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

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A cross-regional joint statement delivered by Peru on behalf of 53 States at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in June expressed concern at the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country and called for continued reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner. The Human Rights Council should respond to that call and adopt a resolution this session to ensure continued reporting by the High Commissioner, and discussion of those reports by the Council so that it may consider an appropriate response to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen during its current session in Geneva. The parties on both sides of Yemen’s armed conflict are committing laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses with impunity.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The urgent situation in Gaza deteriorated in recent months. Israeli forces have continued to fire on Palestinians participating in weekly demonstrations against Israeli rights abuses near the fences between Gaza and Israel, killing 156, including 24 children, and wounding more than 5,000, since March 30. Demonstrators have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to hurl projectiles, and launched kites with incendiary materials, which caused significant property damage to nearby Israeli communities and, in at least one instance, fired in the direction of soldiers, but Human Rights Watch has not documented instances where protesters posed an imminent threat to life.

The Commission of Inquiry established by this body should identify any Israeli officials who sanctioned expansive open-fire orders that allowed soldiers to fire on protesters on the other side of the fence posing no imminent mortal danger, which would be contrary to the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. 

The Israeli army also conducted air and artillery strikes in Gaza, killing an additional 20 Palestinians so far this year, including civilians.

Palestinian armed groups, meanwhile, fired more than 600 rockets, apparently indiscriminately towards Israeli population center from Gaza between May and August, more than ten times the number of rockets fired cumulatively between 2015 and 2017, injuring 28 Israelis, including civilians.

In July, Israeli authorities further tightened its closure of Gaza, exacerbated by Egyptian restrictions on its border with Gaza, as a measure to punish Palestinians for the launching of incendiary kites, banning the exit of most goods out of Gaza and limiting entry to “humanitarian” items. This move serves to undermine commerce in Gaza at a time where the unemployment rate stands at a 53.7 percent, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and 80 percent of the population depends on humanitarian aid.  

This body should continue to insist that Israel lift the unlawful sweeping restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.

We welcome the High Commissioner’s highlighting of rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in her opening statement, including the anticipated demolition of the Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem, and look forward to the publication soon of the database of businesses facilitating settlement construction and growth. Businesses cannot operate in or with settlements without contributing to serious abuses.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Overview

Since President Maduro came to power in 2013, there has been an alarming rise in the intensity of abuses and the severity of the rights crackdown in Venezuela. Political and civil society repression has stifled dissenting voices. Severe shortages of food and essential medicines have created life-threatening conditions. More than 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in response to the human rights and humanitarian crisis. In its report launched during the recent Human Rights Council session in June 2018, OHCHR highlighted the climate of complete impunity, leading the former High Commissioner Zeid to comment that “the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela”.

In her opening address to the current 39th session of the Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet noted that:

“Since publication of our latest report on Venezuela, in June, the Office has continued to receive information on violations of social and economic rights – such as cases of deaths related to malnutrition or preventable diseases – as well as on violations of civil and political rights, including arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and restrictions to freedom of expression. The Government has not shown openness for genuine accountability measures regarding issues documented by the Office during the 2017 mass protests.”

She emphasized that “the Office urges the Human Rights Council to take all available measures to address the serious human rights violations which have been documented in recent reports.”

Civil and political crackdown

In its recent report, OHCHR highlighted that arbitrary arrests and detentions have been used increasingly by the Venezuelan intelligence and security forces since July 2017 to repress and intimidate civil society, political opponents, or any voices that might criticize the government or publicly express discontent. More than 12,000 people have been arbitrarily detained since 2014, with at least 570 people, including 35 children, detained in the period of 9 months between August 2017 and May 2018 alone. Many who have been detained have been held incommunicado, and have suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which clearly amounts to torture, including electric shocks, severe beatings, asphyxiation, and sexual abuse including rape.

Many of those who protest against the government have been summarily executed by security forces. The Bolivarian National Guard has actively blocked attempts to identify perpetrators, creating a climate of impunity. Between July 2015 and March 2017, 505 people including 24 children were murdered by security forces in ways that could amount to extrajudicial killings. In February, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office is opening a preliminary investigation into the use of excessive force, including killings and unlawful detentions.

