Click to expand Image Protestors marching to demand the end of femicide and violence against women in Paris, France, November 23, 2019.  © 2019 Christian Hartmann/Reuters

(Paris, July 23) “The world of work must not be a source of anxiety or insecurity for women.” ”France now intends to be a model in the implementation of [the] Convention, by ratifying it as soon as possible.”

France’s Minister of Labor, Elisabeth Borne, made this promise at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris on July 2. Today, the National Assembly adopted the bill to ratify the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), which sets out global standards for preventing and responding to violence and harassment at work.

This is a positive step, but France should therefore not be content merely to ratify the treaty. To put an end to sexual harassment at work, it needs now to effectively implement the Convention. France should adopt reforms in accordance with the Convention and accompanying recommendation, guided by emerging best practices from other countries.

While Minister Borne praised the strength of French law to combat the “scourge” of harassment and gender-based violence, significant gaps remain. During the debate over ratification, numerous members of Parliament expressed the importance of strengthening French law. Feminist groups, labor unions, and other civil society groups have identified specific areas for reform, and proposed concrete solutions.

French policymakers should introduce penalties for the reported 80% of employers who do not have a violence protection plan. They should make trainings compulsory for managers and raise awareness among workers of their rights. They should also oblige French companies to take measures to prevent and respond to risks throughout their supply chains, develop specific strategies to protect those most at risk, and adopt workplace protections, such as 10 days paid leave, for domestic violence survivors to seek help and safety without fear of losing their jobs.

Fighting gender-based violence is a stated priority for President Emmanuel Macron. Along with Minister Borne and members of parliament, he should act upon the reforms that feminists and trade union leaders are calling for.

France is providing a good example by striving to be an early ratifier of the Violence and Harassment Convention. But to truly earn the right to say it is at the forefront of the fight against sexual harassment at work, it should now adopt and implement national reforms.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 6:53 pm
Click to expand Image A family flees Panjwai district in Kandahar province on July 4, 2021, after the Taliban captured the area.  © 2021 Javed Tanveer / AFP via Getty Images

(New York) – Taliban forces that have taken control of districts in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province have detained hundreds of residents whom they accuse of association with the government, Human Rights Watch said today. The Taliban have reportedly killed some detainees, including relatives of provincial government officials and members of the police and army.

Journalists told Human Rights Watch by phone that after Taliban forces took control of Kandahar’s Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan on July 8, 2021, and the Spin Boldak district center on July 16, they conducted searches to identify residents who have worked for the local government or security forces. Taliban forces that control areas around Kandahar city have carried out similar searches and have evicted some residents. Local media have reported that the Taliban have taken more than 300 people into custody and have detained them in unidentified locations.

“There are grave concerns that Taliban forces in Kandahar may commit further atrocities to retaliate against the government and security forces.” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but growing evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detentions, and killings in areas under their control are raising fears among the population.”

The Taliban have told members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), including police who have been the principal security force in Kandahar, to register with them to receive letters guaranteeing their safety, a local activist reported. Those who registered are required to report to the Taliban once a month. Taliban forces have gone to the homes of some ANDSF members who had registered, taken them into custody, and killed an unknown number of them. Local activists said that in one case, on July 9, the Taliban shot and killed a man named Nangiyali, in front of family members. He was a resident of Sarposa, Kandahar, who had previously worked with the police.

Media reported that on July 19, Taliban forces shot and killed two sons of a provincial council member, Fida Mohammad, who had reportedly had a close relationship with the late Kandahar police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, whom the Taliban killed in 2018. Under Raziq, the Kandahar police were responsible for torture, hundreds of enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of captured Taliban fighters and suspected Taliban supporters, as well as tribal rivals and other civilians.

International humanitarian law prohibits summary executions, enforced disappearances, and other mistreatment of anyone in custody, which are war crimes. It is unlawful to detain civilians unless absolutely necessary for imperative reasons of security. Retaliatory attacks are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited. The International Criminal Court is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and serious human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban. Taliban commanders who knew or should have known about abuses by forces under their control and took no action to prevent or stop them are culpable as a matter of command responsibility.

“The UN, US, and other countries engaged in the peace talks should urgently call on the Taliban leadership to stop these killings and other abuses,” Gossman said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 5:14 pm
Click to expand Image Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a cabinet meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, July 23, 2021, announcing a "purge" on civil society.  © 2021 Nikolay Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP

The Belarusian government is moving to close dozens of organizations that were the backbone of the country’s once vibrant civil society.

These groups work on issues such as disability rights, the environment, media freedoms, pensioners’ rights, among others. They include internationally acclaimed organizations like the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Pen Centre, whose president is Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich, and the Belarusian Press Club.

Today, the Minsk city government shutdown Lawtrend and Human Constant, prominent groups that document and provide legal services to victims of rights violations, including pro bono legal defense, and conduct legislative analysis. The authorities used the Russian term “liquidated” which is routine for such closure procedures, but the Stalinist connotations resonate.

The forced closures came a week after sweeping police raids of more than 40 groups, seizing equipment, and arresting many of the country’s top human rights activists who are now in custody pending trial.

These recent moves are the latest in a year of tyranny in Belarus, as the government continues to punish people who took to the streets in the aftermath of the August 9 presidential election to protest what they saw as a stolen election and demand change. More than 500 people are in prison on charges related to these protests. The authorities have arrested journalists, raided and closed media outlets, and now they are eviscerating groups that protect a wide range of rights. They’ve also muzzled lawyers, who can’t even discuss charges against their clients in these cases without themselves facing charges.

We shouldn’t be surprised that a government that will resort to faking a bomb threat to force an airplane to land in order to arrest an activist, wouldn’t hesitate to take steps to shutter to swing a metaphorical ax through civil society.  

For decades, human rights and other civic society groups managed to survive despite Lukashenka’s authoritarian autocracy. They endured serial harassment, marginalization, and arrest of staff members. But this week’s purge signals the end of civil society in Belarus as we knew it. It will for sure live on, but likely underground and in exile.

Let’s stop calling this a crackdown. At a government meeting on July 22, President Alexander Lukashenka himself unapologetically called the recent actions “a purge.” These actions are a disgrace and key international actors should join efforts to stand up for Belarusian civil society and deliver a forceful response.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 4:59 pm
Click to expand Image Grave of human rights defender Azimjon Askarov, who was arbitrarily arrested, tortured, convicted after an unfair trial in Kyrgyzstan and passed away in detention on June 25, 2020. Askarov’s grave is located in Yangibozor, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. © 2020 Navbahor Imamova, VOA

(Brussels) – Kyrgyzstan authorities have yet to conduct an independent investigation into the death in detention on July 25, 2020, of the human rights defender and journalist Azimjon Askarov, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan, and International Partnership for Human Rights said today.

