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

We urge the South Africa authorities to take action to fulfil all commitments on recommendations received during its third UPR cycle, including prevention of xenophobia or other forms of intolerance and violence against women. The government should finalize the national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and provide a mechanism for justice and accountability for xenophobic crimes. Despite the country’s progressive legislation on the rights of LGBT people, discrimination remains institutionalized in families, communities, and in the behaviour of some government officials, such as police, some health care workers, and educators.

In line with commitments made during its 2012 UPR, South Africa should ensure that all law enforcement officials have adequate training in human rights and public order policing, particularly in dealing with xenophobic crimes, LGBT crimes, violence against women, and public protests.

Moreover, South Africa should re-affirm its support and commitment to the International Criminal Court   for the protection of human rights and the fight against impunity. The country should work within the ICC to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the ICC in successfully addressing war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch notes the recommendations calling on South Africa to prioritize implementing inclusive education for children with disabilities. Over half a million children with disabilities remain out of school across the country. We therefore call on South Africa to accept these recommendations, and to expedite efforts to ensure children with disabilities have an equal right to education, by ensuring children with disabilities are not discriminated against, in policy and practice, when accessing all levels of education.

South Africa should also urgently publish accurate data on how many children and young people with disabilities are out of school; and ensure children with disabilities access free, quality basic education by removing fees and additional costs in public special schools, and ensuring mainstream schools do not leverage additional fees to accommodate students with disabilities.

Recommendations:

  • Finalize and fully implement the national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
  • Ensure that all law enforcement officials receive adequate training in human rights and public order policing, particularly in dealing with xenophobic crimes, LGBT crimes, violence against women, and public protests.
  • Reaffirm support and commitment to the International Criminal Court.
  • Publish accurate data on how many children and young people with disabilities are out of school; and ensure children with disabilities access free, quality basic education by removing fees and additional costs in public special schools, and ensuring mainstream schools do not leverage additional fees to accommodate students with disabilities.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Algerian authorities have a track record of resorting to criminal prosecutions against bloggers, journalists and media figures for peaceful speech, using articles in the penal code criminalizing “offending the president,” “insulting state officials” or “denigrating Islam.” They have also prosecuted labor activists who organized or called for peaceful demonstrations on charges such as “unauthorized gathering,” and they continue to ban demonstrations in Algiers.

During its UPR in 2012, the Algerian government responded positively to key recommendations on important human rights problems such as freedom of speech and association, but without tangibly improving the state of public freedoms.

Nevertheless, Algeria did adopt legislation specifically criminalizing domestic violence in 2015, thus implementing several UPR recommendations to strengthen its efforts to combat violence against women. While this law is a welcome step, Algeria needs a more comprehensive legal framework to prevent domestic violence, assist survivors, and prosecute offenders. 

Human Rights Watch urges Algeria to accept key recommendations on freedom of speech, assembly and association. In particular, it should accept the recommendation to revise or repeal Law 12-06 on associations, a law extensively used by the government to restrict freedom of association. They should also accept to facilitate the issuance of visas and accreditations without restriction to representatives of international organizations defending human rights and to foreign journalists, and reply favorably to the pending requests of the UN human rights experts and mechanisms to visit Algeria. Despite affirming, in its 2012 UPR review, that its laws are in line with international standards on freedom of speech, Algeria still has prison sentences in its legislation for nonviolent speech offenses, such as for insults and defamation. These articles were used during the review period to prosecute over a dozen people, some of whom went to prison.

Since 2016, Algeria has prosecuted more than 266 Ahmadis, a minority religious group, and sentenced more than a hundred to prison sentences.  It is more than ever important that Algeria respects the international conventions it has signed, which guarantee freedom of religion and conscience and prohibit arbitrary interference by the state in people’s beliefs. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We are dismayed that the Philippines rejected all UPR recommendations that would make a practical difference in ending extrajudicial killings perpetrated in the name of its murderous “war on drugs.”

It rejected Peru’s recommendation to cooperate with special procedures by extending a standing invitation, and recommendations by Ghana, Hungary and others to allow access to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, without conditions that might compromise her impartiality.

