit of this constructive engagement, to share with you, Kyrgyzstan’s new president, our recommendations for steps the Kyrgyz government can take from the beginning of your mandate to improve the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan. Over the last two decades, we have seen some progress on key issues, but serious concerns remain.

During your campaign you noted that your goal as president will be “to create a state where human rights are respected, on democratic principles.” You reiterated this message in your online campaign platform, saying you would “provide life, health, and human rights to all Kyrgyzstanis in fulfilling the [platform’s] provisions.” We encourage you to stand by these campaign pledges, and to do so by addressing the following human rights concerns as a matter of priority, in accordance with the international human rights norms that Kyrgyzstan has voluntarily ratified.

Address Election Shortcomings

The October 15 presidential elections, of which you were the victor, were notably “competitive.” Nonetheless, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election monitoring mission raised some serious concerns in its preliminary report, including about “widespread abuse of public resources and pressure on voters, as well as of vote-buying,” and “numerous and significant procedural problems…during the vote count and the initial stages of tabulation.”

Kyrgyzstan should commit to working with OSCE/ODIHR to address these shortcomings, and follow up on its recommendation to review legal provisions on campaigning and campaign financing, citizen observation, and complaints, which “are not comprehensive and lack clarity, and, at times, depart from international standards.”

Stop the Crackdown on Critical Media

Human Rights Watch has observed a notable decline in the protection of freedom of speech and media in Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of the year. Starting in March 2017, Kyrgyzstan’s prosecutor general has brought at least half a dozen defamation lawsuits against critical media outlets, journalists, and others, including human rights defender Cholpon Djakupova, claiming their words or publications discredited the president’s honor and dignity and spread false information.

As you may know, laws that provide for offenses and penalties for those who criticize public figures on the basis that it is considered insulting are not compatible with freedom of expression standards under international law. Yet courts have granted many millions of soms in damages in rushed trials, and rulings have been upheld on appeal. 

There have been other worrying developments as well. Authorities in May brought criminal charges of inciting ethnic hatred against freelance journalist Ulugbek Babakulov after he wrote about the increase of nationalist and anti-Uzbek sentiments in social media. He later fled Kyrgyzstan, fearing for his safety. At least two media outlets have either been blocked online or shut down this year on questionable grounds.

You campaigned on a platform saying that “the President should act as the guarantor of freedom of speech, media, and internet, in combination with effectively protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms.” As president, you now have the opportunity to guarantee free expression and free media in Kyrgyzstan, and ensure that citizens have access to a diversity of opinion, and that critical media outlets and journalists do not risk retaliation for their views.

Provide accountability for June 2010-related abuses

Although over seven years have passed since the June 2010 events in southern Kyrgyzstan, authorities in Kyrgyzstan have failed to adequately address abuses in the south, in particular against ethnic Uzbeks, who endured the majority of casualties and destroyed homes, and who were disproportionately subjected to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture, and extortion schemes without redress in the aftermath of the violence. Impunity for courtroom violence, instances of which continued to occur in 2017, persists. To date, people continue languish in prison on sentences related to the violence that were delivered following trials marred by torture-tainted confessions, attacks on the defendants and their lawyers in the courtroom, and serious violations of due process.

Your government should not ignore such past abuses, but directly confront them. We urge you to commission an independent review of June-2010 related convictions where defendants alleged torture or other glaring violations of fair trial standards. 

Free Azimjon Askarov

We call on you as a matter of utmost urgency to release the wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Azimjon Askarov, who was accused of participating in the murder of a police officer and imprisoned immediately following the events of June 2010.

It has been a year and a half since the UN Human Rights Committee – an impartial, independent human rights body whose findings are binding on Kyrgyzstan – called on the government to immediately release Azimjon Askarov and quash his conviction, finding that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured in custody, and denied a fair trial. As a party to the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights and its optional protocol, Kyrgyzstan has committed to upholding the decisions of the Human Rights Committee, following review of individual complaints.

It is a grave injustice to keep Askarov imprisoned. After seven and a half years in prison, Askarov is now an elderly and ailing man. We urgently ask you to right this egregious wrong, and grant Askarov his freedom.

Reaffirm the importance of civil society

We call on you as a matter of priority to reaffirm the importance of the work of human rights defenders and other civil society actors contributing to Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development. We encourage you to reengage in meaningful dialogue and productive partnership with civil society actors, including human rights groups, to carry out promised reforms.

We also call on you to lift restrictions on foreign human rights workers’ access to Kyrgyzstan. Over the last two years, several foreign human rights workers, including Human Rights Watch’s Bishkek office director and Kyrgyzstan researcher Mihra Rittmann and Russian rights organization Memorial’s Vitaliy Ponomarev, have been banned from Kyrgyzstan. These developments have contributed to an increasingly hostile environment for human rights activism in Kyrgyzstan.

End torture

Although Kyrgyz authorities acknowledge the problem of torture in Kyrgyzstan and the government supported the establishment of a national torture prevention mechanism in 2012, impunity for torture remains the norm. Criminal cases into allegations of ill-treatment or torture are rare, and investigations and trials are delayed or ineffective. Kyrgyzstan’s Coalition Against Torture, a group of 16 nongovernmental organizations working on torture prevention, told Human Rights Watch that, on average, the prosecutors’ office declines to investigate torture allegations in over 90 percent of cases.

We urge you to commit to ending impunity for torture and eradicating the practice of torture by making the genuine reform of law enforcement agencies a priority for your government.

Robustly implement Kyrgyzstan’s new domestic violence law

In May, a strengthened domestic violence law came into force in Kyrgyzstan, following women’s and human rights groups’ long-term efforts to respond to widespread domestic violence and advocate for adequate protection, support, and access to justice for survivors. Human Rights Watch was amongst the groups that welcomed the adoption of this law – which increases protections for women and girls who suffer domestic abuse, and aims to improve police and judicial response to domestic violence and ensure practical support to victims, including shelter, psychosocial services, and legal aid.

We ask you to allocate sufficient resources to make the law effective and meaningful for women and girls who suffer domestic abuse. In particular, we urge you to dispatch greater support for: the provision of adequate medical and psychological services and legal aid; capacity-building of judicial personnel and police to respond to, investigate, and prosecute cases; a hotline for abuse victims, and training of emergency response personnel to staff it.

Allow peaceful assembly

People in Kyrgyzstan have for many years enjoyed the right to peaceful assembly, staging regular peaceful protests across Kyrgyzstan. However, following several court rulings in 2017 imposing blanket bans on public assemblies in various locations in Bishkek, with courts citing overbroad concerns about ensuring public order and national security, this right appears under some threat.

In February, a Bishkek court imposed a 3-week ban on public assemblies in the Leninskii district, citing the need to ensure public order and prevent terrorist threats. The Pervomayskii District Ccourt in July banned public assemblies at central locations in Bishkek, including Ala-Too Square, from July 27 to October 20, citing concerns about public security before the elections. On November 8, the court again banned public gatherings in several locations in central Bishkek until December 1, citing the president-elect’s upcoming inauguration on November 24.

While the right to peaceful assembly is not absolute, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association has determined that “certain restrictions, such as blanket bans on assemblies, are intrinsically disproportionate and discriminatory and should be limited unless they are strictly necessary and proportionate.” We ask you to ensure that people in Kyrgyzstan continue to enjoy their fundamental right to express dissenting views through peaceful protest in a manner consistent with international standards.

