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

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

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

© 2006 Andrew Testa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council on March 24, 2017, took a key step toward preventing future abuses and bringing justice for victims in Burma by adopting a strong resolution condemning violations and making significant recommendations, Human Rights Watch said today.

Yanghee Lee, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 13, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The resolution authorizes the council president to urgently dispatch an independent, international fact-finding mission to Burma. The mission would establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, to ensure “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

“The Human Rights Council’s authorization of an international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas.”

The fact-finding mission will examine allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other sexual violence, and destruction of property by Burmese security forces during “clearance operations” against ethnic Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. The “clearance operations” followed an October 9, 2016 attack by Rohingya militants on border guard posts that reportedly killed nine police officers. The mission will include expertise in forensics as well as on sexual and gender-based violence.

Human Rights Watch, along with other groups, has documented widespread and serious abuses against Rohingya by Burmese military and police in Rakhine State, including extrajudicial killings, systematic rape, and the burning of numerous Rohingya villages. The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people died in the crackdown, from October through December.

The resolution also says that Burma should continue to address systemic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities, amend or repeal all discriminatory legislation and policies, and take measures for the safe return of all internally displaced people and refugees. Approximately 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in Rakhine State as a result of violence in 2012. About 100,000 of them are in closed camps near Sittwe, the state capital, where they are living in squalid conditions, many of them in rice fields prone to seasonal flooding. The violence since October has created an additional 25,000 internally displaced people in Burma and led to the flight of 74,000 more to neighboring Bangladesh.

The resolution also addresses other important human rights concerns in Burma. These include the use of criminal defamation laws against journalists, politicians, students, and social media users in violation of their right to free expression; restrictions on peaceful assembly; and the continued use of child soldiers by both state and non-state actors. The Human Rights Council also cited the recent killings of constitutional expert and National League for Democracy advisor U Ko Ni, environmental activist Naw Chit Pan Daing, and journalist Soe Moe Tun. It called on Burma to reform all laws restricting the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association; release all remaining political prisoners; and ensure thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into the recent killings.

“The violations occurring in Rakhine State threaten to undo Burma’s hard-won progress toward a more rights-respecting and democratic future,” Fisher said. “Burma’s government should make full use of the Human Rights Council resolution to address the major human rights challenges ahead.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council has brought North Korea another step closer to accountability for human rights crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. A resolution, passed without a vote on March 24, 2017, strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute grave violations in North Korea.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 13, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The resolution provides for strengthening the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul by including international criminal justice experts. The experts will be able to develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes.

“The Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

The prosecutorial experts in the OHCHR Seoul office will be able to assess information from researchers. They will be able to identify evidence gaps, map command structures of North Korean institutions, and develop effective options and strategies for prosecuting those responsible for grievous human rights abuses in North Korea, including crimes against humanity.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), underlined in his latest report to the council in February that the “investigation and prosecution of serious crimes are indispensable, as are measures to ensure the right of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the right of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence of violations.”

The strengthening of the Seoul office follows recommendations by the group of independent experts on accountability created under a Human Rights Council resolution adopted on March 23, 2016. The UN high commissioner for human rights appointed the panel in September, naming Sara Hossain, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights activist who served on the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea, as the experts.

The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.

John Fisher

Geneva Director

The new resolution will also establish an independent central repository to receive, preserve, and consolidate information and evidence related to the human rights situation in North Korea, for use in any future accountability mechanism. It also stressed the importance of following up on the recommendations from the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea.

The commission found that the gravity, scale, and nature of the human rights violations in North Korea have no parallel in any other country in the contemporary world, and amount to crimes against humanity. Abuses included enslavement, extermination, murder, rape and other sexual crimes, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances “pursuant to policies at the highest level of the state.” The UN Security Council has discussed the situation in North Korea as a formal agenda item three years in a row, a recognition that North Korea’s dire human rights conditions constitute a threat to regional peace and security.

