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

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

UK Suspends Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The UK government today stopped all arms sales to Saudi Arabia after losing a landmark case at London’s Court of Appeal. Here’s our reaction from outside court today. #StopArmingSaudi

Yesterday I walked a route I know well from my former days as a trainee lawyer, through the cavernous Royal Courts of Justice in London, to hear three judges issue a ruling. It was all over in 15 minutes, but my colleagues and I left stunned after the Court of Appeal ruling led the UK government to suspend – for now – new licenses for UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

How did this happen? Saudi Arabia has led a coalition fighting a war in Yemen since 2015. Human Rights Watch and others have documented numerous unlawful airstrikes against civilians and other laws-of-war violations by coalition forces, as well as abuses by the opposing Houthi armed group. As of mid-March, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified the deaths of 7,072 civilians over the previous four years, with 11,205 injured. The real toll may be far higher.

Despite the abuses, the UK government has defended its continued weapons sales to the Saudis. It said that when considering whether to license arms sales to a country, it will not allow arms exports if there is a “clear risk” that they might be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.

15 minutes of courtroom drama and suddenly the UK had stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

See @cliveabaldwin for the inside story here:

And below our reaction from outside court...#StopArmingSaudi

— Stephanie Hancock (@hancock_steph) June 21, 2019

Until now, the government has maintained it is unable to determine if there have been violations – ignoring on-the-ground research by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others who have exhaustively catalogued apparent unlawful attacks. The government used this to justify continued arms sales.

But in court yesterday, the UK’s position was comprehensively dismantled. Judges ruled the government’s process for licensing arms exports is unlawful, and as a result the government agreed to immediately suspend all future licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

After years of fighting for this outcome, it was hard to absorb the enormity of yesterday’s decision. And it’s only temporary, of course, because the UK government can be expected to appeal the decision.

But the shock of this verdict will reverberate to Riyadh and beyond. And it will put other EU countries that sell arms to Saudi – such as France – on notice too.

Rather than trying to fight this in court, perhaps the UK government should simply stop arms sales to Saudi and tell its close ally that it cannot obtain any more British weapons until it stops unlawfully harming Yemeni civilians – and holds accountable those responsible for past crimes.

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

Remnant of a Paveway IV guided bomb that struck the Hodaida warehouses.  The national stock number on the wing assembly indicates that Raytheon in the United Kingdom manufactured the bomb in May 2015, after the start of the war. 

© 2016 Priyanka Motaparthy/Human Rights Watch

(London) – The Court of Appeal in London ruled on June 20, 2019 that the United Kingdom government’s refusal to consider Saudi Arabia’s laws-of-war violations in Yemen before licensing arms sales was unlawful, Human Rights Watch said today.

The landmark decision requires the UK government to reconsider its decision on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The UK government has agreed to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately until it makes a new lawful decision on arms licenses or obtains a new court order. France and other European countries should immediately also halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said.

“The UK government boasts of having the most robust arms control regime in the world but now the court has spelled out what this actually means,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “The UK government now has to take into account Saudi Arabia’s appalling record of unlawful attacks on Yemeni civilians when it decides if it can approve arms exports to that country.”

The legal case was brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Human Rights Watch, together with Amnesty International and RWUK, intervened as third parties, as did Oxfam International. The judgment addresses the standards, agreed by all European Union member states, that say governments should not license arms exports when there is a clear risk that the weapons might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). 

The Court of Appeal ruled that it was unlawful for the UK government not to consider whether there was a record of Saudi Arabia violating the laws of war in the conflict in Yemen, when deciding to issue licenses for arms exports. The UK Department for International Trade, responsible for approving arms exports, will now have to decide whether to carry out the court ruling by reconsidering arms export licenses, or appeal the ruling.

The ruling has important implications across Europe. The judgment addressed European Union standards for arms sales to countries with a record of abuse. These standards mean that no European state should approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia given its record in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.

A growing number of European countries have halted weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, and Austria. The European Parliament has called for a common EU position banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The US Congress has also voted to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition military campaign in Yemen. However, other countries, including France, continue to approve weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

Since the coalition began its aerial campaign in Yemen in 2015, the UK has licensed at least £4.7 billion (US$5.9 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Court of Appeal noted the work of Human Rights Watch and other organizations documenting violations in Yemen, stating the ‘major NGOs’ and the United Nations “had a major contribution to make in recording and analyzing events on the ground in the Yemen conflict.”