Cease counterterrorism-related human rights abuses

In the last year, the Kyrgyz government has stepped up counterterrorism measures following deadly attacks abroad that investigators linked to armed extremists of Central Asian origin, arresting dozens of people for storage of vaguely defined “extremist” materials, an offense which carries a mandatory prison sentence of three to five years. As of August, 191 people had been imprisoned for terrorism or extremism-related offenses. Many were ethnic Uzbeks who alleged they had been arrested based on false testimony or evidence planted by the police, and that they were tortured and otherwise abused in police custody.

As part of your campaign platform, you expressly stated that you would “respect the fundamental principles of human rights” in protecting Kyrgyzstan from external and internal threats to national security. We call on you to give meaning to those words by overseeing the work of Kyrgyzstan’s national security agency and the police to ensure that their counterterrorism efforts comply with international human rights standards, and due process is afforded anyone suspected of these egregious crimes.

End Discrimination of LGBT people

For several years now, a blatantly discriminatory anti-LGBT ‘propaganda’ bill has been under review in parliament. The bill – which threatens freedom of speech, association, and assembly in Kyrgyzstan – appears aimed at silencing anyone seeking to openly share information about same-sex relations, including with proposed criminal sanctions. Although the bill has not advanced in parliament since May 2016, it has not been definitively withdrawn either.

Pending in parliament, the bill has a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s already-marginalized LGBT rights groups and activists. Many LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan experience blatant discrimination, violence in their families, and even police abuse, all within in a climate of impunity. We urge you to take steps to end homophobia and discrimination against Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT community.

Ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

We join other civil society groups and activists and call on you to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Kyrgyzstan signed the convention in 2011, yet has still not ratified the treaty. We urge your government to delay no longer and ratify the treaty as testament to the importance you give to upholding the rights of all people in Kyrgyzstan.

We thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to continuing our constructive engagement with the Kyrgyz government. We would be happy to discuss the points raised on an occasion at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Hugh Williamson

Executive Director

Europe and Central Asia Division

Human Rights Watch

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rwanda’s military has routinely unlawfully detained and tortured detainees with beatings, asphyxiations, mock executions and electric shocks.

On December 6, the UN Committee Against Torture released its concluding observations after a routine review of the situation in Rwanda. During the review, committee members raised concerns about serious violations – including torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members – and asked numerous, precise questions about the Rwandan government’s actions.

The Rwandan government’s response was to deny, deny, deny. On illegal detention and abuse in military camps, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the government wrote in its final submission to the committee that, “we want to repeat and insist that there are no unofficial or secret places of detention in Rwanda.”

In October, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting abuses in military camps around Kigali, the capital, and in the northwest. For at least the last seven years, Rwanda’s military has frequently detained and tortured people, beating them, asphyxiating them, using electric shocks and staging mock executions. Most of the detainees were disappeared and held incommunicado, meaning they had no contact with family, friends, or legal counsel. Many were held for months on end in deplorable conditions. We continue to receive information about new abuses.

Many of those tortured were forced to confess to crimes against state security and later transferred to official detention centers. Instead of keeping quiet, scores of victims dared to speak up at their trials. When the committee asked the Rwandan government why judges did not investigate when defendants said in the courtroom that they had been tortured – which the government is required to do under the Convention against Torture – the government simply presented a table in its report asserting that no one alleged they were tortured in trials from 2013 to 2017.

This stands in stark contrast to the facts. From 2011 to 2016, we documented 65 cases in which individuals said in court said they were illegally held in military camps or unlawful safe houses. Of those cases, 36 said they were either tortured, beaten or otherwise forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. These were statements either made publicly in court during trials we monitored or are reflected in official court judgments.

In response to allegations, including by Human Rights Watch, about torture in Kami, a military base outside Kigali, the government wrote in its final report that it needed, “clarifications of these allegations… because the people who alleges [sic] to have been tortured… in The Kami Military Camp are unknown. Those reports did not provide names of victims and suspects; therefore, no investigations were conducted.” To Johnston Busingye, the justice minister who headed the Rwandan delegation at the committee, I say: please see Appendix I, pages 92-98 of our last report.

We provided the case numbers and the identity of those who dared to speak up in court. It is not difficult to confirm. That the government would simply say these people never spoke is the final act of torture. It denies them their right to tell the truth about what happened.

The government maintains it has no political prisoners. The government also says any case of enforced disappearance is investigated. Here again, recent facts tell a different story. Take the case of Théophile Ntirutwa, Kigali representative of the Forces démocratiques unifiées (FDU)-Inkingi, a banned opposition party. Ntirutwa was forcibly disappeared on September 6, after the arrest of several other FDU members the same day, and held incommunicado until September 23. During this period, the police would not confirm to Human Rights Watch or his family whether he was in custody.

He has now been charged with supporting an armed group. On November 21, during a hearing, Ntirutwa said in court, “I was disappeared for 17 days… My family was not informed of where I was, nor were human rights organizations. My wife told the police I had been disappeared. All that time I was blindfolded and handcuffed before it was revealed I was at [a] police station.”

These were words said in a public courtroom. The government should follow through on its obligations, open an investigation, and hold those responsible for this enforced disappearance accountable. But if recent history is any indication, chances are nothing will happen. Ntirutwa had previously been detained on September 18, 2016, allegedly by the military, in Nyarutarama, a Kigali suburb. He said he was beaten and questioned about his membership in the FDU-Inkingi, then released two days later. Accounts of this detention were published, but the government did not investigate.

The committee wrote its final report that it is “seriously concerned” both about Rwanda’s failure to investigate allegations of torture and its “failure to clarify whether or not it opened an investigation into the allegations of unlawful and incommunicado detention.”

The committee’s concluding observations are cause for concern about the situation in Rwanda. While technically Rwanda has made advances in its legislation, in reality it does not seem to take seriously the absolute prohibition on torture. Rwanda is bound by both national law and international treaty obligations to act on allegations of torture and enforced disappearances, and to take steps to prevent such abuses. Instead of denying these abuses exist, it should demonstrate that it is ready to meet those obligations. 

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

Update December 15 2017: On December 13 as Human Rights Watch was going to press, South Sudan’s council of ministers reportedly approved the hybrid court statute and the government’s memorandum of understanding with the African Union.  Human Rights Watch calls on the government to move promptly to take the next steps necessary to ensure the court becomes operational as soon as possible.


 

(Nairobi) – South Sudan’s top officials have failed to make good on promises to establish an African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court to try international crimes committed during the country’s civil war, Human Rights Watch said today. Four years into the conflict, both parties continue to commit grave human rights crimes against civilians.

Despite the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), which envisioned the hybrid court, abuses by all parties persist as the conflict continues to spread. South Sudan’s transitional government has neither ended violations by its army nor made progress toward setting up the court. The lack of progress points to the need for measures like targeted sanctions against officials responsible and an arms embargo, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government has consistently let deadlines slip while its forces commit crimes with impunity” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people of South Sudan deserve justice, not a chain of broken promises, and so the international community should impose consequences.”

In September 2017, the AU Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué on South Sudan, warning that it would consider necessary steps, including sanctions, should the South Sudanese parties continue to delay implementing the peace agreement in full. The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, during a visit to South Sudan in October, similarly warned of sanctions if the government did not live up to its pledges.

South Sudan’s civil war began on December 15, 2013, when troops loyal to president Salva Kiir – a Dinka – clashed with those of then-Vice-President Riek Machar – a Nuer – in the capital, Juba. Within hours, mainly Dinka government troops carried out large-scale targeted killings, detentions, and torture of mainly Nuer civilians in various parts of Juba, while thousands of Nuer soldiers defected to an opposition army. In the following months, fighting spread to Bor, Bentiu, Malakal, and across the Greater Upper Nile region. As towns changed hands, soldiers on both sides killed thousands of civilians, often based on their ethnicity, and destroyed and pillaged civilian property.

