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

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

HRW remains concerned by the human rights crisis in Libya, which is taking place amidst near-absolute impunity. We regret the failure of this Council to provide a credible response. The fact that I am speaking under an item 10 General Debate – rather than dedicated dialogue on Libya – is itself a symptom of that failure.

Since the Council’s last resolution on Libya, armed groups, some of them affiliated with one or the other of Libya’s rival governments, continued to attack civilians and civilian property indiscriminately and sometimes deliberately; abduct, torture, and disappear people; and failed or refused to ensure the safe return of displaced people to areas they control. The UN-recognized government tightened restrictions on foreign media.

Migrants detained in Libya face ill-treatment and inhumane conditions in official detention centers run by one of the competing governments, and in unofficial centers controlled by militias or traffickers.

Libyan courts are plagued by a lack of due process. Prison authorities, often only nominally answerable to one or the other of the rival governments, hold thousands of detainees in long-term detention, in many cases without charges.

In this environment, how can we speak meaningfully about technical assistance and capacity building, in the absence of robust monitoring, public reporting, and efforts towards accountability? For the fourth year in a row, the resolution on the table this session is out of touch with the needs on the ground. HRW calls once again on this Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on Libya.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

HRW remains concerned by the human rights crisis in Libya, which is taking place amidst near-absolute impunity. We regret the failure of this Council to provide a credible response. The fact that I am speaking under an item 10 General Debate – rather than dedicated dialogue on Libya – is itself a symptom of that failure.

Since the Council’s last resolution on Libya, armed groups, some of them affiliated with one or the other of Libya’s rival governments, continued to attack civilians and civilian property indiscriminately and sometimes deliberately; abduct, torture, and disappear people; and failed or refused to ensure the safe return of displaced people to areas they control. The UN-recognized government tightened restrictions on foreign media.

Migrants detained in Libya face ill-treatment and inhumane conditions in official detention centers run by one of the competing governments, and in unofficial centers controlled by militias or traffickers.

Libyan courts are plagued by a lack of due process. Prison authorities, often only nominally answerable to one or the other of the rival governments, hold thousands of detainees in long-term detention, in many cases without charges.

In this environment, how can we speak meaningfully about technical assistance and capacity building, in the absence of robust monitoring, public reporting, and efforts towards accountability? For the fourth year in a row, the resolution on the table this session is out of touch with the needs on the ground. HRW calls once again on this Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on Libya.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We welcome the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation in Venezuela, the first of its kind, and look forward to the report to be presented in June. In this vein, we’d like to highlight some areas where the UN High Commissioner’s upcoming report could play an important role to curb abuses in Venezuela. Among other areas, the upcoming report on Venezuela’s crisis should cover the ongoing crackdown on dissent, the devastating food and medicine shortages, and the resulting refugee crisis.

In a recent report by Human Rights Watch and Foro Penal, we analyzed cases in which intelligence agents were detaining and torturing members of the military who are suspected of fomenting rebellion. In some cases, they also went after their families or other civilians when they couldn’t find the suspects; in most cases, intelligence agents carried out the arrests. Recently, security agents and armed pro-government groups have again used excessive force against demonstrators, leaving dozens of people killed and many more injured.

Mr. President, these are not isolated acts by rogue agents. They are part of a systematic pattern of abuse by Venezuelan security forces that we have been documenting since 2014.

Another particular area of concern is the Venezuelan health system, which is in utter collapse. Venezuela is now experiencing outbreaks of diseases that are preventable through vaccination and that had once been eliminated in the country, such as measles or diphtheria. The reported cases of malaria and tuberculosis have also risen dramatically. All of this, while studies indicate that most Venezuelan households are food insecure and levels of child malnutrition are alarmingly high. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country. Many are struggling to rebuild their lives abroad, often in the face of rising xenophobia.

The upcoming OHCHR report should contain an independent, credible assessment that will help expose these abuses, push for accountability for the victims, and press for sufficient humanitarian aid to enter the country. To do so, the High Commissioner should press Venezuelan authorities to allow her team full access to all detention facilities, including intelligence services headquarters, and to all the hospitals they choose to visit, as well as the possibility to interview detainees without interference from authorities or security agents.   Venezuelans are looking to this Council. We should not fail them. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

When the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 30/1 by consensus in October 2015, Sri Lanka, through its co-sponsorship, committed to 25 key undertakings across a range of human rights issues. A core commitment was to set up four transitional justice mechanisms to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights” in the country. These included an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense lawyers; a truth and reconciliation mechanism; an office of missing persons; and an office for reparations.