We remind Philippines of its obligation as a member to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.

We are deeply concerned that rather than investigating compelling evidence of culpability of police and their agents in many of those killings, Duterte has launched a campaign of vilification and harassment against individuals and institutions pursuing accountability for those abuses, Senator Leila de Lima, who faces politically motivated drug charges designed to silence her, the official Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

In its UPR responses, the Philippines even refused to accept recommendations to protect journalists and human rights defenders, or reject incitement to violence.

Instead of calling for respect for international standards or due process, President Duterte has said of drug suspects: “My order is to shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.” And “I will kill you, I will kill you. Forget about the laws of men, forget about the laws of international law, whatever.”

Does the delegation deny President Duterte made these remarks? Does it believe that any killing without due process is justified if perpetrated in the name of the “war on drugs”?

The High Commissioner said in his update to this session: “I continue to be gravely concerned by the President's open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects, as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings, and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator.”

If the Philippines will not face up to its international responsibilities and membership obligations, the Human Rights Council should step in, and do all that it can to end the violence, support independent international investigations into the deaths, and demand accountability for all unlawful killings.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Indian Delegation at the third Universal Period Review in Geneva, September 21, 2017.

© 2017 UN

(Geneva, September 22, 2017) – The Indian government did not accept a number of key human rights recommendations on September 21, 2017, at its United Nations review in Geneva, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should promptly act on the recommendations raised by UN member countries during the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

India’s government responded on September 21 to the recommendations made by other UN member countries on May 4 during India’s third periodic review. The Indian government was unwilling to accept important recommendations for greater accountability of its security forces, ensuring freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, repealing the law criminalizing consensual adult same-sex relations, and abolishing the death penalty.

“In the face of countless attacks on free speech and threats to marginalized communities, the Indian government has chosen to be in denial,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “India should show leadership on the world stage by taking the human rights concerns of other countries seriously and adopting concrete steps to address them.”

At the May 4 session, 112 countries made a total of 250 recommendations. On September 21, the government accepted 152, including commitments made toward sustainable development goals aimed at alleviating poverty, improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and strengthening protections for children and women.

In the face of countless attacks on free speech and threats to marginalized communities, the Indian government has chosen to be in denial.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Thirty countries called on India to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty it signed two decades ago but never ratified. Even as the Indian government denied the existence of torture at the May meeting, saying “the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation,” it said it remained committed to ratifying the treaty. However, India made a similar commitment at the last UPR cycle in 2012 when the recommendation was made by 17 countries, and yet failed to take any steps to fulfill it. In a recent report on deaths in police custody, Human Rights Watch found that torture is frequently used to gather information or coerce confessions.

At the UPR outcome meeting, India’s National Human Rights Commission pointed to the country’s failure to implement several recommendations adopted in the previous UPR cycle.

Regarding several pressing human rights concerns, the government’s outcome report merely “noted” the recommendations, drawing criticism from several countries and domestic and international rights groups. In the past, the Indian government has consistently ignored recommendations that it only noted. For instance, concerns over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that provides soldiers who commit abuses effective immunity from prosecution, was also “noted” in previous UPR sessions. But the government has refused to repeal the law despite recommendations from numerous independent commissions in India.

Similarly, at the 2012 review, the government said it noted the concerns raised over the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law regulating foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations, but failed to take any action to address it. Instead, since 2014, the Indian government has increasingly used the law to harass, intimidate, and shut down foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations that criticize the government, its actions, or policies. During this UPR, at least 10 countries raised concerns over restrictions to freedom of assembly and association, including the FCRA, but the Indian government merely “noted” the recommendations.

Mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against minority communities, especially Muslims and Dalits, have become a serious threat. In the first seven months of 2017, there were 26 attacks, and seven people were killed over rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. The government has failed to prosecute those responsible for such attacks, and at the same time several BJP leaders have made incendiary remarks against minorities, and in support of Hindu nationalism. Fifteen countries raised concerns over such increasing violence, recommending that India should better protect these vulnerable populations and freedom of religion, and prosecute attacks against them. However, the Indian government was unwilling to make any commitments.