Askarov was arrested in 2010 while documenting inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan and had been unjustly held in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence imposed after an unfair trial marred by torture and ill-treatment.  

“Kyrgyz authorities have failed to investigate human rights violations that led to Azimjon Askarov’s death,” said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “A full year has passed without any sign of an independent and credible investigation into the circumstances of his death and the human rights violations he suffered.”  

The Kyrgyz authorities’ inquiry into Azimjon Askarov’s death was conducted by the prison service, the same authority that oversaw Askarov’s arbitrary detention for 10 years. The inquiry was neither independent nor impartial as required under international law, the groups said. It closed in May 2021. The prison authorities concluded that Askarov died from complications of COVID-19 but denied that he was ill-treated in prison. They said that no one could be held responsible for his death, referring to the challenging epidemiological situation in the country at the time of his death. 

“Askarov was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied justice for over a decade,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “His death in prison should not remain unaccounted for.”

Askarov died at age 69 on July 25, 2020, after his health dramatically deteriorated following years of worsening medical problems for which he did not receive adequate treatment in prison. It was known that he would be particularly vulnerable if he were to contract Covid-19.

Despite a number of appeals from his lawyer and family for urgent intervention to protect his health, it was only on July 24, when he had already been seriously ill for 10 days, that he was transferred to a prison hospital for examination and treatment. Tragically, Askarov died with Covid-19 related pneumonia the following day, after being denied timely and adequate medical care. As late as the day before Askarov’s death, the prison service insisted that reports about the defender’s deteriorating health were incorrect and that he was “doing well.”

The Kyrgyz civil society organization, Human Rights Movement: Bir-Duino Kyrgyzstan, filed a complaint with the court against the prison service’s decision to close the investigation, saying that it was unlawful and highlighting investigators’ failure to interview key witnesses. On  July 1, 2021, a Bishkek district court rejected this complaint, a decision that Bir-Duino said it would appeal.

In March 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and ill-treated without redress, and denied a fair trial. The committee said that Kyrgyzstan should immediately release Askarov, quash his conviction, and provide him with adequate compensation and rehabilitation.     

“Kyrgyzstan’s international partners should press the Kyrgyz government to ensure a truly independent and effective probe into his death and to finally implement the UN Human Rights Committee decision on his case,” said Brigitte Dufour, director at International Partnership for Human Rights.

The Kyrgyz authorities should comply with their international human rights obligations and promptly conduct an effective, independent, and impartial investigation into Azimjon Askarov’s death, grant compensation to his family for the rights violations he suffered, and posthumously ensure his legal rehabilitation, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, and International Partnership for Human Rights said.

“Human rights defender Azimjon Askarov deserves justice and his loved ones have the right to see his name cleared and to receive adequate compensation for the injustice served him,” said Claire Ivers, head of EU office at Front Line Defenders.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 2:11 pm
Click to expand Image President Joe Biden speaks at a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH on July 21, 2021. © 2021 Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Refugees are defined under international law as people outside their country who fear being persecuted upon return. United States President Joe Biden seeks to turn that definition on its head.

During a Town Hall on Wednesday, he told Central Americans not to seek asylum at the US border but instead to wait in their country and be processed for asylum from there.

“They should not come,” Biden said. “If you seek asylum in the United States, you can seek it from the country, from your – in place. You can seek it from an American embassy.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says otherwise; that everyone has the “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

When a government persecutes its own citizens or fails to protect them from abuse, many will be compelled to flee for their very lives. But Biden is telling these people to stay.

Imagine if other refugees in history had, at the urging of a far-away president, stayed home and waited their turn to be interviewed and processed.  

History is one thing, but consider also what it would be like to be a Salvadoran whose life is being threatened by a gang today. If you were that Salvadoran, how long would you be willing to wait to be interviewed by the US Embassy in San Salvador, as promised by President Biden, and how many more months of waiting inside your country while your asylum claim was being processed? Waiting is a luxury a person facing violence cannot afford.

It is well and good for the US and other countries to establish orderly immigration procedures, including resettlement for refugees who have fled to third countries, but the right to seek asylum in other countries needs to be respected, even though it can be messy.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders delivers the opening statements during a plenary session on the Commissions 2020 Rule of law report at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on June 23, 2021.  © 2021 Aris Oikonomou/Pool Photo via AP

The launch of the European Commission’s latest report on the state of rule of law in the European Union should be a milestone. It contains dozens of pages of analysis for each EU country on threats to democratic institutions, covering judicial independence, media freedom, and attacks on civil society.

But beyond the depth of the analysis, the report demonstrates the Commission’s lack of vision on how to end the erosion it exposes.

In the Commission’s own words, a key goal of the report is to “raise awareness and promote an open discussion.” But when a house is burning, what is needed is action.

Such a report should at the very least include measurable recommendations to states, with set deadlines, so that it can truly serve as a “preventive tool.” It should also make it clear that some European governments have moved or are moving away from the EU’s founding principles and its laws. Pretending that all EU states are at the same level gives a false picture of reality. Finally, attacks on fundamental rights and the rule of law by member states should lead to serious political and institutional consequences. It’s disappointing that all of this is missing from the report.

If they take this report seriously, the EU Commission and member states should intensify proceedings on Poland and Hungary under Article 7 – the treaty mechanism to deal with countries at odds with the bloc’s democratic principles. They should move toward adopting rule-of-law recommendations and voting to determine that there is a “clear risk of serious breach” of EU values in both countries. The Commission too should be more active in steering Article 7 forward.

The Commission should also use legal infringement proceedings in a faster and more strategic way, to ensure the EU Court can effectively block policies that erode rights. It should end its foot-dragging and use a new tool conditioning access to EU funds on respect for the rule of law.

The Commission’s rule of law report shows the institution is clear-eyed about the risks to the EU’s core principles. But without a clear strategy to translate that commitment into action, abusive governments will simply ignore it. It’s time for the Commission to take that crucial next step.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 23, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Photos of the North Korean refugees helped by the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea are displayed in Seoul, South Korea on June 11, 2019. © 2019 Josh Smith/Reuters

For months, North Koreans living in South Korea who have relatives detained in China have been imploring government officials, foreign diplomats, United Nations agencies, and others for help. They hope international pressure can dissuade Chinese authorities from forcibly returning their relatives and other refugees to North Korea.