Human Rights Watch researchers have regularly visited Yemen and documented the use of weapons, including weapons made in the UK, in unlawful airstrikes. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Yemeni rights groups have repeatedly documented attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, some most likely war crimes, that have hit markets, schools, hospitals and homes, and killed and wounded thousands of civilians.

Since 2016, Human Rights Watch has called for all countries to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the Saudi-led coalition ends its unlawful attacks and credibly investigates those that have already occurred.

Coalition violations in Yemen continue. On May 27, airstrikes hit a petrol storage building in Taizz, killing 12 civilians including four children, news reports said. On May 16, airstrikes hit a residential building in Sanaa, the Houthi-controlled capital, killing several civilians including five children, the UN reported. On August 9, 2018, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 26 children and wounded at least 19 more in or near a school bus in in the busy market of Dhahyan, in northern Yemen. On October 24, the coalition struck a vegetable packaging facility, killing 21 civilians, according to a UN report.

The Houthi armed group has also committed serious violations of the laws of war, including laying landmines that kill civilians, recruiting children to fight, taking civilians hostage and torturing them, and deliberately or indiscriminately launching missiles at civilian airports and other civilian sites.

The Saudi-led coalition Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), established in 2016 with UK support to investigate “claims and accidents” during coalition military operations in Yemen, has fallen far short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. Instead, it has sought to shield the coalition from accountability by providing deeply flawed laws-of-war analyses and reaching dubious conclusions in its investigations.

“The UK will now have to rethink its strategy of selling arms to Saudi Arabia because of its rights record, and other European governments should be on notice too,” Baldwin said. “The UK and other allies of Saudi Arabia should be pressing it to end its unlawful attacks in Yemen.”

Human Rights Watch and the other interveners were legally represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn and Jemima Stratford QC, Nik Grubeck and Anthony Jones. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kang Kyung-wha

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

60, Sajik-ro 8-gil

Jongno-gu, Seoul 03172

Republic of Korea


RE: Mine clearance in the DMZ and the Mine Ban Treaty


Dear Minister Kang Kyung-wha,

I am writing on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, regarding recent initiatives to demine certain areas of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. While we recognize as a positive step the joint effort with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to remove mines from the Joint Security Area and Arrow Head Hill, we note that those areas represent only a small fraction of the total landmine contaminated land in the DMZ.

We call on the Republic of Korea to undertake more comprehensive clearance initiatives in the DMZ and elsewhere in the Republic of Korea. As representatives of international civil society groups working on landmine issues, we stand ready to support your efforts aimed toward a mine-free Korean Peninsula.

The Republic of Korea stated for the first time in October 2017 that it was “fully committed to the objectives and purposes” of the “Ottawa” Mine Ban Treaty. However, the South Korean government continues to maintain the situation on the Korean Peninsula prevents it from acceding to the treaty.

We note that in recent decades, states have fought a wide range of conflicts, ranging from low to high intensity in a variety of environments, and have demonstrated that it is possible to employ alternative strategies, tactics, and weaponry without having to resort to antipersonnel mines.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty on March 1, 1999, as well as its milestone Fourth Review Conference.

To date, the treaty remains one of the most successful humanitarian disarmament treaties. With 164 countries on board, and many others in de facto compliance, the treaty has nearly eliminated the production, trade, and use of antipersonnel landmines by states, thus contributing to saving people’s lives and limbs every day. The Republic of Korea has an opportunity to strengthen the international norm against landmines by joining the treaty or, at a minimum, committing to actions in the spirit of the treaty. Such positive actions could include voting in favor of United Nations General Assembly resolutions expressing support for the treaty, attending meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, or announcing a moratorium on production or use of landmines.

We encourage the South Korean government to take advantage of the window of opportunity created by last year’s agreement to clear portions of the DMZ, and immediately move to expand clearance initiatives to the entirety of the Korean peninsula. Additionally, we strongly encourage the Republic of Korea to participate in the Mine Ban Treaty’s Fourth Review Conference in Oslo, Norway on November 24 to 29, 2019.

We appreciate your consideration of these important recommendations and would be happy to meet with the Republic of Korea’s delegation to the Mine Ban Treaty meeting this November.


