Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Sanaa on August 25, 2017, killing at least 16 civilians, including 7 children, and wounding another 17, including 8 children. After an international outcry, the coalition said that it carried out the attack, but provided no details on the coalition forces involved.  

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

“The future for our defence sector is a very bright one.”

So said Fleur Thomas, head of exports for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, as her government prepares to help host Europe’s biggest arms fair in London this week. Many foreign countries will be represented, including several the UK considers to have serious human rights issues, including Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia will also send delegates to the fair, despite the UK suspending new arms sales to the kingdom following a landmark court ruling in June.

The Court of Appeal ruling laid bare the UK government’s cynical policy of approving arms sales to the Saudis whilst ignoring multiple laws of war violations by the Saudi-led coalition in its disastrous war in Yemen, some using British-made weapons. The court found that the UK government’s decision-making when authorizing arms sales to Saudi Arabia is fundamentally flawed, and rightly led the government to immediately suspend new arms exports – for now.

The ruling has also forced the government to review its decisions on authorizing Saudi arms sales and requires it to properly examine the Saudis’ terrible record in Yemen. This will be a welcome change from the UK’s previous position, when it chose time and again to ignore mounting evidence from independent experts – including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations – of the Saudis’ callous disregard for civilian lives.

But June’s courtroom victory gives only temporary respite. The fear is the UK government will, after a brief cooling off period, announce it has reconsidered Saudi’s actions in Yemen, decided there is nothing to worry about, and reauthorize arms sales.

This should not be allowed to happen. Too many lives are at stake. This week, Human Rights Watch sent Liz Truss, the UK’s new Secretary of State for International Trade, a comprehensive summary – some 402 pages long – of all the violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition that our researchers have documented.

Truss and the government should do the right thing. The documentation we and others are providing makes clear the harm that resuming weapons sales will cause.

And of course no one knows this more than the millions of Yemeni civilians who’ve spent years under bombardment, and now stand on the brink of famine. It’s time Britain put Yemeni lives ahead of its own arms sales.

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

Under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, 35 States Parties have completed destruction of their stocks, collectively destroying nearly 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions. This represents 99% of all cluster munitions that States Parties have reported stockpiling. This stockpile destruction is one of the most visible examples of successful implementation of the ban convention.

We commend Botswana and Switzerland for completing the destruction of their stockpiled cluster munitions over the past year and in advance of the respective deadlines.

The Cluster Munition Coalition appreciates the updates we have heard today from Bulgaria, Peru, and South Africa in their ongoing work to destroy cluster munition stocks. We also see Slovakia is making considerable progress in destroying its cluster munitions.

However, it is not all good news. Guinea-Bissau missed its stockpile destruction deadline of 1 May 2019 and has been in violation of the convention since then. Moreover, Bulgaria has become the first State Party to request this ban convention extend its 1 October 2019 stockpile destruction deadline by another 18 months.

This has tarnished the until-now clean compliance record regarding implementation of the convention’s stockpile destruction provisions.

Guinea-Bissau last participated in a meeting of the convention in 2015, when it attended the First Review Conference. It is nearly seven years late in delivering its initial transparency report, required by Article 7 of the ban convention. We know that Guinea-Bissau possesses stocks of cluster munitions, as it has said several times in the past that it would need financial and technical assistance to destroy them.

There is also evidence that Guinea imported cluster munitions in the past, before joining the convention. But it also has not provided a transparency report for the convention. This is essential to understand if it has stocks to destroy by its ban convention deadline, which is 1 April 2023.

It is important that signatories that possess cluster munitions, such as Indonesia and Nigeria, take steps to ratify and provide information on those stocks. Cyprus is the last European Union member state to have signed but not yet ratified the convention, and it still has not disclosed any information on its cluster munition stocks or efforts to destroy them.

It is essential that States Parties and signatories to the convention that need help to destroy their cluster munition stocks receive financial, technical, and other support.

Before concluding, it is necessary to highlight the fact that most States Parties have chosen not to retain any cluster munitions for demining training and research purposes, as permitted by the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Yet 13 States Parties are doing so.

We welcome the important announcement by the Netherlands today that it has destroyed three-quarters of the cluster munitions that it originally retained for research and training purposes. The Cluster Munition Coalition was pleased to see Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain all reduced the number of cluster munitions retained for these purposes during 2018.

This shows that the initial amounts retained by States Parties were likely too high and did not constitute the “minimum number absolutely necessary” for the permitted purposes, as required by the convention. In the view of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the number of cluster munitions that states should retain under the convention is zero.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. President.

Overall compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions has been commendable. Indeed, at last year’s Meeting of States Parties, we lauded compliance as without fault, other than urging a better record on transparency reporting and national implementation legislation.

Unfortunately, this near perfect record has been blemished this year by Guinea-Bissau’s failure to meet its stockpile destruction deadline (of May 1, 2019) and its failure to submit an extension request. It is the first State Party to do so, and it is currently in violation of the convention. Efforts by many to reach out to Guinea-Bissau have been unsuccessful.

We urge Guinea-Bissau to submit its long-overdue initial Article 7 report, including details on its stockpile, to develop an urgent destruction plan, and to submit an extension request immediately. In this way, Guinea-Bissau can come back into compliance and other States Parties can provide any needed assistance with destruction, in the spirit of cooperative compliance.

It is also regrettable that Bulgaria will miss its stockpile destruction deadline (of October 1, 2019). It will remain in compliance by virtue of having submitted an extension request (of 18 months), but this is the first such request from a State Party. We heard on Monday that Peru also expects to submit a request.

The CMC and many States Parties have been saying for years that there should be no need fo any State Party to submit a stockpile destruction extension request, if they have demonstrated appropriate political will and exercised proper due diligence—and started in a timely fashion.  After all, the obligation is to destroy stocks “as soon as possible,” and up to now, most States Parties completed well in advance of their deadlines.

Still, the record of successful compliance is impressive. There have never been any instances or even allegations of any State Party using cluster munitions, or producing or transferring cluster munitions. Together, States Parties have destroyed 99% of their reported stockpiled cluster munitions.  Botswana and Switzerland completed destruction in the past year.

Regarding three other compliance matters:

Some 89% of States Parties have provided initial transparency reports, an admirable number. However, compliance with the annual reporting requirement is not impressive, only 63% compared to 70% a year ago. States Parties can do much better.

Only 31 States Parties have enacted specific legislation to enforce implementation of the convention’s provisions, including Afghanistan this year.  It had been several years since a state had been added to that list.

The convention allows States Parties to retain live cluster munitions and submunitions for training and research purposes. Most see no need to do so; only 13 are retaining. The three with the biggest numbers (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium) have been reducing the amounts substantially. But five States Parties have not destroyed any since first reporting they would retain (BiH, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Slovakia, Sweden). It is still unclear if the current holdings by these states constitute the “minimum number absolutely necessary” as required by the convention.