Concerns among relatives spiked last week when Chinese authorities forcibly returned nearly 50 North Korean refugees who  now face torture, imprisonment, sexual violence, and forced labor. The North Korean government reopened its borders on July 14 after closing them in early 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing the risk of forced repatriation. The families’ fears have grown as North Korean authorities are reportedly inflicting more severe punishments on anybody trying to escape the country.

The nearly 50 returned refugees are the latest victims of Beijing’s efforts to deter North Koreans from fleeing to China to escape horrific human rights conditions at home. Based on information from sources with local contacts, Human Rights Watch believes that the Chinese government is currently holding at least 1,170 North Koreans in detention. These include 450 North Korean men in a prison in Changchun, Jilin province serving sentences for alleged criminal activities, who will be deported after completing their sentences. There are also 325 North Korean refugees in Tumen city, 47 in Changbai county, 104 in Linjiang city in Jilin province, 180 in Dandong, and 64 in Shenyang in Liaoning province.

The Chinese government routinely labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and forcibly repatriates them under a 1986 bilateral border protocol. But as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and the UN Convention against Torture, China is obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

North Korean authorities consider departures from the country without permission a serious crime. Since anyone who returns to North Korea after fleeing will likely be tortured or otherwise mistreated, all have a claim for refugee status in whichever country they reach.

The Chinese government should provide asylum to North Koreans in China or give them safe passage to South Korea or another safe third country. It should allow the UN Refugee Agency to exercise its mandate and let them have access to the detained North Korean refugees.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 8:21 pm
Click to expand Image © Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities appear to have used excessive force against demonstrators in southwestern Iran protesting lack of access to water, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should transparently investigate the reported deaths of at least three protesters and hold those responsible to account. The government should also urgently address longstanding grievances on access to water in the country.

Since July 15, 2021, people in dozens of towns and cities in Khuzestan province, which has a large ethnic Arab population, have taken to the streets every evening to protest difficulties with accessing water in the area. In interviews with state-affiliated outlets, families reported the deaths of two men during the protests, while videos shared on social media show security officials using firearms and teargas and shooting toward protesters. On July 21, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRIB) reported that a third protester in the city of Izeh and a police officer in Taleghani city were killed. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the number of deaths and injuries may be higher.

“Iranian authorities have a very troubling record of responding with bullets to protesters frustrated with mounting economic difficulties and deteriorating living conditions,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Government authorities need to ensure the right to peaceful assembly and stop security forces from using excessive force.”

There are longstanding concerns across Iran, and Khuzestan in particular, over mismanagement of water resources and pollution from oil development. For decades environmental experts have warned that development projects in oil-rich Khuzestan, including the construction of hydroelectric dams, irrigation schemes, and water transfers to neighboring provinces are causing environmental harm and leading to water shortages affecting a range of rights.

On July 16, Omid Sabripour, the acting governor of Shadegan city, told Hamshahri newspaper that “rioters” had shot a young man during the protests, killing him. His family said the victim was Mostafa Naeemavi, 30. Family members of Ghasem Nasseri (also Ghasem Khozeiri) told Fars News Agency that he was fatally shot while returning from work.

On July 20, Human Rights News Activist Agency (HRANA) reported that it had identified at least 18 local activists whom the authorities arrested. Several videos shared on social media show law enforcement personnel shooting toward fleeing protesters.

Mojtaba Youssefi, a member of parliament from the city of Ahvaz, told the Asr-e-Iran news website that 702 villages in Khuzestan province lack drinking water. He added that in the southern and northern parts of the province, “their livestock are dying” for lack of water and “agriculture is a dream for [the] local population.” The Arman Melli newspaper reported that 660 villages in the area do not have tap water and that tankers are used to deliver water to all the villages in the area.

Videos shared on social media show the body of a man identified as Mohammad Abdollahi being carried by protesters during protests in Izeh. ILNA news reported that Hassan Nabovatim, the acting governor of Izeh, denied reports that three protesters had been killed during the protests there, but acknowledged that one person died from injuries and said that 14 police officers were injured. Fereydoon Bandari, the acting governor of Mahshar port, told Fars News Agency that two police officers were shot from the roof of a building in the town of Taleghani and that one of them was killed.

Taghi Rahmani, the husband of a prominent human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi, tweeted that authorities in Tehran on July 20 briefly detained Mohammadi and several other human rights defenders including Arash Sadeghi, Arash Keykhosravi, and Jafar Azimzadeh who had gathered in front of the Interior Ministry in support of the Khuzestan protests. Rahmani said that police beat the protesters during the arrest.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life, and warnings should be given when possible. The authorities should promptly report and investigate all incidents of law enforcement officials killing or wounding people with firearms through an independent administrative or prosecutorial process.

The UN Human Rights Committee stated in its General Comment No. 37 that “[f]irearms are not an appropriate tool for the policing of assemblies, and must never be used simply to disperse an assembly.… [A]ny use of firearms by law enforcement officials in the context of assemblies must be limited to targeted individuals in circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”

Several users and Iranian reporters have reported trouble with internet access in the area. Over the past three years, authorities have frequently restricted access to information during protests.

Internet shutdowns violate multiple rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and access to information and the rights to peaceful assembly and association. Under international human rights law, Iran has an obligation to ensure that internet-based restrictions are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern. Officials should not use broad, indiscriminate shutdowns to curtail the flow of information nor to harm people’s ability to freely assemble and express political views.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the threats to Khuzestan’s water resources. Especially hot and dry weather in Khuzestan this summer has led to increased droughts and power outages and most likely to more sand and dust storms, all of which magnify the impact of the government’s mismanagement of water resources.

The right to water entitles everyone, without discrimination, “to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.” The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Comment No. 15 on the right to water, stated that a “violation of the obligation to fulfill” the right to water can occur when there is “insufficient expenditure or misallocation of public resources which results in the non-enjoyment of the right to health by individuals or groups.”

The UN special rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation stated in a 2014 report that violations of the right to water may result from action or may be the result of the unintended consequences of policies, programs and other measures as well.

“Instead of repressing the protests, the Iranian authorities should acknowledge the severity of the water crisis and commit to addressing it urgently at the national level,” Sepehri Far said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 8:00 pm
Click to expand Image President Alberto Fernández (center) with other authorities and members of social organizations, form an 'X', at the Bicentennial Museum in Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 21, 2021. © 2021 MARIA EUGENIA CERUTTI/Argentine Presidency

Starting July 21, 2021, Argentina’s National Identity Document and passports now include a third gender category, “X,” allowing people to choose to be designated other than female or male. The move makes Argentina the first country in Latin America to establish such a category.