Sincerely yours,


Steve Goose

Executive Director, Arms Division


Brad Adams

Executive Director, Asia Division


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A sign warning “only the road has been checked,” in the village of Ruwais, Mokha district.

© 2018 Private
(Washington, DC) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should go beyond supporting mine clearance efforts in Yemen and renounce all use of these indiscriminate weapons by joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of a June 13, 2019 seminar on the humanitarian impact of landmines in Yemen.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a coalition of states that has conducted thousands of airstrikes in Yemen in support of the government against the Houthi, who control much of the country. Saudi Arabia has promoted its mine clearance effort in Yemen, Operation MASAM, as a humanitarian project to clear mines used in Yemen by Houthi and al Qaeda forces. The UAE is investing significant effort to clear mines from Hodeidah governorate and elsewhere in Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE hope to burnish their tarnished humanitarian credentials by funding mine clearance in Yemen, but that effort is undermined by their failure to ban all use of antipersonnel mines,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. “It makes little sense to spend millions clearing landmines if you insist on the right to use these weapons.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not among the 164 nations that have joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The treaty came into force on March 1, 1999 and comprehensively bans antipersonnel landmines. It provides the humanitarian framework for their eradication by requiring clearance of mined areas within 10 years, destruction of landmine stocks within 4 years, and assistance to mine victims.

Yemen has joined the Mine Ban Treaty, but Houthi forces have used landmines along the coast, along the border with Saudi Arabia, around key towns, along roads, and to cover retreats. Houthi authorities should immediately cease using these weapons, and credibly investigate and appropriately punish commanders responsible for their use, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has documented about 90 apparently unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-UAE coalition, which have left explosive remnants. The coalition has also used banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons.

Human Rights Watch has also called attention to the inadequate safety standards of the landmine clearance program in Yemen as at least 11 deminers have died over the past six months while working to clear mines. Saudi and UAE-funded demining operations should coordinate with Yemeni and international humanitarian demining groups to ensure that information on contamination and clearance is fully shared between all clearance groups.

From 2013 to 2017, international assistance to mine clearance in Yemen totaled some US $23 million, fluctuating from a low of less than $1 million in 2014 to a high of $11.9 in 2017.

Around the world, more than 55 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines have been destroyed since the Mine Ban Treaty went into effect. More than two dozen countries have completed mine clearance to become mine-free, but there are still uncleared landmines in 60 more countries and areas. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, the annual number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war has decreased significantly. According to the annual Landmine Monitor report, Myanmar, which has not signed the treaty, is the only country still using antipersonnel mines, while non-state armed groups in at least eight countries use antipersonnel mines, usually improvised mines.

Nearly all of the 33 countries that have not joined the treaty follow its key provisions, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Neither country is known to have produced, exported, or used antipersonnel mines. But according to Landmine Monitor, Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to stockpile antipersonnel mines.

“The ongoing conflict in Yemen is causing a humanitarian crisis and resulting in a deadly legacy of not only landmines, but explosive remnants of war, which threaten lives and limbs,” Goose said. “The dire situation on the ground is making systematic survey and clearance of contaminated areas a huge challenge.”

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition conducting military operations in Yemen has used ground-fired and air-dropped cluster munitions there since 2015, killing and wounding civilians. The cluster munition attacks have resulted in explosive remnants of war, particularly unexploded submunitions, that will threaten lives and limbs for years to come unless they are cleared. Saudi Arabia and the UAE should also take steps to accede to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, Human Rights Watch said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE occasionally participate as observers in Mine Ban Treaty meetings but have never stated their views on this topic. Every year since 1997, the UAE has voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting the Mine Ban Treaty, while Saudi Arabia has consistently abstained.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, and Syria also have yet to ban landmines.

Human Rights Watch is a cofounder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate together with Jody Williams. Human Rights Watch contributes to the Campaign’s Landmine Monitor research initiative, which assesses implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty and adherence to the emerging norm stigmatizing antipersonnel mines. 

The Mine Ban Treaty’s milestone Fourth Review Conference will take place in Oslo, Norway on November 25-29, 2019, which is where the Mine Ban Treaty was negotiated and adopted in September 1997. All countries are invited to participate in treaty meetings regardless of whether they have joined.