We hope, Mr. President, with the Second Review Conference looming next year, that Guinea-Bissau will come into compliance, that all deadlines will be met by all States Parties, that initial and annual transparency reporting will reach a 100% compliance rate, and that all those states in the process of adopting national legislation or other implementation measures will do so before the Review Conference.

In closing, the global stigma against cluster munitions remains strong. Nearly all states not party are in de facto compliance with the prohibitions on use, production, and transfer.  The sole, glaring exception is still Syria, which continues to use cluster munitions with active support from Russia. It is crucial that States Parties continue to denounce any use of cluster munitions by any actor under any circumstances.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The remnant of a payload section of a 9M27K-series 220mm cluster munition rocket in Idlib, Syria.

© 2019 Syria Civil Defense

(Geneva) – No state party to the 2008 treaty prohibiting cluster munitions has violated the prohibition on using these weapons, while very few outside the treaty engage in this banned activity either, Human Rights Watch said today during the release of the Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 report.

“With the glaring exception of Syria, which has yet to join the ban treaty, it appears that the stigma against cluster munitions is strong and sticking, even with those who haven’t signed on,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and an editor of the report. “It is in the interest of every country be on the right side of history by acting to prevent further human suffering from these indiscriminate weapons.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can maim and kill like landmines for years.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 is the tenth annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations co-founded and chaired by Human Rights Watch. The group works to ensure that all countries join and adhere to the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions and requiring clearance and victim assistance.

According to the report, the 106 states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are carrying out its provisions with vigor and determination. Another 14 countries have signed, but not yet ratified. There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by any state party since the treaty was adopted in 2008.

Yet Syrian government forces, with Russia’s assistance, continued to use cluster munitions in Syria. Neither is a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since mid-2012, the Monitor has recorded at least 674 cluster munition attacks in Syria, including at least 38 since July 2018. Russian forces deployed in Syria possess stockpiles of cluster munition, as documented in photographs published by media outlets.

While the number of reported cluster munition attacks has decreased since mid-2017 as Syrian government forces have regained areas previously held by opposition armed groups, the actual number is most likely far higher, and new use often goes unrecorded.

Cluster Munition Monitor could not independently confirm allegations of new cluster munition use in Libya, which is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The last country to accede to the treaty was Sri Lanka in March 2018. Its permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez, has prioritized expanding the treaty’s membership since taking over the presidency of the convention in September 2018, and three signatories have ratified since then: Gambia, Namibia, and the Philippines.

Since the convention was adopted on May 30, 2008, 35 states parties have destroyed a collective total of nearly 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions, 99 percent of all cluster munitions that states parties have reported stockpiling. 

Switzerland completed the destruction of its stockpile on March 19, while Botswana did so on September 18, 2018. They and states parties Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 1,079 cluster munitions and more than 46,000 submunitions during 2018.

“While the convention’s stockpile destruction provisions have been implemented with impressive results, Guinea-Bissau and Bulgaria are tarnishing the until-now clean compliance record,” Wareham said.

Guinea-Bissau missed its stockpile destruction deadline of May 1, 2019 and has been in violation of the convention since then. Bulgaria has given states parties a request to extend its October 1, 2019 stockpile destruction deadline by another 18 months, until April 1, 2021. It is the first state party to make such a request under the convention.

According to the new report, there were 149 casualties from cluster munitions in 2018, most from unexploded submunitions left-over from attacks. This is a continuation of the significant decline since 971 victims were reported in 2016.

There were 80 new casualties from cluster munitions in Syria in 2018, the lowest annual figure since the first victims were reported in the country in 2012. During 2018, Afghanistan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen also recorded new casualties from old cluster munition remnants.

A total of 144 countries, including 33 non-signatories, voted in December in favor of an annual United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Zimbabwe, which has not signed the treaty, was the only country to vote against the resolution, as Russia abstained for the first time, after voting no in 2015-2017.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 will be presented at the Ninth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which opens at the United Nations in Geneva on September 2.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Chair, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots sincerely appreciates all the work that has gone into producing these recommendations for the draft report of the 2019 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and would like to provide a few brief comments on them. The recommendations matter because the last CCW Review Conference tasked this Group to consider and recommend “options” for addressing emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The final paragraph of the recommendations calls for the next two years of discussion to lead to a report to the 2021 Review Conference that would “continue the clarification and development of normative and operational frameworks.”

We welcome the recommendation to increase the period of time allocated to these GGE talks over the next two years. However, without a stronger mandate we are concerned that this will mean two more years of talk without concrete actions.

The recommendation to focus on “normative and operational frameworks” is unambitious to us because it does not explicitly call for a legally binding instrument. In addition, it is still unclear what such frameworks actually are or what the timeframe should be for their negotiation.

Constructive ambiguity may aid diplomacy here at the CCW, but will do little to quell growing public concerns and rising expectations that states will take strong action on this serious challenge.

By accepting this vague recommendation, the GGE would embrace ambiguity, postpone decisions about the ultimate goal of this process, and fail to show a clear way forward for dealing with killer robots.

Mr. Chair, we’re deeply concerned by the downplaying of human control here at the CCW. The need to retain some form of human control over the use of force and critical functions of weapons systems has dominated discussions in the forum since these talks began in 2014. More than a dozen states have raised the importance of this today. We welcome the new reference to human control in paragraph 24(d) of the latest draft report’s recommendations.

Finally, we see very limited attention to ethical, moral, humanitarian and human rights dimensions in these recommendations. The draft report calls for work into legal, technological, and military streams, but it downplays those broader considerations.

While the latest version adds a reference to “ethical acceptability,” much more attention should be drawn to these considerations given that they have been widely raised. Today the Holy See and a dozen states have referred to the need to address ethical and moral considerations.

We encourage High Contracting Parties to the CCW to be bolder and stronger: recommend a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems, as so many states have requested over the years. The CCW must produce a credible result.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

At the United Nations in Geneva the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots called on governments to not allow the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without any human intervention.

© 2018 Clare Conboy

(Geneva) – Russia, the United States, and a handful of other nations investing in autonomous weapons are preventing efforts to start negotiations on a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than 70 member countries of the Convention on Conventional Weapons will meet in Geneva on August 20 and 21, 2019 for their eighth meeting since 2014 to discuss concerns raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.” But the Convention on Conventional Weapons’ “all talk, no action” approach indicates that it is incapable of dealing with this threat, Human Rights Watch said.

“Most governments want to negotiate a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “But with a small number of countries blocking any progress, these diplomatic talks increasingly look like an attempt to buy time and distract public attention rather than to urgently address the serious challenges raised by killer robots.”

Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urge states party to the convention to agree to begin negotiations in November for a new treaty to require meaningful human control over the use of force, which would effectively prohibit fully autonomous weapons. Only new international law can effectively address the multiple moral, legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns raised by killer robots.