While some positive steps have been taken by the government to date, both the current and former High Commissioners in their reports have expressed concern at the slow rate of progress.

Thus far only the Office of Missing Persons has been set up, but progress was delayed, and making the office operational was marred with logistical difficulties. There has been no discernible progress on establishing an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, and investigators. Instead, Sri Lankan political leaders have repeatedly said that there will be no foreign judges, and that “war heroes” will be protected from prosecution.

Numerous UN experts and special mandates have since 2015 highlighted the marginalization and misrepresentation faced by minority communities, as well as a trust-deficit between these communities and the government, due in significant part to a culture of impunity. This was exposed during the recent political and constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka that laid bare the volatility of the political environment and the imperative need for continued international engagement to support the government in protecting human rights and promoting reform, reconciliation and accountability.

The Human Rights Council has played a vital role in identifying the many steps needed to reconcile with the past, ensure justice and accountability, and implement necessary reforms. Its scrutiny has proved an important catalyst for the progress made to date. As the High Commissioner’s report underscores: “The lack of progress shows that the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka should remain firmly on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.”

Given the insufficient progress to date, and rising frustrations that any accountability process seems stalled, civil society, Special Procedures, the former and current High  Commissioners, and even the resolution Core Group itself have underlined the need for a clear timetable and framework for Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments. We are disapppointed that the resolution tabled for consideration this session includes reference to a time-bound implementation plan as a preambular encouragement only. It is not too late to elevate this into an operative requirement.

Through this resolution, Sri Lanka is being given one more chance to deliver on its commitments, but it cannot credibly delay any further. Stronger measures are needed to assist in monitoring, implementing and fulfilling these commitments, such as an OHCHR field presence, Special Procedure and evidence-gathering, justice and accountability mechanisms.

Sri Lanka’s long-term peace and stability hinges upon the international community’s willingness to support the government in addressing the past so that it may look to the future.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An officer of the National Police shoots at a group of people outside the shopping mall Metrocentro in Managua, Nicaragua, May 28, 2018. 

© 2018 Oscar Martín Sánchez Valdivia

The brutal crackdown in Nicaragua has prompted regional players to call for intervention by the United Nations Human Rights Council – the first-ever resolution on Nicaragua.

This week, a group of countries from the region – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru – will present a resolution calling on the High Commissioner to monitor the situation on the ground and report back to the Council later this year. This would be a crucial next step in addressing the human rights crisis that is rapidly tearing the country apart.

During the current Council session, Nicaraguans have come to the UN to tell their stories: rampant government crackdown, brutal violence at the hands of police officers, mass detention of protestors, and shocking sexual violence against political prisoners. So far, these allegations have been met with outright denial by the government.

Human Rights Watch has been calling for an urgent response by the Human Rights Council since last August and the situation has only deteriorated since then. First, in August, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was expelled for reporting on the country, then the Inter-American-mandated investigators were expelled in December, just one day before they released their report calling for Nicaraguan authorities, including President Ortega and his police chiefs, to be investigated for the commission of crimes against humanity.

The Council has a duty to respond to this crisis, which includes documenting violations so abusers may eventually be held to account. By ensuring an independent investigation of the abuses taking place there, the Council is taking the first step toward justice, and giving Nicaraguans hope.

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

As Israeli authorities expand settlements at an “unprecedented high level,” in the words of a recent European Union report, it is more urgent than ever that the High Commissioner for Human Rights  release the long-awaited report on the database of businesses facilitating illegal Israeli settlements. Settlements are at the root of serious, systematic violations of Palestinian rights, undermining their livelihoods and economy.

The disappointing further delay in publishing the database further entrenches corporate involvement in the abuses stemming from illegal settlements, in violation of their own responsibilities to avoid such complicity. The High Commissioner has a responsibility to fulfil the mandate entrusted to her by the Human Rights Council and commit to a clear date for publishing this vital report. We note that the High Commissioner has confirmed that the report will be published “in coming months,” and we encourage her to take all steps necessary to ensure it is available for consideration by the Council at its June session. States should support publication as a measure of transparency in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and to reaffirm the international consensus on the illegality of settlements.