The OHCHR report documents numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, perpetrated with impunity, including the following testimony from a mother whose sons were killed by State security forces:

 

“In August 2016, I was at home with my two sons; the oldest was 22 years old and the youngest 16. I was doing laundry in the courtyard when CICPC officers broke into my house. … One officer was leaning over my son who was on the floor and I heard [the officer] ask his boss if he should arrest him. The boss answered that the instruction was to kill him. I was taken to another room and I heard two shots…. If he had done something bad, they should have taken him back to court, rather than simply kill him. …

I was brought to a police station where they told me that I did not have the right to sit in a chair. They started asking questions about my son. They beat me and threw me on the floor. They kept me there for one day without food and water and told me that I was responsible for having given birth to a criminal. They also told me that they would visit my home whenever they wanted and that within less than a year they would come back for my other son. 

On 19 July 2017, the OLP came back to my neighbourhood. This time they arrested my youngest son who was out in the street with some friends. After searching for him at hospitals and police stations, someone told me that he was in the morgue. They showed me a photo of his body.” 

Humanitarian crisis

Severe shortages of food and medicine are making it increasingly difficult for many Venezuelans to feed their families and have access to the most basic healthcare. The population lost an average of 11 kilos in 2017. Most Venezuelans go to bed hungry, and moderate to severe malnutrition among children under age 5 increased by more than 50 percent in 2017. Venezuela’s then-health minister released official data last year indicating that, in 2016 alone, infant mortality increased by 30 percent, maternal mortality 65 percent, and malaria cases 76 percent. Days later, she was fired.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food has said that strategies to cope in times of crisis have “dramatic longer-term effects, particularly for women and children”. Stories such as Kim’s - a nurse who worked two jobs to provide for her children, trying to cure the sick amid the country’s shortages of basic medicines and supplies, but at the cost of barely seeing them – tells of how the crisis has disproportionate effects on women, who remain, in many families, the primary caregivers for children or other family members.

Earlier this year, a group of Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteurs on food, health, adequate housing and extreme poverty issued a joint statement, saying: “Vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiralling downwards with no end in sight”.

Refugee crisis

According to UNHCR, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country, for reasons including political persecution, violence, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As a result, a 2,000 percent increase in asylum applications has been recorded across Latin America since 2014. Those caught in this state of limbo are "particularly vulnerable to exploitation, extortion, violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, forced recruitment into criminal groups, discrimination and xenophobia". Despite this, many interviewed by HRW hope to return home — but cannot do so, until they can return to a Venezuela where they do not have to fear that they, their family or friends will face execution, starvation, or enforced disappearance.

Need for Human Rights Council action

A cross-regional joint statement delivered by Peru on behalf of 53 States at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in June expressed concern at the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country and called for continued reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner. The Human Rights Council should respond to that call and adopt a resolution this session to ensure continued reporting by the High Commissioner, and discussion of those reports by the Council so that it may consider an appropriate response to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

HRW welcomes Cameroon’s UPR adoption, which comes at a timely moment for the country.

Earlier this year, HRW documented numerous human rights violations committed by both armed separatists and government forces since a pro-independence movement began to grow in the country’s Anglophone region in late 2016. 

In 2016 and 2017, government security forces  used excessive force to break up at least five demonstrations organized by members of the country’s Anglophone minority, located primarily in the South West and North West regions of the country, who were calling for the region’s independence. Security forces, equipped with anti-riot gear including shields, helmets and tear gas, used live ammunition, including from helicopters, against demonstrators equipped at most with stones, and against unarmed bystanders, killing at least a dozen people and injuring scores.  Some individuals detained in the context of the demonstrations were subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

The government’s initial crackdown against peaceful demonstrations was followed by an escalation in violence, with armed separatists  attacking government workers. Abuses perpetrated by separatists and documented by HRW include threats against teachers and parents aimed at preventing them from sending their children to class, attacks on schools, killings, kidnappings, and extortion of civilians and state workers. According to local authorities, at least 32,000 children have been out of school since November 2017.