The change comes per a decree by President Alberto Fernández, which states that “X” will be used to denote the following meanings: “non-binary, undetermined, unspecified, undefined, not informed, self-perceived, not recorded; or another meaning with which the person who does not feel included in the masculine/feminine binary could identify.”

Both citizens and non-national residents may access the designation for their documents via a simple administrative procedure.

Among the first to receive a non-binary identification document was Gerónimo Carolina González Devesa, a 34-year-old doctor, who explained what it means to have their non-binary identity recognized: “Leaving this binary [system] implies being able to start working in a world in which all people can enter and that effectively respects all identities. And it’s wonderful, the realization that this change is finally coming.”

A dozen other countries, such as the United States, Malta, and Nepal, already allow for non-binary passports. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that sets global regulations for machine-readable passports, allows for three sex categories: female, male, or “X” for unspecified. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, are planning on scrapping gender from identity documents altogether.

With this move, Argentina continues to lead the way in the region when it comes to the legal recognition of gender identity. In 2012, the country passed a Gender Identity Law that allows anyone to change the gender and name on their identity card and birth certificate through a simple administrative procedure.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Argentina has ratified, protects the rights to recognition before the law, privacy, and nondiscrimination. To fully respect these rights, states should not only allow people to change from “F” to “M” and vice versa; they should also provide them with an “X” or equivalent option.

Countries in the region should join Argentina in recognizing the gender identities of their trans and non-binary citizens. Not only is it required by international law, but it will also go a long way to fostering equality, tolerance, and inclusion for all.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 7:31 pm
Click to expand Image Jacky Ndala. © Private

On July 18, Jacky Ndala, youth leader for the political party Together for the Republic (Ensemble pour la République), noticed unusual activity outside his house in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a message widely circulated on social media, he described seeing jeeps and men in civilian clothes with radios in hand.

The men, officers in Congo’s National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignements, ANR), picked him up around 9 a.m. Ndala spent the following night at “3Z,” a notorious ANR jail, before being handed over to a prosecutor. Two days after his arrest, on July 20, a court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment for “incitement to civil disobedience” and transferred him to Kinshasa’s central prison. His lawyer said Ndala would appeal the verdict.

The arrest and summary trial came after Ndala told party members last week in the Lingala language to stand ready to “go protest at the People’s Palace [parliament]” in case a controversial draft law was debated. Known as the Tshiani or “congolité” bill, the law, if passed, would exclude from presidential office and senior institutional positions any Congolese with one parent of non-Congolese origin. This draft nationality law would discriminate against many Congolese citizens because of their parents’ nationality, further undermining human rights in the country.

The bill is widely seen as an attempt to sideline Moise Katumbi, who heads the Together for the Republic party. Although the party is currently part of President Felix Tshisekedi’s government, Katumbi himself is considered to be one of Tshisekedi’s potential opponents for the next general election in 2023.

In 2018, former President Joseph Kabila’s administration barred Katumbi from reentering the country to register his candidacy, effectively denying him his right to run for president.

The draft law has already triggered a deluge of discussion and diatribe on social media. Kinshasa’s archbishop, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, described the bill as “an instrument of exclusion and division.” Bintou Keita, head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, warned the UN Security Council of “potentially dangerous consequences of a divisive debate on nationality.”

Authorities may prosecute incitement to violence. But a rushed trial and harsh sentence suggests that the case was more about the mounting repression against dissent than a genuine matter of public order. Parliament should reject a draft nationality law that will entrench discrimination among Congolese citizens and fuel political unrest.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 4:00 pm
Click to expand Image A woman walks under a parasol to shelter from the sun in Birmingham, U.K., on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The U.K.'s Met Office has issued its first-ever Extreme Heat weather warning, stating that continuing high temperatures will lead to public health impacts. © 2021 Darren Staples/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As the UK bakes in record-setting temperatures, its meteorological service issued its first-ever extreme heat warning this week. Public Health England extended its own heat health alert through July 23, as soaring day- and night-time temperatures persist.

Yet despite known links between extreme heat during pregnancy and poor birth outcomes, authorities have yet to take critical steps to protect pregnant people from rising temperatures due to the climate crisis.

Research shows high heat exposure during pregnancy – such as in heatwaves – is a risk factor for stillbirth and preterm birth, which can cause lifelong adverse health effects and is a leading cause of infant death globally. Heat stress also threatens health during pregnancy.  

Yet unlike Santé Publique in France, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) does not include pregnant people among those “most at risk” in its online guidance for coping with hot weather. The Heatwave Plan for England calls for identification and support of people “particularly vulnerable” to heat health issues, but does not include pregnant people in its “high-risk groups” and makes no mention of pregnancy and the associated risks from extreme heat.

Ensuring heat-related protections for pregnant people is an issue of women’s rights as well as racial and economic inequality. In the UK, stillbirths and preterm births are already more likely among Black and Asian babies. Black women are four times more likely and Asian women twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women, and those living in the most deprived areas are nearly three times more likely to die than those in more economically advantaged areas.

People exposed to extreme temperatures for prolonged periods of time, such as workers in agriculture, warehouses, or kitchens, are more likely to suffer heat-related health effects. Women and people from Black, Asian, migrant, low-income, and other marginalized communities are often overrepresented among such workers.

As climate change makes heatwaves an ever-increasing reality across Europe, authorities in England and Wales should ensure pregnant people are identified as high-risk, include them in public messaging about heat-related precautions, and build this into heat action plans. The UK government should prioritize pregnant and other at-risk people for additional support, such as access to cooling centers or leave from jobs with high heat exposure when temperatures soar.

As the climate crisis accelerates, the effect of extreme heat on pregnant people is a public health risk that can no longer be ignored.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 1:31 pm

Tsubasa Araya was a gifted 17-year-old high school volleyball player in Japan. In July 2018, he took his life, writing, “Volleyball is the hardest.” As Japan prepares to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics starting this week, the abuse and suffering many young athletes there face should not be ignored.

Since 2013, there have been a number of suicides of teenage athletes in basketball, volleyball, and table tennis in Japan. All left notes blaming the suffering they endured in sport. Between 1983 and 2021, at least 121 children died during judo training in Japanese schools.

I began researching child abuse in Japan when I noticed the series of teen suicides, as well as beatings of athletes caught on video. 

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Human Rights Watch interviewed and surveyed more than 800 former child athletes from Japan for a 2020 report. Athletes from 50 sports described sexual violence, and being beaten, deprived of water, choked, and whipped with whistles or racquets.  