“The Human Rights Council demonstrated with its new resolution what can be achieved when member countries stand behind their promises to hold to account recalcitrant, rights-violating governments,” Fisher said. “This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the Committee on Torture’s pre-sessional review of Lebanon to highlight the inadequate definition of torture in Lebanon, the use of torture in Lebanon, including acts of torture and ill-treatment by Lebanese security and military personnel, a lack of adequate investigations, the use of confessions extracted under torture, and refoulement.

Defining torture (Articles 1, 4)

Lebanon ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention) in 2000. However, Lebanon has not amended its laws to criminalize all acts of torture. Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code states that “anyone who inflicts violent practices not permitted by the law against another person with the intention to extract a confession of a crime or information related to it will be imprisoned from three months to three years. If the violent practices have led to sickness or caused wounds, the minimum period of imprisonment is one year.”[1] The penal code does not however criminalize non-physical forms of torture, such as mental or psychological torture, and does not cover situations where torture is used other than for obtaining confessions or information, in violation of Lebanon's obligations under the Convention. Also, the penalty it prescribes - a minimum of three months and maximum of three years in jail - does not reflect the internationally-recognized "grave nature" of torture.[2] The Lebanese penal code does not adhere to article 1 & 4 of the Convention.

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Amend article 401 of the Penal Code to criminalize all forms of torture and ill-treatment and make Lebanon’s definition of the offenses consistent with the definition in the Convention;
  • Make the crime of torture punishable by a sentence that reflects the internationally-recognized "grave nature" of torture.

Acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Lebanon (Articles 2, 11, 16)

Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which security forces and military personnel in Lebanon reportedly committed acts of torture.

In 2006, Lebanese soldiers and plainclothes officers arrested nine individuals and detained them over a three-day period starting on March 31, 2006. The detainees told Human Rights Watch that army members blindfolded them and transferred them to the Ministry of Defense, where Military Intelligence detained them until April 7, 2006. Detainees said that during their time at the ministry, they were denied access to counsel and to their families. Four of the detainees alleged that interrogators tortured them during their detention in order to force them to confess, while the others said that interrogators frequently punched them. One of the detainees, Ghassan Slaybi, told Human Rights Watch that armed guards at the Ministry of Defense hit him with a thick wooden stick on his back and tortured him by placing him on an electric chair. He said that interrogators threatened to harm his wife if he did not cooperate. His son Muhammad, 19, who was arrested at the same time, said that interrogators hit him on the soles of his feet and suspended him in the extremely painful balanco position (hanging the victim by the wrists, which are tied behind the back), in order to extract confessions. Some of the detainees said they signed confessions that they did not read.[3]

In 2012, the Internal Security Forces vice squad arrested 36 men during a July 28 raid on a movie theater in the Burj Hammoud district of Beirut. The men were transferred to Hbeich police station, where they said they were subjected to anal examinations. Forced anal examinations lack evidentiary value and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may in some cases amount to torture.[4] Anal exams or the threat of anal exams continued to be reported in Lebanon throughout 2014 and 2015, although human rights activists in Beirut reported that the incidence of exams seemed to have diminished since.[5]

In July 2013, Human Rights Watch documented seven cases of torture of detainees in military custody, including two children, following clashes between followers of Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir and the Lebanese army in June. Human Rights Watch interviewed five men and two boys who were detained by the Lebanese army for periods of time ranging from several hours to six days, and later released. All of the former detainees said that army personnel kicked and beat them with fists and, in some cases, sticks, cables, and batons during initial interrogations at checkpoints. At the time of interviews, all bore visible marks consistent with the beatings. Two of the detainees showed Human Rights Watch marks on their bodies that they said were from soldiers burning them with cigarettes. Some said that they had witnessed the beatings and torture of other detainees. Human Rights Watch also received troubling information that another man, Nader Bayoumi, died in military custody during this period. His family told Human Rights Watch that Military Intelligence instructed them to pick up Bayoumi’s body, which was heavily bruised, from the military hospital three days after he disappeared on June 23. The outcome of any investigations into these allegations remains unknown.[6]

