Click to expand Image The Intersex flag. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission issued a report today analyzing the persistent practice of medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on children born with variations in their sex characteristics. The commission urged authorities to protect children’s rights to informed consent, and to legally regulate the operations.

Around the world since the 1950s, people born with variations in their sex characteristics, sometimes called “intersex,” have been subjected to harmful medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries. Surgeons popularized these cosmetic surgeries on infants to remove gonads, reduce the size of the clitoris, or increase the size of the vagina.

But these procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem, and there is no evidence they help children “fit in,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, and psychological trauma. Some surgeries can sterilize the person, which an Australian Senate Committee condemned in 2013.

Intersex advocacy groups, as well as a range of medical and human rights organizations, have been speaking out. Despite growing consensus that these surgeries should end and progress globally banning medically unnecessary intersex surgeries, some parents continue to face pressure from surgeons to choose these operations when their children are too young to participate in the decision.

Influential United Nations human rights committees have criticized Australia for its failure to protect people from these harmful procedures.

In 2018, Human Rights Watch, along with Intersex Human Rights Australia and others, submitted a letter to the Human Rights Commission’s consultation.

Its new report calls on the government to develop rights-based standards of care for children born with variation in their sex characteristics. It urges legislation to regulate the surgeries, limiting them only to when the patient has consented or where they are “required urgently to avoid serious harm” and “the risk of harm cannot be mitigated in another less intrusive way, and intervention cannot be further delayed.”

Momentum for change in Australia is afoot. Federal and local governments should urgently consider the commission’s recommendations and ensure that children born perfectly healthy – just a little different – are free to make decisions about their own bodies.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2021, 1:13 pm
Click to expand Image The Nepal Police stand guard during a protest in Kathmandu, Nepal on June 30, 2021.  ©2021 AP Photo/Rojan Shrestha/NurPhoto

(New York) – Nepali authorities should independently investigate allegations that police in Rupandehi district used excessive force during an eviction drive on October 10, killing four protesters, and injuring dozens, Human Rights Watch said today. Police have also used trumped up charges of “polygamy” to detain a women’s rights activist who was leading a protest against the failure to properly investigate two alleged murders linked to land acquisition.

Police initially defied an October 10 Supreme Court habeas corpus order to produce Ruby Khan, a human rights defender who had been arrested at a sit-in protest in Kathmandu. She was finally brought to the court, and released, on October 14. During her week in custody, Khan told Human Rights Watch, the police attempted to “bargain” with her saying she would be released if she ended her protest movement.

“Repeated failures to investigate and hold police officers accountable for abuses have contributed to a situation in which police misconduct is weakening the rule of law, and threatening public safety instead of protecting it,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nepal’s foreign donors should call for immediate and real progress on accountability, and reform to end the habitual use of excessive lethal force, torture, custodial killings, and other serious crimes.”

Nepali authorities have repeatedly failed to hold security forces to account. In October 2020, the National Human Rights Commission said the government had failed to fully implement 87 percent of the commission’s recommendations made over the previous 20 years, especially by failing to take legal action against alleged abusers.

Along with other protesters, Khan had walked 500 kilometers to the capital, Kathmandu, from Nepalgunj, in southwest Nepal, to protest police inaction in the alleged murder of two women from Nepalgunj: Nirmala Kurmi, who has been missing since 2010, and Nakunni Dhobi, who died in July. The activists allege that both cases relate to attempts to forcibly acquire the victims’ land.

Thirteen protesters from the group, including Khan, were arrested at a peaceful sit-in protest in Kathmandu on the evening of October 8, but others were quickly released. The police defied a Supreme Court habeas corpus order issued on October 10 to produce her within 24 hours. Mohna Ansari, a former national human rights commissioner representing Khan, said that police told the court they did not know where Khan was, when in fact she had been transferred to police custody in Nepalgunj.

Ansari said that Khan, who has long campaigned against impunity for violence against women, was falsely charged with “polygamy” because she had criticized the conduct of police officers. Ordering her release on October 14, the Supreme Court found that there was no evidence to substantiate the charge and said the police behaved with “mala fide [ill] intent.”

The detention of Khan, an outspoken women’s rights activist, on manifestly false charges of polygamy, shows the police attempting to silence a woman who is demanding justice, Human Rights Watch said.

The police shooting at Motipur, in Rupandehi, occurred when the authorities moved to evict landless people who are in a long-running dispute with the government over plans to develop the area for industrial use. Government officials later claimed that officers acted in self defense when they opened fire on the crowd with live ammunition. The Nepal Police should abide by United Nations guidelines on the use of lethal force, Human Rights Watch said, and take criminal action against officers who are responsible for unlawful killings.

There have been repeated incidents of police using excessive lethal force against protesters in southern Nepal in recent years. Majority of the population in the region belongs to the marginalized Madhesi community, which is underrepresented in national institutions, including the police, and at greater risk of police abuses.

About 60 people, including police officers, as well as dozens of Madhesi protesters and other members of the public, were killed during widespread protests against Nepal’s new constitution in 2015. Most were victims of police shooting. A Human Rights Watch investigation found evidence of serious abuses. The findings of an official inquiry were never published, and no police officer has been held accountable for the killings.

Other police killings of protesters in recent years include the shooting of a man at Kanchanpur in 2018, when local residents protested police mishandling of a child rape and murder; and the shooting of a man in Sarlahi district in 2019, when residents protested the accidental death of a child in an illegal sand mine. There have also been numerous recent cases in southern Nepal of people dying following alleged torture in police custody. In the 2020 custodial death of Bijay Mahara, of Rautahat district, the government has acknowledged that police officers appear to be responsible for his killing, but failed to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

The police in Nepal are also frequently accused of failing to register or investigate serious crimes, especially sexual violence or other crimes against women, and crimes against members of marginalized communities, or when the police themselves are allegedly responsible.

