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

The war in Yemen between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces is nearly two years old – more than 4,600 civilians have been killed and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. The High Commissioner has repeatedly called for an international investigation into abuses by all parties to the conflict, yet the laws of war continue to be violated and true accountability is starkly lacking. 

The Saudi-led coalition has unlawfully bombed homes, markets, schools, and hospitals, killing and wounding thousands of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented 62 apparently indiscriminate coalition airstrikes – most recently one that killed two students on their way to school – and 18 more where the coalition used banned cluster munitions. In some of these attacks, the coalition has used weapons made and continue to be sold by countries on this Council. 

The Houthi-Saleh forces have arbitrarily detained, tortured or forcibly disappeared an unknown number of people, laid anti-personnel landmines, and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighborhoods. We have documented instances where children have been detained and abused by Houthi-Saleh forces, where activists, nongovernmental organization workers and members of the Baha’i community were harassed or intimidated. 

Yemen is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions reportedly on the brink of famine. Both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces have delayed or impede the flow of humanitarian assistance, contributing to many more silent, civilian deaths. 

Accountability for these and other violations remains crucial, and international action is urgently needed to pressure the parties to cease ongoing abuses. States could begin by stopping weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until it ceases its unlawful attacks and investigates those that have occurred. The Council should create an independent, international investigative mechanism to examine abuses by all side. But, until then, it should ensure that states support OHCHR’s own investigative efforts and back regular briefings by the High Commissioner on developments so that the conflict in Yemen, and the enormous toll it is taking on Yemeni civilians, is not forgotten.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch acknowledges the Sri Lankan government’s engagement with the international community, including with the UN’s special procedures, over the last two years.

We share however the concerns expressed by High Commissioner Zeid at the slow pace of progress in implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. The promised office on enforced disappearances has yet to be established, although enabling legislation was passed in June 2016. Legislation to establish three other transitional justice mechanisms pledged under the 30/1 resolution remain in draft form.

We are also concerned about other undertakings in the resolution that have not been implemented. A key issue is security sector reform that, barring a handful of prosecutions in high-profile cases, has simply not occurred. Torture by the security forces remains endemic, a fact underscored by the recent report of the Special Rapporteur on torture as well as by Human Rights Watch and other groups. The government talks about a “zero-tolerance” policy against torture while in Geneva, but takes no action back home.

Everyone wants Sri Lanka to be a success story. But it is not helped when the legislation to create the Office of Missing Persons was adopted without real consultation. It is not helped when the report of the Consultation Task Force on transitional justice – the product of extensive national consultations – is dismissed by officials at the highest level as an “NGO report,” obscuring that the report was prepared by independent persons appointed by the government, and provides a blueprint for designing the transitional justice mechanisms. It is not helped when senior government officials, including President Maithripala Sirisena, repeatedly make public statements promising to defend the security services from accountability, calling into question the government’s willingness to comply with its undertakings in the resolution.

Sri Lanka took a strong step in co-sponsoring resolution 30/1, raising hopes and the promise of reconciliation, reform and justice - but the pace of progress, combined with contradictory government statements back home, risk undermining the confidence and trust so important to a successful outcome. We urge the government to accept the findings of the Consultation Task Force, to develop a time-bound implementation plan of all elements in the resolution, and we call on UN member states to remain engaged until all commitments in the resolution are met in full.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the new periodic report and update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several concerns described in the report have been areas of extensive Human Rights Watch research.

First, we are gravely concerned about the safety of civilians living along the line of contact between areas controlled by the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists. We received reports that both sides resumed the use of GRAD rockets and other heavy weapons that should not be used in populated areas, and continue to install military positions in densely populated areas. We urge both parties to cease the use of these weapons in civilian areas and do their utmost to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from harm during hostilities.