In addition, the Human Rights Council should ensure appropriate follow-up to the conclusion of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza Protests that members of the Israeli security forces and their commanders may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. We encourage the High Commissioner to give the International Criminal Court prosecutor access to information about alleged perpetrators shared with her office by the Commission of Inquiry. This includes material about any officials who issued unlawful open-fire orders sanctioning the firing on protesters who posed no imminent mortal danger, who bear direct criminal liability, so they can face possible criminal prosecution. The High Commissioner should also share this information with credible national judicial authorities, so they can pursue appropriate crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

States should also suspend assistance to the agencies within the Palestinian Authority and Hamas security forces that are systematically arresting and torturing critics and opponents, as Human Rights Watch recently reported. Not a single security officer was convicted for these abuses in 2016 and 2017, the latest years for which we have data. These abuses will continue so long as impunity remains the norm.

Finally, we note that for the first time, the lead sponsors have tabled the accountability resolution under item 2 (relating to the work of the High Commissioner) rather than item 7 (relating to the human rights situation in the OPT). The onus is now on those states that have used item 7 as a shield for refusing to support the resolution, most notably certain members of the European Union, to demonstrate they were acting in good faith by now supporting the resolution on its merits.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Thank you, Mr. President,
Let me start by acknowledging China’s active participation in the UPR process – not just through its national report, but also through its tireless efforts to encourage such a large number of States to uncritically endorse its approach.
The many GONGOs who spoke before me illustrate that freedom of expression is enjoyed in China by government cheerleaders, while dissenting voices are routinely suppressed.
China has provided no accountability in the death of human rights defender Cao Shunli in 2013, or those of Liu Xiaobo, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Yang Tongyan, and Muhammed Salih Hajim.  Under President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities have reversed key legal gains, constricted space for independent civil society, and undertaken a campaign of arbitrary detention of Turkic Muslims that is unprecedented.
Faced with mounting concerns about mass detentions and denials of freedom of religion in Xinjiang, China initially denied the existence of detention centres, then claimed these are needed to combat terrorism, and now asserts they are vocational training centres. Today the delegation sought to clarify these are not “camps” but “campuses”. Yet, one former detainee told us: “They say this is a political education camp, but in reality, it is like a prison, it is surrounded by metal bars everywhere.”
To the numerous States expressing concern through the UPR, China has responded: “there is no such problem as arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang. We would ask the delegation: how does China determine who should be assigned to these “vocational training” programs? Is it voluntary? Can they leave when they want? Have they committed any crime? At a civil society event we hosted, a member of the Chinese delegation described these facilities as “preventative.” Doesn’t that imply the detainees haven’t yet done anything wrong? Do they have a means to challenge their confinement?
Mr. President, no-one is fooled by the photo exhibit. An independent international assessment is urgently needed. If indeed China has nothing to hide, it should cooperate with the requests made by the High Commissioner, and by Special Procedures, and allow full, unfettered access to international monitors.
Council members are expected to “uphold the highest standards of human rights.” China is failing to meet that standard. Other states should not abandon the victims of those violations, but take action to address them. If not now, then when?
Mr. President, distinguished delegates … we thank you for joining us in a moment of silence in memory of Cao Shunli, and all defenders unjustly detained for promoting human rights in China.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch welcome Nigeria’s cooperation with the review process and its positive response to some of the recommendations made by other States in the UPR Working Group.

We remain deeply concerned about pervasive violence against women, including rape of women and girls in internally displaced persons camps, as well as sexual violence against female detainees by police, sometimes in order to extract confession. These violations have continued, despite the passage of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act of 2015. While we welcome Nigeria’s acceptance of recommendations to intensify efforts to combat gender-based violence, we urge the government to hold perpetrators accountable and to ensure that victims can seek legal redress.

Since Nigeria’s northeast conflict began in 2009, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented systematic human rights abuses by Boko Haram and government security forces, including arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions.

 We welcome Nigeria’s acceptance of recommendations to conduct investigations into allegations of rights violations by some government security forces, but we remain concerned by the lack of accountability for crimes committed by such forces and call on the government to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials.

During the 2018 review several States called on the Nigerian government to strengthen the protection of the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the government to ensure that journalists and other media professionals can operate without fear of arrests or other reprisals for exercising their right to free speech. 

We are also concerned that the government rejected two recommendations that called for extension of those rights to all “without distinction”. Human Rights Watch has called on authorities to end arrests, detention and prosecutions based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We urge Nigeria to confirm the universality of these rights.   

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A large number of human rights concerns were raised during the UPR of Saudi Arabia, such as the detention of Saudi human rights activists – including women driving activists – jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform, as well as systemic discrimination against women, justice for the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

But the responses provided by Saudi Arabia in some cases fail to match the reality on the ground, and in others reflect an unwillingness to bring national laws and practices into conformity with international law.