In late 2015, conflict spread to the Equatorias, as new rebel groups claiming an affiliation formed, and government forces carried out deadly counterinsurgency campaigns in previously stable regions south and west of the capital. Government soldiers and allied fighters have attacked civilians sheltering inside the UN bases in Malakal and Juba, in blatant violation of international law. In July 2016, government and opposition forces fought in Juba and government forces attacked, killed, and raped civilians, including displaced people and foreign aid workers. Since the Juba crisis, government forces have continued to fight rebels in Central and Western Equatoria, Unity, and northern Jonglei.

The impact of the violence and abuses is devastating. More than 4 million people have fled their homes, with more than 2 million now refugees in neighboring countries. In February, the UN declared a famine in parts of Unity state, and almost half the country’s population faces acute food shortages.

In October 2015, the AU released the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCoISS), which found that the warring parties had committed grave human rights abuses and war crimes. The commission’s findings were largely consistent with Human Rights Watch reporting, and proposed creating an AU-led process to bring those with the greatest responsibility for the atrocities to account.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (bottom L) and South Sudan's rebel commander Riek Machar (bottom R), together with African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui (top L), Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (top C) and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, attend the signing a ceasefire agreement during the Inter Governmental Authority on Development Summit on the case of South Sudan in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Feburary 1, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

The August 2015 agreement included a hybrid court to be established by the AU Commission to investigate and try those responsible for grave abuses since 2013. Under the agreement, the court is to consist of South Sudanese and other African judges and staff. Human Rights Watch findings on significant weaknesses in the national justice system support the need for the court.

More than two years later, the court has yet to be created.

In early 2017, the AU held consultations with the South Sudanese Justice Ministry that led to a draft statute for the court and a memorandum of understanding between the AU and the South Sudanese government on the establishment of the court. Both documents were submitted to the South Sudan council of ministers in August, but the government has taken no further action.

In a September communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council said the South Sudanese government should expedite creating the court and completing its part of the agreement, or face “necessary steps, including sanction measures, that could ensure effective and efficient implementation” of the agreement.

In December, government officials told Human Rights Watch researchers in Juba that a number of key ministers oppose the court, including the communications minister, Michael Makuei – against whom the US brought sanctions in September for undermining the peace process; the cabinet affairs minister, Martin Elia Lomuro; and the defense minister, Kuol Manyang.

Under the August 2015 agreement, the AU Commission has the authority to establish the court with or without the engagement of the South Sudanese government. If the transitional government continues to ignore its responsibilities under Chapter V of the peace agreement, the AU should proceed with the court on its own, Human Rights Watch said.

If a credible, fair, and independent hybrid court does not progress, the option of the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains and should be pursued, Human Rights Watch said. As South Sudan is not a party to the ICC, the UN Security Council would need to refer the situation to the court in the absence of a request from the government of South Sudan.

“The AU should ensure progress on the hybrid court, if necessary without cooperation from South Sudan’s leaders, or consider coercive measures like targeted sanctions against anyone responsible for obstruction,” Segun said. “If the leaders won’t stand by the victims of atrocities, the African Union should step up and show it won’t abandon this precedent-setting plan for accountability in one of the continent’s worst human rights crises.”

Documented Violations, Abuses Since the Peace Agreement
Since the 2015 peace deal was signed, Human Rights Watch has documented scores of cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, beatings, and torture, as well as numerous cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, mostly by government forces in the context of counterinsurgency operations, but also crimes by opposition forces. Both sides also continued to forcefully recruit children to train and fight, despite pledges to stop. Army commanders overseeing abusive operations have not been investigated.

In March 2016, Human Rights Watch documented that government forces carried out killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other grave abuses against civilians belonging to Equatorian ethnic groups in the Western Equatoria region. Among those killed was a 34-year-old man arrested by soldiers in the Napere neighborhood of Yambio in November and detained for two months. His brother said he found the body weeks later: “He was tied and his face was rotten. All of his body was rotten. But I recognized him from his clothes, feet, and fingers.” The army commander of Yambio at the time, Col. Makeny Makor Buoy, was neither investigated nor tried. He was rotated to his home region of Lakes.

In Wau, in April 2016, researchers discovered that government soldiers had carried out a wide range of often-deadly attacks on civilians in and around the town, killing, torturing, raping, and detaining and disappearing civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, in addition to looting and burning down homes. A 55-year-old woman said that soldiers came to her village outside of Wau in March and shot her 60-year-old husband in the stomach and her 29-year-old son in the neck: “We were at home and then we heard shooting and we hit the ground and crawled away when a group of soldiers came in. There was no reason for them to target us.” The army commander of Wau at the time, Maj. Gen. Attayib “Taitai” Gatluak, was not investigated for his role in the crimes committed by his forces there, and has faced no charges for his participation in, or command responsibility for, any crimes.

Government soldiers killed at least 73 civilians, raped dozens of women, and extensively looted civilian property, including humanitarian goods, during and after clashes between government and opposition forces in Juba in July 2016. In many cases, government forces appeared to target non-Dinka civilians. A 35-year-old man said that two army picks-ups surrounded the hotel where he hid with 27 other Nuer men shortly before a ceasefire ended the fighting on July 11. A soldier knocked at the door and asked if any Nuer were staying there. “We urged the guard not to open. They asked, ‘Why are you hiding Nuer!’ and then they started to shoot with their heavy machine guns through the doors and wall. That’s how my friend Mading Chan was killed.”

The same day, a large number of soldiers overran the Terrain compound that housed a number of international organizations, executed a Nuer journalist, raped and gang-raped several women, and assaulted dozens of staff. International pressure led the government to establish an ad hoc tribunal to try armed personnel responsible for the attack, but no credible investigation was carried out to determine the responsibility for the scores of South Sudanese women raped, or civilians killed during and after the fighting officially ended in Juba on July 11.

The army chief of staff at the time, Paul Malong Awan, was replaced in April 2017, and has yet to be subject to criminal investigation to determine his responsibility for crimes committed while he was in command. He has since left South Sudan for Kenya.

In October 2016, researchers found that government and opposition forces had committed serious abuses in Yei, including killings, rapes, and arbitrary arrests by the army, and abductions by the rebels. On October 8, rebels ambushed a convoy of civilians leaving Yei and shot indiscriminately at a truck, then set it on fire. An 11-year-old boy who survived the attack said: “They started to shoot and I lay down [in the truck]. Others fell on top of me. One had been shot to the head.”

In mid-November 2016, an international journalist found seven charred bodies in a mud house in the outskirts of Yei, in a government-controlled area. Witnesses quoted by the Associated Press said the deceased were civilians who had been abducted and killed by men wearing uniforms. More than a dozen former detainees, released at the time of the Human Rights Watch visit, said they had been held by government forces in overcrowded cells in Yei with little food and water and routinely beaten and tortured.

In refugee camps in northern Uganda in May 2017, researchers heard from South Sudanese refugees that government forces indiscriminately fired into civilian settlements in the Equatoria region during counterinsurgency operations, killing many civilians. The attacks forced over a million South Sudanese to abandon their homes and livelihoods and flee across the border.