The Convention on Conventional Weapons talks began in 2014 and were formalized three years later, but still have not produced anything more than some non-binding principles. Russia and the United States, as well as Australia, Israel, and the United Kingdom, opposed calls to move to negotiate a new treaty at the last meeting on killer robots in March, calling such a move premature.

At the previous talks, almost all countries have called for retaining some form of human control over the use of force, which is effectively equivalent to a ban on weapons that lack such control. To date, 28 countries have explicitly supported a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

There is increasing evidence that developing these weapons would run contrary to the dictates of public conscience, Human Rights Watch said. Thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts, more than 20 Nobel Peace Laureates, and more than 160 religious leaders and organizations of various denominations also support a ban on killer robots. In 2018, Google released a set of ethical principles that includes a pledge not to develop artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

Killer robots would be unable to apply either compassion or nuanced legal and ethical judgment to decisions to use lethal forcce. Without these human qualities, the weapons would face significant obstacles in ensuring the humane treatment of others and showing respect for human life and dignity. 

According to international humanitarian law, the dictates of public conscience and principles of humanity should be upheld when there is no specific relevant treaty, which is the case with killer robots.

The 28 countries that have called for the ban are: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 112 nongovernmental organizations in 56 countries that is working to preemptively ban the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

“Both prohibitions and positive obligations are needed to ensure that systems that select and engage targets do not undermine ethical values and are always subject to meaningful human control,” Goose said. “The public expects greater efforts from governments to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons, before they proliferate widely – in fact, nothing less than a legally-binding ban treaty.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Chair, I am speaking on behalf of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, but should note that next week we will have a delegation of 45 people from 20 non-governmental organizations in 19 countries.  

We are grateful to you for holding these informal consultations and for your dedicated work preparing the draft “conclusions and recommendations” non-paper. We recognize and appreciate the effort that has gone into drafting a product that caters to the diversity of views that is evident in this Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

However, the proposed measures contained in the draft non-paper are inadequate and insufficient. They do not reflect the will of the majority to create new international law on this issue.

Mr. Chair, it is increasingly clear that these CCW talks on fully autonomous weapons have become more technical and less values-based since they were formalized by the Fourth Review Conference in 2016.

We’re worried that the CCW is no longer looking at key concerns such as ethics and morality, potential humanitarian impact, and human rights. It is instead prioritizing consideration of traditional national security concerns—be they legal, military, technical—over broader ones affecting all of humanity.

We firmly agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that a “human-centered approach” is needed here at the CCW. Look at how the phrase “human control” is gradually being written out of the CCW lexicon and replaced by weaker wordings of human judgment, human element, human machine interaction, human responsibility, and so on. To us, the concept of human control is stronger and necessary because it is clear and comprehensive, encompassing both judgment and actions.

We are disappointed, but not surprised that the best proposal the CCW can muster after all this time is recommend the 2021 Review Conference develop a “normative framework” on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The reference to a “normative framework” is ambiguous. Would this be a legally-binding instrument or another type of product?

The proposed mandate is unambitious as it seeks to lock in the multilateral consideration of the killer robots concerns into two more years of CCW talk but not action.

As you know, we regard more guiding principles and other measures that fall short of new international law as completely insufficient to prevent fully autonomous weapons.

This is why we seek clear, binding rules to help stigmatize problematic weapons technology and influence all actors, including states not party and non-state actors, and reinforce and clarify existing international law. A ban treaty is imperative to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, specifically over the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets.

If the CCW is deemed the appropriate framework for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems—as states here insist it is—then the only path forward is for states to launch negotiations on a new ban protocol or treaty. We’re not convinced that will be possible here at the CCW so we’re looking closely at the UN General Assembly and other avenues to pursue the negotiation of a new treaty.

Enshrining the principle of meaningful human control over the use of force requires both prohibitions and positive obligations to ensure that these weapons systems do not undermine ethical values.

Mr. Chair, before closing, I want to provide a couple of examples of the support that has been building towards the goal of prohibiting killer robots since the last informal consultation at the end of June.

Over the last year the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots coalition has nearly doubled in size, to a current total of 113 non-governmental organizations in 57 countries. As our numbers grow so does our ability to engage new endorsers and supporters. A growing number of tech workers, AI experts and companies support the call to ban killer robots.

The Campaign’s members are conducting research to deepen understandings and knowledge of the killer robots challenge. On Monday, 19 August, PAX, a Dutch co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, will release a new report investigating how tech companies are potentially contributing to the development of fully autonomous weapons.

Last month, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots participated in the 24th World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in the United States, a two-week event that brought together more than 42,000 scouts ages 14 to 17 years old from 150 countries. More than 1,400 Scouts participating in our workshops and thousands more passed through our exhibition, contributing their thoughts and ideas for future actions. Inspired by the young leaders we met at the Jamboree, the Campaign will continue gathering support from more than 50 million Scouts around the world and will engage national and regional scout organizations in the period leading to next the Jamboree in South Korea in 2023.

We have more to say, but will conclude here as we wish to hear what states have to say about the way forward.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Video: Attacks on Civilians in Border Area in Colombia

Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said. 

(Bogotá) – Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 64-page report, “The War in Catatumbo: Abuses by Armed Groups Against Civilians Including Venezuelan Exiles in Northeastern Colombia,” documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims.

“As armed groups fight for the void left by the FARC in Catatumbo, hundreds of civilians have been caught in the conflict,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Venezuelans who are fleeing the humanitarian emergency in their own country are being caught in this nexus of war and desperate flight.”

Graffiti on the wall of a brothel in Convención in the Catatumbo region, where most women working were Venezuelan exiles. The EPL (Popular Liberation Army) is one of the armed groups operating in the area.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Violence and abuses have increased in Catatumbo since the FARC demobilized in 2017 as part of its peace accord with the government. The Colombian government is falling short on its human rights obligations to protect civilians from abuses and to provide victims with redress. 

In April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 people, including abuse victims, their relatives, community leaders, church representatives, human rights officials, local authorities, justice officials, and members of humanitarian and human rights organizations working in the area. Interviews were conducted in Catatumbo, as well as some in Cúcuta, the capital of North Santander province, and some by telephone.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed official reports and statistics, publications by nongovernmental and international organizations, and written testimony given to government officials by almost 500 victims of abuses committed in the context of the armed conflict. The total number of cases is most likely higher than that recorded by government authorities, given victims’ fear of retaliation by armed groups for exposing abuses, or Venezuelan victims’ fear of deportation.

“Those who are part of the conflict do not suffer what we, as the people in the countryside …, suffer,” said a teacher in a rural school who lost his foot when a landmine exploded just meters from the school grounds. “We are the ones paying for a conflict that they started.”

Limited immigration controls and better-paying jobs attract Venezuelans to the Catatumbo borderlands. At least 25,000 Venezuelans live in Catatumbo, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Desperate and often undocumented Venezuelans have been among those forcibly displaced and killed, and Venezuelan children have been recruited as soldiers.