More than 30 countries raised concerns over violence and discrimination against women, and 10 asked India to criminalize marital rape. The Indian government accepted recommendations to protect women from violence, but did not accept recommendations regarding marital rape.

Several countries also called on India to repeal section 377 of the penal code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex relations, and to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, a recommendation made and only noted in 2012 and again during the 2017 review. This is despite an Indian Supreme Court ruling in August saying the law had a chilling effect on “the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity.”

“The Indian government’s claims of respect for the UPR process mean nothing if it simply brushes aside important recommendations at a time when the country’s long cherished freedoms and its poor and vulnerable are at great risk,” Ganguly said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

On Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani promoted his country’s bid to join the UN Human Rights Council.

To make his case, Ghani cited the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, condemned the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma, and said that Afghans were “keen to add our voice in support of human rights.” He also called insurgent attacks on civilians in Afghanistan crimes against humanity. Yet, while welcoming the Trump administration’s ramped-up military strategy in Afghanistan, he said nothing about the rising number of civilian casualties from the fighting. Nor did he discuss human rights concerns his own government has failed to address.

Ghani didn’t seem to recognize that the purpose of the Human Rights Council is to promote the protection of human rights throughout the world, not to shield its members from criticism.

Ghani’s pitch for a Human Rights Council seat was undermined by his government’s poor performance before the UN Committee against Torture in April. Committee members grilled Afghanistan’s delegation about the government’s well-documented failure to curb torture. One committee member pointedly asked Afghanistan’s Attorney General Farid Hamidi, what the government was doing about Gen. Abdul Raziq, whose name has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

Raziq serves as the police chief of Kandahar, and the committee noted numerous reports of detainees in Kandahar who alleged torture or ill-treatment, including “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”

Despite Ghani’s 2015 vow to end torture in the country, United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan data indicates it’s on the rise, its statistics demonstrating that 39 percent of detainees of the police and intelligence agency are tortured in custody.

Ghani’s impassioned human rights rhetoric falls far short in practice. Afghans won’t take Ghani seriously on protecting rights until he begins to bridge the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality by taking meaningful steps to end systematic torture, and hold police and other security forces accountable. 

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

To Permanent Representatives of Members and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, Switzerland

21 September 2017

Re: Current human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan

Excellencies,

We write to you regarding the 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to share serious concerns over the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan. Many of these concerns are detailed in the attached annex of violations documented by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).

We would like to draw your attention to the Sudanese government’s continuing violations against civilians, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. Despite the Government’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, indiscriminate attacks have continued against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.

In Darfur, between 28 May and 15 June 2017, a number of attacks were perpetrated against civilians and civilian property by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) among others, leaving 17 dead, 30 seriously injured and 17 abducted.[1] The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 8,000 individuals were displaced in Darfur in the first half of 2017.[2] We remain deeply concerned by evidence reported by Amnesty International in September 2016 of the repeated use, by the government of Sudan, of chemical weapons against civilians in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur.[3]

In 2017, aerial bombardment, which has marked much of the conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile state and the Darfur region, appears to have been paused, or at least greatly reduced. These attacks killed at least 292 civilians and injured 749 between June 2011 and November 2016 in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.[4]  The ongoing aid blockade to rebel held areas in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, now in its 6th year, has deprived civilians of basic goods necessary for their survival, including access to life-saving medical assistance. There is an urgent need for agreement on modalities for impartial humanitarian aid to be delivered into rebel-held parts of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, both cross-line and cross-border, as well as a full, independent humanitarian needs assessment once access to rebel-held Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile is possible.

Sudan continues to repress civil and political rights, with crackdowns on protesters, human rights defenders, journalists, opposition party members, and religious minorities.[5] Restrictions on freedom of expression and the media continue, and the national security agency continues to arbitrarily detain, ill-treat and torture civilians. A member of a political opposition party was arrested and detained during the October and November 2016 civil disobedience campaign and was held for 50 days before being released without charge. Injuries sustained by beatings were so severe that he required surgery.[6] From 7 – 10 June 2017, security officials detained and tortured an internally displaced person in North Darfur who was working in a displaced persons camp. Following his release, officials dropped him in front of his home unconscious. The man was refused medical treatment in a government hospital because he had not reported the torture to police and obtained a “form 8”.