A woman from Kajo Keji county said that soldiers killed her husband and her two children, ages 5 and 10, while she was cooking dinner at home in January 2017: “About 10 soldiers came to our house. My son told me they had come, and my husband went out. They shot him. Then my other son followed him and they shot both boys. One soldier ran after me and severely twisted my arm. I managed to get away. And I just ran. With one arm, how do I care for my other children and my mother? I want to commit suicide.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees wait for blankets to be distributed at Kutupalong camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on December 10. 

© 2017 Reuters
(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should take prompt, concerted, and effective international action to respond to Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, Human Rights Watch and 80 other nongovernmental organizations said today in a joint appeal to the council.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, are scheduled to brief the 15-member Security Council on December 12, 2017. No outcome was expected from the council’s discussion.

The 81 humanitarian, faith-based, and human rights organizations stated in their joint appeal that “Condemnations have not resulted in Myanmar’s government ending its abuses or holding those responsible to account.” Characterizing Myanmar security force atrocities against the ethnic Rohingya population as “crimes against humanity,” the coalition urged the Security Council to explore all avenues for justice and accountability, including through international courts.

The coalition also called on the Security Council to impose an arms embargo against Myanmar’s military and targeted sanctions against Myanmar military officers responsible for crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.

“If the pledge to ‘never again’ allow atrocities means anything, the Security Council cannot delay action any longer,” the coalition said.

Below, please find the full text of the appeal.

Joint Appeal to the UN Security Council to Act on Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis

In advance of the United Nations Security Council’s December 12 meeting on the situation in Myanmar, we, a global coalition of 81 human rights, faith-based and humanitarian organizations, urgently call on the Council to take immediate action to address the campaign of ethnic cleansing and mass atrocity crimes, including crimes against humanity, committed against the ethnic Rohingya population by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State, as well as the continuing restrictions on humanitarian assistance throughout the state since October 2016. 

Words of condemnation by the UN, including the Security Council's Presidential Statement on November 6 and the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee’s adoption of a resolution on Myanmar, have not resulted in Myanmar’s government ending its abuses or holding those responsible to account. It is time for prompt, concerted and effective international action.

Myanmar authorities are still heavily restricting access to northern Rakhine State for most international humanitarian organizations, human rights monitors, and independent media. Most of Myanmar’s Rohingya population, estimated at more than one million, have been forced to flee to Bangladesh as refugees. Despite a bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, there are insufficient guarantees that return at this time can be informed, safe and voluntary, that requirements for documentation of prior residence will not be used as a pretext to reject legitimate returns, that temporary holding centers will not become semi-permanent internment camps and that returnees will have the same rights of movement, access to livelihoods and health and education services as other residents of Rakhine State. The UN Fact-Finding Mission, which is tasked with preparing a report on abuses nationwide, has thus far been prevented from gaining access to the country. 

Over 646,000 Rohingya have been made refugees since August 25, when Myanmar security forces launched “clearance operations” in response to armed attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Refugee testimonies provide overwhelming evidence of Myanmar military-led atrocities during these operations, and a similar campaign that had begun in October 2016. The crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Rohingya include massacres and other unlawful killings, widespread rape and other sexual violence, looting, deportation and mass arson of hundreds of Rohingya villages. The violence also displaced tens of thousands of people from other ethnic minorities. Rohingya who remain in Myanmar continue to face severe food insecurity and threats in addition to systematic violations of their rights to a nationality, freedom of movement, and access to healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities.

The Myanmar government has the primary responsibility to protect its diverse population without discrimination and regardless of ethnicity, religion or citizenship status. But, the civilian and military leadership of Myanmar, including the military’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, refuse to even acknowledge the serious human rights violations against the Rohingya and continue to deny any wrongdoing by state security forces in Rakhine State while ignoring decades of institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya community.

We urge the Security Council to immediately impose an arms embargo against Myanmar’s military that covers the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer, including transit and trans-shipment of all weapons, munitions, and other military and security equipment, as well as the provision of training and other military and security assistance. The Security Council should also place targeted sanctions on senior officers responsible for crimes against humanity or other serious human rights violations. Financial sanctions should target senior officers who ordered criminal acts or are liable as a matter of command responsibility. The Security Council should explore all avenues for justice and accountability, including through international courts.

If the pledge to “never again” allow atrocities means anything, the Security Council cannot delay action any longer.

Signatories

ALTSEAN-Burma

African Life Center

Ameinu

American Jewish World Service

Amnesty International

Arab American Bar Association

Association Suisse Birmanie

Burma Action Ireland

Burma Campaign UK

Burma Human Rights Network

Burma Task Force

Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Carl Wilkens Fellowship

Center for Development of International Law

Center for Justice & Accountability

Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)

Darfur Women's Action Group

David Rockefeller Fund

Emgage Action

Entrepreneurs du Monde

Equal Rights Trust

European Rohingya Council

Fortify Rights

Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

Franciscan Action Network

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Genocide Watch

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Global Justice Center

Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict – Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA)

Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College

Human Rights First

Human Rights Now

Human Rights Watch

Humanity United Action

Info Birmanie

Initiatives for International Dialogue

Interfaith Center of New York 

International Campaign for the Rohingya

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect ICR2P

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Investors Against Genocide

Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights

Jewish Alliance of Concern over Burma (JACOB)

Jewish World Watch

Law @theMargins

Majlis Ashura - The Islamic Leadership Council of New York

Médecins du Monde

Middle East and North Africa Partnership for Preventing of Armed Conflict (MENAPPAC)

Muslim Bar Association of New York

Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)

Muslin Social Justice Initiative (MSJI)

National Lawyer's Guild - International

Network of Spiritual Progressives

Partners Relief & Development

Pax Christi Metro New York

Permanent Peace Movement (PPM)

Physicians for Human Rights

Rabbinical Assembly

Refugee Center Online

Refugees International

Rohingya Community Ireland

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Save the Children

Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany

STAND Canada

Stanley Foundation

Stop Genocide Now

Swedish Burma Committee

Syrian Network for Human Rights

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

The Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies

Turning Point for Women and Children

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Nations Association - Sweden

Viet Tan

World Federalist Movement – Canada

World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A North Korean soldier stands guard at the entrance of a women’s prison near Chongsong, North Korea, May 31, 2009.

© 2009 Reuters

Ji Hyeona, a North Korean woman detained by Chinese authorities and forcibly repatriated after each of her first three attempts to flee North Korea, described her harrowing experiences at the United Nations today. In her deeply moving testimony, she explained how North Korean officials beat her and fed her only rotten food before she finally managed to reach South Korea on her fourth attempt. As she described how she was forced by the bowibu (North Korea's Ministry of State Security) to abort her first child after being captured a third time, and how her little sister was trafficked and sold into slavery after a failed escape attempt, her voice broke and faltered.

Ms. Ji recounted her horrific ordeal at an event organized by UN Security Council members. The event followed a key debate at the council on North Korea’s human rights record – the fourth time in four years the council has voted, despite objections from China and Russia, to hold such a debate. Spotlighting North Korea’s appalling human rights record at this apex UN body serves as a reminder that crimes against humanity cannot be ignored.

North Korea’s cruelty – described by the UN as, “unparalleled in the modern world,” – sees millions of its people suffer grave human rights violations at the hands of their own government, including torture, murder, enslavement, and rape.

Unsurprisingly, these annual UN discussions are a thorn in China’s side, and compel Beijing to try and defend the indefensible. At the council today, China once again tried to block the meeting by insisting that the human rights situation in North Korea does not pose a threat to international peace and security. But the bulk of the council disagreed.