Second, thousands of people crossing the contact line daily face endless waits, lack of adequate sanitary and other infrastructure at crossing points, and are exposed to landmines and regular exchange of fire, making an already grueling crossing very dangerous. All parties should uphold their international obligations and ensure that civilians are not exposed to undue hardship or unnecessary suffering.

Third, despite the release, as of mid-December 2016, of 18 detainees who had been forcibly disappeared in the Kharkiv security services facility, we remain concerned that Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged neither the detentions nor the releases. Russia-backed separatists have provided no information on incommunicado detention and ill treatment documented in separatist-held areas. We urge Russia’s leadership to press the de-facto authorities to stop these abuses.

Finally, we are alarmed by the human rights crisis taking place under Russia’s occupation of Crimea, including the persecution of people for publicly opposing the occupation and shrinking space for free speech. In December 2016, human rights activist Emir Hussein Kuku was subjected to forced psychiatric confinement. In January, two human rights lawyers, who are defending Crimean Tatar leaders, were arbitrarily detained by local law-enforcement. Although one of them, Nikolai Polozov, was released the same day, Emil Kurbedinov was sentenced to a 10-day administrative arrest on trumped-up charges. Just last week, on March 13, Russian security services (FSB) in Crimea detained three Ukrainian human rights defenders and questioned them for seven hours. Although the activists were eventually released, their detention and questioning appears arbitrary.

The Human Rights Council should condemn abuses by all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well as Russia’s abuses in Crimea. It should maintain its scrutiny of the situation in Ukraine and reflect in upcoming resolutions the concerns and recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Geneva) – Large-scale human rights violations have escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent months. Government security forces have committed brutal political repression against those who opposed President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016. Meanwhile, violence between government forces and local militias intensified in many parts of the country, including in the Kasai region, Tanganyika, North Kivu, Kongo Central, and in the capital, Kinshasa. Some of these situations are linked to the broader political crisis. The authorities made little to no progress in holding those responsible for past abuses to account.

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The worst violence has been in the Kasai region. Since August, over 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced from their homes, according to the UN. Security forces have used excessive force, unnecessarily firing on alleged militia members, including women and children. Two dozen mass graves have been reported. On March 12, American and Swedish members of the UN Group of Experts and the four Congolese accompanying them went missing in Kasai Central, while investigating recent human rights violations; efforts are still underway to find them.

During political protests across the country in December, security forces killed over 50 people. Hundreds of opposition leaders and supporters, pro-democracy activists, and peaceful protesters were jailed. At least six media outlets close to the opposition remain barred, and the signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI) has been blocked in Kinshasa for over four months.

A Catholic Church-mediated agreement signed at the end of 2016 includes a clear commitment that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2017 and that President Kabila will not seek a third term. Yet progress on implementing the deal has stalled, and serious questions persist about whether Kabila and other political leaders are committed to organizing elections.

Ensuring implementation of this deal is probably the best way to prevent an already explosive situation in Congo from deteriorating even further. High-level international engagement will be critical.

We urge the Human Rights Council and its member states to:

  • Increase scrutiny of the human rights situation in Congo, and support the High Commissioner’s call for a Commission of Inquiry or similar independent, international investigation into the situation in the Kasai region;
  • In view of the dire and deteriorating situation, consider holding a Special Session on Congo;
  • Support the application of further targeted UN, EU, and US sanctions against individuals most responsible for serious human rights abuses.

The Council’s engagement now is critical to help protect civilians from further violence, press for accountability for serious abuses, and ensure that timely, credible elections are held to build a more democratic and rights-respecting country.

Thank you. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the High Commissioner’s report on Libya from January this year detailing the suffering of civilians in armed conflicts around the country, the situation of thousands held in long-term arbitrary detentions, and widespread violations being perpetrated by state and non-state actors. Human Rights Watch continues to document with grave concern deteriorating human rights conditions in Libya amid a humanitarian crisis with over 400,000 internally displaced people, many of whom live in dire conditions; a collapsed economy; and lack of basic services, including failure of the public health system. Armed groups on all sides of the conflicts have attacked civilians and civilian property, and have tortured, unlawfully killed, disappeared and forcefully displaced people.