In Catatumbo, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes since 2017 – the majority during 2018 – according to government statistics. Some have been forcibly displaced. People have fled after armed groups threatened them for allegedly cooperating with competing armed groups or the government. People have also fled after being threatened for refusing to join an armed group.

OCHA reported that 109 people it considered civilians were killed by armed groups in 2018 alone. Armed groups have killed nine human rights defenders and community leaders, according to investigations by Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Community leaders play a fundamental role to give voice to abuse victims and help reinstate the rule of law in remote areas of Colombia,” Vivanco said. “The Colombian government should increase its efforts to protect them and ensure that those responsible for these murders are held to account.”

Armed groups have been implicated in kidnappings and disappearances, as well as rape and other sexual violence.

Children as young as 12 have been forced to join an armed group after members threaten to kill them or their families, or they join for money. Human Rights Watch reviewed testimony in a dozen cases in which families fled after an armed group threatened or attempted to recruit a child.

Armed groups are also reportedly planting antipersonnel landmines in rural areas of Catatumbo, where the FARC had also previously used landmines. Four people have died and 65 have been injured by antipersonnel landmines in Catatumbo since 2017.

Colombian authorities have thus far failed to ensure justice for abuses committed by armed groups. As of April 2019, there were over 770 cases related to murders that occurred in Catatumbo since 2017. There have been convictions in 61 cases. Only two armed group members have been charged with murder, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The office has not charged anyone for threats, recruitment of children as soldiers, or enforced disappearances, which, under Colombian law, may be committed by both state and private actors. Two armed group members have been charged for forced displacement, but no one has been convicted; 480 cases remain pending.

Assistance to the displaced, provided for under Colombian law, has been slow and insufficient, said humanitarian workers in the region. Hundreds of people have lived in temporary shelters improvised by communities. Some shelters lacked furniture or running water. Authorities have also failed to adequately address risks to human rights identified by the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.

In October 2018, the Colombian government created a Rapid Deployment Force to increase the number of military officers in Catatumbo by 5,600. Residents, human rights officials, and humanitarian workers have reported abusive behavior by soldiers directed at civilians, including accusing them of being complicit with guerrilla groups and questioning them at military checkpoints, exposing them to retaliation by armed groups. In April 2019, a soldier killed a demobilized FARC member.

To comply with its obligations under international and Colombian law, the Colombian government should put in place human rights-respecting strategies for the military and police to protect civilians. It should provide further support to prosecutors investigating abuses by armed groups and seek international support to aid people who have been displaced. It should also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the number of Venezuelans living in Catatumbo and their needs, and ensure that all Venezuelans can work legally in Colombia, including in safer parts of the country.

“The government’s efforts to increase its presence in Catatumbo through deploying the military needs to go hand-in-hand with broader efforts – like support for criminal investigations and humanitarian assistance – to protect the rights of farmers and Venezuelan exiles there,” Vivanco said.

For selected cases documented by Human Rights Watch, see below.

Beatriz (pseudonym) was raped in mid-2017. That day, she was at her job as a cook for agricultural laborers. Her husband was working on the same farm. At around 5 p.m., a group of uniformed men, their faces hidden under balaclavas, arrived, shouting why “the fuck” hadn’t the couple left since they had been “warned.” They asked if anyone else was on the farm. Beatriz’s husband said no, to protect the other workers.

The guerrillas sent men to look. Four, who had the ELN logo on their clothes, stayed. Two of them sexually assaulted Beatriz as the others made her husband watch. Beatriz lost consciousness and woke up two hours later in her husband’s arms. They fled to a nearby city, and, she said, only reported the incident several months later because of the shame and psychological trauma.

Dalila (pseudonym) lived between two mountain ridges where armed groups operate. The groups often fight among themselves, she reported to authorities, and the walls of her house are full of holes from the shootouts. One afternoon in early 2018, three men arrived at her house. They were armed and wearing uniforms, but Dalila said she did not know to which group they belonged. They told her they were going to take her oldest children, who were 17 and 14. Dalila said she told them they would have to kill her first. The men said she had a few hours to leave. She sent her two sons to another municipality where her sister lived. Dalila went back to sell her animals and fled to a nearby city. 

Alejandro Rodríguez (pseudonym), 34, is a primary teacher at a rural school in Catatumbo. Around 1 p.m. on February 5, 2019, Rodríguez went to look for a soccer ball that a student had kicked off school grounds, about 15 meters from where the students were playing. Rodríguez stepped on something that exploded, likely a landmine. Neighbors helped him get to the nearest town, several hours away. He lost his foot.

When we interviewed him in April, he said that nobody from the government had visited the area in the two months after the incident to see if there were other landmines near the school. He said he had moved to an urban area to receive medical treatment. In his rural community, he had heard shots nearly every day and children feared going to school, Rodríguez said.

Henry Pérez Ramírez, a 46-year-old community leader, went to check his crops early in the morning on January 26, 2016, and did not return, said his wife, Elibeth Murcia Castro. A man later told her that days before he had overheard Pérez Ramírez speaking on the phone with a FARC member. The FARC member had asked him questions about where the Colombian armed forces were operating and had requested a meeting on January 26.

Murcia Castro said Pérez Ramírez had previously received threats from the FARC member. She and her family desperately looked for him, and she filed complaints with judicial authorities and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office, but his whereabouts remain unknown. “What I want the most is to find him,” she told us. “And not be like this, with this uncertainty, not knowing if he’s alive or if he’s dead.”

Enrique Pérez (pseudonym), 14, arrived with his mother in Catatumbo in February 2019. They left Trujillo state in Venezuela because, he said, his parents could no longer feed the family adequately. Some days, they only had one meal, and sometimes it was every other day. He had been a student in Venezuela but dropped out to work in the coca fields, under the blazing sun. At times, Venezuelans work only for a plate of food, he said. He said that he works alongside Colombian and Venezuelan children as young as 8, and that he would love to go back to school but must work.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch. 

The report, “The War in Catatumbo: Abuses by Armed Groups Against Civilians Including Venezuelan Exiles in Northeastern Colombia,” documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Afghan special forces attend their graduation ceremony after a 6-month training program in Kabul.

© 2018 Rahmat Gul/AP Photo
(Kabul) – Afghan special forces raided a medical clinic in Wardak province on the night of July 8-9, 2019, and executed four civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Afghan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the attack and appropriately prosecute those responsible.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces entered the clinic in the Day Mirdad district. They killed a family caregiver and then detained and bound staff and family members accompanying patients. They then separated four people for questioning – the clinic’s director, a lab worker, a guard, and a family caregiver. All except the director were later found dead from gunshots. Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on medical facilities and the summary killing of civilians or incapacitated combatants are war crimes.

“Attacks on medical facilities challenge the very foundations of the laws of war, and will persist if those responsible go unpunished,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “It’s imperative for the Afghan government to prosecute the commanders who ordered the killings as well as the soldiers who pulled the trigger.”

It’s imperative for the Afghan government to prosecute the commanders who ordered the killings as well as the soldiers who pulled the trigger.