China also deserves greater scrutiny for its role in supporting the Kim regime and facilitating North Korea’s egregious abuses. China has recently intensified its crackdown on North Korean refugees fleeing through China to find protection in a third country. As Ms. Ji described in stark detail, North Korean refugees have been tortured in Chinese detention, but face even worse treatment upon their forced return to North Korea. China should uphold its legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the UN Refugee Convention.

Some UN member states have already taken action on this: the United States has sanctioned individual members of the North Korean regime on human rights grounds three times. Evidence from North Koreans suggests that abuses have sometimes been reduced as a direct consequence of these human rights sanctions. Other states should follow suit.

The UN Security Council should consider similar measures, but also press for criminal accountability, including before the International Criminal Court, so that victims may one day receive the long overdue justice they deserve.

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

The Saudi-led coalition’s broad restrictions on aid and essential goods to Yemen’s civilian population are worsening the country’s humanitarian catastrophe. 

(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition’s broad restrictions on aid and essential goods to Yemen’s civilian population are worsening the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today. Unless the coalition immediately stops blocking aid and commercial goods from reaching civilians in Houthi-controlled territory, the United Nations Security Council should impose travel bans and asset freezes on senior coalition leaders, including the Saudi crown prince and defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman.

The coalition has imposed a naval and air blockade on Yemen since the current conflict began in March 2015 that has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law. The coalition closed all of Yemen’s entry points in response to a missile strike on Saudi’s Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, by opposing Houthi-Saleh forces. While the coalition eased some restrictions in late November, it continues to prevent much aid and nearly all commercial imports from reaching Houthi-controlled ports, which has an unlawfully disproportionate impact on civilians’ access to essential goods.

“The Saudi-led coalition’s military strategy in Yemen has been increasingly built around preventing desperately needed aid and essential goods from reaching civilians, risking millions of lives,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council should urgently sanction Saudi and other coalition leaders responsible for blocking food, fuel, and medicine, causing hunger, sickness, and death.”

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, depends heavily on imported food, medicine, and fuel for 80 to 90 percent of the population’s needs. As of November, seven million people were dependent on food aid to survive, and nearly a million may have cholera. Diphtheria, a disease that should be preventable, was spreading, and had already killed more than 20 people and infected nearly 200. An estimated 2 million children are acutely malnourished. Half the country’s hospitals have been closed and nearly 16 million people lack access to clean water.

Reopening all of Yemen’s land, air, and sea ports to commercial shipments, which before November made up 80 percent of all imports, is crucial to any effort to address what the UN has described as the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis,” Human Rights Watch said.

A worker is pictured in a government hospital's drug store in Sanaa, Yemen August 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Claiming a need to strengthen vetting procedures, the coalition halted all humanitarian flights and shipments to Yemen for several days following the November 4 attack and halted all humanitarian flights and shipments to ports in Houthi-controlled territory for about three weeks. On November 22, the coalition announced that it would allow humanitarian flights to resume to the capital, Sanaa, and “urgent humanitarian and relief materials” to begin moving to the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida.

Major restrictions on the delivery of essential goods to the civilian population remain, Human Rights Watch said. While a limited number of food shipments have reached Houthi ports on an ad hoc basis since November 22, the coalition has not indicated whether it will allow seaports under Houthi control to reopen to commercial shipments, including fuel and medicine.

The World Food Programme estimated that even with a partial lifting of the blockade, an additional 3.2 million people would be pushed into hunger and 150,000 malnourished children could die in the coming months.

On December 2, the heads of seven humanitarian agencies issued a joint statement calling on the coalition to lift restrictions: “Without the urgent resumption of commercial imports, especially food, fuel and medicines, millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death,” they said.

Fighting broke out in Sanaa on December 1 between the Houthis and formerly allied forces loyal to former longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Dozens of people, including civilians, were killed and wounded in the fighting. On December 4, Houthi forces killed Saleh under circumstances that remain unclear. During the fighting, civilians already facing shortages of essential goods were reportedly rapidly running out of food, fuel, and medicine. Humanitarian organizations were unable to reach their warehouses to deliver aid to those in need.

Coalition military actions have violated laws-of-war prohibitions on restricting humanitarian assistance and on destroying objects essential to the survival of the civilian population. These violations, as well as the coalition’s disregard for the reported suffering of the civilian population, suggest that the coalition may also be violating the prohibition against using starvation as a method of warfare, which is a war crime.

The Security Council should urgently sanction Saudi and other coalition leaders responsible for blocking food, fuel, and medicine, causing hunger, sickness, and death.

James Ross

legal and policy director


The UN Security Council should impose a travel ban and asset freeze on senior leaders of the coalition, including Mohamed bin Salman, for their role in violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. Under Security Council Resolution 2216, the Yemen Sanctions Committee can designate “individuals or entities” for targeted sanctions if they are “engaging in or providing support for” acts that “[obstruct] the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemen or access to, or distribution of, humanitarian assistance in Yemen.”

The Sanctions Committee has already imposed sanctions – including asset freezes and travel bans – on five leaders of formerly allied Houthi-Saleh forces, including Saleh. No one from the coalition has been designated for sanctions, despite information on repeated coalition violations, including the obstruction of aid, gathered by the UN Panel of Experts, which provides information on implementing the resolution.

“UN Security Council members, particularly the United States, United Kingdom, France, and other coalition allies, have shielded Saudi Arabia from serious international scrutiny even though the Saudi-led coalition has committed numerous atrocities in Yemen,” Ross said. “The Security Council urgently needs to act against coalition leaders who have added to Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe or share in the blame.”

Yemen’s Deepening Humanitarian Crisis

Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has conducted dozens of interviews with health professionals and humanitarian workers in Yemen regarding restrictions on access to aid and essential goods and their impact on the civilian population. Human Rights Watch also has reviewed coalition statements and UN and humanitarian community assessments on Yemen. Human Rights Watch previously documented actions by both the Saudi-led coalition and formerly allied Houthi-Saleh forces that impeded aid delivery to civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law.

Impact of Fuel Shortages

On November 6, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a full blockade on Yemen, which was partially lifted over the ensuing days and weeks. A humanitarian agency official said the “most immediate impact” of the November blockade was on fuel supply. Fuel was already often not available throughout Yemen – including in areas under Yemeni government control, such as Aden, which has repeatedly experienced fuel shortages. On November 23, the World Food Programme estimated that supplies of fuel and diesel in the country could run out in the coming weeks. The lack of fuel also makes it more difficult to pump clean water, run hospital equipment, and safely store vaccines.

Houthi and Saleh forces also contributed to the fuel shortages. The UN Panel of Experts reported in June that Houthi-Saleh forces had earned up to US$1.14 billion from fuel and oil distribution on the black market. They also use imported fuel for military purposes.

Officials at five hospitals in the Yemeni governorates of Hodeida, Taizz, and Sanaa told Human Rights Watch that after November 6 the lack of fuel was having a “catastrophic” impact on their operations. Four of the five hospitals – including the two largest in Yemen – were entirely dependent on generators, powered by fuel, to operate. The hospitals serve thousands of people.

Dr. Nasr al-Qadsi, the general director of Yemen’s second-largest hospital, in Sanaa, said the hospital needed 60,000 liters of fuel a month to power its generators, generate oxygen, and run its ambulances and buses for staff. After November 6, the hospital’s water supplier stopped providing water, telling the hospital it would have to supply the fuel to get more water. “Water and electricity and oxygen are very essential,” al-Qadsi said. “And we have problems getting all of them.”