Athletes spoke of the “normalization” of these abuses, the lack of systems to report or seek remedies, and the absence of accountability throughout Japanese schools, federations, and elite sports.   

Many said they felt that enduring abuse was necessary to achieve success. “I was hit so many times, I can’t count,” said one athlete, referring to his treatment while a child. “The coach told me I was not serious enough with the running in practice, so I was hit in the face in front of everyone. I was bleeding, but he did not stop hitting me.”

Countless children worldwide are being abused in sport, and there aren’t adequate systems in place to stop it.

We have partnered with Japanese athletes, parents, and coaches to launch a petition called “Athletes Against Abuse” to achieve change before another generation of children is traumatized by preventable abuse in sport. The petition is available to sign in English and Japanese.

We are calling on Seiko Hashimoto, minister for the Tokyo Olympics, and Koji Murofushi, commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency, to commit to reforms to ban abuse in sport.  

One legacy of this summer’s Olympics should be the creation of a Japan Center for Safe Sport, which would allow athletes to report abuse. The International Olympic Committee needs to adopt its own human rights strategy, adopt a zero tolerance policy for athlete abuse, and stand with athletes who speak out. 

Those watching the Olympics and Paralympics can help ensure the path to the podium is no longer paved with abuse. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 12:45 pm
Click to expand Image Police agents check identity documents of passerby during the lockdown in Rennes, France. April 11, 2020.  © 2020 Sipa via AP Images

(Paris) – France has failed to take necessary steps to prevent and remedy ethnic profiling by the police during identity checks, a form of systemic discrimination, six French and international human rights organizations said today in filing a class action lawsuit against the French state.

Antoine Lyon-Caen, a lawyer before France’s Council of State and Court of Cassation, took the case to the Council of State, the highest administrative court in France, on behalf of the Maison Communautaire pour un Dévelopement Solidaire (Community House for Solidarity Development - ­­­­­­MCDS), Pazapas, Réseau Egalité, Antidiscrimination, Justice Interdisciplinaire (Equality, Anti-discrimination, Interdisciplinary Justice Network - Reaji), Amnesty International France, Human Rights Watch, and Open Society Justice Initiative.

The organizations began the procedure in January 2021 when they sent a letter of formal notice to the prime minister, the minister of the interior, and the minister of justice to press for structural reforms and concrete measures to put an end to discriminatory police practices, a problem that has been recognized by the president of the republic. The authorities did not respond in the four-month period provided for under the class action procedure. Their silence is particularly painful for the daily victims of these discriminatory practices, the organizations said.

The class action is an innovative procedure under French law that allows civil society groups to ask the court to order the authorities to take measures to put an end to the widespread illegal practice of ethnic profiling.

The groups are asking the Council of State to find the French state at fault for failing to prevent widespread use of ethnic profiling by the police and to order the authorities to adopt necessary reforms, including:

Modify identity check powers to explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks, abolish preventive identity checks, and circumscribe police authority to ensure that all identity checks, including those based on a prosecutor’s orders, are based on objective and individual grounds; Adopt specific regulations and instructions for stops targeting children; Create a system to record and evaluate data on identity checks and provide those stopped with a record of the stop; Create an effective, independent complaints mechanism; and Change the institutional objectives, guidelines, and training of the police, including with respect to interactions with the public.

The landmark lawsuit comes after years of inaction by French authorities, who have allowed the unlawful practices to continue, affecting a significant number of people. The case rests on significant evidence that police engage in widespread ethnic profiling based on physical characteristics associated with a real or presumed ethnic or racial origin.

The absence of a strict legal framework that respects legal nondiscrimination standards allows the police to use overly broad powers to conduct identity checks in a discriminatory manner. Quantitative studies have demonstrated that men and boys perceived to be Black or Arab are disproportionately targeted for stop-and-frisk actions, while qualitative reports have documented the devastating impact of discriminatory policing, including on children as young as 12. 

The legal complaint filed on July 22 demonstrates how ethnic profiling by the French police constitutes systemic discrimination – defined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as “legal rules, policies, practices or predominant cultural attitudes in the public sector…which create relative disadvantages for some groups, and privileges for other groups”– and details the French state’s inadequate response to date to put an end to it.

Measures adopted that have proved insufficient include the use of body cameras and the obligation on police officers to wear badge numbers. The authorities have consistently rejected all attempts to record identity checks and provide those stopped with some kind of record of the procedure.

On June 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights singled out France for discriminatory police stops in her report on the “Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers.” In the past other UN and European authorities have called on French authorities to end discriminatory identity checks.

On June 8, the Paris Court of Appeals once again condemned the French state for “gross misconduct” for the discriminatory stop of three students in a Paris train station in 2017 as they were returning from a class trip.

The Defender of Rights has repeatedly criticized discriminatory identity checks and called for reform. In 2016, the Court of Cassation ruled that police stops of three young men in 2011 constituted discrimination and “gross misconduct that engages the responsibility of the state.”

The Council of State has the authority to order the state to end these stigmatizing, humiliating, and degrading practices, the organizations said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 5:07 am
 Automobile companies need to do more to address human rights abuses in their aluminum supply chains. The transition to electric vehicles means that car manufacturers are forecast to double their aluminum consumption by 2050. The impacts of mining and refining the raw materials needed for aluminum include large-scale destruction of communities’ lands and damage to their water sources. The aluminum industry’s reliance on coal also means it is responsible for 2 percent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Car companies should use their increased purchasing power to protect communities harmed by the aluminum industry and apply pressure on mines, refineries, and smelters to respect human rights.

(Washington, DC) – Automobile companies need to do more to address abuses in their aluminum supply chains and the bauxite mines they source from, Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International said in a report. Car manufacturers used nearly a fifth of all aluminum consumed worldwide in 2019 and they are forecast to double their aluminum consumption by 2050 as they transition to electric vehicles.

July 22, 2021 Aluminum: The Car Industry’s Blind Spot

The 63-page report, “Aluminum: The Car Industry’s Blind Spot – Why Car Companies Should Address the Human Rights Impact of Aluminum Production,” describes the global supply chains that connect car manufacturers to mines, refineries, and smelters from countries including Guinea, Ghana, Brazil, China, Malaysia, and Australia. Based on meetings and correspondence with nine major car companies – BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Groupe PSA (now part of Stellantis), Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo – Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International assessed how the auto industry addresses the human rights impacts of aluminum production, from the destruction of farmland and damage to water sources caused by mines and refineries to the significant carbon emissions from aluminum smelting. Three other companies – BYD, Hyundai, and Tesla – did not respond to requests for information.