Patricia Gossman

Associate Asia Director

A member of the local health council told Human Rights Watch that at about 9 p.m. on July 8, he heard helicopters and knew a raid was underway. At 5 a.m., he and others from the health council went to the clinic and found the guard’s room shattered by a rocket that had left a crater.

A clinic staff member said that the special forces tied the hands of all the staff and visiting family caregivers and took them to one room, where they questioned them about whereabouts of the Taliban. Then they took four men with them, including the clinic’s director, Dr. Wahidullah, and told the remaining staff to stay in the room.

After the special forces unit had left, local villagers discovered the bodies of the three men who had been taken for questioning. The villagers were unable to locate Dr. Wahidullah, whom they believed the forces may have detained. The body of the other family caregiver was also found on the premises.

On July 11, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), a humanitarian organization that runs the clinic, described the incident as a “shocking violation” of international humanitarian law and said that “such outrageous use of force against civilians and health facilities constitutes a serious violation of applicable international humanitarian law and it affects provision of health services delivery to the people in the local community.” The clinic treats everyone, regardless of their political affiliation.

Afghan security forces had previously targeted the Day Mirdad clinic. On February 17, 2016, an Afghan special forces unit accompanied by international forces raided the facility, dragging away two patients and an 11-year-old child who was accompanying an adult patient, and shot dead all three outside the hospital premises.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, hospitals and other medical facilities are protected from attack unless they are being used for acts harmful to the enemy. Such acts do not include treating wounded and sick combatants. Even if a medical facility is being used to carry out harmful acts, such as to store weapons or as a headquarters, a warning with a reasonable time limit needs to be given before the hospital can be attacked.

The laws of war also protect medical workers and patients from attack. Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which is applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, states that:

[P]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed “hors de combat” by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.... [P]rohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons [is] violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds.

Summary killings of individuals in custody are war crimes. Commanders who order or otherwise assist, facilitate, aid, or abet the commission of a war crime can also be criminally liable. Governments have an obligation to investigate and appropriately prosecute alleged war crimes by members of their forces.

Night raids by Afghan special forces have increased sharply in 2019. In its April update on civilian casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted that most search operations resulting in civilian casualties were attributed to either the National Directorate of Security Special Forces or other special forces units. These units operate largely outside the normal military chain of command and are supported by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) units.

UNAMA has also noted a recent increase in attacks that have resulted in the death of health workers at facilities run by nongovernmental organizations in contested areas.

“US forces who directly support Afghan special forces – whether military or intelligence – may also bear responsibility for abuses carried out by these units,” Gossman said. “The US government should investigate its involvement in operations that target protected facilities or otherwise violate the laws of war.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Destroyed house from US-led coalition strike that killed 13 civilians in Tal al-Jayer, Syria in July 2017.

© 2019 Sara Kayyali/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – The United States-led coalition against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) should address the harm to civilians during military operations in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Independent investigators have reported that coalition airstrikes killed at least 7,000 civilians in military operations in Iraq and Syria since September 2014.

The coalition apparently provided approximately US$80,000 to victims of a January 2019 attack that killed 11 civilians, including 4 children from the same family. However, Human Rights Watch investigations into 4 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes in al-Hasakeh governorate in 2017-2018, which killed 63 civilians and damaged and destroyed property, resulted in no compensation or payments to victims. On March 23, the coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the allied Kurdish-led forces, announced that they had seized control of the last ISIS pocket in Syria.

“While active fighting against ISIS may be over, civilians harmed by coalition strikes are still suffering,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The coalition should extend the payments made in January to civilians harmed in other actions in Syria.”

The coalition has not thoroughly investigated the attacks that killed civilians or created a program for compensation, “condolence” (or ex gratia) payments, or other assistance to civilians who suffered harm from coalition operations. The US Defense Department has attributed the lack of such payments to “practical limitations” and “limited US presence, which reduces the situational awareness required to make ex gratia payments.”

The condolence payments following the January 3 air attack in al-Khushkieh, Deir el-Zor show that the coalition can provide prompt assistance to affected families. These payments were agreed upon after a January 28 meeting of members of the coalition and the SDF with representatives of the families, local officials, and leaders from the Shu’eitat tribe, a prominent tribe in Syria, according to local officials, residents, and local news reports.

Human Rights Watch conducted field investigations in February for four coalition airstrikes from 2017 and 2018 in northeast Syria that resulted in the deaths of several dozen civilians. One airstrike may have been carried out by the Iraqi air force, a coalition partner that has also conducted unilateral strikes.

Three of the strikes appeared to be unlawfully indiscriminate, not distinguishing between military targets and civilians. The fourth appeared to cause disproportionate civilian harm compared to the expected military gain. None of the victims’ relatives said they received payment or assistance. On May 29, the coalition responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries, indicating that it had not assessed civilian casualties in three of these strikes but would. It said it had opened an assessment into the June 12, 2018 strike.

“That strike took most of our men,” said a woman whose husband and sons died in an August 2017 attack on a mosque. “They died, and now their women and children are left to fend for themselves. The women without husbands are living together, and we have no one to support us. The few men that are left try to get a job but it is very far and very difficult.”

The US and some other coalition members have made payments to victims of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, not as compensation for wrongdoing but as a voluntary gesture to ease civilian suffering. They are referred to as condolence or ex gratia payments, to emphasize that there is no legal obligation to make them. While the US Congress authorized the Defense Department in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to make condolence payments to civilians in Syria in December 2016, the process for making claims has not been defined.

The US should promptly develop a standardized condolence payment process and conduct outreach as feasible with affected communities to explain and publicize the process. The process should allow safe and convenient avenues to submit claims in the person’s preferred language and should identify local partners as facilitators. Condolence payments should reflect the circumstances, needs, and preferences of affected civilians. Options may include public acknowledgement, apologies, monetary payments, and livelihood assistance.

No other coalition member has apparently provided compensation or condolence payments in Syria, despite some acknowledging their strikes killed civilians. The United Kingdom maintains that its strikes in Raqqa and Mosul did not harm civilians. Australia only recently acknowledged civilian casualties in its airstrikes in Iraq. This raises concerns about the extent to which coalition forces are adequately tracking and assessing civilian harm, and whether lessons are being learned to prevent and mitigate future civilian harm.

Coalition members should coordinate their efforts to create a unified system to track, assess, and investigate reports of civilian casualties and to provide prompt and equitable condolence payments and other forms of amends, Human Rights Watch said. In cases in which coalition forces are found to have committed laws-of-war violations, appropriate compensation should be swiftly paid to the victims or their families.

“For the civilians who suffered under ISIS rule to rebuild their lives, the coalition should include condolence payments to those families who were harmed by their military operations,” Fakih said. “Providing victims of airstrikes with some help for their suffering would be an important step.”