The Saudi government has rejected key recommendations on critically important human rights problems, including the immediate release of all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained. Since 2017, Saudi authorities have undertaken mass detentions, including of human rights activists, independent clerics, and academics. Authorities have held many for months without charge or trial.

While Saudi Arabia has abolished the ban on women driving since its previous review, other government-enforced guardian restrictions remain in place, including on travel outside the country.

The government only noted recommendations in its previous review to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, and has subsequently executed over 700 people, including many for non-violent drug crimes, in violation of international law.

While the government has accepted recommendations in its current review to provide a transparent investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia rejected recommendations calling for participation of international experts in the investigation. To date, the ongoing trial of 11 individuals for the murder has lacked transparency.

We deeply regret that Saudi Arabia rejected a recommendation to fully cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented about 90 apparently unlawful attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes. As a member of this Council, Saudi Arabia has an obligation to cooperate with Council mechanisms.

Will Saudi Arabia comply with international human rights law and its membership obligations by immediately releasing all human rights activists jailed for advocating peaceful reform, removing government-enforced travel restrictions for women, declaring a moratorium on the death penalty, starting with those convicted of non-violent drug offenses, and fully cooperating with the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on her inquiry into the Khashoggi murder, and with the Yemen Group of Eminent Experts?

If Saudi Arabia refuses to address these serious human rights concerns through the UPR, we urge the 36 States which presented the joint statement this session to ensure stronger measures are put in place through a resolution.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Ministers for Foreign Affairs of all EU member states
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission
Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs / Vice-President of the European Commission

March 13, 2019

Re: The EU, China, and Human Rights

Your Excellencies,

We write regarding the ongoing discussions among European Union (EU) member states about EU-China relations, and ahead of the forthcoming series of EU-China dialogues, culminating in the EU-China Summit to be held in Brussels on April 9. At a moment when China poses threats to human rights domestically and internationally, it is essential that the EU take action to defend international human rights norms and institutions.

Since last year’s Summit, President Xi’s government continues its assault on human rights across China. Credible estimates suggest that more than one million Turkic Muslims are being arbitrarily detained across Xinjiang, simply on the basis of their identity, and outside of any legal process. Outside the camps, Xinjiang authorities surveil and control every aspect of life, imposing severe restrictions on their freedom of religion, and on the rights to freedoms of expression, association, and movement. In Tibet, authorities have intensified political education and imposed restrictions on informal community groups.

Across the country, lawyers, journalists, perceived critics, and human rights defenders continue to endure arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance. Legal reform has not simply stalled but reversed, erasing many of the last two decades’ gains with respect to placing constraints on state power. Beijing has invested heavily in rapid expansion of a high-tech surveillance state, giving it ever-greater control over society.  Chinese authorities tightened control in advance of the 60th “Tibetan National Uprising Day” on March 10, including closing the Tibet Autonomous Region for two months to foreign tourists.

Chinese leaders’ turn against the universality of human rights is also increasingly visible through China’s foreign policy. In a chilling indication of its longer-term agenda to weaken key human rights institutions, in March 2018, China succeeded in advancing a resolution at the Human Rights Council, focusing on its vision for “win-win cooperation,” while omitting any role for independent civil society, any mention of accountability, and other core parts of the Council’s mandate.

Beyond its own borders, Beijing has pressed other governments, including several EU member states, to forcibly return asylum seekers to China. It has also stepped up harassment of diaspora communities worldwide. Not only does Beijing continue to arbitrarily detain EU citizens, including Gui Minhai, but it is now also prosecuting two Canadian citizens on charges of stealing state secrets – one of the most serious charges under Chinese law – in apparent retaliation against Ottawa over a diplomatic dispute. Throughout the year, China pressed ahead with its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which lacks mechanisms for due diligence, consultation with affected communities, or labor rights, including in EU member states.

It is clear that the Chinese government poses a threat to human rights around the world, and to the EU as a critical institutional defender of human rights. The tough negotiations the EU and its member states have ahead of every session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, or in relation to any human rights statement that concerns China, are ongoing indications of this difficulty. Perhaps more emblematic is the fact that as we approach the 30th anniversary of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square bloodshed, Beijing has provided no accountability for the killings, enforced disappearances, or imprisonment of Tiananmen activists, but rather continued persecution of the memory and speech about the crackdown.