“Car manufacturers see aluminum as a critical material for the transition to fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Jim Wormington, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They should use their ever-increasing purchasing power to protect the communities whose land and environments are harmed by the aluminum industry.”

Aluminum is a lightweight but strong metal produced from bauxite, a red ore. Bauxite is refined into alumina, an intermediate product, then smelted into aluminum. Aluminum is highly recyclable but more than half the aluminum used by the auto industry is primary aluminum produced from bauxite.

Although many of the world’s leading car companies have publicly committed to addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains, they have done little to evaluate and address the human rights impact of aluminum production. They have instead prioritized supply chain due diligence for other materials central to electric vehicles, such as the cobalt needed for electric batteries.

Interview: Aluminum Is the Future for Electric Cars

Amy Braunschweiger speaks with Jim Wormington about how car makers can clean up their aluminum supply chains.

READ THE INTERVIEW

Because they involve surface level mining, bauxite mines take up a large area, often destroying farmland that underpins the livelihoods of local communities. Bauxite mines can also have a devastating impact on rivers, streams, and groundwater sources that communities rely upon for household consumption and irrigation.

In Guinea, a West African country with the world’s largest bauxite deposits, a government study forecast in 2019 that over the following 20 years a bauxite mining boom would remove 858 square kilometers of agricultural land and destroy more than 4,700 square kilometers of natural habitat, an area six times bigger than New York City. Approximately 80 percent of residents in Guinea’s bauxite mining region rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Kounssa Bailo Barry, a Guinean farmer and activist, estimated in January 2021 that a bauxite mine owned by a joint venture of the multinational mining giants Rio Tinto, Alcoa, and Dadco had destroyed 80 percent of his village’s farmland. “Everything about Fassaly that made it a village is gone, and we don’t benefit from what caused it,” he said. Barry’s village and 12 other communities are participating in a mediation process with the mining company to find solutions to the harm it has caused.

Refining bauxite into alumina produces large amounts of red mud, a highly hazardous material that, unless treated and stored properly, can pollute waterways and harm people who come into contact with it. In Brazil’s Pará State, a nongovernmental organization representing more than 11,000 people is suing a bauxite mine, a refinery, and an aluminum smelter over the alleged contamination of waterways in the Amazon basin.

Producing aluminum is very energy intensive and most aluminum producers rely on coal power, a high-carbon, high-polluting fuel. In China, which dominates global aluminum smelting, 90 percent of aluminum was produced with electricity from coal power in 2018. Aluminum production is responsible for more than one billion tons of CO2 equivalent annually – about two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  

Three German car manufacturers – Audi, BMW, and Daimler – have sought to promote responsible aluminum sourcing by encouraging their suppliers to join an industry-led certification program, the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI). The program uses third-party audits to assess mines, refineries, and smelters against human rights and environmental standards and other industry good practices.

ASI’s human rights standards, however, lack adequate detail and do not provide specific criteria to assess how well companies respond to key human rights issues, such as the resettlement of communities displaced by mining. ASI also needs to provide stronger guarantees for communities to participate in the audit process and more transparency over audit results.

Some car companies have, since being contacted by Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International, taken steps to make aluminum a higher priority for responsible sourcing. Drive Sustainability, a coalition of 11 car companies that includes BMW, Daimler, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo, initiated a project in May to assess the human rights risks inherent in aluminum production and nine other raw materials, which could pave the way for collective engagement by car companies with aluminum producers.

In January, Drive Sustainability also wrote to The Aluminum Association, an association of dozens of aluminum producers, “to express concern about the situation in Guinea,” solicit information on members’ human rights due diligence efforts, and express support for the mediation between communities and the Rio Tinto, Alcoa, and Dadco-backed bauxite mine.

“These positive steps should just be the start of a wider effort by the car industry to address the human rights impact of aluminum production,” said Natalie Bugalski, legal and policy director at Inclusive Development International. “Car companies should require mines, smelters, and refineries to respect strong human rights and environmental standards and make sure there are consequences if they don’t.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 4:01 am
Click to expand Image A dinghy with migrants, left, in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast on April 2, 2021. © 2021 Hellenic Coast Guard via AP

Greek authorities are using criminal investigations to harass and intimidate groups that investigate abuses against migrants at Greece’s border.

At a July 19 press conference, Greek police on the island of Lesbos announced a criminal case against 10 foreign nationals, four of whom work for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The case alleges that they helped migrants enter Greek territory illegally, conducted espionage, and complicated investigations by the Greek authorities.

While Greek police did not publicly name the NGOs whose staff members are under investigation, pro-government media pointed to Aegean Boat Report, which monitors people movement in the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Turkey. Aegean Boat Report has regularly reported on Greek border guards pushing back migrants and asylum seekers at sea borders, in some cases violently, preventing them from seeking protection.

For more than a decade, international organizations, NGOs including Human Rights Watch, and media outlets have documented multiple incidents in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men, have abandoned migrants at sea, violently transferring people from Greek islands or from other boats to motorless rafts before leaving them adrift near Turkish waters. Greece’s government denies the allegations.

The new criminal cases are part of a wider pattern. In September 2020, Greek police announced a similar criminal case against 33 foreign nationals and members of four unnamed NGOs. It appears no indictment followed.

Also, in March, May, and September 2020 Greece introduced rules on the registration and certification of NGOs working on asylum, migration, and social inclusion, raising serious concerns about these groups’ ability to operate in Greece. The move prompted interventions by three UN Special Rapporteurs and the Council of Europe’s Expert Council on NGO Law and its Commissioner for Human Rights. Last year also saw raids against NGOs in Athens, with police confiscating equipment and data.

Additionally, last June, a Dutch journalist based in Greece was arrested for “facilitating the illegal stay of a foreigner in Greece,” in relation to an Afghan asylum seeker whose application had been rejected.

International criticism of Greece over pushbacks and wider human rights concerns related to migration and asylum is mounting, including from European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. But it seems that Greek authorities prefer to intimidate their critics rather than tackle the abuses they uncover.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Tanzania Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe (center) arrives at the party's headquarters after being released from Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 13, 2020. © 2020 ERICKY BONIPHACE/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, police in Mwanza, in northern Tanzania, surrounded the hotel occupied by members of the country’s main opposition party, Chadema, and arrested 11 party members, including the party chairman, Freeman Mbowe. While the other party members are detained without charge in the Mwanza central police station, the police took Mbowe 1,200 kilometers away to Dar es Salaam where they conducted a search of his home, according to the party’s spokesperson.