A major test for Nepal’s justice system is the case against a politician of the ruling Congress party, who is accused of being involved in the killing of about 20 people during the 2008 election campaign. For years, police and prosecutors failed to investigate or pursue the case, until the politician was arrested following a Supreme Court order. However, the 2011 murder of a petitioner in the case was never investigated, and there have been threats against witnesses and lawyers. Earlier in 2021, before he took office, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba reportedly said he wanted to free the politician.

Longstanding and near complete impunity for human rights abuses committed in Nepal, going back to the period of the armed conflict that ended 15 years ago, is contributing to ongoing abuses, and having a deeply corrosive effect on accountable governance and the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government of Nepal should ensure that credible investigations are carried out when abuses are committed, and that police officers who are responsible for misconduct or violations are held fully accountable,” Ganguly said. “And Nepal’s international partners, who provide donor aid in support of addressing gender-based violence, promoting good governance, and the rule of law, should recognize that without any meaningful action on accountability progress will likely remain elusive.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2021, 11:00 am
Click to expand Image A participant waves a flag during Queer Azadi Pride, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in Mumbai, India on February 1, 2020. © 2020 Francis Mascarenhas/REUTERS

India’s National Medical Commission has ordered publishers and medical schools to edit their textbooks and curricula to exclude discriminatory and unscientific portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The order from the country’s highest medical regulator follows a June 2021 Madras High Court ruling instructing institutions across the country to roll back prejudicial and inaccurate portrayals of sexual and gender minorities. In the judgment, Judge Anand Venkatesh said, “Ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination.” His language echoes previous court rulings and commission reports in India.

In 2018, when the Supreme Court unanimously struck down India’s colonial-era criminal prohibition on same-sex relations, Justice Indu Malhotra stated that, “an apology [is owed] to members of the LGBT community … for the ostracization and persecution they faced because of society’s ignorance.” In the case’s early stages, the Indian Medical Association made clear: “We are seriously concerned that homosexuality is looked upon as a disorder and in our joint petition appealed to the Supreme Court that it was not an illness.”

In January 2021, the Delhi Child Rights Commission recommended a ban on medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries on children born with intersex variations. This follows the southern state of Tamil Nadu banning such operations in 2019 after a court upheld the informed consent rights for intersex children. The commission’s recommendation received support from the Delhi Medical Council, which wrote that, “[s]urgical interventions … that are not deemed medically necessary should be delayed until the patient can provide meaningful informed consent.”

Welcoming the medical commission’s advisory this week, Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, vice president of SAATHII, an LGBT advocacy group, said: “The issue is not only one of misrepresentation but also one of absence. For instance, standard Indian textbooks in Pediatrics do not mention same-gender attraction or transgender identity in a non-pathologizing manner while addressing child and adolescent development.”

The National Medical Commission’s announcement further indicates the widespread support for reform among Indian legal and medical experts. It is a good precedent for what is needed across the education sector – a comprehensive update of outdated curricula.   

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Vyacheslav Yegorov at Kolomna court, October 8, 2021. © Nataliya Demina © 2021 Nataliya Demina

Yesterday, a court in the city of Kolomna, Russia sentenced Viacheslav Yegorov to 15 months in prison for repeatedly taking part in peaceful protests in 2018 against the “import” of trash from Moscow. It is ironic that this sentence came less than a week after the UN Human Rights Council recognized the right to a healthy environment as a universal human right.

I met Yegorov in Kolomna in 2019, when he was under house arrest. I was there to research the crackdown on grassroots environmental activists. Yegorov was energetic, optimistic, deeply concerned about the well-being of his fellow townspeople, and undeterred by the harassment unleashed against him. Whether it was because of his positive outlook or because the charges were so absurd and disproportionate, I never expected this story to end with him behind bars.

Moscow generates enormous amounts of trash. In 2018, large-scale, centralized recycling programs didn’t exist, and many landfills in the Moscow region became overfilled, so regional authorities redistributed Moscow trash to other landfills in places like Kolomna. Activists there explained to us that these sites weren’t designed for so much trash, and that the sharp increase resulted in contamination of underground water and eruptions of toxic “landfill gases”.

First, Kolomna activists filed complaints, but they didn’t get meaningful responses or results. Then they started protests to stop what they described as an endless line of trash trucks pouring into their region. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, activists faced violent police dispersals, detention, and harassment.

With his prior experience in political activism, Yegorov became the protesters’ informal leader. Or at least that’s certainly how he was perceived by authorities when they singled him out.  

Authorities opened three administrative offences cases against Yegorov for unlawful protesting, and the fourth became the basis for the criminal case against him. Russian law allows for criminal prosecution for repeated violation of public assembly rules.

Authorities closed the landfill in November 2019 but never dropped the case against Yegorov. Apparently, they want to send a message that those who dare stand up for their rights will pay a high price.

Targeting and jailing peaceful activists like Yegorov risks only exacerbating, not burying, the problems they vocalize. Authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Yegorov, quashing the verdict against him.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 15, 2021, 8:14 pm
Click to expand Image Disability rights activists and caregiving advocates hold a vigil in front of the US Capitol to urge Congress to include full federal funding for home and community-based care services in the budget reconciliation package on October 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. © 2021 Larry French/Getty Images for The Arc of the United States

The overwhelming majority of older people and people with disabilities in the United States, no matter how they vote, prefer to live at home rather than in a residential institution like a nursing home. Accordingly, millions of people access home and community-based services (HCBS) to help them live independently.

Yet, about 820,000 people in the US are currently on waiting lists to receive HCBS, reflecting decades of underinvestment in this program, which is run by Medicaid, a federal and state-run program helping people with healthcare costs. With demand for these services projected to increase by 60 percent over the next twenty years, the system risks collapse.

Congress has a historic opportunity to prepare for the future with full funding for HCBS in the budget reconciliation bill, which seeks to address eligibility for HCBS, as well as quality of care and workforce concerns.