Dr. Abdul Latif Abu Taleb, the head of Yemen’s largest hospital, also in Sanaa, which can admit  about 1,000 patients, said that the November 6 decision “caused us great panic… direct[ing] all our concerns to the pursuit of the necessary diesel material to keep the hospital working.” He added: “I have 105 patients in the intensive care unit on monitors and respirator devices. If the hospital power supply stopped, a disaster will happen.”

Fuel is also crucial to provide access to clean water in the country. Less than a week after the November blockade was put in place, the UN reported fuel prices had increased by 60 percent in Sanaa and trucked-water by 133 percent. Three weeks after the blockade began, hospital officials in two governorates reported huge price increases – up to 300 percent – if fuel was available at all. “The prices jumped to the sky, so we couldn’t afford buying it,” one doctor said. Other doctors said they had diverted all hospital revenue, much of which they would normally have spent on medicine and medical supplies, to buy diesel.

Rising fuel prices, according to the UN, have caused trucked water prices to spike – up to 600 percent in some places. Nearly 17 million people in Yemen depend on public water networks – some of which are shutting down due to a lack of fuel – or commercial water. In late November, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that nine cities lacked the fuel needed to run water treatment plants. Clean water is needed to avoid water-borne diseases, like cholera.

A malnourished boy lies on a bed at a malnutrition treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen, November 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The lack of fuel also increases food scarcity. Civilians have had to spend their limited money on water, giving them less income to purchase food and “further increasing the risk of widespread food insecurity and ultimately famine,” according to the UN. Fuel is needed to transport “what little food remains in Yemen, or food will be stuck in warehouses while innocent people starve nearby,” said Oxfam.

Closing Sea Ports in Houthi-Controlled Territory

Between November 6 and November 26, the Saudi-led coalition refused to allow any ships to travel to Houthi-controlled ports. On November 6, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) sent an email, viewed by Human Rights Watch, to vessels asking them to immediately leave the Red Sea ports of Hodeida and Saleef. Hodeida is a key port that receives food, fuel, and other goods, while Saleef is primarily for food imports. Documents shared by port officials said that vessels forced to leave were carrying wheat, fuel, and other cargo. The email said UNVIM was suspending clearance operations “until further notice.”

A few days after the complete blockade was announced, the coalition allowed vessels to travel to ports under Yemeni government control, including Aden and Mukalla. On November 26, the coalition allowed a ship carrying food to sail to a Houthi -controlled port for the first time in three weeks. During the following week, the coalition allowed several more ships carrying food to enter Hodeida and Saleef. However, four aid officials said in early December that the coalition was still severely restricting the flow of essential goods into both ports, including food, fuel, and medicine.

Since November, the coalition has refused to allow nearly all commercial ships to travel to ports under Houthi control. The coalition had not allowed any commercial fuel tankers to proceed to Houthi-controlled ports or any commercial vessels to proceed to a port primarily for bulk food imports as of December 5, according to an UNVIM spokesperson. The coalition had “refused to grant four fuel tankers access… two of these tankers have now left for other ports of Yemen due to the costs [of] the delay,” the spokesperson said.

In June, the coalition shut down the fuel port of Ras Isa, significantly curtailing fuel deliveries to the country. UNVIM has not cleared a vessel to enter Ras Isa since May. Deliveries were diverted to Hodeida until November. Ras Isa was designed for diesel imports and has a greater capacity than Hodeida, which was incapable of making up the lost capacity even before being closed to imports in November.

Closing all three ports to all shipments for three weeks and continuing to severely curtail the shipment of commercial goods to the ports deprives the civilian population of essential goods. Yemen’s population depends on commercial imports of food, fuel, and medicine for survival.

Before November 6, about 75,000 metric tons of the 350,000 metric tons of food imports Yemen requires – or about 20 percent – were humanitarian supplies, leaving 80 percent to come through commercial imports, according to the UN. The UN estimates Yemen’s fuel needs at 544,000 metric tons per month – almost all commercial imports reached Yemen via one of its six ports, making the fuel supply particularly vulnerable to naval or commercial disruptions.

The coalition has repeatedly contended that ships can be diverted to ports under the control of the Yemeni government, which it backs, but these two ports are not sufficient to meet the civilian population’s needs.

Aden port, the most used after Hodeida and Saleef, does not have the capacity to receive the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of food, fuel, medicine, and other imported goods Yemen depends on for survival. Aden currently has the capacity to take in about 50,000 metric tons of fuel and 80,000 metric tons of food a month, according to the UN – well under the country’s needs.

Allowing ports in Houthi-controlled territory to continue functioning is crucial to addressing the humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said. Eighty percent of all imports – humanitarian and commercial – came through Hodeida and Saleef ports before November 6. Combined, the two ports had the capacity to take in about 150,000 metric tons of fuel, 295,000 metric tons of food, and 90,000 metric tons of non-food items each month.

When asked in early 2017 why the coalition had refused to allow imports of materials to repair or replace damaged infrastructure at Hodeida, including four US-donated cranes, then-spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri said the coalition sent back those cranes “because we don’t want to continue to enhance the capabilities of the Houthis to generate money and to smuggle weapons.”

The UN has concluded: “Even at reduced capacity there is no viable substitute for [Hodeida] port.” If commercial traffic continues to be blocked, “there continues to be a grave risk of further death, disease and starvation.”

Coalition Restrictions on Essential Goods to Houthi Ports

The November restrictions are only the latest move by the coalition to unlawfully impede access for goods essential to the civilian population’s survival to reach Houthi-controlled territory, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch documented that the coalition had withheld permission to fuel tankers to travel to Yemen. In 2016, in recognition of the need to ensure that commercial imports could enter Yemen, the UN established the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism to inspect and issue clearances for all commercial shipping vessels traveling to ports under Houthi control.

The coalition has repeatedly undermined the work of UNVIM. Since 2016, after ships were cleared by UNVIM, they would proceed to a demarcated “coalition holding area” in the Red Sea and wait for the coalition to inspect or give them permission to go to port. Over a four-month period in 2017, Human Rights Watch documented seven cases in which the coalition arbitrarily diverted or delayed fuel tankers headed for ports under Houthi control after the UN cleared and granted permission to each ship to proceed. The coalition has also repeatedly diverted and delayed commercial ships carrying humanitarian cargo.

A doctor in Hodeida told Human Rights Watch the hospital had been given expired or near-expired medication: “When we started to ask why, we’ve been told that the goods are taking too long at sea for inspection and the procedures for permission.” He said some medicines had “vanished from the market.” While a few goods came up from Aden, another doctor in Sanaa said, it was with extreme difficulty, in very small amounts and with increased prices, in a situation where we “don’t have the ability to buy even at regular prices.”

A Sanaa-based businessman said that friends could not obtain medicine for chronic illnesses, including kidney failure:

Medicine is a disaster, people are dying left and right. You’ll find medicine, but most of it is smuggled. Medicines need storage specifications. When these guys try and smuggle it through land, use bad warehousing, the medicine is either useless or it kills you.

Humanitarian agencies have repeatedly raised concerns about the coalition diverting all imports through government-controlled Aden. Transporting goods north from Aden requires crossing front lines and increases the risk of diversion and travel time by up to three weeks while raising costs by up to US$30 to US$70 per ton, making goods much more expensive for average Yemenis, according to the UN. In addition, armed forces affiliated with the Yemeni government and the United Arab Emirates, a coalition member, compete for control of the city, including its seaport and airport.