Sudan has targeted human rights defenders with trumped up criminal charges, arbitrary detention, and “show trials”. Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a prominent rights defender, along with nine other defenders, was detained for more than eight months. He was charged with two other Darfuri human rights defenders with 'undermining the constitutional system’ and ‘waging war against the state', both of which carry either the death penalty or life imprisonment. The charges, finally dropped in August, are believed linked to allegations that the men helped in the production of Amnesty International’s 2016 report on the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra.[7] At least two of the detained men were severely beaten, and one was forced to confess under torture.[8]

Three human rights defenders, associated with the civil society organization Tracks for Training and Development (TRACKs) spent ten months in detention. On 5 March they were sentenced to one-year in prison and a fine amounting to over 7,000 Euros each.[9] Detained since May 2016, the three men were released the following day from Al-Huda prison in Omdurman after their fines were fully paid. The three men were convicted of “dissemination of false information” and “possession of immoral material” and one was convicted of espionage.[10] The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had declared their detention arbitrary in August 2016 due to the non-observance of international norms related to the right to a fair trial.

The government continues to restrict freedom of religion and belief.[11] In early 2017, officials in Khartoum announced they would demolish at least 27 churches within Khartoum. In May the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) building in Soba Aradi was demolished without notice by security officials. Two church members were also arrested and witnesses were instructed not to photograph or record the demolition. The church was the sole remaining Christian place of worship in the Soda Aradi district. Officials have also prohibited construction of new churches under the rationale that no new churches are needed due to the secession of South Sudan and the presumed exodus of ethnic Southerners, who were predominantly Christian.

Sudanese authorities also routinely repress the basic rights of women, including through public order provisions that criminalize “indecent” dress such as wearing trousers. Citizenship rights, movement, and autonomy are all circumscribed by laws in place which prevent women from obtaining state identification and travelling without the permission of a male guardian. Authorities have used these and other repressive laws to target female activists and human rights defenders for arrest, detention, and various forms of harassment, including sexual violence.[12] In September 2017 journalist Hanadi Alsiddig, editor in chief of Akhbar Alwatan newspaper, reported that she was briefly arrested and beaten by national security authorities.

The UN Human Rights Council needs to take stronger action in response to the dire human rights situation in Sudan. It should adopt, at its 36th session, a resolution under agenda item 4 to:

  • Strengthen the special procedure mandate on Sudan by extending it as a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan under item 4, with a mandate to monitor and publicly and periodically report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in all parts of Sudan;

 

  • Publically urge the Government of Sudan to implement the recommendations made to Sudan by the UN Human Rights Council during its 2016 Universal Periodic Review[13] and to provide an update to the Council on concrete measures taken to implement the recommendations made to it during its UPR that enjoy its support, and the recommendations made by the Independent Expert following his visit in April 2016;
  • Request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently dispatch investigation teams, with expertise in sexual and gender-based violence, to investigate crimes under international law and serious violations and abuses of human rights in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, identify those suspected of criminal responsibility, provide recommendations for accountability, and to report to the Council on its findings at the 38th session;
  • Six years into the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, condemn in the strongest terms the grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, including the continued indiscriminate aerial bombing of civilian populated areas the use of cluster bombs, and other indiscriminate attacks on civilians by Government forces and allied militia, as well as the continued blockade of humanitarian aid;
  • Condemn attacks targeting the civilian population and civilian objects in Darfur, in particular looting, destruction of civilian facilities, killings and sexual violence committed by paramilitary forces and other Sudanese government forces, which has led to forced displacement of civilian populations; 

  • Urge the government of Sudan to allow unfettered access by UNAMID, humanitarian agencies and NGOs to all parts of Darfur and humanitarian agencies, and NGOs to all parts of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile;
  • Urge the Government to ensure accountability for the killings of more than 170 protestors in Khartoum in September and October 
2013[14], as well as more recent killings such as the student protestors killed in April 2016;
  • Condemn the continued restrictions on the media, on human rights defenders and political opponents, freedoms of association and of peaceful assembly, and the use of arbitrary detention
and torture, as detailed;
  • Condemn the ongoing violations of freedom of religion and repression of individuals based on their faith;
  • Urgently call for the release of individuals arbitrarily detained by the NISS and urge the Government of Sudan to repeal the repressive National Security Act of 2010, and all other legislation which grants immunities to Government of Sudan agents. 