Forces and armed formations aligned with any of the three authorities vying for legitimacy in Libya, as well as other militias, have been operating in a climate of impunity. This is further exacerbated by the dysfunctional judicial system, which has partially collapsed. Despite a Security Council mandate, and the High Commissioner’s repeated requests to the International Community, the International Criminal Court has yet to open any new investigations into these ongoing crimes, further diminishing prospects for accountability. Civilians bear the brunt of lack of action by international bodies.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers, including children under 18 years, most of whom attempt to cross the Mediterranean on their way to Europe, pass through Libya, where they are exposed to serious violations by coast guard forces, smugglers, and abuse while in detention facilities, including torture, starvation, extortions, sexual violence and forced labour.

Human Rights Watch calls on member states of the Council to make justice and accountability an integral part of the ongoing political discourse, instead of pushing it to the backburner. To this end, we call on you to establish a dedicated mechanism on Libya, to report regularly to the Council on the human rights situation and on progress made toward future accountability.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Once again, we are pleased to see such a strong focus on economic, social and cultural rights in your discussion of the five key aspects of the human rights situation in Haiti. The five key human rights concerns at focus in your report remain Human Rights Watch’s primary human rights concerns in Haiti as well. We agree that lack of literacy underlines the lack of opportunity many Haitians face. Ensuring gender equality in education outcomes, including for adult education outreach, is of particular importance. Therefore, targeted efforts to keep girls in school and to attain high-levels of education are needed.

In addition, we welcome your attention to prolonged pretrial detention and the conditions of detention. Furthermore, we appreciate that your report tackles the ongoing cholera crisis. We also are encouraged by the new approach announced by the Secretary General to address the rights of victims and to eradicate cholera from Haiti. We also hope the Haitian government, with assistance from the UN and donors, take all necessary measures to put in place sanitation infrastructure to address the long-term structural problems related to accessing clean drinking water for the entire population.

There are many important human rights issues that we could discuss, and that you could help carry forward. But let’s face it, there’s only one issue on the table today: the new Haitian government wants to axe your mandate.  At the first informal, they offered to create a new position of Minister for Human Rights, as you have recommended. But now even that appears to be off the table.

Mr. Gallon, your mandate has consistently provided an important independent role in ensuring that all actors in Haiti with human rights obligations serve the needs of Haitians. The draft Presidential Statement would ask the High Commissioner to help identify goals, actions and timelines, but – bizarrely  - without the input of the one UN representative whose expertise is most relevant.

While we recognize the wish of the new government to explore different approaches to technical assistance, there are alternatives to such an abrupt and non-consultative termination. We urge the government of Haiti to support renewal of the mandate so you can contribute to transitional arrangements, we urge the Council to support a process and outcome in which Haitians are consulted and feel ownership, and we urge the President of the Human Rights Council to ensure that any statement issued in his name responds to the needs of Haitians, and draws upon the expertise of the Independent Expert in articulating a vision for the future.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the year since Resolution 31/3 was passed, mandating the compiling of a database of settlement businesses, two important developments have taken place that make the need to address the issue of business in or with settlements more urgent.

First, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334 calling Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories a “flagrant violation under international law” and determining that they “have no legal validity.” The resolution also calls on all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the States of Israel and the territories occupied in 1967.”

Human Rights Watch’s research has demonstrated that companies doing business in or with settlements facilitate this illegal settlement activity and expansion, contributing as well to human rights violations including discrimination, land theft, restrictions on freedom of movement, and labor abuses. Human Rights Watch has also found that businesses cannot avoid contributing to such abuses of international human rights law so long as they engage in such activities.