In order to affirm the EU’s foundational principle of promoting human rights, to continue to press for positive change in China, and to send an unambiguous message to Chinese leaders through this upcoming series of meetings, we urge you to:

  • Along the lines of the EU’s statement to the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council, press China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN representatives;
  • Publicly and privately press before, during, and after the Summit to secure the release of Gui Minhai, Huang Qi, Wang Quanzhang, Guligeina Tashimaimaiti, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, and Lee Ming-che.
  • Consistent with its response to an inadequate bilateral human rights dialogue in Beijing in July 2018, the EEAS should again promptly publish a frank assessment of the forthcoming human rights dialogue. Until such time as the Chinese government engages in the dialogue in good faith, the EEAS should continue to consider a “shadow” dialogue with independent Chinese civil society. Acknowledge that, despite commendable efforts by the EEAS, the EU-China human rights dialogue has failed to produce tangible results, and that the dialogue should complement, not substitute, higher-level talks on human rights with Chinese authorities;
  • Identify specific human rights issues the Chinese government needs to address as a strategic priority for the EU and its member states, starting with the closure of “political education” camps in Xinjiang, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to the persecution of human rights defenders;
  • Insist on the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 21 years on from China’s signature of the Covenant; and
  • Commit to publicly marking the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 2019, and the anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death in July 2019.

In the coming weeks, the EU and its member states have multiple occasions to prioritize these urgent human rights concerns at preparatory meetings and at the Summit. Each missed opportunity to articulate specific human rights improvements is a message to China’s leadership – and people across China and the world – that those concerns remain subordinated to other issues.

Thank you for your consideration of these important matters. We look forward to discussing these issues at your earliest convenience.


Amnesty International
China Aid
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Frontline Defenders
Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker
International Campaign for Tibet
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights
International Tibet Network
Human Rights in China
Human Rights Watch
Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization
World Uyghur Congress



Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

While the Council has several critical situations on its agenda, we are alarmed that the crises in many countries deepen while the Council stands idly by.

Civic space in Bahrain has continued to shrink as prominent rights defenders, journalists and opposition leaders are harshly punished for rights activism or criticizing the authorities.

In Egypt, police systematically use torture, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent under the guise of combatting terrorism. Authorities are actively dismantling independent civil society through restrictive legislation, detaining journalists, censoring websites, and prosecuting rights defenders.

Turkey remains the world leader in jailing journalists with more than 180 reporters, writers, and media workers in pretrial detention facing terrorism charges.

Violence escalated in Cameroon after protests broke out in 2016, and the authorities responded with rampant rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees, extrajudicial executions, and the burning of homes and property.

Accountability for the tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s murderous “war on drugs” in the Philippines remains virtually non-existent, and repression of government critics and rights defenders continues to rise. 

In none of these countries has the Council taken action to put in place monitoring and reporting or investigations. This failure is magnified when we recall that almost all of these countries are sitting Council members, meant to uphold the highest standards of human rights. We call upon states to give these situations the response they deserve. The Council’s credibility depends on it, just as thousands of victims and survivors on the ground depend on this Council.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for his ongoing work to address gross and systemic human rights abuses in North Korea.

The last year has been a challenging time to maintain pressure on North Korea to address its deplorable human rights situation. Several summits involving the leaders of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, intended to address weapons proliferation issues, appear to have caused decreasing attention to North Korea’s human rights situation.

After the landmark 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report that documented crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, sexual violence, persecution, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances, the UN Security Council began to debate North Korea’s human rights record during regular sessions. In 2018, however, the council held no formal debate on the country’s human rights situation and the United States as lead sponsor appeared unwilling to press for one. Several countries have indicated to Human Rights Watch an unwillingness to press for human rights for fear that doing so would jeopardize ongoing counter-proliferations negotiations.

This concern is misplaced. Addressing human rights issues is a prerequisite and a foundation for all other negotiations with North Korea, including on weapons proliferation. We share the Special Rapporteur’s view that “respect for human rights remains central to the peace and denuclearisation agenda in the Korean peninsula.”

Accountability for international crimes is essential. The Special Rapporteur has rightly stressed that “the establishment [by OHCHR] of the repository and database will be useful for any national or international accountability mechanisms to be established in future.” We join the Special Rapporteur’s call that the Human Rights Council “extend the mandate of the accountability project and allocate appropriate funding to OHCHR to meaningfully implement its mandate.”

We also support renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to ensure ongoing scrutiny of North Korea’s abuses. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am