HRW found that government forces responded to the growing separatist insurgency by carrying out abusive security operations against localities suspected of supporting secessionist groups. There, members of security forces committed extrajudicial executions and used excessive force against civilians. For instance, HRW documented how security forces burned several hundred homes and other property in twenty villages. Our researchers documented how four elderly women died, burned alive, after security forces set fire to their homes.

In this context, HRW is pleased to see Cameroon accept many recommendations urging it to engage in dialogue with the Anglophone community and effectively implement its bilingualism policy to avoid discrimination. However, we regret that thus far, these recommendations have yet to be implemented on the ground.

This UPR review presents an important opportunity for the Council to make use of its mandate to prevent human rights abuses. Cameroon should cooperate with the OHCHR and urgently facilitate its access to monitor the situation. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This statement was delivered on behalf of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Russia’s refusal to accept recommendations to protect freedoms of expression, association and assembly is deeply disappointing.[1] The recent arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters, including children, underscores the significance of these recommendations. Russia has also refused to accept recommendations to amend its counter-terrorism and so-called “anti-extremism” legislation, which the government increasingly uses to stifle freedom of expression.[2]

HRW also regrets that Russia rejected recommendations to repeal the laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”,[3] both of which negatively impact independent civil society across the country. The government is conducting smear campaigns against human rights defenders and is failing to effectively investigate attacks against them or to create an enabling environment for human rights work.

In Chechnya, the authorities have launched an attack against human rights defenders referring to them as “public enemies.” Oyub Titiev, director of the Memorial Human Rights Center’s office in Grozny, remains behind bars since January, on bogus drug-related charges. Despite accepting recommendations to investigate enforced disappearance and torture and ill-treatment of gay and bisexual men, suspected members of armed groups, alleged drug users and government critics,[4] such allegations are never effectively investigated.

During its recent review of Russia, the Committee Against Torture highlighted the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement and prison officials and the lack of effective criminalisation of torture.[5] Leaked videos of torture in a Yaroslavl penal colony, including of Yevgenyi Makarov, graphically illustrate the severity of these violations.

We deeply regret Russia’s rejection of recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[6] The organization calls on Russia to effectively investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and to hold those responsible to account in line with the accepted recommendations.[7]

 

[1] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Russian Federation, A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.54 (Costa Rica); 147.55 (Latvia);147.61 (Spain); 147.63 (Australia); 147.64 (Canada) and 147.65 (Sweden).

[2]  A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.66 (Sweden), 147.67 (USA).

[3]  A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.61 (Spain); 147.62 (Sweden); 147.63 (Australia); 147.64 (Canada); 147.67 (USA)

[4] A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.96-147.98 (Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany), 147.109-147. 112 (France, Austria, Australia, Argentina), 147.123-147.129 (Montenegro, UK, Chile, Canada, Norway, Lithuania, Luxembourg).

[5] UN Committee Against Torture, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of the Russian Federation, CAT/C/RUS/CO/6. 28 August 2018, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT%2fC%2fRUS%2fCO%2f6&Lang=en

[6]  A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.7 (Liechtenstein), 147.8 (Poland, Hungary), 147.10 (Portugal).

[7]  A/HRC/39/13, recommendations 147.110 (Austria), 147.113 (Germany), 147.125 (Chile), 147.126 (Canada)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report on Azerbaijan and notes that the government accepted numerous broad recommendations in a wide range of areas, including the Sustainable Development Goals, promoting human rights education, and equality. The government accepted recommendations regarding freedom of speech and association, particularly those that implied approval of its current measures in these areas.

It is disappointing that the government relegated for further study a series of recommendations on the need to protect LGBT people from discrimination, to reform restrictive regulations governing the registration and financing of nongovernmental organizations, and reforming criminal libel legislation.

Of the few recommendations the government rejected most relate to politically motivated prosecutions. This too is disappointing, if unsurprising.