Investment in the workforce is a key element. The 4.6 million HCBS direct care workers, overwhelmingly women and people of color, have historically received low wages and little to no benefits. Recent research reports that almost 44 percent of direct care workers live in low-income households. These conditions contribute to high worker burnout and turnover.

Improvements to HCBS are also projected to create short and long-term economic benefits across the US. HCBS services are more affordable than institutionalized care and can enable family caregivers to return to the workforce.  

HCBS can be key for people to realize their rights to autonomy, dignity, and health. A recent Human Rights Watch investigation revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing quality of care concerns and staffing shortages in US nursing homes, where many people did not want to be. In our non-representative survey of over 500 nursing home residents and families, most of those who wanted to leave a facility during the pandemic were unable to do so, in part because of lack of access to services like HCBS.

We believe Congress should ensure that everyone, regardless of income, can receive these critical social services. Human Rights Watch is also working to advance access to affordable water, affordable prescriptions, and affordable homes that are accessible for older people and people with disabilities. HCBS is crucial for rights protection and deserves full support and funding.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 15, 2021, 5:16 pm
Click to expand Image Lebanese army soldiers are seen through the bullet-riddled window of a car after deadly clashes erupted in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. © 2021 Bilal Hussein/AP Images

Scenes from Lebanon shocked residents and the world on Thursday when the streets of a residential and commercial district in Beirut descended into a level of violence last seen during the country’s the civil war: Families sheltering in hallways, bathrooms, and makeshift underground shelters; children cowering in school corridors; older people being rescued from their homes amid persistent gunfire; residents fleeing, not sure when they could return home.

The images are all too familiar for generations of Lebanese in and outside the country, leaving many to ask: What did we do to deserve this? While those affected are blameless, the tragic cycle of violence in Lebanon does have a cause. But the cause is not rooted in what Lebanon did, but rather in what Lebanon hasn’t done.

Lebanon’s post-civil war history has been marred by a legacy of impunity. The tragic violence that killed at least seven people and injured dozens yesterday, and which was triggered by protests organized by  Hezbollah and its allies to demand the removal of Judge Tarik Bitar, who has been tasked with investigating culpability for the August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port, is a consequence of this legacy.

For decades, street battles, political assassinations, and rampant corruption have gone unpunished in Lebanon, with predictable results. For over 30 years, Human Rights Watch has documented how ignoring atrocities reinforces a culture of impunity that only encourages future abuse.

This is why we fight for accountability for human rights abuse in Lebanon, including for the victims of the Beirut blast. Lebanese authorities should respond to the clashes on Thursday by conducting an investigation into who is responsible, but they also must stand up against political interference into the investigation of the Beirut blast.

If Lebanon is to reverse the culture of impunity that has pervaded since the civil war, Bitar should be given all the resources and protection he needs to continue his investigation. After yesterday’s show of force, it is imperative that the international community provides support to domestic accountability efforts by establishing an international, independent, and impartial fact-finding mission into the blast.

Yesterday, as I saw my neighborhood descend into violence, I could only think about the next round of violence that is bound to follow. The false choice between justice and peace will only lead us there.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 15, 2021, 5:04 pm
Click to expand Image A Turkish soldier stands at the Turkish border with Iran, where Turkish soldiers are pushing Afghan asylum seekers crossing into the country back to Iran. © 2021 Alba Cambeiro/ SIPA Images/AP

(New York) – Turkish authorities are summarily pushing Afghan asylum seekers crossing into the country from Iran back to Iran, in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Six Afghans, five of whom were pushed back, told Human Rights Watch that the Turkish army beat them and their fellow travelers – some to the point of breaking their bones – and collectively expelled them in groups of 50 to 300 people as they tried to cross the border to seek safety in Turkey. Some families were separated in the process.

“Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Turkey on October 16, 2021 to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Merkel should push the Turkish government to end its summary expulsions of Afghans; investigate allegations of collective expulsions, rejections at the border, and the denial of the right to seek asylum; and remedy such instances.

From September 25 to October 11, Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed six Afghans, five of them in hiding in Turkey to avoid being expelled to Iran, and one who had been forcibly returned to Iran for a third time. All had fled Afghanistan shortly before or after August 15, when the Taliban took control of Kabul.

They said they had traveled through Pakistan and Iran, and that Iranian smugglers took them to the mountainous border with Turkey in the middle of the night and told them to run across. Turkish soldiers started firing above their heads. and two said that the soldiers brutally beat them.

While one of the Afghans successfully remained in Turkey on his first try and one had been deported back to Iran, the four others said Turkish soldiers forced them back up to three times before they succeeded in remaining in Turkey.

Two said that Turkish forces destroyed their possessions, and those of everyone in the group they were expelled with. “Once they arrested us, they confiscated our phones, money, food, and anything else we were carrying and burned all of our things in a big fire,” one woman said. “I assume they did this to send the message that we should not try to cross the border again.”

One man said they stripped the men in his group down to their boxer shorts and burned the clothes and all their belongings, then forcibly returned them.

One man said that soldiers beat them with the butts of their guns and that several men in his group had broken hands, arms, and legs from the beatings. “It took 10 days for the pain to go away, but for my friend it was worse,” he said. “He had to get our smuggler to take him to a doctor in Iran who treated him for a broken arm and leg.”

Another man said: “The second time I crossed into Turkey I saw the Turkish soldiers beating people crossing with me to the point that they were covered in blood and had big wounds to their heads. They beat me for about 20 minutes with the butts of their guns and sticks, leaving me bleeding.”

Three Afghans said that while they were not seriously beaten themselves, they saw soldiers brutally beating, including with heavy hoses, others running with them. “There was one very tall soldier, with his face concealed,” a woman said. “He was like a madman, wildly beating my brother with a stick and yelling, ‘Why did you come here?’”

One woman said that on her third attempt to cross into Turkey with her two children, her brother, his wife, and their child, Turkish soldiers detained her brother and his wife and expelled them, leaving their child with her.