Second, in recent months, the Israeli government has taken steps to expand the settlement enterprise and exacerbate the international human rights and humanitarian law abuses that settlements cause. Last month, the Israeli parliament passed the so-called “regularization bill,” explicitly authorizing the expropriation of private Palestinian land for use by Israeli settlers. In January, the Israeli government announced approval for the construction of an additional 2,500 housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Holding private actors – such as businesses – accountable for their human rights responsibilities has the potential to mitigate abuses.

We therefore urge the Office of the High Commissioner to complete and report on the settlement business database as soon as possible. The OHCHR database will provide important guidance to business, government, and civil society actors to identify which businesses are operating in or with settlements and would be a useful tool in helping all states to fulfill their responsibilities, as outlined by the UN Security Council.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Five years after independence, South Sudan is mired in a highly abusive and increasingly complex civil war that does not appear set to end soon despite earlier signs that the fragile 2015 peace agreement might hold. Instead, the government has continued to allow its forces to carry out serious abuses during operations across the country. Both sides have blocked humanitarian assistance to people in need, and the UN declared famine in parts of Unity state in February. Armed soldiers have attacked humanitarian sites including UN protection sites, refugee camps, and international aid compounds.

Conflict and abuses have forced more than 3 million to flee their homes and hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in neighboring countries because they are afraid for their safety.

The government of South Sudan has also become increasingly intolerant and repressive, violently targeting real or perceived opponents, often along ethnic lines. National security officials arbitrarily arrest politicians, members of civil society and journalists for extended periods, sometimes years. The government continues to implement the death penalty and has yet to ratify many key human rights treaties, despite receiving countless recommendations to do so during the UPR this past November.

As a matter of great urgency, the government should immediately stop all unlawful attacks on civilians and investigate and prosecute all alleged violations particularly with respect to sexual violence, which has featured in this conflict time and again. The government should also accept recommendations Human Rights Watch and others have made to end the abuses in the current conflict and create conditions conducive for return of displaced people.

Accountability is key to ending the violence and abuses. To this end, South Sudan should proactively support the establishment of the envisioned hybrid court and show concrete progress in holding its own abusive forces to account for human rights violations committed across the country.

South Sudan’s government should also end its repressive practices, releasing detainees and ordering security officials to cease all harassment of independent civil society. And it should also implement UPR recommendations to review and reform key laws and abusive institutions, such as the National Security Service, and ratify human rights treaties.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We wish to congratulate Haiti on the inauguration of President Jovenel Moise in February of this year and hope that he and his administration will make human rights a priority.

Human Rights Watch continues to have deep concerns related to dire public health conditions in Haiti among the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals. Despite accepting recommendations during the 2011 UPR to take steps to ensure access to basic services such as water, housing and health, many problems remain. When tracked in 2012, school- aged children had the highest incidence of cholera in the country, partly because the water and sanitation in schools did not comply with hygienic guidelines. The government’s commitment to enforcing guidelines for water and sanitation in all schools is crucial.

Haiti should also address the tragic impacts of the Dominican Republic’s disastrous migration policies. At least 150,000 Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent have entered Haiti since the law was implemented in 2015. Thousands in displacement camps receive little aid from the government or anyone else. During our September 2016 visit, many of those interviewed reported high levels of food insecurity, especially pregnant women and children who also suffer from a lack of basic medical care. We recall that in 2011 Haiti accepted UPR recommendations that food security be one its national priorities. While the Dominican Republic should address the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Haiti can help stateless people residing in its own borders by establishing information desks to offer advice about how they can try to reclaim their rights.

Haiti’s new administration inherits many human rights challenges: including overcrowding and poor health in prisons; the need to improve protection of child laborers, women, and human rights defenders; and, the imperative to secure justice for victims of the Duvalier administration. We are troubled by reports of threats against human rights defenders and deeply concerned at indications that Haiti may no longer support the important work and mandate of the Independent Expert. We would urge full consultation with civil society before any decision in this regard is taken. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Uganda deserves praise for having a policy of economic integration of refugees, unlike neighboring countries. But despite nominally creating multiple positions to address human rights issues in country, many of Uganda’s human rights commitments remain unfulfilled.