A source in Sanaa collected food prices from a grocery store in the city considered to have relatively low prices before the November 6 announcement and about two weeks after the full blockade was imposed. Most staple food prices – including cooking oil, flour, and rice – spiked by about 25 percent. A can of beans nearly doubled in price. A businessman in Sanaa said that his family has seen food brands disappear over past months. UN documents tracking prices, which Human Rights Watch examined, also noted severe price hikes across goods and governorates after the coalition’s November closures.

Even before the conflict, nearly 40 percent of Yemen’s population lived on less than US$2 a day. The collapse of the Yemeni riyal and the failure to pay civil servants’ salaries, including in some governorates under government control, exacerbates the impact of any price increase on average Yemenis’ ability to purchase food, fuel, and medicine.

Coalition Restrictions on Humanitarian Access

The Saudi-led coalition has increasingly restricted humanitarian access to Sanaa, Yemen’s largest city, which is under Houthi control.

The coalition suspended all commercial flights to Sanaa in August 2016. Twelve aid agencies called on the coalition to reopen the country’s main airport, noting that commercial flights “often bring in vital supplies and allow the free movement of civilians.” Mwatana, a leading Yemeni human rights organization, documented cases of people with chronic illnesses unable to travel abroad for treatment, including one woman needing heart surgery who died.

In May, the coalition tried to restrict passage on UN flights to Sanaa to UN passport holders. But non-UN passport holders include crucial staff of aid organizations, human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, and journalists. The UN was able to negotiate for staff of humanitarian organizations to continue taking the flights, but not others.

The coalition has frequently interfered with aid groups’ ability to work in Houthi-controlled territory. In August, the coalition informed the UN that international staff needed two visas – one from the Houthis and one from the Yemeni government – to travel on UN flights. The coalition had previously imposed a similar requirement on journalists, before blocking them from the flights. The Yemeni government then required all humanitarian organizations to conclude new agreements with ministries in Aden, even if they had an existing agreement with the Yemeni government. In October, the coalition again informed the UN that only UN passport holders could take UN flights. When the UN refused to ask aid groups to cease using the flights, the coalition responded by grounding flights for two days, humanitarian workers in Sanaa told Human Rights Watch.

As part of the November 6 closures, the coalition refused to allow humanitarian flights – carrying personnel or cargo – to land in Sanaa. On November 22, after eight days of negotiation, one flight was permitted to carry out a lifesaving medical evacuation of a critically ill foreign aid worker. Humanitarian flights to Sanaa resumed on November 25.

The coalition has repeatedly called for humanitarian agencies to move their operations to government-controlled Aden. In its November 6 announcement, the coalition called upon “civilian and humanitarian crews” to avoid “areas and ports exploited by [the Houthis] to smuggle weapons.” The announcement also said that humanitarian workers should avoid “areas populated by” the Houthis.

The Coalition Blockade and International Humanitarian Law

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, prohibits deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and attacks that cause disproportionate harm to civilians compared to the expected military benefit. Blockades are permitted during armed conflict that do not cause disproportionate civilian harm. However, parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not arbitrarily interfere with it. Parties must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity.

Warring parties are also prohibited from carrying out attacks on objects that are indispensable to the civilian population. These can include food stores, drinking water installations, and port facilities.

The laws of war prohibit using starvation as a method of warfare, and require parties to a conflict not to “provoke [starvation] deliberately” or deliberately cause “the population to suffer hunger, particularly by depriving it of its sources of food or of supplies.”

Since the start of the conflict, the Saudi-led coalition has unnecessarily hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of aid workers. Opposing Houthi and Saleh forces were also responsible for blocking and confiscating aid, denying access to populations in need, and restricting the movement of ill civilians and aid workers, with an acute impact on Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz.

During the three weeks in November that humanitarian flights to Sanaa were refused, the UN was forced to cancel more than 30 flights, stranding 220 humanitarian staff from nearly 50 agencies outside Yemen and 310 in Yemen. One humanitarian official said that 80 percent of their operations were in areas affected by the Sanaa airport closure. Another said their organization had used the airport to import vaccines and other essential medical items that require cold chain storage.

The coalition has damaged or destroyed objects that were indispensable to the survival of the civilian population in Houthi-controlled areas. In August 2015, coalition airstrikes struck Hodeida port, damaging essential port infrastructure. The coalition has refused to allow the port to replace destroyed infrastructure or import spare parts for repairs, a port official said. In January 2016, coalition airstrikes damaged Ras Isa port’s Floating Storage and Offloading terminal, closing part of the facility, Reuters reported.

The full blockade announced on November 6 immediately and predictably exacerbated existing food shortages in Yemen. For instance, a doctor in Hodeida said that prices of fuel, food, and medicine went up “wildly.” His hospital saw more severe acute malnutrition cases, which is “not a good indication…It means people reach a critical condition very quickly.”. “Most people do not have food, not even water… Hospitals are about to close. Why all this, why? People were already at the bottom, and this last decision has ended everyone.”

The coalition sought to justify the full blockade on grounds that it needed to tighten access to prevent foreign-made arms, particularly from Iran, from reaching Houthi forces. Security Council Resolution 2216 permits the coalition to inspect cargo bound for Yemen if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the cargo contains weapons and other prohibited items – but not to block all cargo.

The November blockade was unlawfully disproportionate in that the expected harm to the civilian population exceeded any apparent military benefit. Taken together with the limits on humanitarian aid and the destruction of objects indispensable to the civilian population, the action suggests the coalition may have used starvation of civilians as a weapon of war. The partial lifting of the blockade could have lessened but has not ended the risk of widespread starvation and other civilian harm.

Individuals who willfully commit serious violations of international humanitarian law may be prosecuted for war crimes. This would include deliberately using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival and by impeding humanitarian aid. Military commanders and civilian leaders may be prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility if they knew or should have known about the commission of such crimes and took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those responsible. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Myanmar security forces campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Rohingya in northern Rakhine State has driven more than 600,000 people from their homes, villages and country with massacres, widespread rape, and mass arson.

Government forces have substantially or completely destroyed more than 340 primarily Rohingya villages. Over 100 villages have been burned to the ground after September 5, the date the government claims so-called clearance operations had ended. Satellite imagery shows that at least three villages were burned within the past two weeks.

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls by Burmese security forces. In the two dozen cases reported to us by rape survivors, the rapists were uniformed members of Burmese security forces. In nearly all of these cases, the women were gang raped; many also watched as soldiers shot and beat to death members of their families, including small children.

Nothing can restore to the Rohingya people what has been taken from them. But the government of Myanmar should promptly provide adequate restitution or compensation for lost homes, property and lives. It should fully cooperate with the UN Fact-finding Mission, which we encourage to identify individual perpetrators and command structures, and make recommendations regarding an appropriate accountability mechanism. Any returns should be overseen by UNHCR, and should ensure that international standards, including the principle of non-refoulement, are respected. Any returns must be safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable.

Above all, today’s Special Session, supported by Council members from all regional groups, sends a powerful message: if Myanmar imagines that in the months to come, the gaze of the international community will wander on to other crises and the plight of the Rohingya again be forgotten, then it is deeply mistaken. The resolution’s request for the High Commissioner to track and report on the situation for at least the next three years provides an opportunity for Myanmar to end its era of denials, and work with the Council and its mechanisms to address the root causes of these violations, bring those responsible to account, and treat its Rohingya population with the equal rights, dignity and respect which they have for so long been denied.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh addresses a rally held to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of his General People's Congress party in Sanaa, Yemen, August 24, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Beirut) – The killing of former longtime Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on December 4, 2017, underlines the need for governments to support the new United Nations expert panel to investigate abuses by all sides to Yemen’s war, Human Rights Watch said today. Saleh, implicated in numerous abuses during his 33-year-long rule of Yemen and during the current conflict, was reportedly killed by Houthi forces while trying to leave the capital, Sanaa.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen was created by the UN Human Rights Council in September to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict. The United StatesUnited Kingdom, and other UN member countries should press the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi armed group to cooperate with the UN inquiry.