One man said that a man in his group was forced back with him to Iran, while his wife and children were taken to a detention center in Turkey. He said that police arrested him in  a town 180 kilometers west of the border and brought him to what looked like a refugee camp that was being used as a detention center, where his group joined about 135 people.

He and another man said that after they were sent back to Iran with their group, thieves abducted the group and demanded ransoms to release them. “The thieves came in cars and on motorbikes, wielding knives and sticks,” he said. “They demanded that we get our families to send US$100 per person. We got our smuggler, who we could reach on the phone, to send them the money, and then of course we owed that money to the smuggler afterward.”

The other man said the thieves held them for two days, took all their belongings including cash, beside their phones, and forced them to call their relatives to send money through brokers in Iran.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.7 million from Syria granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Human Rights Watch has previously documented illegal pushbacks and beatings of asylum seekers, including to Syria, and the media has reported on the violent pushbacks of Afghans to Iran.

While most people interviewed said they were forcibly returned close to the border, one said that he and eight of his relatives were deported after they went to a local immigration office in Turkey. He said they went to the office because they were ill and needed to be allowed to go to a hospital.

“When we got there, the authorities arrested us and took our phones and turned them off, so the rest of our family had no idea what happened to us,” he said. “They held us for two nights and one day, and only fed us twice … after the second night they put us onto buses with about 100 other people and drove us to the border. One soldier at the border told us, ‘Here is the border. Don’t come back. If you do, we will beat you.’”

All governments receiving Afghan asylum seekers and other migrants, including Turkey, should fully respect international refugee and human rights law, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, human rights treaties, and customary international law. Notably, the obligation of nonrefoulement prohibits returning anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution or threats to their lives or freedom, torture, or other serious harm. Iran continues to deport Afghans to Afghanistan. For example, Iran deported 28,735 Afghans back to Afghanistan in the span of three days in early September.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), governments, and other actors should monitor, document, and challenge pushbacks at Turkey’s borders. Governments with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Afghan asylum seekers and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Afghans, including those who are unregistered.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Commission, and European states should publicly press Turkey to refrain from summarily expelling Afghan refugees to Iran, where they are at risk of chain deportation to Afghanistan and other serious harms. The Commission should closely monitor developments and take into consideration collective expulsions and deportations of Afghan asylum seekers in its cooperation with Turkey on migration control and for its reports on Turkey’s accession process and on the European Agenda on Migration.  

“EU member states should not consider Turkey a safe third country for Afghan asylum seekers and should suspend all deportations and forced returns of Afghan nationals, including to third countries like Turkey where their rights would not be respected,” Wille said. “They should also ensure that Afghans entering the EU via Turkey have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.”


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 15, 2021, 12:30 pm
Click to expand Image Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

Further leadership changes are underway at the International Criminal Court (ICC) as its member countries approach the December election of the court’s next deputy prosecutors.

On October 10, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan submitted two shortlists of three candidates each to member countries, following the review of 177 applications. Khan, who was elected in February to succeed Fatou Bensouda, is seeking the election of two deputy prosecutors. If member countries agree, this would be the first time the court will have two deputy prosecutors since 2007. Like the prosecutor, deputy prosecutors are ordinarily elected to nine-year nonrenewable terms.   

Ensuring the court benefits from the highest quality leadership in its elected officials is one of the key responsibilities of ICC member countries.

Following the court’s recent prosecutor election process, member countries are looking at ways to strengthen future elections. One notable gap in that process was the absence of professional vetting to assess candidates’ “high moral character,” a requirement for the prosecutor mandated by the ICC’s Rome Statute that deputy prosecutors also must fulfill. An independent expert review of the court detailed a culture of fear and distrust among court staff that included accounts of bullying and harassment.

To help fill the vetting gap for this election, the president of the court’s Assembly of States Parties and the prosecutor agreed on a “due diligence” process consisting of a candidate questionnaire, background checks overseen by the prosecutor, and use of the court’s Independent Oversight Mechanism to assess any allegations of misconduct against shortlisted candidates submitted through a confidential channel. While a step forward, this due diligence mechanism was established quickly and without civil society consultation. ICC member countries should assess how this ad hoc process works and then establish a permanent process next year applicable to the election of all ICC officials.

For now, it’s important to ensure that the due diligence process work as well as it can ahead of the December election. Individuals have a narrow window of 14 days following the publication of the shortlist – until October 24 – to submit information to the confidential channel. ICC member countries should demonstrate their commitment to the process by taking steps to widely publicize the shortlisted candidates and the availability of the confidential channel.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 15, 2021, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image Protesters stick photos of Gui Minhai, left, and other missing booksellers outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong on January 3, 2016. © 2016 Vincent Yu/AP Images

This week marks the sixth anniversary since Chinese authorities abducted Gui Minhai, a Swedish book publisher, from his home in Thailand in 2015. After enduring a forced confession on state media and a sham trial, Gui was briefly freed in 2017, before being rearrested. In 2020, a court handed down a 10-year sentence on questionable charges, and the authorities have provided no information on his whereabouts ever since, forcibly disappearing him. He is feared to be in poor health.

Beijing’s recent release of two US citizens who had been arbitrarily prohibited from leaving China, and two Canadians held as diplomatic hostages in exchange for an indicted Huawei executive, is both very welcome news and a cause for profound concern. It confirms Beijing’s willingness to use human beings as pawns, and reminds us of those who remain wrongfully detained, like Gui Minhai.

Sweden’s efforts to free Gui appear tepid. It has not launched a major public effort to secure his release, and if it has done so in private, those efforts are evidently not working. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instead become embroiled in other diplomatic issues with China, including over a Chinese ambassador in Stockholm, and Sweden’s unsuccessful prosecution of its former ambassador to China for her mishandling of Gui’s case. 