In a 2013 report based on 53 interviews with detainees and former detainees, Human Rights Watch found that Lebanese Internal Security Forces threatened, ill-treated, and tortured drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in their custody. The most common forms of torture reported were beatings with fists, boots, or implements such as sticks, canes, and rulers. Physical violence was used both to extract confessions and as punishment or to correct the detainee’s behavior.[7] 

Twenty-one of the 25 women interviewed who had been arrested for suspected drug use or sex work told Human Rights Watch that police had subjected them to sexual violence or coercion, ranging from rape to offering them “favors” in exchange for sex. Seventeen former detainees said they were denied food, water, or medication when they needed it, or that their medication was confiscated. Nine reported being handcuffed in bathrooms or kept in extremely uncomfortable positions for hours at a time. Eleven said they were forced to listen to the screams of other detainees to scare them into cooperating or confessing. Almost all those who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they were threatened with physical violence, with five reporting that police threatened to physically harm their families as a form of retaliation or punishment.[8]

Former detainees reported torture and mistreatment in all of the facilities that Human Rights Watch investigated including in Beirut’s Hobeish police station, Gemmayze police station, Baabda police station, Msaitbeh police station, Zahleh police station, Ouzai police station, Saida police station, police intelligence in Jdeideh, and in pre-trial detention in Baabda women’s prison.[9]

In 2015, more than 24 people detained by the army in security raids told Human Rights Watch that security forces had tortured them including with whips, batons, sticks, and electricity.[10] In June, two videos surfaced on social media showing several Internal Security Forces officers beating prisoners following a prison riot at Roumieh prison in April 2015. The Minister of Interior confirmed the authenticity of the videos.[11]

In 2016, a Syrian refugee, told Human Rights Watch that during a January 2016 interrogation at his house in Jounieh, Military Intelligence officers punched him and his roommates in the face and hit them with batons. He said officers arrested him in early February, apparently on suspicion that he was gay, and transferred him to the Sarba Military Intelligence branch in Jounieh. There, he said, officers blindfolded him, stripped him naked, beat him with sticks, and punched him in the face. He said officers then transferred him to the Ministry of Defense in Yarzeh, where an interrogator elbowed him in the stomach, hit him on his neck, and kicked him in the groin. He said that officers then transported him to the Rehaniyeh military police prison, where he said officers handcuffed him while naked and told him to bend over facing the wall. The officer told him, “I will insert this into your anus to determine how many times you’ve had sex.” The officer inserted the rod into his anus, causing him to scream out in pain and beg for the officer to stop. The man said that he asked to call a friend or a lawyer, but was told he was not allowed to do so. He was then transferred to Jounieh police station, where he said an officer kicked him in the chest and beat him on the soles of his feet with a stick.[12] Human Rights Watch reviewed a medical report prepared by a local doctor shortly after his release, documenting fluid in his ear, swelling, and bruises all over his body due to beatings.[13]

Following Human Rights Watch’s publication of this case, Lebanese president Michel Aoun reportedly asked the state prosecutor to investigate the allegations of torture, however no information regarding the status of the investigation has been publicly released.[14]

In a 2017 report, Human Rights Watch documented the allegations of torture by military personnel against eight civilian detainees, including two children, who were subsequently prosecuted in military courts. The torture allegations included beatings, psychological torture, electrocution, and balanco (hanging a detainee by the wrists tied behind his back).[15]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Ensure that detainees, upon admission to detention centers, are informed of and can exercise their right to speak with a lawyer, family member, or acquaintance; to meet with a lawyer; and to be referred to a judge promptly.
  • Amend article 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to explicitly guarantee suspects the right to a lawyer from the start of any form of detention, including during police questioning.
  • Refer all allegations of torture and ill-treatment to the public prosecutor, whether or not an official complaint has been filed, and announce and publicly release the results of all investigations of torture and ill-treatment. Prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.
  • Mandate that independent doctors, who are not selected by officers at the detention facility in question, examine patients outside of the presence of security or military personnel, and record all indications of torture and other mistreatment. Include a copy of the physical examination report in suspects’ case files.
  • Ensure that all members of security or military personnel are clearly identifiable through name and rank tags on their uniforms at all times.
  • Prohibit forced anal examinations and any other form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by security personnel and doctors.