Chadema members were due to hold a conference on Wednesday to discuss reforms to the country’s constitution, which the party said gives too much power to the president. The day before the scheduled meeting, authorities in Mwanza announced a ban on “unnecessary gatherings,” ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

These latest arrests heighten concerns that the Tanzanian government may be backtracking on recent promises of reform.

After the election of the late President John Magufuli in 2015, human rights in Tanzania deteriorated dramatically, particularly on freedom of expression and association. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists, activists, and scores of opposition party leaders and supporters. Laws like the 2015 Cybercrimes Act and the 2016 Media Services Act were used to censor opposition politicians, journalists, and activists.

In 2012, the government embarked on a review of the existing 1977 constitution, but the process stalled after Magufuli took office and made it clear the review was not a priority for his administration, saying his government would instead pursue development projects.

When President Samia Suluhu Hassan came into power in March, she took some measures to strengthen Tanzania’s rights record. She called for lifting on bans on media outlets, formed a committee of experts to evaluate the government’s Covid-19 response, and pardoned over 5,000 prisoners to reduce prison overcrowding.

But instead of arresting political opponents who are calling for constitutional reform, President Hassan’s government should continue with their reform agenda and protect everyone’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in line with international human rights norms.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 22, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Signs marking the national college entrance examination sites in Nagchu Municipality, Tibet Autonomous Region. ©

The Chinese government has long issued laws and statements declaring its respect for minority languages, including regulations requiring all public signs in minority areas to be bilingual. But the latest evidence from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) indicates Chinese authorities’ real view of minority languages: they come second. Literally.

In the TAR, since at least the start of the reform era in the 1980s, Tibetan has always been placed above Chinese on all public signboards, notices, and banners.

But a team of researchers consulted by Human Rights Watch has compiled scores of photographs from the official Chinese media over the past year that all show a major change: except for older banners, Chinese is now always above the Tibetan.

Click to expand Image Official Chinese government logos marking the 60th and 70th anniversaries of what they refer to as “the peaceful liberation of Tibet.” ©

The decision to subordinate Tibetan to Chinese in official signage has not been announced publicly, but it is now uniform throughout the TAR, even in remote villages, a clear indication it is a requirement imposed by the state. The shift starkly conveys to the Tibetan public what the government has not said openly.

Provisions for language use are seen by minority peoples in China as bottom-line guarantees of their distinct identity. Curbs on them tend to be imposed quietly and incrementally, as Human Rights Watch reported about policies promoting Chinese-medium teaching in Tibetan primary schools, which are carefully but falsely presented as promoting bilingualism. In some cases, these policies have sparked protests, as happened with respect to Mongolian language instruction in Inner Mongolia in September 2020.

The changed order of languages on public signs has been evident since August 30, 2020. That was the day after a meeting called the 7th Forum on Tibet Work, at which China’s leader Xi Jinping announced his new policies for Tibet. These emphasized “ethnic mingling” and “patriotic education” – policies that serve Beijing’s interests at the cost of Tibetans’ identity – in Tibetan schools.

Those policies are now being gradually rolled out. They include, for example, a new campaign in villages and monasteries in the TAR to teach Tibetans to speak the “national common language” in order to “raise population quality” and to “forge the consciousness of Chinese national community.” Tibetan is still spoken and used, but the new regulations placing Tibetan below Chinese on public signs are a clear indication that threats to the language – and therefore Tibetans’ identity – are growing.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 21, 2021, 11:00 pm
Click to expand Image Honduran men cross into the United States to begin the asylum process Monday, July 5, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. The administration of President Joe Biden continues to turn away thousands of asylum seekers under the illegal and discriminatory Title 42 summary expulsion policy. © 2021 Gregory Bull/AP Photo

“The officials didn’t let me tell them anything. They just sent me back.”

That’s what “Dolores,” an asylum seeker in Mexico, told me after United States Border Patrol agents expelled her under the illegal and discriminatory Title 42 border expulsion policy. Dolores fled Honduras after gang members killed her parents and threatened to murder her. On her first trip through Mexico, she was kidnapped for ransom, raped, and beaten. After Border Patrol agents expelled her, she was kidnapped again.

New reporting suggests President Joe Biden’s administration may continue to keep in place the abusive policy adopted by the administration of former President Donald Trump, continuing to rely on false claims that the policy exists for public health reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) improperly issued the order under political pressure. Public health experts have also condemned the policy.

While hundreds of thousands of people cross the border every day with no health screenings, asylum seekers like Dolores will continue to be expelled as long as the CDC order remains in place.

Previous reporting suggested the administration planned to officially exempt families, which it has lately done in most cases, while continuing to expel adults traveling without children. Human Rights Watch has warned this would not adequately address the abuses associated with summary expulsion.

Adult asylum seekers also flee persecution in their country of origin and face risks traveling through Mexico from criminal operatives and Mexican authorities.

Some single adults, such as asylum seekers with disabilities or chronic health conditions, or asylum seekers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), Black, or Indigenous, may face even greater risks and discrimination.

“Mario,” a Black, gay asylum seeker told me a Mexican police officer sexually assaulted him, and employers subjected him to slurs based on both his race and sexual orientation.

“Ricardo,” an asylum seeker who has been disowned by his family based on his presumed sexual orientation, said a group of men raped him twice in Mexico, after which he was diagnosed with HIV. Hospital workers subsequently denied him adequate treatment.

Leaving the Title 42 expulsion policy in place means continuing to put people like Dolores, Mario, and Ricardo at risk.

The CDC should immediately rescind the Title 42 expulsion order in its entirety to stop further endangering people’s lives.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 21, 2021, 6:39 pm
Click to expand Image Soldiers and police stand guard behind a road barricade in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 19, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar junta’s military tribunals have sentenced 65 people to death following unjust trials since the military coup on February 1, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. State media and local groups have reported that 26 of those sentenced are currently detained, while 39 were convicted in absentia.

Military tribunals handed down the death sentences in areas of Yangon where the junta declared martial law in March. In imposing martial law, the junta transferred all executive and judicial power to the head of the relevant regional military command and instituted the death penalty as a possible sentence for 23 crimes.

“The Myanmar junta has added to its mass shootings of protesters on the streets by having military tribunals hand down several dozen death sentences after egregiously unfair trials,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Apparently aimed to chill the anti-coup protest movement, these death sentences should serve as a stark warning to foreign governments that urgent action is needed to show the junta that there will be a reckoning for its crimes.”