In January, the Swedish Parliament called for a government-appointed commission to investigate cases of Swedes arbitrarily detained abroad and report by the end of March 2022. But the government has recently increased confidentiality surrounding the commission’s work, which could conveniently shield the government from further embarrassment.

Covid-19 may well have put a pall on some diplomatic interactions. But throughout the pandemic, the European Parliament and European Union called consistently for Gui’s release, placing human rights concerns closer to the center of EU-China relations.

Standard diplomatic interventions to free citizens wrongfully detained by the Chinese government have largely proven ineffective. The Swedish government should make Gui Minhai's release a priority in its relations with China. Stockholm should also be working with its European allies, who have been increasingly willing to criticize Beijing, to press harder for his freedom.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 14, 2021, 1:54 pm
Click to expand Image © Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

(Ottawa) – Provincial governments should sever their contracts to hold immigration detainees in provincial jails, where many experience abusive conditions, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today in opening a joint national campaign, #WelcomeToCanada. While Canadian authorities have released significant numbers of people from immigration detention since the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020, the proportion of those in provincial jails rather than immigration holding centers more than doubled in the six months following the onset of the pandemic.

Provincial jails in Canada are designed to hold people awaiting criminal court proceedings or serving criminal sentences of up to two years. Immigration detainees held in these jails – many of which are maximum-security facilities – are not only confined in more restrictive settings than those held in immigration holding centers, but they are also more likely to be detained for longer periods of time. 

“By allowing the federal government to transfer immigration detainees to provincial jails, where they may remain with no end in sight, provincial authorities are implicated in Ottawa’s human rights abuses,” said Samer Muscati, associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The provincial governments have a real opportunity to show leadership by walking away from these contracts that allow serious violations to happen in their own backyards.”

According to government statistics, in the three-year period between April 2017 and March 2020, about a fifth of immigration detainees were held in 78 provincial jails across Canada. In the six months following the onset of the pandemic, between April and September 2020, 50 percent of immigration detainees were held in provincial jails. The average length of detention more than doubled, to 29 days compared with the same period the previous year, and at least 85 people were held for 100 days or longer.

“I was arrested without charge and my belongings were taken, including the batteries for my hearing aid,” Abdelrahman Elmady, an Egyptian man with a hearing disability said in one of the campaign videos released on October 14, 2021. He described his detention in three provincial jails in British Columbia after fleeing to Canada to seek asylum. “My whole life I have relied on hearing aids, but suddenly I was in prison, confused, scared, and unable to hear anything. Nobody told me how long I would be detained.”

In their recent report, “‘I Didn’t Feel Like a Human in There’: Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health,” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented the serious human rights violations that people face in immigration detention in Canada. Immigration detainees include people who are fleeing persecution, seeking a better life, and some who have lived in Canada since childhood.

Immigration detainees are not held on criminal charges or convictions, but many experience some of the country’s most restrictive confinement conditions, including maximum-security provincial jails and solitary confinement. Immigration detainees are handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world. In provincial jails, many are confined in dangerous environments where they may be subjected to violence.


It’s time for Canada to truly welcome people seeking safety or a better life.

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Immigration detainees from communities of color, particularly detainees who are Black, appear to be detained for longer periods and often in provincial jails rather than immigration holding centers. People with psychosocial disabilities (or mental health conditions) experience discrimination throughout the detention process. Immigration detention has especially harmful effects on communities of color, refugee claimants, children, and families.

Through access to information requests, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International obtained copies of the contracts between the federal government and six provinces (British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan), which allow authorities to hold immigration detainees in provincial jails, including maximum security facilities. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed to researchers that an additional contract is in place with the province of Alberta, but it has not been released.

According to the contracts reviewed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, each province can terminate the agreement without penalty or explanation with one year’s notice. In the three remaining provinces (Manitoba, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island), CBSA representatives said the agency has “informal arrangements” to hold immigration detainees in provincial jails.

In its 2020-21 Departmental Plan, the CBSA indicated that it has “limited control over detention conditions” in provincial jails across the country, which “poses challenges in ensuring a common standard of care.”

Canada’s practice of incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails is a violation of international human rights law. Incarceration in these facilities is inherently punitive in nature and not suited nor permitted under international standards for use in immigration detention.

Canadian authorities at the federal and provincial levels should take concrete measures toward abolishing immigration detention, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. The groups have written to all provinces urging premiers and corrections ministries to stop using provincial jails and other incarceration facilities for immigration detention, and to cancel all contracts and informal arrangements between the federal and provincial governments that allow authorities to transfer immigration detainees to these facilities.

Through their #WelcomeToCanada campaign, which will go coast to coast starting with British Columbia, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are asking the general public to support their advocacy efforts by writing, calling, or tweeting their premiers urging them to cancel the contracts that allow immigration detainees to languish in provincial jails.

“By shining a spotlight on the devastating harm caused by immigration detention in provincial jails, we hope that people across Canada will join us in urging provincial leaders to end this shameful practice,” said Justin Mohammed, programs manager at Amnesty International Canada. “Canada should become the refugee-welcoming and multicultural country it holds itself out to be, and treat people seeking safety or a better life with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 14, 2021, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image Gerald Darmanin addresses police about their work in the area of irregular immigration on October 9, 2021 near Calais, France. © 2021 Louis Witter/Le Pictorium/Cover Images/AP Images

Two days after Human Rights Watch, on October 7, published a report documenting the degrading treatment of migrants in and around Calais by French authorities, Gérald Darmanin, France’s Interior Minister, while  visiting the Dunkirk region, publicly rebuffed the report’s findings as "patently lies". “Not a single policeman or gendarme on the coast has been prosecuted”, he claimed, and went on to praise the “humanity” of police towards migrants.

Let me set the record straight: Our report is based on extended field visits to Calais, Grande-Synthe and surrounds between October 2020 and July 2021. We interviewed 60 migrants - including 40 unaccompanied children- as well as aid workers and examined dozens of videos, photos, and news reports. The evidence confirms the facts: abusive practices by the authorities and the police have not only persisted but escalated since the dismantling of a sprawling camp on the edge of Calais five years ago.