Al-Hasakeh Governorate Airstrikes, 2017-2018

In three of the four airstrikes, coalition forces struck civilians and civilian objects where there was no evident military target. Such attacks are unlawfully indiscriminate under the laws of war. In the 2017 Al-Helo incident, coalition forces evidently took inadequate precautions to determine whether those attacked were civilians or fighters. The attack on a mosque filled with civilians was disproportionate in that the civilian loss exceeded any expected military gain from attacking three ISIS fighters.

Tal al-Jayer village July 4 or 5, 2017

GPS Coordinates: 41°1'56"E 36°3'38"N (MGRS: 37SFV 83039 92584)

On July 4 or 5, 2017, shortly after midnight, apparent US-led coalition airstrikes hit the compound of Zarkan Khalif Salem, a sheep trader in the village of Tal al-Jayer, al-Hasakeh, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The strike hit the main house, killing a 90-year-old woman and a child, and wounding at least three other civilians. The family had been sleeping on the roof or on a nearby patio. Residents said that immediately afterward, a second strike hit a building nearby where Salem kept his sheep, killing about 40 sheep.

Fifteen minutes later, a rescuer arrived by motorcycle. He went to get a pickup truck for the wounded, the rescuer’s brother said. When he returned 15 to 20 minutes later, the plane struck his pickup, killing him and 10 other civilians. The brother of another victim said that six of those dead in the second strike were rescuers, and the remaining five were members of the family being rescued. Witnesses provided the victims’ names.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and confirmed that three independent structures, including a house and vehicle, had been struck and partially destroyed. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that between 10 a.m. on July 4 and 10 a.m. on July 5, 2017, there were three incidents corresponding to the witness statements.

Satellite image taken July 5, 2017 of US-led coalition airstrike locations in Tal al-Jayer compound that killed 13 civilians.

Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Imagery © DigitalGlobe-Maxar Technologies 2019; Sources: EUSI, Google Earth.

The imagery reflects the apparent detonation of two large air-dropped munitions destroying two buildings in the north part of the compound corresponding to the structure that witnesses said was the house. The detonation of two, possibly three, smaller air-dropped munitions destroying one building and severely damaging a second in the south part of the compound corresponded to the sheep’s location. And a third reflects a probable airstrike on a vehicle, with damage signatures consistent with the detonation of a small munition.

Relatives and witnesses said there were no ISIS fighters among the house’s residents or ISIS bases nearby. They said the closest known military target was an SDF base 9 to 10 kilometers away.

The coalition reviewed the strike following a report by Airwars, an independent civilian casualties monitor, and found on May 31, 2018 that “[a]fter a review of available information it was assessed that no coalition strikes were conducted in the geographical area that correspond to the report of civilian casualties.” However, local residents said they saw the planes attacking. No other force was conducting airstrikes in the region as Iraq only began unilateral strikes in April 2018, and the Syrian-Russian military alliance was not operating in that area at the time. On May 29, 2019, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that it had opened an assessment into the alleged attack.

Family members and residents said that as of February 9, no official from the US-led coalition or the SDF had visited the site.

Al-Helo village, August 19, 2017

GPS Coordinates: 41°5'27"E 36°5'29"N (MGRS: 37SFV 88239 96098)

On August 19, 2017, at about 3:45 p.m., a US-led coalition airstrike hit the only mosque in al-Helo village, 16 kilometers from the Iraqi border. Witnesses said they heard the plane before the strike and watched as the mosque was hit. They said the mosque, with mud walls, was struck once and destroyed, and the plane circled over the village for about a half hour afterward.

The village is near an oil rig that ISIS controlled and guarded but was otherwise in a remote area. The strike completely destroyed the mosque, witnesses said, and killed at least 24 people inside for afternoon prayer. They said there were 21 civilians, whose names they provided, and 3 ISIS fighters who had guarded the rig.

Most of the village’s inhabitants are from the al-Jazza` family. The father of one victim said that there was no fighting in the vicinity at the time, though media reports indicate that the village was on the front lines. Witnesses indicated that ISIS occupied a house on the village outskirts, where the three ISIS fighters, who were Syrian but not local, had stayed.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and observed damage consistent with the destruction of a single structure. Satellite imagery reviewed confirmed that a single building had been destroyed by the probable detonation of an air-dropped munition between about 10 a.m. on August 18 and 10 a.m. on August 20.

The father of one of the civilians killed said: “Nothing was left. I could not even find my son’s body. No one escaped alive. I could have been in that mosque that day. It could have taken us all.”

Residents said that many of the relatives of men killed in the strike – old men, widows, and children – have been unable to get jobs or provide for themselves without their heads of families. They have been forced to share accommodation and scarce resources.

The official website of the coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve says that the coalition carried out a civilian casualty assessment of the strike but concluded that the media reports submitted to the coalition contained insufficient information of the time, location, and details to assess their credibility. As well as Human Rights Watch can determine, no other military force was conducting airstrikes in the region at the time. Residents said that as of February 9 no official from the SDF or the US-led coalition had investigated or contacted them, and the families affected did not know how to file a claim. On May 29, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that based on information provided they would assess the allegations.

Al-Helo village, June 4, 2018

GPS Coordinates: 41°5'22"E 36°5'46"N (MGRS: 37SFV 88096 96619)

On or around June 4, 2018 at 5 a.m., an airstrike hit a house on the outskirts of al-Helo village, killing 15 civilians, including 10 children, and injuring 2 more, according to witnesses and relatives of victims. Both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces reported engagements near al-Shaddadi, where al-Helo village is located, at this time, Airwars reported.

Witnesses said that the plane dropped one large and later two smaller munitions. The first strike killed 9 of the 17 civilians in the house. Three survivors fled and were then hit in a strike outside the house. A third strike killed a man and two of his children who had survived the initial strike and were attempting to flee.

Witnesses said that they were concerned about follow-up strikes so only went to the strike site around 5 p.m. Only two victims there survived.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and could identify a large crater where a house had been. Satellite imagery reviewed showed the destruction of a single building from detonation of at least one large air-dropped munition between about 10:30 a.m. on June 3 and 10:30 a.m. on June 4, 2018. Two additional detonation sites were identified during the same period corresponding to witness accounts.

Satellite image taken June 6, 2018 of US-led coalition airstrike locations in al-Helo village.

Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Imagery © DigitalGlobe-Maxar Technologies 2019; Sources: EUSI, Google Earth.

Human Rights Watch spoke to one survivor of the attack and a witness from the village. They said that no ISIS fighters were in the house, which was located on a road leading to the oil rig under ISIS control. ISIS members guarding the rig often used the road.

One of the survivors said she had received medical treatment supported by the World Health Organization. However, she said that neither the SDF nor the coalition had contacted them or provided assistance, and that she did not know how to file a claim.

The coalition assessed the strike and found that “After a review of available information it was assessed that no coalition strikes were conducted in the geographical area that correspond to the report of civilian casualties.” On May 29, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that based on information provided they would assess the allegations.