“Saudi Arabia and UAE should use the platform provided by the Mine Ban Treaty’s Review Conference to announce the steps they will take to join this treaty,” said Goose.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man inspects the destruction left by overnight air strikes targeting residential areas at Kafr Nabl in the rebel-held Idlib Province, Syria, May 20 2019. 

© 2019 Anas Alkharboutli/AP Images

(Beirut) – The Russian-Syrian joint military operation has used internationally banned and other indiscriminate weapons in unlawful attacks on civilians in northwest Syria in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. According to the United Nations, the area is home to 3 million civilians, at least half of whom had been displaced from elsewhere in Syria.

Since April 26, 2019, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has carried out hundreds of attacks every day across areas in the Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates under the control of anti-government groups, killing an estimated 200 civilians, including 20 children. The alliance has used banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in the attacks along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including “barrel bombs” in populated civilian areas, based on reports by first responders, witnesses, and open-source material. On May 17, the UN Security Council held a second emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Northwest Syria but failed to identify a way to protect civilians there.

“The Syrian-Russian military alliance is using a cocktail of internationally banned and indiscriminate weapons on a trapped civilian population,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia has abused its position at the UN Security Council to protect itself and its ally in Damascus, and to continue these abuses against civilians.”

Fighting escalated in the region in April after a six-month ceasefire. Russia has provided military and political support for the Syrian government as it bombed over 20 health facilities out of service since April 26, including those whose coordinates had been provided to the UN and Russia with the explicit purpose of protecting them. May 26 news reports indicated that Turkey was arming antigovernment fighters, in response to ongoing Russian-Syrian strikes.

In the past three weeks, first responders and activists have publicly documented at least 10 attacks using 220mm Uragan cluster munition rockets in addition to attacks with rocket-delivered incendiary weapons, alongside other indiscriminate attacks on civilians using air-dropped bombs. Human Rights Watch investigated one cluster munition attack on May 19, and a second attack using a large bomb dropped from the air on May 23, and reviewed open-source material and interviewed one first responder for three incendiary weapon attacks – on May 13, 25, and 26.

The May 19 and May 23 attacks killed at least 13 people, including 3 children, according to local witnesses and first responders.

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery systems, rockets, and projectiles, or dropped from 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. Incendiary weapons, which produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, cause excruciating burns and destroy homes and other civilian structures.

As one witness to a May 23 cluster munition strike in Kafr Nabl put it: “Cluster munitions are the worst, because they are used with the intent to mainly harm humans. All the shrapnel. And then if they don’t explode, the risk remains – it prevents you from moving in your own house.” Several 9N235 fragmentation submunitions from the Uragan cluster munition rockets were found at the site of the attack that had not detonated on impact or self-destructed, based on images provided to and reviewed by Human Rights Watch.

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits using cluster munitions, while Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) prohibits certain uses of incendiary weapons. Russia and Syria are not among the 120 countries that have banned cluster munitions, while Russia is a party to the CCW protocol on incendiary weapons.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed open-source material shared by first responders and activists after the May 25 incendiary weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. Human Rights Watch assessed a time series of satellite imagery and identified extensive burn scars on agricultural land along the western side of Khan Sheikhoun, consistent with the video and testimony. These burn scars measured approximately 175,000 square meters  in total area and were the result of intense fires occurring within a 24-hour period between the morning of May 24 and 25, 2019.

First responders, journalists, and activists also reported May 13 and May 26 incendiary weapons attacks targeting Kafr Zita in Hama governorate. Human Rights Watch reviewed publicly available videos, which again showed the burning incendiary capsules descending to the ground. Local human rights organizations confirmed that incendiary weapon attacks occurred on those two dates in Kafr Zita.

With the Turkish border closed, and no other areas remaining under the control of antigovernment groups, civilians in affected areas who fear persecution in government-controlled areas effectively have nowhere to flee the violence.

While Russia and Syria announced the creation of two humanitarian corridors from Idlib, residents told Human Rights Watch that they do not want to evacuate to government-held areas for fear of persecution. Residents also said they did not have the money for shelter and transportation to relocate to safer areas either within or outside Syria.

As a member of the joint military operation, Russia is jointly responsible for unlawful attacks by the Syrian government. Providing weapons or material support to a country or nonstate actor knowing that it is likely to use them in a serious violation of international law creates risk of complicity for the supplier/supporter. Russia should urge its ally to immediately stop unlawful attacks and the use of prohibited weapons.