Investigations of torture allegations (Article 12, 13)

Lebanon has failed in the past to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services. Human Rights Watch has long documented torture by Lebanon’s security services, and the failure of authorities to properly investigate allegations of abuse. Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code provides criminal penalties for the use of violence to extract confessions, however the Lebanese judiciary rarely, if ever, prosecutes state agents alleged to have committed torture or other ill-treatment. While arrests of low-ranking security officials sometimes follow public abuse scandals, prosecutions made known to the public are rare.

In 2007, no proper investigation was opened into serious allegations of military abuses against detainees in connection with fighting between the Lebanese army and the armed Fatah al-Islam group in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.[16] There was no known judicial investigation after army and intelligence officials rounded up and beat at least 72 male migrant workers, most of them Syrians, in Beirut in October 2012.[17]

Drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people detained by the Internal Security Forces and interviewed by Human Rights Watch for a 2013 report said they faced obstacles to reporting abuse and obtaining redress, leaving the abusers unaccountable for their actions. Only six of 53 interviewees had reported abuse. Twelve individuals said that police officers threatened and warned them outright against reporting. In addition, five former detainees told Human Rights Watch that investigative judges dismissed their allegations of mistreatment, intimidation, and abuse without further inquiries.[18]

On September 21, 2015, Military Intelligence arrested Layal al-Kayaje after she alleged to local media that two members of Military Intelligence had raped and tortured her during a previous detention in 2013. Instead of setting an independent investigation into the allegations, officials referred the case to a military prosecutor, who investigated her for making false accusations.[19]

Human Rights Watch observed a military court session on January 30, 2017, and witnessed three defendants allege that they had been tortured or ill-treated in detention. One of these men, and a fourth defendant, said that they only confessed because they were coerced during interrogations. Yet the court appeared to gloss over the allegations and did not attempt to identify the people they said had abused them. In only one case did the judge ask questions to assess whether there was additional evidence of abuse. But when the defendant said that security forces took photos of his bruised body and that he had visited a clinic after being released, the court made no apparent attempt to follow up on the allegations.[20]

Lebanon’s parliament on October 19, 2016, took a positive step toward ending the use of torture in the country and investigating torture and ill-treatment. A new law established a National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), which will include a committee to investigate the use of torture and ill treatment. The investigative committee, a national preventative mechanism, will have the authority to enter and inspect all places of detention in Lebanon, without prior announcement or permission, and submit findings and recommendations to the institute and the relevant authorities. At the time of writing however, the NHRI had not yet been established.[21]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Fund and staff the National Human Rights Institute with qualified, independent experts and ensure that it is able to visit all detention sites in the manner and with the frequency it wishes without fear of sanction or reprisal.
  • Conduct periodic monitoring of all places of detention including those under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense and submit any evidence of torture or ill-treatment to the public prosecutor.
  • Pursue all allegations of torture and ill-treatment in a diligent, timely, and effective manner to bring those responsible to justice.
  • Provide transparent and public updates regarding investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Ensure that effective and meaningful disciplinary sanctions alongside criminal sanctions are imposed on law enforcement officials who commit acts of torture.

Use of confessions where allegations were obtained through torture (Article 15)

Human Rights Watch has documented eight cases in which civilian detainees tried before the Military Tribunal on terrorism or security related offenses said that security officials tortured them, forced them to confess, and used their coerced confessions as evidence against them. Courts admitted coerced confessions as evidence even when signs of torture were apparent on the detainee’s body or when detainees said the confession was coerced. In some of these cases, the coerced confession was the only evidence of guilt prosecutors presented against the accused. In only one case did the court throw out a confession on the grounds it was obtained by force, but even in that case, the authorities took no known steps to investigate and penalize the officers who tortured the detainee.[22]