Azerbaijan has a persistent record of using bogus charges to imprison government critics, routinely manipulating or fabricating evidence. Many cases show that authorities had motivation to retaliate against critics. When authorities detain these critics, they focused on the critics’ political or journalistic work as much as the alleged infraction. In some cases, such as Afgan Mukhtarli, the journalist who was kidnapped from Georgia and brought illegally across the border to Azerbaijan in May 2017, the authorities’ allegations simply do not meet even minimum threshold of credibility. Also among these cases was Ilgar Mammadov, whose prosecution the European Court of Human Rights found to be in retaliation for his political activities. It took the government more than four years after the court’s first ruling to free him, and he still faces a suspended sentence, a travel ban and restrictions on his activities. But several dozen critics, like Mr. Mukhtarli, remain behind bars. The very small cohort of lawyers who represent them is shrinking because the Bar association has either disbarred them or suspended their licenses.

The Azerbaijani government should immediately free the many bloggers, political activists and other critics who are wrongfully imprisoned in retaliation for their legitimate activities. It should allow lawyers to perform their work without undue government interference.  And it should reform laws and regulations on NGOs and their access to funding, in accordance with recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.   

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

For the first time ever, Turkmenistan has accepted many of the recommendations made by almost 20 states during its Universal Periodic Review, including those related to enforced disappearances, a persistent and grave violation in the country.  Human Rights Watch and the Prove They Are Alive campaign welcome this development.

However, Turkmenistan also replied to recommendations made during the UPR that because the persons considered disappeared had been sentenced by a court, their imprisonment could not be considered an enforced disappearance. This is wholly incorrect. The families of more than 100 persons have no official information about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones since their deprivation of liberty either at the time of arrest or following the trial. This is the essence of an enforced disappearance. Turkmenistan’s false assertion of what constitutes an enforced disappearance raises serious concerns about the government’s apparent willingness to engage on the issue.

There are also at least 8 among those disappeared whose prison term has already ended or is due to expire before the end of this year, and 7 others before 2020. The authorities should release them immediately.

The government also said the individuals in question had regular contact with their family members. Indeed, a small group of people previously disappeared have had family visits this year. But the families of more than a hundred others continue to have no contact and no information, including on whether their loved ones are dead or alive-- in some cases for 16 years. The government could dispel such concerns if it would, for example, tell the family of Batyr Berdyev, last seen in 2003, where he is and allow them to visit him. No amount of dialogue with UN and other mechanisms -- while welcome-- could possibly substitute for these simple steps.

We welcome recommendations to grant visits to UN Special Procedures without further delay, including to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. We will be closely watching that this happens as soon as possible.

We regret the rejection of recommendation 116.54 regarding access to prisoners, including Ovadan-Depe and Seydi, for independent inspectors and other visitors consistent with their mandates and note that the government did not explain its rejection.

There is no media freedom in Turkmenistan, and the government often retaliates against people who express their views or report for foreign media outlets, and strictly controls information online and offline. It is therefore disappointing that the government rejected recommendations to end harassment of journalists and eliminate censorship. During its UPR, the delegation explained that Turkmen law guarantees freedom of expression and the media. If that is the case, the government should explain why reporter Soltan Achilova has been attacked so many times, why police threatened her relatives, and why so many web sites continue to be blocked.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the first Interactive Dialogue with the ASG and his latest report. We are deeply concerned about cases of reprisals committed in the reporting period, including by three countries that have appeared in every single report by the ASG, reflecting the broader situation of civil society on the ground, and on which this Council has remained largely silent.

In Bahrain, the report details cases of defenders who have faced criminal and terrorism-related charges, including family members of Sayed Al-Wadaei, Ebtesam Al-Alsaegh, and Nabeel Rajab; the arbitrary detention, sexual assault and torture of targeted individuals; and the sweeping travel bans on around 20 individuals, preventing them from participating at the Council between June 2017 and June 2018. These reprisals are taking place within the context of the alarming human rights situation in Bahrain, where since January alone, courts have stripped the citizenship of at least 232 citizens including for peaceful opposition, and where severe restrictions on free speech and assembly persist.