 

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues.

Organisations:

  1. Act for Sudan
  2. Africa Initiative for Media and Journalists’ Safety
  3. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies
  4. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  5. Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre
  6. DefendDefenders
  7. Human Rights Watch
  8. International Federation for Human Rights
  9. International Justice Project
  10. Investors Against Genocide
  11. Journalists for Human Rights – Sudan
  12. Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
  13. National Human Rights Monitoring Organisation
  14. PAX
  15. REDRESS Trust
  16. Sudan Democracy First Group
  17. Sudan Unlimited
  18. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative
  19. Sudanese Rights Group (Huqooq)
  20. The Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE)
  21. The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum
  22. Waging Peace
 

[2] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Sudan: 2017 New Displacements and Affected People in Darfur as of 30 June 2017”, 30 June 2017.

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Sudan’s New Image Can’t Disguise Harsh Reality”, 14 March 2017.

[9] On 25 August 2016, the detention of Mr. Mukhtar, Mr. Hamdan, and Mr. Adam was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), due to the non-observance of international norms related to the right to a fair trial.

[13] UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the UPR, “Draft report of the Working Group on the Sudan Universal Periodic Review”, May 2016.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council has missed a key opportunity to address war crimes and rights abuses by all sides to the conflict in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today. The council unanimously adopted a resolution on September 21, 2017, that establishes an investigative team to collect and preserve evidence of serious crimes allegedly committed by the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) – which is needed – but fails to include within its mandate abuses by anti-ISIS forces.

Heads of state and their representatives take part in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address the situation in the Middle East during the General Assembly for the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 21, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

“No one denies the importance of tackling the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi and international forces is not only flawed, it’s shortsighted,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The pursuit of justice is essential to all victims who saw their loved ones tortured and killed, or houses burned and bombed, regardless of who is responsible.”

The resolution mandates the UN secretary-general to establish an investigative team headed by a special adviser to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by ISIS members in Iraq, for anticipated use in future criminal proceedings in Iraq or possibly in other national courts. It stipulates that “any other uses” of the evidence collected by the team is to be “determined in agreement with the Government of Iraq on a case by case basis.”

However, the team can and should play a positive role in advocating for federal Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities to bring charges against ISIS suspects for the full range of crimes they have committed, improve respect for due process rights of suspects and detainees, and to take a more victim-centered approach to national accountability efforts. It can and should seek to convince the Iraqi government to allow it to broaden the investigations to include abuses by all sides in the conflict.

An initiative aimed at documenting serious crimes by ISIS is a positive first step to support accountability efforts in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said. ISIS forces in Iraq have carried out human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and what the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria found to be genocide. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for international support for efforts to bring ISIS members to justice. But beyond ISIS atrocities, Iraq urgently needs investigations of serious crimes by all sides to the conflict.

The United Kingdom submitted the resolution after working closely with the Iraqi government to establish an investigative body for ISIS crimes in Iraq through the Security Council. Their discussions began in September 2016 after the United Kingdom, together with Iraq and Belgium, began a global campaign at the UN General Assembly to bring ISIS to justice.

The UK decided to formally move forward with the draft resolution in August after receiving Iraq’s consent through a letter to the Security Council. Iraq made clear that it was working with the UK on a resolution “in line with Iraq’s national sovereignty and jurisdiction at both the negotiation and implementation stages.”

Iraqi authorities face a complex task to bring to justice ISIS suspects. Iraq is prosecuting thousands of detainees under counterterrorism legislation, for crimes tied to their affiliation with ISIS. However, Human Rights Watch research has found that abuse is rampant in the detention of ISIS suspects and that serious due process violations are undermining the judicial proceedings. Iraqi authorities are not charging any suspects for serious international crimes such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide, which are not criminal offenses under Iraqi law, or even rape or slavery, which are. The authorities have made no efforts to solicit victims’ participation in the trials.