Ibrahim (not his real name), whose brother Basil (not his real name) was arrested in 2015, told Human Rights Watch that when visiting his brother in detention, Basil told him that Military Intelligence officials tortured him while in the custody of the Ministry of Defense in Yarze and forced him to confess. “Basil told the judge that he confessed under torture. The judge didn’t seem to care,” he said. “Basil’s face was completely swollen and blood still occasionally trickled out of his nose while he spoke. He said that he couldn’t bear the torture so he just confessed to whatever they wanted.” Human Rights Watch spoke with Basil’s lawyer who confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the coerced confession was entered into evidence against him.[23]

Haitham (not his real name), a Syrian refugee boy, told Human Rights Watch that after being stopped at an army checkpoint in 2014, officers at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze beat him with their hands and legs and made him confess to acts that he had not committed. He said that at the Ministry of Defense, officers forced him to sign a confession while blindfolded, and that they used the confession as evidence against him before the Military Tribunal, where he was tried for terrorism offenses. Haitham told Human Rights Watch that he had marks of torture on his body and the judge saw them but did not say anything about them. When Human Rights Watch interviewed Haitham a mark was still visible on his body where he said officers beat him with a rifle butt.[24]

Military Intelligence officers arrested Khaled (not his real name), then 16, at his home in north Lebanon in fall 2014, and transferred him to Military Intelligence headquarters. His lawyer said that he was interrogated there for three days, and that interrogators blindfolded him and “punched him on his face, hit him with a rod on his back, insulted him, and threatened him.” He said they transferred Khaled to the Ministry of Defense on the fourth day of his detention. There, the lawyer said interrogators hung him from a rope tied to his wrists behind his back, and beat him. He said they also attached wires to his genitals, electrocuted him until he fainted, and threw water on his face to wake him up—all while asking him to identify terrorism suspects, and to confess to placing a bomb, throwing grenades at army posts, and membership in a terrorist organization. “He didn’t know where the beating was coming from,” the lawyer said. “He admitted to everything, to crucifying Christ, to killing the prime minister.”[25]

According to his lawyer, Khaled spent four days at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze where officers threw water and shined a bright light on him to keep him from sleeping. He said officers forced Khaled to sign a statement while blindfolded after every session of torture, one to two times each day. “I told the judge that he confessed under pressure,” Khaled’s lawyer said. “The military court doesn’t listen; they don’t take it into consideration.”[26]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Enforce the prohibition of admission of statements that are extracted through torture or coercion and require that judicial authorities thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which confessions alleged to have been obtained by torture or ill-treatment were obtained.
  • Ensure that judges deem inadmissible all confessions and other evidence obtained under torture.
  • Overturn all convictions of defendants that were based upon confessions extracted under duress.
  • Amend article 24 of the Code of Military Justice of 1968 to remove civilians and all children from the jurisdiction of the military courts.

Prohibition of extradition of persons to countries that practice torture (Article 3)

Lebanese authorities have repeatedly affirmed their commitment not to forcibly deport refugees to Syria. As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone if there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Nevertheless, the Lebanese government forcibly returned Syrian national Mahmoud Abdul Rahman Hamdan to Syria on September 28, 2014, despite his fear of detention and torture by the Syrian authorities. Hamdan was subsequently detained by Syrian authorities.[27]

In 2015, two Syrians disappeared and are feared deported following their transfer to Lebanon’s General Security, one in October 2014 and the other in November 2014. General Security, the country’s security agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, has refused to disclose what happened to the men, Osama Qaraqouz and Bassel Haydar, despite repeated requests for information from their relatives and Human Rights Watch. Their families fear that General Security deported them back to Syria and into the custody of the Syrian government. General Security’s concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the two men could amount to the crime of enforced disappearance. Moreover, Human Rights Watch previously documented the forcible return of four Syrian nationals to Syria on August 1, 2012 and about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014. 