Abuses include near-constant police harassment, frequent and often brutal forced evictions of encampments, confiscation and regular destruction of tents, tarps, and meager personal belongings, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance.

For years, the French Rights Defender has denounced the "tracking" of migrants in the Calais area, the "degrading and inhumane treatment" they are subjected to, and their resulting "state of physical and mental exhaustion". Human Rights Watch and others have also repeatedly documented police harassment of aid workers.

This police abuse is part of a broader official policy to deter migrants from traveling to and gathering in northern France by making their lives as miserable as possible.

Also, the minister's assertion that no member of the police forces intervening on the northern coast has been prosecuted is false: the criminal court of Boulogne-sur-Mer recently convicted a riot police officer for the violent assault of a volunteer during a camp eviction in Calais. His suggestion that lack of accountability establishes an absence of abuse is deeply disingenuous: the abuses are committed against people without legal status, who want to survive to reach the UK as quickly as possible, and will inevitably be reluctant to lodge complaints against the police.

Rather than deny the facts, Darmanin should renounce his government’s current approach to migration which not only fails to deter new arrivals or dangerous irregular crossings of the English Channel, but above all inflicts intolerable suffering.  The result – as intended - is far from humane.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 14, 2021, 9:35 am
Click to expand Image Maha al-Mutairi, a 40-year-old Kuwaiti transgender woman.    © 2021 Maha al-Mutairi.

A Kuwaiti court has sentenced a transgender woman to prison for “imitating the opposite sex” online, Human Rights Watch said today. Such laws violate the rights to free expression, privacy, and nondiscrimination under Kuwait’s constitution and international law. The authorities should immediately release her and quash the conviction.

The court on October 3, 2021, sentenced Maha al-Mutairi, 40, to two years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (USD 3,315) for “misusing phone communication” by “imitating the opposite sex” online under article 70 of the telecommunication law and article 198 of the penal code. She has been arrested multiple times since 2019 for her transgender identity, but the current conviction is apparently based on her online activities in 2021. 

“The Kuwaiti government’s monitoring, repeated arrests, and imprisonment of Maha al-Mutairi for her trans identity is a blatant violation of her basic rights,” said Rasha Younes, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kuwaiti authorities should immediately reverse her conviction and allow her to live safely as a woman.”

Al-Mutairi told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview on October 8 that after receiving news of her conviction she went into hiding. But the police arrested her on October 11 at the hotel where she was staying. She is being held in Kuwait Central Prison, a men’s prison, in a solitary cell designated for transgender detainees.

Ibtissam al-Enezi, al-Mutairi’s lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that the court used al-Mutairi’s social media videos as evidence to convict her on grounds that she was wearing makeup, speaking about her transgender identity, allegedly making “sexual advances,” and criticizing the Kuwaiti government. Her appeals hearing is scheduled for October 31.

Al-Enezi said the prison officials have not mistreated al-Mutairi and that police had allowed her to call her lawyer. Al-Mutairi told Human Rights Watch that this was the sixth time she has been arrested due to her transgender identity and that before her current arrest she had been barred from traveling outside the country because of the cases against her.

On June 5, 2020, the authorities summoned al-Mutairi for “imitating women” – the fourth time she had faced the charge that year – after she posted a video online saying that the police had raped and beaten her while she was detained in a male prison for seven months in 2019 for “imitating the opposite sex.” The authorities released al-Mutairi on bail on June 8, 2020, without charge. She told Human Rights Watch that the police abused her during those three days in detention, including by spitting on her, verbally abusing her, and sexually assaulting her by taking turns touching her breasts. 

A 2007 Kuwaiti law amended article 198 of the penal code, criminalizing “imitating the opposite sex.” Under article 70 of the telecommunication law, a person who “misuses” telephone communication may be imprisoned for up to a year and fined up to 2,000 Kuwaiti dinars (USD 7,091).

In 2012, Human Rights Watch documented the negative effects of article 198 on the lives of transgender women, who reported multiple forms of abuse at the hands of the police while in detention. They described degrading and humiliating treatment such as being forced to strip and parade around police stations, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, verbal taunts and intimidation, solitary confinement, and emotional and physical abuse that could amount to torture.

The Kuwaiti National Assembly should repeal the 2007 amendment to article 198, and Kuwaiti authorities should investigate all allegations of police brutality including sexual violence, hold officers accountable for misconduct, and protect transgender people from violence, Human Rights Watch said. Kuwaiti authorities should also amend article 70 of the telecommunication law to remove imprisonment as a punishment for speech violations that amount to defamation as defined by law.  

Article 36 of Kuwait’s constitution guarantees freedom of opinion and expression. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Kuwait has ratified, also guarantees the right to freedom of expression and requires that any restrictions “must be constructed with care,” ensure that they do not stifle freedom of expression in practice and should not provide for “excessively punitive measures and penalties.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has made clear that the covenant prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in upholding any of the rights protected by the treaty. As a state party to the ICCPR and the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Kuwait is required to protect the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including for transgender people.

“Al-Mutairi’s story is one of many horrific accounts by transgender Kuwaitis whose only crime is expressing themselves publicly,” Younes said. “Kuwait should immediately release al-Mutairi, investigate her allegations of sexual violence in detention, and end its criminalization and harassment of transgender people.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 14, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image People wait outside a Covid-19 vaccination clinic in the Bankstown suburb during a lockdown in Sydney, Australia, August 25, 2021. © 2021 Loren Elliott/Reuters

This week, millions of residents across New South Wales emerged from more than 100 days of lockdown after the Australian state met its target of full vaccination for 70 percent of its population over age 16. Across Sydney, people queued for haircuts and drinks at the pub, activities previously prohibited to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

But as parts of Australia reopen and people navigate public life with the virus, it is critical that vaccine equity remains a top priority.