Tal al-Jayer, June 12, 2018

GPS Coordinates: 41°1'42"E 36°2'47"N (MGRS: 37SFV 82717 90999)

On June 12, 2018, at approximately 9 p.m., several missiles hit a traditional one-story mud home in the small village of Tal al-Jayer, a survivor said. The strike killed 12 civilians, including 3 women and 6 children.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9. The village is in a remote area with houses far apart. The house that was hit was part of a compound with two other structures nearby where the rest of the extended family lived. The survivor said that the first missile hit the living room of the house, where the 12 people who were killed were seated:

For a while I couldn’t hear or see anything, I was completely covered in dust. Then I heard crying. Children calling out, “baba, mama.” I slowly pulled myself out of the rubble, it took maybe less than an hour. 

A second missile hit the same structure approximately an hour and a half later, at the door of the room, the survivor said. He said he did not believe the second missile caused any deaths, but that it destroyed the house. “But when the second rocket hit, no one dared to come help us until the next morning,” he said. “Everyone was afraid of the planes.”

Hellfire missile remnant from US-led coalition airstrike on Tal al-Jayer, Syria on July 12, 2018.

© Private

 The survivor shared a photo of the remnant of one of the munitions, which Human Rights Watch identified as a Hellfire missile.

Satellite imagery reviewed also showed an airstrike on the house between 10:30 a.m. on June 11 and 10:30 a.m. on June 12, 2018.

In addition to the 12 civilians who died, at least 5 wounded were taken to al-Hasakeh National Hospital. The survivor provided the names of those wounded and dead.

The survivor said that no family members at the compound were ISIS members. He and neighbors said there was no ISIS base in the village. ISIS fighters would pass through the village but did not maintain a permanent presence in the area. Earlier that evening, between 6 and 7:30 p.m., there were clashes near the house, but SDF forces had passed the house without incident, he said.

He believed the strike may have been targeting an ISIS member’s home that ISIS forces sometimes used about 500 meters away. When he later discussed the strike with SDF officials, they said that the attackers may have had the wrong coordinates. “Our house and the house where the ISIS member was present are both mud houses,” he said. “But they were 500 meters away from each other on opposite sides of the road.”

The UK authorities reported that an MQ-9 Reaper – an armed drone – had attacked an ISIS mortar position on June 12 in al-Shaddadi – an area in al-Hasakeh governorate that includes Tal al-Jayer – with a direct hit from a Hellfire missile, and coalition forces followed it up with a strike on a nearby building. The US reported that on June 12, three strikes near Shadaddi engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying two ISIS fighting positions and three ISIS lines of communication.

The US also acknowledged receipt of a civilian casualty report from Airwars regarding the incident and on April 22 the coalition told Human Rights Watch that it had opened a civilian casualty assessment into the allegation.

The survivor said that two days after the strike he had complained to the local SDF headquarters about the strike and a looting incident afterward. He said he received a non-committal response that they would look into it. No member of the SDF or the US-led coalition had contacted him or visited the site of the strike to investigate, but he indicated that the SDF had returned a bag of grain from the looted supplies.

He also filed with the Syrian government to obtain death certificates for those killed. On June 12, the Syrian government wrote a letter to the United Nations secretary-general and the UN Security Council criticizing the Tal al-Jayer attack and calling on the Security Council to condemn such attacks and take action to stop them.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should release Ola al-Qaradawi, the daughter of a well-known Islamic scholar, who was rearrested on July 4, Human Rights Watch said today. A prosecutor charged al-Qaradawi, 58, for membership and support of a terrorist group by “using her relationships in prison,” though she spent the last two years in solitary confinement.

Interior Ministry forces arrested Ola al-Qaradawi, 55, and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, 58, without a warrant over an alleged Muslim Brotherhood link. 

© Private

A judge ordered the release of al-Qaradawi, the daughter of well-known Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, on July 3, on probation, after she spent two years in pretrial detention without charge. Egyptian law permits a maximum of two years in pretrial detention. Egyptian forces originally arrested al-Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in June 2017. Khalaf, 60, remains jailed, though he has not been charged.

“The renewed detention of Al-Qaradawi, apparently for no reason other than the fact than she is the daughter of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, demonstrates how the Egyptian authorities shamelessly use the judicial system as a tool of oppression,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Facing the prospect of having to release her by Egyptian law after detaining her without trial for two years, they’ve now come up with fantastic charges of terrorist activity in prison, though she’s been in virtual solitary confinement the entire time.”

On July 3, a judge ordered al-Qaradawi’s conditional release pursuant to article 143 of Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which requires the release of any detainee held in pretrial detention for more than two years. Khalaf, who has also been held for more than two years without trial, was not brought by the prison authorities before the judge “for security reasons,” according to his lawyer. Egyptian police never released al-Qaradawi despite the court order. On July 4, a day after the order, a State Security prosecutor renewed the original charges against her, and as part of the new case regarding her activities in prison, sent her back to solitary confinement. The new case in addition to the previous charges mean that al-Qaradawi, who holds Qatari citizenship, could be held for two more years in pretrial detention under Egyptian law.

Al-Qaradawi’s family told Human Rights Watch that for the past two years, Egyptian security forces have held al-Qaradawi in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in al-Qanater prison. Her husband has been held in the notorious Scorpion prison, also in solitary confinement. The family also said that during this time, al-Qaradawi and Khalaf have had extremely limited access to lawyers and family, received no phone calls, and reported inadequate access to medical care, food, and medicine.

According to the family, al-Qaradawi’s physical and psychological health has been deteriorating over the last two years. A family member told Human Rights Watch that prison authorities have denied al-Qaradawi sunlight, a mattress, and a pillow. The family member added that they have never been able to speak to Khalaf since he was detained and do not have any knowledge about his medical condition.

Reports indicate that Egyptian authorities have failed to provide adequate medical care to thousands of political prisoners. On June 17, former President Mohamed Morsy died in a courtroom after years of grave abuses and insufficient access to medical care. Detainees have been complaining for years about the lack of medical care in prisons. Recently, the son of Abdelmonem Abolfotouh, a former presidential candidate and the head of Strong Egypt Party, told journalists his father has suffered two heart attacks in prison, where he has been held in a solitary confinement, adding that he fears for his father’s life because of the harsh conditions he faces in prison.

As Human Rights Watch reported in 2017, the detentions of al-Qaradawi and Khalaf appear linked entirely to their relation to al-Qaradawi’s father, who lives in Qatar and has citizenship there. He was sentenced to death in absentia along with the late President Morsy and 98 other defendants, only six of whom were in custody, in June 2015. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of the case shortly after the verdict found the trial was flawed and judges failed to establish individual criminal guilt.

Al-Qaradawi’s family told Human Rights Watch that following her detention renewal, al-Qaradawi officially declared to the prosecution that she is starting a hunger strike until she is unconditionally released.

After more than two years in detention, Egyptian authorities failed to bring any credible evidence to justify the charges enabling the couple’s prolonged and excessive two years of pretrial detention. Their detention has lacked any basic semblance of due process.