Iraq is also not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Human Rights Watch in March 2016 that Iraq has no plans to join – out of apparent concern that the court would be able to examine grave abuses by government security forces.

The European Union and the UN human rights office have called on Iraq to join the ICC, which would allow for possible prosecution of serious crimes by all parties to the conflict.

While abuses by Iraqi and KRG forces, as well as historically Shia military units regularized into state forces known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have been longstanding, the battle against ISIS has given these forces latitude to carry out abuses under the guise of fighting terrorism.

During operations to retake Mosul, Iraqi forces frequently tortured and executed those captured in and around the battlefield with complete impunity, sometimes posting photos and videos of the abuses on social media sites. Since 2014, KRG and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces units have also carried out widespread destruction of civilian property in Sunni areas recaptured from ISIS.

Despite repeated promises to investigate wrongdoing by security forces, al-Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held a single soldier accountable for murdering, torturing, or otherwise abusing Iraqis in this conflict. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, Iraqi and KRG courts have not opened investigations into the vast majority of human rights abuses by Iraqi army, federal police and PMF forces, and Kurdish and other anti-ISIS security forces in their battle against ISIS.

The lack of impartial justice could undermine longer-term prospects for stability and development. An imbalance in accountability efforts threatens to open new divisions and could breed a resurgence of ISIS-like groups at a moment when the Iraqi government has a unique opportunity to move the country toward meaningful reconciliation, Human Rights Watch said.

The resolution that establishes the ISIS-focused investigative team stipulates that evidence the team collects should be used in “fair and independent criminal proceedings, consistent with applicable international law,” and that the team should act consistent with its terms of reference, the UN Charter, and UN best practice. It does not explicitly exclude the use of evidence in proceedings that allow for the death penalty, one of only two penalties laid out in the federal Iraqi counterterrorism law, as well as a sentence KRG judges have handed down for counterterrorism convicts within the KRG judicial system.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice.

The resolution asks the UN secretary-general to prepare, within 60 days, terms of reference “acceptable to the Government of Iraq” to guide the investigative team’s work for the Security Council’s approval. The Security Council stipulates that the terms of reference should specify the appointment of Iraqi investigative judges and other criminal experts to the team to work “on an equal footing alongside international experts”.

Though the Security Council resolution notes that the team should complement Iraqi investigations, it is unclear how its work will, in practice, interact with ongoing investigations by federal Iraqi and KRG security forces, as well as other nongovernmental efforts in Iraq to document ISIS crimes. The investigative team should ensure that its own efforts are not duplicative, at the risk of re-traumatizing victims and witnesses, and do not significantly delay the application of justice, to the detriment of victims as well as detainees being held in inhumane conditions.

“The real test for this new UN-mandated investigation is whether it can help Iraq end the rampant impunity in the country that has fed into the endless cycles of violence,” Jarrah said. “Ensuring justice for ISIS crimes – however essential – is not enough. What Iraq needs is a much more comprehensive approach that ends the selective prosecutions for abuses that have plagued the country for decades.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Republic of Indonesia, which reflects recommendations to protect the rights of religious minorities, women and girls and urges the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). The outcome also addresses government-promoted discrimination against people with disabilities, impunity for security forces’ abuses in Papua, the need for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and accountability for past human rights abuses.   

We note that the Indonesian government accepted 150 such recommendations and urge it to fully implement them.

However, we are concerned that the Indonesian government chose to “note” rather than accept an additional 58 recommendations for reasons including that they “are not a priority in the national human rights agenda.” They include recommendations urging Indonesia to “put an end in law and in practice to violence and discrimination against women, violence and discrimination against homosexuals and female genital mutilation,” to “Repeal or revise legislation, notably the relevant provisions of the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code, which criminalizes sexual relations among consenting adults of the same sex, as well as legislation that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” as well as a recommendation to “Guarantee  the  rights  of  minority  groups,  particularly  those  of religious  minorities  and  lesbian,  gay,  bisexual  and  transgender  persons, through effective legal action against incitement to hatred and violent acts, as well as by revising legislation that can have discriminatory effects.” The government also rejected the recommendation that it “establish a moratorium on executions and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.” We also note with concern that although the Indonesian government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has publicly committed to accountability for past human rights abuses, including the mass killings of 1965-66, Indonesia rejected the recommendation that it “Thoroughly and transparently investigate past human rights abuses.”