Syrians and Palestinians at risk of detention upon return in Syria are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture and ill-treatment in Syrian detention facilities since anti-government protests began in March 2011.[28]

Human Rights Watch is concerned by statements from Lebanese public officials regarding the return of refugees to Syria, including a February 19, 2017 call from the Minister of Foreign Affairs “to adopt a policy to encourage the Syrians to return to their country.”[29]

Recommendations

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Lebanese government:

  • Cease any further deportations of individuals who may be at risk of torture or where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at real risk of a serious violation of human rights if returned to their home country.
  • Reaffirm their commitment to the prohibition against refoulement and ensure that no one is returned to a country where they risk persecution or torture.
  • Investigate reports of deportations and publicly announce the results of investigations.
 

[1] Lebanese Penal Code, art. 401.

[2] “Lebanon: Act Now on Steps to Prevent Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 5, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/11/05/lebanon-act-now-steps-prevent-torture.

[3] “Lebanon: Investigate Torture Allegations at Ministry of Defense,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 10, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/05/10/lebanon-investigate-torture-allegati....

[4] “Lebanon: Stop ‘Tests of Shame,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 10, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/08/10/lebanon-stop-tests-shame.

[5] Human Rights Watch, Dignity Debased: Forced Anal Examinations in Homosexuality Prosecutions,

July 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/12/dignity-debased/forced-anal-examin..., pp. 4-5.

[6] “Lebanon: Investigate Army Beatings, Death in Custody,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 17, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/17/lebanon-investigate-army-beatings-de....

[7] “Lebanon: Police Torturing Vulnerable People,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 26, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/26/lebanon-police-torturing-vulnerable-....

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Lebanon: Instability, Crackdown Harming Rights,“ Human Rights Watch news release, January 29, 2015,

https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/29/lebanon-instability-crackdown-harmin....

[11] “Lebanon: Monitor Detention to Combat Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 26, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/26/lebanon-monitor-detention-combat-tor....

[12] “Lebanon: Syrian Refugee’s Account of Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/lebanon-syrian-refugees-account-torture.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Federica Marsi, “Reactions to HRW torture allegations underscore lapses,” The Daily Star, December 30, 2016, https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/Dec-30/387240-reacti... (accessed March 1, 2017).

[15] Human Rights Watch, It’s Not the Right Place for Us: The trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon, January 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/01/26/its-not-right-place-us/trial-civil..., p. 3.

[16] “Lebanon: End Abuse of Palestinians Fleeing Refugee Camp,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 12, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/06/12/lebanon-end-abuse-palestinians-fleei....

[17] “Lebanon: Investigate and Punish Army Attacks on Migrants,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 10, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/10/lebanon-investigate-and-punish-army-....

[18] Human Rights Watch, It’s Part of the Job” Ill-treatment and Torture of Vulnerable Groups in Lebanese Police Stations, June 2013, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/lebanon0613_forUpload_1.pdf, p. 48.

[19] “Lebanon: Woman Detained After Alleging Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 9, 2015 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/26/lebanon-woman-detained-after-allegin....

[20] Lama Fakih (Human Rights Watch), “Stop Holding Closed Military Court Trials,” Commentary, The Daily Star, February 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/01/stop-holding-closed-military-court-t....

[21] “Lebanon: New Law a Step to End Torture,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 28, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/28/lebanon-new-law-step-end-torture.

[22] Human Rights Watch, It’s Not the Right Place for Us: The trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon, January 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/01/26/its-not-right-place-us/trial-civil..., p. 21.

[23] Ibid., p. 23-24.

[24] Ibid., p. 26.

[25] Ibid., pp. 26-27.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Lebanon: Syrian Forcibly Returned to Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 7, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/07/lebanon-syrian-forcibly-returned-syria.

[28] “Lebanon: 2 Syrians Disappear, Feared Deported,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 17, 2015 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/17/lebanon-2-syrians-disappear-feared-d....

[29] “Bassil renews calls for return of refugees to Syria,” The Daily Star, February 19, 2017, https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Feb-19/394235-bassil... (accessed March 1, 2017). 

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