Russia has used its veto to prevent the UN Security Council from adopting meaningful measures to protect civilians from unlawful attacks in Syria. Members of the UN Security Council and concerned countries should make clear to all parties to the conflict that there will be no normalization or business as usual so long as the Russian-Syrian alliance employs these unlawful tactics, and that those responsible for violations will be held to account.

Other countries widely condemned the use of incendiary weapons in Syria at the November 2018 meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. More than a dozen sought to dedicate time in future meetings to discuss their concerns and how to prevent further human suffering from these cruel weapons, which burn their victims and start fires that destroy infrastructure. However, Russia blocked proposals to keep the treaty’s Protocol III on incendiary weapons on the agenda for 2019. Russia was also able to scuttle further consideration about other pressing humanitarian concerns around the use of other weapons, such as antivehicle landmines.

“What is happening in Idlib today is the latest chapter in eight years of failure to protect civilians in Syria,” Fakih said. “But to ensure that the final act is not the tragedy we are anticipating, the Security Council and UN member countries should signal to Russia that it will bear a heavy cost if it does not halt these unlawful attacks.”

Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations behind the treaty banning cluster munitions.

May 19: al-Biras neighborhood in Kafr Nabl

In an aerial attack on May 19, between 9 and 9:30 p.m. local time, the Syrian-Russian military alliance struck two houses in al-Biras neighborhood in Kafr Nabl, killing 10 civilians, including 4 children, according to a survivor and second witness. No other countries are operating aircraft in the Idlib region.

They said aircraft attacked 10 or 11 times in the span of minutes, destroying two homes almost in their entirety:

We were sitting inside. Suddenly something, pressure, it moved us. Windows fell. Doors opened up. Glass flew everywhere. It was horrible. The second strike, around a minute, a minute and fifteen seconds later, was similar – you’re sitting and you suddenly hear the explosion, you don’t hear the warplane, you don’t hear the [munitions], you don’t hear anything, except the explosion. The third strike was a minute later. Fourth also, between each strike and another, a minute or less. Horrible day. You don’t hear it. You cannot feel [whether] it is going to hit you or not. Suddenly, flames erupt, and there are stones from every direction.

A relative who had gone running to the homes after the first strike said that due to the intensity of the strikes, he and others were unable to pull people out of the rubble. Both people interviewed provided the names of the casualties, who they said were related to them.

Both said that the munitions used were large bombs dropped from an aircraft based on the noise and extent of destruction, and described a crater from one strike that was 20 meters wide and 10 deep. Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain pictures of the remnants to confirm the type of weapon used, but reviewed images provided by the survivor, which showed a house partially destroyed and significant amounts of rubble and dust.

Both said that there was no military presence or headquarters in the neighborhood, and that the neighborhood traditionally had been one of the safest in the governorate, where people would come when strikes hit elsewhere.

May 23: Kafr Nabl

A first responder and three other witnesses said that on May 23, at approximately 11 a.m., the Syrian-Russian military alliance attacked a market in the center of the town of Kafr Nabl, near a health clinic, with eight ground-launched 220mm Uragan rockets, four of which were cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has determined the involvement of the Syrian-Russian military alliance, based on the munitions, delivery systems, and target areas.

The witnesses said that three civilians, including a 21-year-old student at Idlib University and a child, were killed. Nine more were injured. A first responder who transferred some of the injured to a nearby medical point said that: “People’s bodies are literally littered with wounds.”

First responders and witnesses said that the submunitions popped like gunshots, and that some remained unexploded in the streets. One witness said he saw two of them explode in the air, and estimated that they were launched from south of Kafr Nabl, in the northern Hama countryside.

Activists and first responders provided images of unexploded 9N235 submunitions and a video taken when the attack occurred, which Human Rights Watch was able to use to positively identify the weapon used. The photographs also included a remnant at the site of the cargo section of the 220mm Uragan cluster munition rocket, which carries 30 fragmentation submunitions called 9N235.

Two witnesses said that this was not the first time that they observed the Syrian-Russian alliance using cluster munitions to attack Kafr Nabl. They described an April 4 cluster munition attack that killed at least 14 civilians and injured 30 others. A witness described hearing two loud explosions at around 10 a.m. that day, and then tiny explosions as the submunitions exploded.