Vaccine availability does not necessarily mean accessibility. For example, in the United Kingdom, where vaccines are abundant, significant disparities along race and socioeconomic lines persist. Analysis of 20 million patient records revealed that while 95 percent of people over 50 in the most affluent parts of the UK had received a vaccine by mid-August, that coverage dropped to 88 percent in the poorest areas.

This week, a UK parliamentary report highlighted that certain groups, including racial and ethnic minorities, fared much worse from Covid-19. The report stated that existing social, economic and health inequalities were exacerbated by the pandemic, leading to “unacceptably high death rates amongst people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.”

In Australia, systemic inequality, racism, and discrimination in accessing health care can skew vaccine access and uptake. Only 35 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ages 12 and older are currently fully vaccinated across Australia, compared to 59 percent of the wider Australian population.

Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, confirmed this week that only 55 percent of people with disabilities receiving national insurance payments (NDIS) in Australia were fully vaccinated. This figure is alarming. Data from the UK shows that from January 2020 to February 2021, people with disabilities accounted for 58 percent of all Covid-19 deaths.

In the state of Victoria, there is evidence people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities may be dying from Covid-19 at higher rates than the rest of the population. In New South Wales, data shows that nearly 60 percent of people who died during the state’s Delta wave lived in Sydney suburbs with higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Inequitable vaccination coverage means part of the population remains at greater risk of severe illness and disease than others. The government should redouble its efforts to ensure vaccine equity across Australia.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 13, 2021, 9:50 pm
Click to expand Image Reporters record a speech by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as it is streamed on Facebook live during vote counting in the general election in Singapore, July 11, 2020.  © 2020 RAHMAN/AFP/Getty

(New York) – The Singapore government should withdraw a proposed law that significantly undermines the rights of activists, academics, journalists, and others to freedom of expression, association, and participation in public affairs and to privacy, Human Rights Watch and ten other international organizations said in a statement released today. The parliament passed the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill on October 4, 2021, and it awaits signature by the city-state’s president.

“The Singapore government could wield the proposed Foreign Interference Act as a bludgeon against activists and journalists with contacts outside the city-state,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately withdraw this rights-abusing law, which threatens those not frightened into self-censoring with having their content blocked and being labeled foreign agents.”

The law would grant sweeping powers to the Minister for Home Affairs to "prevent, detect, and disrupt foreign interference in... domestic politics." Under the proposed law, he could require removal or disabling of online content and mandatory publication of government-drafted notices; and could require preventing an online app from being downloadable in Singapore, based on his “suspicion” that action is being taken on behalf of a foreign principal.

An authority appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs would also be able to designate individuals or entities as “politically significant,” after which they will be forbidden from accepting donations or voluntary labor from “impermissible donors” who are not Singapore citizens or entities. The designated individuals or entities – including journalists, researchers, and academics – may also be required to reveal information about and communications with non-Singaporeans. Appeals of government orders and designations would be made to a government-appointed review tribunal, with judicial review limited to procedural violations.

Individuals and entities who fail to comply with government directives under the act would face heavy criminal penalties. Other broadly defined offenses in the act could result in criminal penalties of up to 14 years in prison and fines of S$100,000 (US$74,000).

“It’s hard to believe that the Singapore government could make the laws against fundamental freedoms even worse than they already are, but the Foreign Interference Act manages to do that,” Robertson said. “Failure to withdraw the law would reinforce Singapore’s international reputation as a human rights disaster, both online and off.”

The joint statement was signed by Access Now, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Digital Defenders Partnership, Forum Asia, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and Wikimedia Foundation.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 13, 2021, 2:00 pm
Click to expand Image Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev receives Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (not pictured) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on April 05, 2021. © 2021 Uzbekistani Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(Berlin) – Uzbek authorities have ramped up restrictions on media freedoms and kept opposition candidates off the ballot for the presidential election scheduled for October 24, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. In releasing a question-and-answer document about the elections and human rights in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that these developments compromise the fairness and integrity of the first presidential elections since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016.

“Uzbekistan has garnered significant international attention for pursuing a reform agenda, but recent human rights setbacks in the country, and the lack of any opposition or independent candidates in these elections, expose the limits of those claims,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Uzbekistan could have shown its genuine commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who don’t share the government’s views to participate in upcoming elections – but it did not.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the most important election monitoring organization in the region, has warned that Uzbekistan has not addressed a number of its longstanding recommendations. They include “those related to certain aspects of fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression, suffrage rights, citizen election observation and registration of political parties,” the organization said. The organization will monitor Uzbekistan’s elections.

Under Uzbek law, only registered parties are allowed to nominate candidates, denying broader political participation in this important vote, Human Rights Watch said. Two potential opposition candidates, linked to the opposition parties, Erk Democratic Party and the Truth and Development Party, had announced their intention to run for president earlier in 2021, but the authorities prevented them from becoming official candidates.

Both parties reported that their supporters have faced harassment and interference in the lead-up to elections. The Truth and Development Party actively tried to register with the Justice Ministry in the lead-up to the presidential election, but was denied registration. OSCE/ODIHR said in a report in May that the ban on independent candidates was “contrary to international [human rights] standards.” Four other candidates are on the ballot, all from pro-government parties, who are not considered a serious challenge to President Mirziyoyev’s hold on power.

In recent months the authorities have also increased restrictions on free speech and media freedoms. In March, Uzbekistan made insulting the president online a criminal offense. In August, authorities brought a charge based on this offense against a blogger and government critic, Valijon Kalonov, after he criticized the president and called for a boycott of the upcoming election.

Other independent bloggers who have been critical of Uzbek authorities or have spoken out against the upcoming elections have also faced spurious criminal charges. In May, Otabek Sattoriy, an independent blogger from Surkhandaryo region, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison on dubious slander and extortion charges. The authorities are also pursuing slander charges against an independent blogger from Tashkent, Miraziz Bazarov, who had spoken out in favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, and earlier in 2021 criticized the upcoming election. The investigation in his case is ongoing and he remains under house arrest.