In practice, the government shows limited commitment to protecting freedom of expression, association, and assembly. State violence, including torture and extrajudicial killings, occur without investigation.

Many abuses were evident during the 2016 elections. Despite the government’s promises, significant concerns were voiced, reflected in the conclusions of local electoral observers that the elections were neither free nor fair.

The government had said that it supports “a strong, vibrant and responsible free press, freedom of speech and broad participation.” But in fact, government officials and police arrested and beat over a dozen journalists, in some cases during live broadcasts, during the 2016 electoral period. On election day, the telecommunications regulator directed telecom companies to block social media networks for “security reasons” and the ban lasted five days. Those are not the actions of a government seeking broad participation of its citizens.

Some laws are either selectively applied, such as the Public Order Management Act. Other laws that could improve human rights protections are simply not implemented. Despite, for instance, the anti-torture law,s state officials continue to act with impunity. In practice, charges simply are not brought.   

There have been no investigations into the killings by the police and the military from September 2009 or in April 2011. Since this UPR process began, in November 2016, at least 600 people, including children, have been killed by the military in Kasese, Western Uganda during a military assault on the region’s cultural institution. The military has openly admitted that there is no investigation into the conduct of security forces involved in the assault and killings, while hundreds of civilians face criminal charges in connection with the events and remain behind bars. An independent impartial investigation with international expertise may be the only way that the circumstances surrounding the conduct of the security forces in Kasese will be investigated and brought to light. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zimbabwe’s adoption of a new Constitution with an expansive Bill of Rights in 2013 was a major achievement, but since then the government has implemented no meaningful legislative reforms to align existing laws to the constitution.

In 2016, President Robert Mugabe undermined the independence of the judiciary and of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) through verbal assaults on the two institutions. The government should ensure and respect the independence of the judiciary and the ZHRC.

Those who criticize President Mugabe or his government, including human rights defenders, civil society activists, government opponents, and street vendors, face harassment, threats, and arbitrary arrest by the police and state security agents. The government has failed to ensure justice and accountability for serious past abuses. The authorities have not fully investigated the abduction and enforced disappearance of pro-democracy activist and human rights defender Itai Dzamara on March 9, 2015. The government should immediately provide information on his fate or whereabouts and bring those responsible to justice.

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including opposition supporters and civil society activists, by police and members of Zimbabwe’s intelligence services remain a serious and systemic human rights problem in Zimbabwe, despite the government’s accepting to “ratify the [Convention against Torture], implement its standards into national law and take immediate and concrete actions against the practice of torture by State officials” during the 2011 UPR. Acts of torture that Human Rights Watch has documented include severe beatings that involve victims being punched, kicked, and struck with batons; beatings on the soles of the feet; repeated banging of detainees’ heads against walls; and the shackling of detainees in painful positions.

The government rarely investigates allegations of torture by police or intelligence officers. In addition to ratifying the Convention against Torture, Zimbabwe should take steps to implement recommendations it received during the UPR to fully implement its provisions.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

During its UPR in 2011, the Venezuelan government noted key recommendations on critically important human rights problems, but this has meant nothing in practice. In fact, the in-country situation has gotten dramatically worse since then.

In 2011, the government noted a recommendation to “fight against misuse of power by security forces.” In 2014, it responded to massive anti-government protests with brutal force, held detainees incommunicado, and committed abuses against them, including severe beatings, electric shocks or burns. Protesters continue to be subject to prosecution for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

In 2011, the government noted recommendations to address the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela and to stop using the justice system to silence critics. Since then, it has arbitrarily prosecuted opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens who publicly criticized the government. It also took advantage of its control over the Supreme Court to strike down almost every law adopted in 2016 by the opposition majority in the National Assembly.