He said the attack was very close to his house in Kafr Nabel, and he opened the door of his house to find a woman and child dead nearby. He transported the bodies to the nearest medical point. The witness provided images of the cluster munition remnants, which Human Rights Watch identified as an unexploded Russian/Soviet-made 9N235 fragmentation submunition. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Egypt: War Crimes in North Sinai

 Human Rights Watch’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians.

(Beirut) – Egyptian military and police forces in the Sinai Peninsula are committing serious and widespread abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Some of these abuses, part of an ongoing campaign against members of the local ISIS affiliate, the Sinai Province group, amount to war crimes.

The 134-page report, “‘If You Are Afraid for Your Lives, Leave Sinai!’: Egyptian Security Forces and ISIS-Affiliate Abuses in North Sinai,” provides a detailed look into an underreported conflict that has killed and wounded thousands of people – including civilians, militants, and members of the security forces – since fighting escalated in 2013. Human Rights Watch’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes, including kidnapping and torturing scores of residents, killing some, and extrajudicially executing detained security force members.

“Instead of protecting Sinai residents in their fight against militants, the Egyptian security forces have shown utter contempt to residents’ lives, turning their daily life into a nonstop nightmare of abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This horrific treatment of Sinai residents should be another wake-up call to countries like the US and France that heedlessly endorse Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 54 North Sinai residents between 2016 and 2018 for the report, as well as activists, journalists, and other witnesses, including two former army officers, a soldier, a former official who worked in North Sinai, and a former United States national security official who worked on Egypt issues. Human Rights Watch also reviewed scores of official statements, social media posts, media reports, and dozens of satellite images to identify home demolitions and secret military detention facilities. The military has effectively banned independent reporting from North Sinai and has prosecuted and imprisoned several journalists who covered events there.

Human Rights Watch found that hostilities in North Sinai, with sustained fighting between organized forces, have risen to the level of a non-international armed conflict, and that warring sides have violated international laws of war as well as local and international human rights laws.

The targeting and abuse of civilians, as well as the failure to distinguish civilians from combatants by both sides, has obliterated civilians’ basic rights and destroyed meaningful space for peaceful political mobilization or opposition. The abuses have also contributed to the escalating militarization of the conflict and the displacement of residents.

“Why all of this? Should we carry weapons and work with the militants or work with the army or live like victims? Everyone is preying on us,” a resident told Human Rights Watch, describing how the army punished him and destroyed his house after ISIS (also known as Islamic State) militants kidnapped and tortured him.

From January 2014 until June 2018, 3,076 alleged militants and 1,226 military and police personnel were killed in the fighting, according to government statements and media reports. Egyptian authorities have not released civilian casualty figures or publicly acknowledged wrongdoing. Human Rights Watch found that Egyptian authorities frequently counted civilians among the alleged militants killed and that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured.

Based on military statements and Egyptian media reports, Human Rights Watch concluded that military and police forces in North Sinai arrested more than 12,000 residents from July 2013 until December 2018. The military and the police have officially acknowledged over 7,300 arrests, but rarely released names or charges. Human Rights Watch found that many of those people were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared, and that some were extrajudicially killed. Thousands of people have probably left the governorate in recent years, either to escape the conflict or after being forcibly evicted by the military.

North Sinai is a sparsely populated governorate with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip. Armed groups have long existed in North Sinai, but attacks against government installations, military forces, and Israeli troops began to rise after the 2011 uprising that led to the resignation of the longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Violence escalated dramatically after July 2013, when the Egyptian military forced former President Mohamed Morsy out of office and arrested him. A local militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, pledged allegiance to ISIS in late 2014, changing its name to Wilayat Sina’ (Sinai Province). In response, the army has deployed over 40,000 troops, including naval, air, and infantry units. Egypt has coordinated these deployments with Israel and has apparently allowed Israel to conduct airstrikes inside Sinai on militants’ targets, media reports said.

In this report, Human Rights Watch documented at least 50 arbitrary arrests, including 39 people who were probably forcibly disappeared by the military or police. Fourteen of them remain disappeared more than three years later.

The army held detainees in isolation and in abysmal conditions, far removed from any judicial oversight. The military and police have detained children as young as 12 alongside adults but have usually detained women separately. At any given time in the past several years, Human Rights Watch found, the army may have been holding up to 1,000 detainees in secret in al-Galaa Military Base, one of three main military detention sites detailed in the report.