In China, the report notes that various activists, defenders and lawyers have reportedly been subjected to travel bans, surveillance, detention, ill-treatment and torture for their efforts to engage with the UN. In July, democracy activist and dissident Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in prison – his advocacy using UN human rights treaties was cited in the criminal indictment against him. of Reprisals for cooperating with UN mechanisms have discouraged mainland NGOs from making submissions to the UN in their own names. These reprisals take place against the backdrop of a significant tightening of top-down control over civil society, the internet, the media and academia, including the forcible disappearance and unfair trials of defenders.

We are also concerned about ongoing cases of reprisals by Egypt. Ebrahim Metwally was arrested in September 2017 en route to meeting with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and remains in solitary confinement. Hanane Othman, who had documented cases for the Working Group, remains in pre-trial detention, reportedly under inhuman conditions. These reprisals are not surprising given Egypt’s ongoing use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent; prosecution of and travel bans on defenders, including the continuing prosecutions in Case 173 of 2011 in which many of the country’s leading rights activists are being investigated on trumped-up charges, and where at least 28 of them are on travel bans and could be imprisoned at any moment; the mass trials of thousands of civilians by military courts; and new restrictive NGO and internet legislation.

Each of these states are either sitting Council members or candidate countries. We urge the Bureau and the Council to take immediate action to raise and follow up on specific cases of reprisals, and call upon all delegations to ensure that these cases are systematically addressed under item 5.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mohammed Taher, 50, a Rohingya refugee holds his son Mohammed Shoaib, 7, outside a medical center at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on November 5, 2017. His son was shot in the chest before crossing the border from Burma in August. 

© 2017 Reuters/Adnan Abidi

(Geneva) – Myanmar’s domestic commissions on violence in Rakhine State have all failed to report credibly on atrocities against Rohingya or advance justice, Human Rights Watch said today in a report on eight Myanmar government commissions since 2012. The United Nations Human Rights Council, which is expected to adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar as part of its 39th session, should create a body to gather evidence and prepare case files for future prosecutions.

Since violence broke out in Rakhine State in 2012, the Myanmar government has created eight commissions ostensibly to investigate abuses or to make recommendations for resolving the crisis. Not one has led to accountability for serious crimes against the Rohingya. The composition and mandate of the latest commission, announced on May 31, 2018, make it clear that it will not be any more effective than its predecessors.

“The UN Human Rights Council should act now to preserve evidence and create a path to justice for victims of grave crimes in Myanmar,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The council should not wait for the country’s latest commission, which seems designed to dilute and deflect international calls for action.”

The Myanmar government’s descriptions of the latest commission signal that its primary purpose is to deflect international pressure. On August 29, presidential spokesperson Zaw Htay stated that the Independent Commission of Enquiry had been formed to “respond to false allegations made by the UN Agencies and other international communities.”

The government has provided little information on the terms of reference for the commission, whose report is not due until August 2019. A Philippine diplomat, Rosario Manalo, the commission’s chair, has made clear that she has little interest in pursuing accountability, stating at the commission’s initial news conference, “I assure you there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger pointing of anybody because we don’t achieve anything by doing that.… It is not a diplomatic approach to be finger pointing. No saying, ‘You are accountable!’”

The UN Human Rights Council should act now to preserve evidence and create a path to justice for victims of grave crimes in Myanmar.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

A Myanmar member of the commission, Col. Aung Tun Thet, has repeatedly demonstrated his bias, saying in March that Myanmar has a “clear conscience” and that “there is no such thing in our country, in our society, as ethnic cleansing, and no genocide.” He was also a member of the 2016 national commission that rejected the findings of a UN report in its entirety.

A Thai diplomat Kobsak Chitukul, who resigned from the government’s previous advisory board, said, “This just goes on and on. Next year it will be another commission, another board. It is all for show — there is nothing real. It is a hoax.”

On September 18 the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released its more than 400-page report detailing crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possible genocide by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, as well as serious abuses in Shan and Kachin States. The Fact-Finding Mission recommended that either the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly should create as a matter of urgency an international, independent, impartial mechanism, similar to the one on Syria.