On March 14 and 15, the State Administration Council (SAC) junta declared martial law in 11 townships in Yangon and Mandalay, following a weekend in which security forces killed an estimated 120 people during anti-coup protests. The Yangon commander, Maj. Gen. Nyunt Win Swe, was granted oversight of all administrative and judicial powers in the designated Yangon townships.

The martial law orders lay out 23 categories of crimes to be charged in military tribunals in the designated townships, all of them carrying a potential sentence of capital punishment. The designated offenses include several put in place by the junta since the coup. The majority are not capital crimes in civilian courts. The 65 death sentences have been imposed for murder charges under penal code sections 302, 396, and 397.

The martial law regulations require the SAC chair, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, to approve all execution orders. They also state there is “no appeal for decisions or convictions handed down” by a military tribunal. The only option for defendants sentenced to death is to apply to the SAC chair within 15 days of the conviction to reverse the decision. Min Aung Hlaing has the authority to overturn the decision, change the sentence to a lesser penalty, or approve the decision. The applications can only be filed through prison officials, not lawyers, Radio Free Asia reported.

Click to expand Image

The execution orders were issued in six batches between April and June. The rushed and concealed legal proceedings, carried out against civilians by military courts not properly convened according to law, have gravely deprived detainees and those convicted in absentia of their basic fair trial rights. Military tribunals in Myanmar have long been conducted behind closed doors inside Yangon’s Insein Prison, where the rules of evidence and procedure applicable in civilian courts do not apply. Those on trial before military tribunals face almost certain conviction regardless of the validity of the charges against them, while the trials are held outside the scrutiny of the public or the international community.

In the first death penalty case brought by the junta, state media reported that 18 men and a woman were sentenced to death on April 8 for allegedly attacking two military officers riding a motorbike, one of whom later died, in North Okkalapa township in Yangon on March 27. The 19 people were sentenced under penal code sections 396 and 397 for murder and robbery. Another man was sentenced to death on April 28 for the same incident. Three of those sentenced are in custody; the remainder were convicted in absentia.

A Yangon military tribunal sentenced two women and five men to death on April 12 under penal code section 302(1)(b) for their alleged involvement in the murder of a woman in Hlaing Tharyar township who had reportedly supported the military. Four are detained; three others were convicted in absentia.

On May 24, Insein prison’s military tribunal sentenced 18 people – 15 men, a woman, and 2 teenage boys – to death under penal code section 302(1)(c) on charges of allegedly killing a supporter of the military on March 29 in South Dagon. Seven are in hiding; eleven have been detained. The two teenagers, ages 17 and 15, were detained on April 17. State media reported that they were transferred to a juvenile court. Four of the detained men are brothers.

Five men were sentenced to death on May 27, four of them in absentia, under penal code section 302(1)(b) for the alleged fatal attack of a man living in Shwe Pyi Thar township.

In the latest reported convictions, a military tribunal sentenced 15 people – 13 men and 2 women – to death on June 21, charged under penal code section 302(1)(b) for allegedly killing an informant and two of his sons on March 15 in Shwe Pauk Kan Myothit, North Okkalapa township. Seven are detained; eight were sentenced in absentia.

Since February, the junta and security forces have responded with increasing violence and repression to the nationwide anti-coup movement. State security forces have killed over 900 people and detained an estimated 5,300 activists, journalists, civil servants, and politicians.

The martial law orders also allow for death penalty sentencing for treason and related offenses, several of which were put in place or expanded by the SAC to broadly criminalize protest activity and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Under the expanded treason provisions, it is unlawful to “excite disaffection against” the defense forces, effectively making any criticism of the military treasonous. The military courts have also been assigned to hear charges used to stifle dissent, including Penal Code section 505A, a new provision put in place by the junta that makes a criminal offense comments that “cause fear,” spread “false news” or “agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.”

Some detainees on death row reported being beaten by police in prison. Myanmar security forces have subjected many detainees arrested since the coup to torture and other ill-treatment, including routine beatings. Detainees are frequently kept incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or legal counsel. The victims, among them a 17-year-old boy who spoke to Human Rights Watch, described beatings, burnings from lit cigarettes, prolonged stress positions, and gender-based violence.

Other sources interviewed said security forces often transported detainees to police precincts or military interrogation facilities, where they would be beaten and forced to stand, kneel, or lie in stress positions for hours.

Myanmar has not carried out judicial executions of prisoners since 1988, although Myanmar law still retains the death penalty, and courts have continued to sentence people to death. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty under all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility, and has long called on Myanmar to ban all capital punishment.

“These bogus military tribunals are handing down unfair and unappealable death sentences under direction from a commander sanctioned by the European Union, United States, and others for committing the worst crimes under international law,” Bauchner said. “The United Nations, EU, US, and other governments should be demanding the release of all those wrongfully imprisoned and ramping up pressure so the junta knows that what they do – even behind prison doors – is being watched.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 21, 2021, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image Chow Hang-tung, Vice Chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Democratic Patriotic Movements of China, leaves after being released on bail at a police station in Hong Kong, June 5, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Kin Cheung

(New York) – The Hong Kong government should immediately drop all charges against Chow Hang-tung, the organizer of the annual Victoria Park Vigil that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, 74 international organizations and individuals said today in a letter to Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng. 

JOINT OPEN LETTER TO HONG KONG SECRETARY FOR JUSTICE, JULY 20, 2021 JOINT OPEN LETTER TO HONG KONG SECRETARY FOR JUSTICE, JULY 20, 2021

“Hong Kong authorities are wrongfully detaining and prosecuting Chow Hang-tung because she plays a leading role in reminding Hong Kong people and the world of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Massacre,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong authorities appear bent on suppressing activists who tell the Chinese government what they don’t want to hear.”

Hong Kong police banned the 2021 vigil, ostensibly for Covid-19 control. On June 4, the police arrested Chow, a 36-year-old barrister and the vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance, for “inciting unauthorized assembly” after she urged people to mark the Tiananmen Massacre by lighting candles and said she would do so in a public space. The authorities released Chow on June 5, but detained her again on June 30.

Facing heightened official pressure and threats of arrest and prosecution, the Hong Kong Alliance terminated its staff and downsized its operations. Nearly two dozen other civil society groups have also disbanded as Beijing imposed the draconian National Security Law and carries out a comprehensive crackdown on the city.

“The continued detention of Chow Hang-tung sends a message to the world that the government views even the most peaceful, solemn form of protest as a threat,” Wang said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 21, 2021, 11:00 am