Map of North Sinai showing the three main Sinai detention centers: Al-Azoly military prison (inside Al-Galaa Military Base at Ismailia on the Suez Canal), Battalion 101 in al Arish, and al-Zohor camp in Sheikh Zuwayed. May copyright HRW 2019, road data OSM 2019. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Former detainees said conditions in military and police detention included lack of adequate food, water, and medical care, and small, overcrowded cells. Soldiers and officers tortured many detainees, including with beatings and electric shocks. Human Rights Watch documented three deaths in custody.

The military and police killed some of those secretly detained in the desert without trials, later claiming they had been killed in shootouts. Human Rights Watch documented 14 such cases and previously documented six others.

The Egyptian army has recruited North Sinai residents into militias that have played a substantial role in abuses, Human Rights Watch found. These unofficial irregular militias have helped the military – which lacked significant experience in North Sinai prior to the conflict – by providing intelligence and carrying out missions on the military’s behalf. Militia members use their de-facto powers to arbitrarily arrest residents and settle scores and personal disputes. They have also participated in torture and extrajudicial killings.

Sinai Province, the local ISIS affiliate, has taken root in a small northeastern corner of North Sinai on the Gaza-Israeli border and maintains a presence there, even after six years of sustained fighting. Its militants have committed horrific crimes, interviewees said, including kidnapping scores of residents and members of the military or police and extrajudicially killing some of them.

Sinai Province’s indiscriminate attacks, such as using improvised explosive devices in populated areas, have killed hundreds of civilians and led to the forced displacement of residents. The group has also deliberately attacked civilians. Sinai Province members were probably responsible for a November 2017 attack on the al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai that killed at least 311 people, including children, the deadliest known attack by a non-state armed group in Egypt’s modern history. In parts of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed, two towns in North Sinai, the group established its own Sharia (Islamic law) courts that oversaw unfair “trials,” set up checkpoints, and enforced certain Islamic rules.

The United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights should open independent commissions of inquiry into the abuses in Sinai, given the failure of Egyptian authorities to do so. Egypt’s international partners should immediately halt all security and military assistance until Egypt ends its abuses. War crimes, under international law, can be prosecuted without any time limit, and many states, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, allow individuals to be arrested and prosecuted in their countries for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

“North Sinai’s ISIS affiliate deserves the global condemnation it has received and full accountability for its heinous abuses, but the army’s campaign, marred with equally serious violations, including war crimes, should also be roundly criticized rather than praised,” Page said. “Egypt’s closest allies should halt their support for an abusive military campaign that has left thousands of civilian victims in its wake.”   

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We appreciate that the Committee on Cooperative Compliance continues to be diligent in carrying out its work, and that it reports on its efforts in such detail. Over the years, it has looked into allegations of use of antipersonnel mines by five States Parties, and has recommended “case closed” for two: Turkey and South Sudan.

As we have just heard, the Committee continues to look at allegations regarding Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen.  The common theme across all three for the past year – indeed since 2011 for Sudan and Yemen and 2014 for Ukraine—is that the situation remains unchanged, and that conflict and lack of access to areas not under government control prevent investigations.  We appreciate the remarks from Sudan and Yemen just now, and from Ukraine earlier.

It is worth noting that there has been only one confirmed instance of use of antipersonnel mines by a State Party since entry-into-force, by Yemen in 2011-2012, as it has acknowledged. Moreover, there have been no new allegations of use by any other States Parties since the Compliance Committee began its inquiries, some five years ago.

There are other compliance concerns apart from use allegations. The Compliance Committee should be mandated to consider these as well. These include the long-missed stockpile destruction deadlines for Greece and Ukraine; the significant number of States Parties that are keeping mines under the Article 3 exception without ever using them for any of the permitted purposes; and the lowest ever compliance rate with the legal obligation for transparency reporting.

On Article 5, there are far too many requests for extended deadlines, and too little respect for the requirement to clear mined areas as soon as possible, and at the latest within ten years. Of special concern is Eritrea’s failure to yet submit an extension request. It will be in violation of the Convention as of 1 February 2020 if it fails to submit a request for approval by States Parties at the Review Conference. We urge Eritrea to address this immediately.