“Saleh’s death is a grim reminder of the consequences of granting immunity to those linked to grave abuses since countless Yemeni victims and their families should have been able to confront him in court for his alleged crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The US, UK, and others should fully support the UN expert panel and pursue the justice Yemenis deserve.”

Tensions between forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthis had been increasing over the past few months, with armed clashes breaking out on December 1 in Sanaa. On December 4, Houthi-affiliated media reported that Houthi forces had killed Saleh. Videos purportedly showing Houthi forces putting Saleh’s body, with a head wound, into a truck circulated on social media. Close associates of Saleh later confirmed he had been killed that day. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

During the recent fighting in Sanaa, dozens of people, including civilians, were killed, and hundreds wounded. Ambulances and medical teams were not able to reach the wounded and medical teams were reportedly attacked, according to the UN. An International Committee of the Red Cross medical warehouse was struck during fighting, the organization’s regional director said on Twitter. Humanitarian agencies repeatedly called on all sides – including the coalition, which had reportedly carried out airstrikes against Houthi forces during the fighting – to allow civilians safe passage.

Civilians in Sanaa had already been suffering from a lack of essential supplies, like food, fuel, and medicine, following the coalition’s decision to block the entry of goods through ports under Houthi control on November 6.

Saleh leaves a deeply troubling legacy. Although officially deposed from power during the Arab Uprisings in 2012, Saleh stayed in Yemen and acted as a political spoiler throughout the country’s aborted transitional process. In September 2014, the Houthi armed group took over Sanaa. Despite having waged a six-year, intermittent civil war against the Houthis in the north, Saleh aligned himself with the rebel group in the fight against President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition.

The allied Houthi-Saleh forces committed numerous violations of the laws of war, some most likely war crimes. Human Rights Watch documented that Houthi-Saleh forces laid antipersonnel landmines throughout the country and killed and wounded civilians and prevented their return home. The Houthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas like the cities of Taizz and Adenforcibly disappeared and abused scores of individuals in areas under their control and blocked and impeded the distribution of aid.

Saleh left office in February 2012 under a flawed transfer pact brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed in most aspects by the UN Security Council, the US, and European Union member countries. The accord promised Saleh immunity in exchange for leaving office. Yemen’s parliament fulfilled the promise, passing a law granting blanket immunity from prosecution to Saleh and his aides for any action during his 33-year rule.

Shortly before Saleh left office, Human Rights Watch confirmed the deaths of 270 protesters and bystanders during attacks by government security forces and gangs on largely peaceful demonstrations against his rule, most in Sanaa. Dozens more civilians were killed in 2011 in apparently indiscriminate attacks by government security forces on densely populated areas in Taizz during clashes with armed opposition fighters. Human Rights Watch also documented a broad pattern of international human rights and laws-of-war violations by government security forces while Saleh was in power, including apparent indiscriminate shelling in the 2004-2010 civil wars against the Houthis and the use of unnecessary and lethal force since 2007 to quash a separatist movement in the south.

On December 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights named Kamel Jendoubi, Charles Garraway, and Melissa Parke to the UN expert panel. In announcing the appointments, the high commissioner said: “For three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair. It is essential that those who have inflicted such violations and abuses are held to account.”

“It’s critical for the panel to be able to do its job so that the thousands of Yemenis who have suffered can find a measure of redress,” Whitson said. “Saleh’s death adds one more incident to the UN expert panel’s very long caseload.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Iraqi special forces soldier stands beside graffiti, which reads: "The Islamic State will remain," in Bartalla, east of Mosul, Iraq October, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The Islamic State is on the back foot in Iraq.

While the implosion of ISIS is clearly welcome news for Iraqis who suffered so much under its murderous rule, it's less clear what should be done with those ISIS members who haven't already fled or been killed in combat. Iraq's current approach is not only deeply flawed, but downright dangerous too.

I have witnessed at first-hand how Iraqi forces are screening, detaining, and trying men and boys for ISIS affiliation. The way they're picked up is problematic; some are branded as ISIS suspects based on dubious "intel" from neighbors, who may only be reporting them because of jealousies or long-term feuds over land or business ties.

Many ISIS suspects told us that Iraqi forces held them for months and interrogated them without a lawyer, sometimes torturing them to confess that they were indeed ISIS members. Judges then try and convict them for this but make no distinction between someone who admits to having been a fighter who raped and massacred, to someone who was, say, a cook for a group of fighters or a doctor who kept working at his local hospital even after it was taken over by ISIS. All of these people face the death penalty under Iraq's counterterrorism law.

Human Rights Watch knows of more than 7,000 ISIS suspects who have been tried or convicted since 2014, and 92 ISIS convicts who have been executed. As far as we know, Iraqi courts did not charge any of these people with any crime other than ISIS membership; we also know that some of these trials can last as little as 15 to 20 minutes, without any victims of their alleged crimes present.

These trials not only violate defendants' rights, but also rob victims of their day in court. In one particularly galling example, a defendant admitted during his trial that he had held four women as sex slaves, raping a different one each night. But the court only convicted him for ISIS membership. Iraqi authorities apparently saw no need to try to find the women he had raped, and give them the chance to have their day in court.

I've spent a lot of time talking to families who suffered terrible things under ISIS, and all of them spoke of their thirst for revenge. Iraqi authorities are under pressure to deliver what looks like decisive punishment. But this approach will only sow the seeds for yet more violence.

I have spoken to over 100 families who have had their sons and husbands taken away during ISIS screenings, but who months later still have no idea where they are. At first, they were overjoyed to be free from ISIS. Now I hear a common refrain: "I wish we had stayed in Mosul and were killed by an airstrike. That is better than living without knowing what happened to my husband." I have seen a cell, just four by six meters wide, holding 114 prisoners caught up in an ISIS sweep who have been there for months without a single breath of fresh air.

At the same time, I have spoken to women held as ISIS sex slaves, sold over 10 times from man to man, raped over and over. They feel the Iraqi government cares nothing for their suffering, and has done nothing to hold their rapists accountable.

If Iraq wants to show that, unlike ISIS, it actually cares about victims, justice, and rule of law, it needs to develop a plan to fairly prosecute people for the full range of crimes they committed, and with a clear role for victims' voices.

Over the last year, the UK government has encouraged the UN Security Council to create an international investigative team to support Iraq in gathering evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But soon it will run into real problems: the trials in Iraq will likely finish before the team even starts its work, and the UN will rightly be unable to hand evidence they gather over to Iraqi courts because of their deeply flawed trials and use of the death penalty.  And the fact this team will only examine crimes committed by ISIS creates double standards, given the serious crimes committed by allies of the Iraqi government.

So what can the UK government do? It's critical that, alongside other international actors who care about justice for ISIS victims, it now engages with ongoing trials, including by paying for human rights monitoring at courthouses. It means helping to monitor detention conditions and working to improve them. It means funding victims' families, so they can take part in trials. And it means pushing Iraq to abolish the death penalty, and to allow those who committed the worst atrocities to be charged with war crimes. Improving - and actively supporting - the justice system is critical if Iraq is to avoid another terrible descent into violence.

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