There is an urgent need to preserve evidence of serious crimes across Myanmar that could one day be used in prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said.

“Myanmar’s latest commission was dead on arrival,” Adams said. “UN member countries shouldn’t fall for the trick of waiting for this new commission to do its work, but act to ensure the victims of atrocities in Myanmar obtain justice. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

At the opening of this session, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet highlighted “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim communities, in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on China’s campaign of repression against Xinjiang’s Muslims, presenting new evidence of the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of the region’s Muslim minority, including indefinite detention of an estimated one million people in unlawful “political education camps” and increasingly pervasive controls on the daily life of 13 million Turkic Muslims in the region.  

A statement by the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Communist Youth League in March 2017 reveals the purpose of the political education camps with chilling frankness:

The training has only one purpose: to learn laws and regulations…to eradicate from the mind thoughts about religious extremism and violent terrorism, and to cure ideological diseases. If the education is not going well, we will continue to provide free education, until the students achieve satisfactory results and graduate smoothly.

Or, as one ethnic Uyghur man explained to us: “[W]hat they [the Chinese authorities] want is to force us to assimilate, to identify with the country, such that, in the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning.”

A former detainee described conditions in the political education camps: “I resisted their measures. …They put me in a small solitary confinement cell…In a space of about 2x2 meters I was not given any food or drink, my hands were handcuffed in the back, and I had to stand for 24 hours without sleep.”

The Chinese government’s religious restrictions are so severe that it has effectively outlawed Islam in Xinjiang. It has banned facial hair and clothing that could incite “religious fanaticism,” prohibited children from learning religion, and confiscated prayer mats and the Quran. Officials closely monitor people’s religious practices; the authorities have detained people for praying five times a day or circulating religious texts to their families.

The Chinese authorities have particularly targeted Muslims from Xinjiang with connections to a list of “26 sensitive countries,” including Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

As a member of this Council, China should be held to account for its mass, systematic violations in Xinjiang. Some governments have begun to speak out against these repressive policies and practices. But stronger more concerted actions are needed so that there is a significant political cost to China’s campaign of oppression. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

I have the honour to make this statement on behalf of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This past year has seen one of the darkest chapters in Myanmar’s recent history. In northern Rakhine State, Myanmar security forces carried out a widespread and systematic attack on the Rohingya population, killing thousands of women, men and children, raping women and girls, burning several hundred Rohingya villages and forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. As one survivor told the Fact-Finding Mission: “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men.” In Kachin and Shan States in northern Myanmar, the military and, to a lesser extent, ethnic armed groups have committed war crimes and other human rights violations and abuses against civilians, particularly those from ethnic minorities.

The report presented by the Fact-Finding Mission today provides compelling evidence that the Myanmar security forces have committed the gravest crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and possibly genocide.

These crimes were committed by a military operating largely outside the law, with the authorities “systematically failing to condemn, investigate and prosecute perpetrators” and obstructing independent investigations. Even this year, Myanmar’s military authorities, referring to the Rohingya, stated: “Despite living among peacocks, crows cannot become peacocks.

Given the gravity of the findings of this report, this Council need to send a clear, united message that those responsible for these crimes will face justice. Without accountability, such crimes are likely to be repeated—as Myanmar’s history has shown.

The crimes committed in Myanmar clearly warrant an immediate referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, and we urge this body to request that the UN Security Council make such a referral without further delay.

We also urge this Council to take urgent action this session to establish the independent, impartial mechanism proposed by the Fact-Finding Mission – to collect and preserve evidence and to prepare case files for future prosecutions. Such a mechanism is urgently needed to facilitate and expedite prosecutions by the ICC, or other international and national courts and tribunals.

History will judge how this Council and its members respond to the atrocities committed in Myanmar. Member states should think carefully about which side they choose to be on – standing side by side with victims in pursuit of justice and accountability, or shielding perpetrators from scrutiny for the most serious crimes under international law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am