The issue of improvised antipersonnel mines (victim-activated IEDs) has also become a compliance concern. States Parties need to treat these as they do other antipersonnel mines, to report them in transparency reports as contaminated areas, to clear them in a timely fashion, to report on clearance, and to submit an extension request if necessary.

States Parties should condemn any new use of improvised antipersonnel mines, should stigmatize them as banned antipersonnel mines, and should apply all of the Mine Ban Treaty’s provisions to them, including the need to impose penal sanctions to prevent and suppress prohibited acts, most importantly, new use.

Finally, it is vital to promote compliance with the norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty: that there should not be any use of antipersonnel mines of any type by any actor under any circumstance.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. President,

The upcoming Fourth Review Conference will herald progress toward the goal of a mine free 2025. Since the Third Review Conference in 2014, 6 additional states have declared completion of stockpile destruction, bringing the total number to 93, who have collectively destroyed more than 54 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, including more than 300,000 destroyed in 2018. Since the Treaty entered into force, another 67 states have declared they never possessed antipersonnel mines. Only three States Parties - Greece, Ukraine, and Sri Lanka - still have stockpiles to destroy.                                        

Greece and Ukraine remain in violation of Article 4 after failing to complete stockpile destruction by their four-year deadline. Though Greece has kept States Parties updated on its progress, neither state has indicated when its destruction obligations will be completed.

Tuvalu remains the sole State Party to have yet to submit its initial transparency report, but it is not thought to possess antipersonnel mines.

In the global context, however, there is significant room for progress. A majority of the 33 states not party to the treaty currently stockpile antipersonnel landmines. Additionally, the problem of non-state actor groups possessing antipersonnel mines or components to manufacture improvised mines pose challenges in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Finally, we would like to update States Parties on the status of the quantities of mines retained for training and research. A total of 71 States Parties have reported that they retain antipersonnel mines for training and research purposes, of which 3 states – Finland, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – collectively possess nearly 50,000 retained mines, in addition to 36 states who retain more than 1,000 mines each. A number of states that stockpile mines under Article 3 do not ever use them for permitted purposes.  These states are, in effect, violating the nature of the exception, as they essentially are stockpiling the mines.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Let me start by giving some context on the new use of antipersonnel mines worldwide.  In recent years, since the last Review Conference, the use of antipersonnel mines by government forces has been rare.  In most years, only one or two governments used mines—Myanmar and Syria - and neither of them used large numbers of mines.

It is important to recognize that with a few notable exceptions, or rather, deplorable exceptions, there has been limited use by non-state armed groups too.  The deplorable exceptions include ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Houthis in Yemen. The  vast majority are improvised mines, improvised antivehicle and antipersonnel mines.

These have often been called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but should more accurately be called improvised mines. In particular, victim-activated IEDs, those that explode from the presence, proximity, or contact of a person, are in fact antipersonnel mines as defined in the Mine Ban Treaty, and therefore banned by the treaty.

These should always be termed improvised antipersonnel mines or antipersonnel mines of an improvised nature.

During the negotiation of the Mine Ban Treaty, states were very clear that it made no difference if a munition was factory-produced or improvised. I know, I was there.  This was not a contentious point or a matter of debate or interpretation. It was an accepted reality.

The extensive use in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in recent years have caused some to believe that improvised antipersonnel mines are a new phenomenon, which is simply not the case.  It is the scope of use in these particular countries that is new.  It is true that new types of improvised antipersonnel mines are being encountered and pose new dangers.

States Parties should treat these as they do other antipersonnel mines, should report them in transparency reports as contaminated areas, should clear them in a timely fashion, should report on clearance, and should submit an extension request if necessary.

States Parties should condemn any new use of improvised antipersonnel mines by any actor, they should stigmatize them as banned antipersonnel mines, and should apply all of the Mine Ban Treaty’s provisions to them, including the need to impose penal sanctions to prevent and suppress prohibited acts, most importantly, new use.

Finally, I would like to raise a related issue—explosive booby-traps. It was widely accepted by the negotiators of the Mine Ban Treaty that explosive booby-traps that exploded from the presence, proximity, or contact of a person were captured by the definition of an antipersonnel mine and therefore were banned by the treaty.  Just as with victim-activated IEDs, it would be good for States Parties to re-confirm that these are indeed already banned.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am