Under international and African human rights law applicable in Egypt, all persons arrested should be charged promptly and informed about the charge. Detention before trial should be the exception – not the rule – and the authorities should justify the necessity for continued detention before trial of individuals in regular hearings before a court. Everyone detained before trial is entitled to a trial within a reasonable period of time or be released. Prolonged solitary confinement is considered inhuman and degrading treatment and is strictly prohibited in all circumstances.

“Egypt’s prosecutors have made a mockery of the law, creating fantastic new charges of al-Qaradawi’s terrorist activities in prison, just to keep her imprisoned,” said Whitson. “Anyone who cites Egypt as a country governed by the rule of law  is choosing to ignore the despicable records of its use as a mere political cudgel.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Chair, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots greatly appreciates your efforts to reach convergence and foster common understandings through these draft “conclusions and recommendations.”

We see the priority that states are according to the many serious concern raised by fully autonomous weapons, as demonstrated by the high turnout at these informal consultations. We count more than 50 states here today. This shows there is strong interest in reaching an outcome to the past six years of talks on concerns raised by killer robots.

However, as you know, our coalition of 112 non-governmental organizations in 55 countries regards more guiding principles and other measures that fall short of new international law as completely insufficient to prevent the development, production and use of killer robots. We are certain that such unambitious measures will not satisfy the rising public concerns either.

Therefore we do not intend to comment on specific sections of this document with the exception of the draft recommendations.

I feel compelled to explain why: We fear such weak measures could be used to justify continued investments in autonomous weapons, paving the way for widespread production, proliferation and use of fully autonomous weapons with devastating consequences for humanity. Is that the purpose of these diplomatic talks?

Indeed, over the time of these talks we have seen military powers becoming increasingly bold in their desire to consider perceived advantages and benefits that “LAWS” could bring. A look at some of the working papers submitted in these talks helps demonstrate this trend. In March, Russia provided a paper on the “potential opportunities and limitations of military uses” of killer robots, while Australia pitched its “system of control and applications for autonomous weapon systems.” Last year, the US provided a paper elaborating on the “humanitarian benefits” of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.

We don’t want to live in a world where machines choose targets and use violent force based only on sensor data and algorithms, without meaningful human control. Do you?

If the CCW is deemed the appropriate framework for dealing with LAWS, then the only path forward is for states to negotiate a new CCW protocol. If the CCW wants to be seen as responsive, relevant, and the standard-bearer for traditional disarmament diplomacy then you must move to negotiate a new CCW protocol.

Mr Chair, of this six-page document and its four paragraphs of recommendations only one line matters, and that’s Paragraph 14. We don’t understand the rationale for the other recommendations. What does it mean to “operationalize” guiding principles? Why discuss “best practices” if the CCW says lethal autonomous weapons systems don’t yet exist? The proposed working groups reflect how the CCW used to function a long time ago and that was helpful when negotiating text of a legally-binding instrument. But what would working groups do if the goal is unclear?

Concerning Paragraph 14 we have some comments and questions on that draft recommendation:

  1. When we read this document, we looked for the word “legally-binding instrument” and it is incomprehensible to us that it is not included when so many states have expressed their desire to launch negotiations on a new protocol or treaty stipulating prohibitions and restrictions on LAWS. It’s unclear to us what a “normative instrument” is supposed to mean in practice. It would appear that such an “instrument” would not be legally-binding.
  2. Paragraph 14 proposes continuing these talks for another two years to “work towards developing a framework.” This sounds weak and unambitious. What does this even mean? It would be much clearer to “launch negotiations” on a legally binding instrument to require meaningful human control over the use of force and thereby prohibit fully autonomous weapons.
  3. The proposal of a timeframe for achieving an outcome is admirable, but it will be impossible to contain this issue to the CCW for another two years if this forum remains all talk and no action. We’ve been here before. If you decide not to negotiate a new treaty here, then those states keen to adopt one will move down another path to achieve this goal together with our Campaign.

To close, you often hear our Campaign to Stop Killer Robots claim that “momentum is building” towards the goal of prohibiting killer robots. That’s clearly not the case in this room, which is moving backwards. But outside of it we see many expressions of support for launching negotiations. Here’s a few examples since the last informal consultation in May:

  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his concerns with killer robots in his address to the third Artificial Intelligence for Good Global Summit in Geneva on 28 May, providing LAWS as a key example of where a legally-binding instrument is needed;
  • Finland’s new government published its coalition programme on 3 June, committing to pursue international negotiations “to ban the development and production of weapons systems based on artificial intelligence;”
  • Nobel Peace laureates and others launched a “Normandy Peace Manifesto” at a 6 June forum, highlighting the urgent need to prohibit killer robots and admonishes major powers who “oppose the new arms control initiatives” and “abandon existing treaties;”
  • The UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation issued its report on 10 June, which explicitly supports the call to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems;
  • Over 680 Norwegian artificial intelligence experts, technologists, scientists, and academics issued an open letter on 19 June urging Norway to lead an international effort to prohibit fully autonomous weapons;
  • Campaigners in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, UK and the US have held events and gave presentations exploring the serious threats posed by fully autonomous weapons and the urgent need for political leadership to held adopt a new treaty to prohibit killer robots.

All this in just the past month. You can expect this outreach to intensify and multiply over the coming weeks and months. We urge you to consider: How will the CCW’s lackluster effort meet the rising expectations that killer robots will be prohibited through a new treaty?

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

US President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, March 20, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

In a powerful rebuke to the Trump administration and a strong signal to Gulf states, the US Senate voted yesterday, 53 to 45, to block arms sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among other countries.

The vote came on the heels of a landmark court decision in the United Kingdom resulting in an immediate suspension of new licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and of the release of a damning UN report, earlier in the week, from the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, detailing the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a US resident and Washington Post journalist who was killed in October 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Callamard said that Saudi Arabia was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation of senior Saudi officials, including the Saudi Crown Prince himself. It’s been a cascade of bad news for Muhammed bin Salman this week and a positive step forward for human rights and accountability.

Human Rights Watch has documented scores of abuses, including apparent war crimes, by the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen, and has repeatedly demanded justice for Khashoggi’s murder. Despite targeted US sanctions on 17 individuals, the Saudis have proceeded with almost total impunity – on both Khashoggi’s death and on the abuses in Yemen. And despite these apparent crimes, the Trump administration has continued to sell the Saudis billions of dollars in weapons.

But the tide is starting to turn in Congress now. In recent months, Congress has introduced a flurry of resolutions and bills in response to both Khashoggi’s murder and Saudi’s destructive campaign in Yemen, as well as to broader human rights concerns domestically – including the detention and torture of women’s rights activists, detained merely for their rights advocacy.

The White House has made clear that if the Senate resolution reaches the president’s desk, as it likely will, Trump will veto it. Congress should keep up the pressure to ensure a more principled approach towards Saudi Arabia.   

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