The Indonesian government should accept and implement the recommendations of member states raised through its UPR process, rather than reject or ignore them.  The ultimate test of Indonesia's commitment to the UPR process is its demonstration of the necessary political will to address these and other longstanding human rights issues. The UN is watching.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the UPR report on Morocco, which includes recommendations concerning joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; abolition of capital punishment; and equality among citizens.

During Morocco’s review in May 2017, delegations acknowledged Morocco’s efforts to accede to international treaties, in particular its ratification of the International Convention for Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

While Human Rights Watch acknowledges developments in advancing rights of domestic workers, victims of human trafficking, and persons with disabilities, we regret that the government rejected key recommendations on important human rights concerns. These recommendations include withdrawing all reservations to the Convention on Discrimination against Women; decriminalizing same-sex consensual relations; amending Penal Code provisions used to imprison journalists and others for nonviolent speech; and eliminating Family Code provisions that discriminate against children born outside of wedlock.

We urge the Government to comply with the recommendations it has accepted, including one that Morocco accepted during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review but has yet to implement.

Morocco’s human rights record remains tainted by allegations of unjustified use of force by police against “Hirak” protesters in the Rif, the systematic suppression of pro-independence demonstrations by Sahrawis in Western Sahara, and the failure of courts trying politically charged cases to scrutinize the veracity of contested “confessions” to the police, contributing to trials that are unfair. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tunisians now enjoy their human rights to a greater extent than they did under President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whom they ousted in 2011. Since 2011, they have adopted a new constitution, held free and fair legislative and presidential elections, and adopted progressive laws. These steps notwithstanding, serious human rights violations, including torture, lack of accountability for past human rights violations, arbitrary house arrests and travel restrictions under the state of emergency continue.

Human Rights Watch welcomes the acceptance by Tunisia of several key recommendations during the UPR review, such as the recommendation to expedite the establishment of the constitutional court, a key institution that will play a crucial role in ensuring respect for human rights by striking down laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution’s framework on rights and freedoms.

Tunisia has already made several incremental steps to fight discrimination and violence against women, including by adopting a comprehensive legislation to fight domestic violence, and repealing a 1973 ministerial decree that prohibited the marriage between a Tunisian woman and a non-Muslim man. Human Rights Watch urges Tunisia to take further steps to eliminate all other forms of discrimination against women, including by amending its personal status code to grant equal inheritance rights to women.

Numerous delegations noted the need to enhance accountability within the security forces and to ensure that all allegations of abuse are investigated in a prompt, effective and independent manner. Under Ben Ali and during the transition, security forces used torture extensively. However, the authorities have failed in the five years since his overthrow to investigate or hold anyone accountable for the most serious torture cases, despite accepting all 2012 UPR recommendations related to ill-treatment and torture.  

Tunisia has also accepted a recommendation to “immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations of LGBTI persons,” a significant move that could put an end to this practice that tramples the right to dignity and privacy. However, the practice of anal testing continued unabatedly even after the recommendation was accepted, and Tunisia must take more steps to end it. Human Rights Watch also regrets that Tunisia has not accepted other complementary recommendations, such as the one to “ensure protection of the LGBTI community” and to amend or repeal article 230 of the criminal code criminalising same sex relations. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Unlike his predecessor Rafael Correa, President Lenin Moreno has, since taking office in May 2017, publicly endorsed respect for free speech and civil society. The Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, appears to be adopting positions that are inconsistent with President Moreno’s public statements and seems to be still aligned with his predecessor’s open support of censorship and attacks on free speech and freedom of association.

In 2013, Correa signed a communications law granting his government broad powers to punish independent media outlets, including an Orwellian definition of “censorship” that allows sanctioning independent media that don’t cover issues that the government considers to be of “public interest.” Correa’s administration has applied this law to ensure favorable coverage. 