In 2011, the government noted recommendations to respect free speech. Since then, security forces have detained, interrogated, and confiscated the equipment of journalists. Authorities have filed criminal defamation suits against critical outlets, and taken international news channels off the air. All of this has made self-censorship a serious problem in today’s Venezuela.

Despite its commitment in 2011 to protect the right to health, and receiving numerous recommendations to the same effect during the second UPR cycle, the government has failed to ensure that basic medicines and supplies are available, leading to a severe humanitarian crisis that is without precedent the country’s history. Shortages of medicines and food have made it extremely difficult for many Venezuelans to obtain essential medical care and meet their families’ basic needs, including having access to an adequate nutrition.

The Venezuelan government needs to hear that the international community will not tolerate its abuses or its open disregard for the fundamental human rights that the UPR process is meant to protect. This second cycle review is an opportunity to make this clear, and one which all states should seize.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned cross-regional group of human rights civil society organizations, call on your government to support the resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The country mandate has been a vital tool of promotion human rights in Iran since its establishment in 2011. It has proven effective at spotlighting the gravity of the situation in the country and provoking internal debate about some laws and practices that violate international human rights law and standards. Only through continued attention from the international community will these initial achievements translate into measurable reforms of law and practice that substantively improve the rights situation people in Iran face.

Despite diplomatic and trade openings since the implementation of the internationally agreed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, hopes that human rights improvements would follow have not yet materialized. Core issues of concern outlined by UN treaty bodies, special procedures, and the UN Secretary-General remain unaddressed. Iran has failed to co-operate with special procedures, and despite issuing a standing invitation to all Special Rapporteurs in 2002, it has allowed no country visits since 2005. Accordingly, it is essential that the Human Rights Council continues to treat human rights in Iran as a priority concern. Moreover, as Iran has a newly elected parliament, and with an upcoming presidential election in May 2017, this is a crucial time for the international community to emphasize its concerns to the government.

Iran has maintained the highest per capita execution rate in the world for several years and, according to the Special Rapporteur, put to death at least 530 people in 2016. In January 2017 alone, the authorities executed at least 72 people. The majority of these executions took place after unfair trials and were for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law. Some others were executed for vaguely worded offences such as “enmity against God.” Under Iranian law, activities that should not be criminalized at all, such as adultery, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insulting the Prophet,” remain punishable by death. In 2016, there were reports of at least two men being sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet”. Iran continues to execute individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. In the last two years, authorities executed at least nine juvenile offenders, including at least two in January 2017.

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remains common, especially during interrogation. The authorities systematically failed to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and judges continue to use “confessions” obtained as a result of torture to convict defendants. Authorities frequently deny access to adequate medical care for political prisoners, in many cases as an intentional means of punishing them. Judicial authorities also continue to impose and carry out flogging, blinding, and amputation. 

The Iranian authorities severely restrict the exercise of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. These restrictions include pervasive censorship of the press and internet, the criminalization of many forms of speech, arbitrary restrictions on civil society, and persecution for acts of religious worship by certain religious minorities. The authorities routinely use arbitrary detention to stifle and punish dissent. Those targeted include journalists, lawyers, political activists, student activists, trade unionists, artists, bloggers, and human rights defenders including women’s rights defenders, and LGBT rights activists who have simply been exercising rights protected under international law.  In the past year, under the guise of national security offences, courts imposed increasingly harsh prison sentences on these individuals for peaceful acts such as criticism of Iran’s human rights record on social media, communication with international human rights mechanisms, or organizing petitions.

Ethnic minority activists, including Arabs, Balochs, Kurds and Azerbaijani Turks, and members of religious minorities, such as Baha’is, Protestant Christians including Christian converts, Sunni Muslims, Sufi Muslims and the Yarasan, also face similar patterns of abuse and restriction of their rights. They remain subject to entrenched discrimination that includes limits on their access to education, employment, adequate housing, political office, and the exercise of other cultural, civil, and political rights.