That year, Correa also adopted a decree granting his government sweeping powers to intervene in the operation of nongovernmental organizations. The government has deployed the decree to dissolve an environmental group and the country’s largest and oldest teacher’s union.  

Despite President Moreno’s commitments, in its most recent communication on Universal Periodic Revie (UPR) recommendations, of July 2017, Ecuador upheld the policies of the previous administration, saying that both the Communications Law and the presidential decree on NGOs were consistent with international human rights law.

This UPR is an opportunity for the Ecuadorean government under Moreno to recognize that it has failed to implement key recommendations on freedom of expression and association that it had accepted during its previous review in 2012. We urge the Moreno administration to take advantage of this opportunity to commit itself to repealing these problematic norms, as well as to address other longstanding human rights problems. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The human rights situation in Bahrain has deteriorated dramatically in the period leading up to and since Bahrain’s third UPR in May 2017. The government had accepted 158 of the 176 UPR recommendations from 2012, but has largely failed to implement the most substantive of them. Bahrain continues to deny access to UN OHCHR special procedures despite repeated requests. Authorities in April prevented dozens of rights advocates from travelling to Geneva ahead of the third UPR review.

Over the past year, authorities have shut down the country’s only independent newspaper and the two leading, licensed, opposition political societies. Nabeel Rajab, the country’s preeminent human rights defender, and Shaikh Ali Salman, the leader of the largest opposition political society remain in prison on speech charges.  The government ended a de facto moratorium on use of the death penalty and executed three persons in January following unfair trials, despite their alleging that they had been tortured. In May the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern at “consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment” and “the climate of impunity that seems to prevail.”

In 2017 the government reversed two of the few substantive recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry that it previously implemented. In January authorities restored arrest and investigation powers to the National Security Agency, despite its record of torture and abuse, and in April King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa signed legislation authorizing trial of civilians before military courts.

We urge Bahrain to accept and implement the most important recommendations coming out of its 2017 UPR review regarding criminal justice reform and respect for all core human rights: civil, economic, political, social and cultural', including the release of all those jailed solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Bahrain's glossy PR campaign around its UPR engagement cannot be allowed to cover up its complete disregard for the substantive recommendations made nor the human rights crisis on the ground. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cao Shunli

Courtesy of openDemocracy

Four years ago this month, Chinese authorities stopped activist Cao Shunli at Beijing’s airport. After questioning her about her plans to travel to Geneva, where she was slated to participate in training sessions about the United Nations Human Rights Council, Cao was detained, held incommunicado for a month, and then charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up troubles.” She became gravely ill in detention, was denied adequate medical care, and died in March 2014. When nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) tried to hold a moment of silence for her at the council, Chinese officials blocked the move.

For years the Chinese government has obstructed human rights activists who work on China from participating in the UN. It prevents activists from traveling to Geneva or New York, harasses them while they are there, and sometimes intimidates and interrogates them upon return to China. Chinese officials have also harassed UN officials, staff, and independent experts, and used its membership on a key committee to block NGOs critical of China from being granted UN accreditation. Some UN officials have pushed back against or ignored improper Chinese pressure. Others have soft-pedaled their concerns, presumably to avoid confrontation with China. 

Several UN human rights experts have pressed China for an inquiry into Cao’s death. China, which disputes the very legitimacy of human rights defenders, has largely ignored these requests, providing no explanation for the circumstances of her death.

The UN has only recently began taking steps toward addressing China’s – and other governments’ – abusive actions at the world forum. Andrew Gilmour, the assistant secretary-general for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will soon report on his office’s yearlong effort to track reprisals against human rights defenders trying to work with the UN. That report includes information about cases like Cao’s, actions taken, and responses received.

But it’s still unclear how far the UN will go in punishing abusive governments like China for its actions in cases like Cao’s. At a minimum, the Human Rights Council should have a discussion on cases of government harassment of activists at the UN. But neither this, nor a condemnation of China at the upcoming Universal Period Review of its human rights record, is likely to prevent future outrages against activists.  

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