Systematic discrimination and violence against women and girls in law and practice merit serious concern. Women, for example, do not have equal rights with men in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, watching several live sporting events in stadiums, and protection from criminal harm. Married women cannot obtain a passport without the permission of their husband. Moreover, a husband can prevent his spouse from pursuing an occupation he deems against family values or harmful to his or her reputation. The legal age of marriage for girls is 13 and fathers can apply for permission to arrange for their daughters to be married at an even younger age.

The authorities have consistently failed to adopt laws criminalizing sexual and other gender-based violence, including early and forced marriage, marital rape, and domestic violence. Compulsory “veiling” (hijab) laws empower police and other security forces to target women for harassment, violence, and imprisonment and to deny women equal enjoyment of their economic and social rights, including to education, employment, and sports.

Since 2014, the Iranian Parliament has debated eight bills, passing five, that further curtail women’s rights by limiting access to health and family planning services and employment.

In the past six years, the Special Rapporteur’s actions have helped to trigger calls for reforms from inside the country, particularly with respect to the use of the death penalty for drug offences. The Special Rapporteur has also provided crucial support for the work and protection of Iranian human rights defenders and, in a number of cases, improvements in the treatment of individual detainees.

Renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate will send a powerful signal to the Iranian authorities that human rights violations and lack of accountability remain of concern, globally and for the Council, and that the international community expects meaningful and tangible improvements in that matter.




Roya Boroumand, Executive Director

Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation


Robin Phillips, Executive Director

The Advocates for Human Rights


Hassan Nayeb Hashem, Representative to the Human Rights Council

All Human Rights for All in Iran


Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Amnesty International


Kamran Ashtary, Executive Director

Arseh Sevom


Mansour Borji, Advocacy Director

Article 18


Thomas Hughes, Executive Director



Shahin Helali Khyavi, Director

Association for Human Rights of the Azerbaijani People in Iran


Taimoor Aliassi, UN Representative

Association pour les Droits Humains au Kurdistan d'Iran-Genève (KMMK-G)


Mansoor Bibak, Co-Director

Balochistan Human Rights Group


Simin Fahandej, Representative to the United Nations
Bahá'í International Community 


Jeremie Smith Director, Geneva Office

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 


Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director

Center for Human Rights in Iran (formerly the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)


Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Founder and President 

Center for Supporters of Human Rights


Veronica Yates, Director
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)


Renate Bloem, Main Representative to the United Nations in Geneva



Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director 

Committee to Protect Journalists


Jessica Morris, Executive Director

Conectas Direitos Humanos


Clementine de Montjoye, Advocacy and Research Officer
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project


Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Executive Director

Ensemble Contre La Peine de Mort (ECPM)


Ibrahim Al Arabi, Executive Director

European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation


Ann Hannah, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Freedom From Torture


Khalid IBRAHIM, Co-Director

Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)


Keyvan Rafiee, Director

Human Rights Activists in Iran


Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Executive Director

Human Rights Watch


Mani Mostofi, Director

Impact Iran


André du Plessis, Headead of UN Programme and Advocacy 

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


Taisuke Komatsu, UN Advocacy Coordinator and Under Secretary-General

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism


Phil Lynch, Director

International Service for Human Rights


Saghi Ghahraman, President

Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)


Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Executive Director

Iran Human Rights


Rob Testo, Executive Director
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center


Shadi Sadr, Co-director

Justice for Iran


Rebin Rahmani, European Director

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network


Mark Lattimer, Executive Director

Minority Rights Group International


Jessica Stern, Executive Director

OutRight Action International


Mehrangiz Kar, Chairperson

Siamak Pourzand Foundation


Mahmood Enayat, Director

Small Media


Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Executive Director

United for Iran


Elizabeth A. Zitrin, President

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty


Shadi Amin

6Rang: Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am