The question-and-answer document reviews aspects of the upcoming presidential election from a human rights perspective and analyzes the broader human rights context. It outlines key human rights issues such as restrictions on independent civil society, ill-treatment and torture in places of detention, forced labor, and limits on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

“Absent opposition and independent presidential candidates, and the lack of other reforms concerning fundamental human rights, this presidential election is another missed opportunity for the Uzbek government to make good on its reform promises,” Williamson said. “Uzbekistan’s leadership should ensure there is no further backtracking, but rather take urgent steps to ensure better human rights protections in Uzbekistan.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 13, 2021, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image A protester holds a copy of the Polish Constitution during a protest at the Market Square in Krakow, Poland July 16, 2017.  © 2017 Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki/Reuters

An October 8 decision by Poland’s politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal came as a shock in the country and across Europe. In its ruling, the court decided that two core articles of the European Union’s founding treaties are incompatible with the Polish Constitution, effectively rejecting the enforceability of EU law in Poland.

The ruling threatens not only the rule of law in Poland, but also the legal framework of the EU. It paves the way for Poland’s courts to ignore rulings by the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) to address the Polish government’s interference with judicial independence. And if left unchecked, it creates a precedent that wrongfully suggests EU states can pick and choose what binding EU law they apply.

This is not the first time national courts have identified a clash between a member state’s constitution and EU treaties. The Supreme Court of Ireland previously flagged such clashes in its jurisdiction, and the Irish government responded with securing the necessary constitutional changes. However, Poland’s ruling party is unlikely to have similar intentions.

The case was filed by the Polish Prime Minister before a court whose composition, independence, and functioning have been severely compromised by the Law and Justice Party since 2016. The move can hardly be seen as but another move by Poland’s ruling party to use this flawed court to do its bidding. A year ago, the same court invalidated access to safe abortion for Polish women. In April, it removed the country’s Ombudsman from office, despite the government’s failure to identify a successor.

Responding to last week’s ruling, EU Commission Chair Ursula Von Der Leyen committed to using “all the powers” to protect the binding nature of the CJEU. The EU Commission should match this rhetoric with renewed infringement proceedings against Poland’s government to address the ongoing misuse of the Constitutional Tribunal to undermine rights. The Commission should continue its commitments to tie EU Recovery Funds to serious rule of law guarantees and implement the EU treaty mechanism that conditions EU funds on respect for EU values.

Following the Polish court’s ruling, the French and German Foreign Ministers recalled that EU membership is tied to common values and rules. Their words need to be matched by action. For too long, EU member states’ slow pace of scrutiny of Poland under the Article 7 mechanism has emboldened Poland’s government. It’s time for the EU Council to stand up for people in Poland and across the EU and agree on collective action on rule-of-law recommendations and to formally acknowledge that EU values are under attack in Poland.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 13, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon, center, leads families of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings in the "war on drugs" in a march calling for an investigation by the UN Human Rights Council in Manila, Philippines, July 9, 2019. © 2019 Bullit Marquez/AP Images

The Philippines has lost a beloved human rights defender. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, known to all as “Chito,” who had chaired the governmental Commission on Human Rights since 2015, died October 9 from complications due to Covid-19, his family said. He was 57.

Friends and allies in the human rights movement mourned Gascon’s passing. “The country lost a dedicated public servant who never cowered in fear in asserting people’s rights and civil liberties,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a group advocating for the rights of political prisoners. “Amid the challenges faced by the CHR … he carried on with dignity, strength and courage,” said Jacqueline Ann de Guia, Gascon’s colleague at the commission. Even the military, often the target of commission investigations, paid its respects.

Gascon championed truth telling as a way for the Philippines to address the horrors of its past. Before his appointment as CHR chair, he was a member of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, which administered reparations for the victims of martial law abuses in the 1970s and 1980s. “Remembering serves as society’s bulwark against tyranny and the evils of violence, discrimination, social exclusion that come with it,” Gascon said in a speech last year.

Gascon’s idealism sprang from his exposure to politics during the tumultuous Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, which he opposed as a student leader at the University of the Philippines. After Marcos was ousted in 1986, President Corazon Aquino appointed Gascon as the youngest member to the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution. He then represented the youth in Congress, where he advocated legislation to protect children, among others. Over many years he held a string of human rights-related positions both inside and outside of government.

Gascon’s death comes at a crucial time for the Philippines. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has committed catastrophic rights violations through its “drug war” and other abusive policies, and has sought to destroy institutions promoting accountability such as the CHR. “This is going to be a long, hard fight,” he told me the last time I saw him three years ago, tapping his cane on the floor of his office. “But we will overcome.”

Filipinos determined to overcome the ongoing relentless assault on their rights should take inspiration from the commitment of Chito Gascon.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 13, 2021, 1:17 am
Click to expand Image Dry climate and wildfires create a residual layer of thick pollutants that cover the city of São Paulo, Brazil on September 17, 2020. © 2020 Marcelo Machado de Melo/Fotoarena/Sipa USA

Less than three weeks ahead of the global COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, two key United Nations human rights bodies in Geneva have taken action to strengthen the human rights framework around the climate crisis. The decisions are a clear signal that unless governments take more ambitious climate action necessary to protect human rights from the increasingly catastrophic toll the crisis is having around the globe, there is now a higher chance they will be held accountable for their inaction.

On October 11, the UN Children’s Rights Committee discussed a complaint lodged by 15 children and youth – including Greta Thunberg – against five countries claiming they were making inadequate efforts to address the climate crisis that would result in severe impacts on child rights and future generations. Disappointingly, the committee declared the petition inadmissible on procedural grounds, ruling that the children should have first brought domestic legal action in each of the five countries. But it also ruled that greenhouse gas emissions have a negative effect on the rights of children living outside the boundaries of the states producing the emissions, potentially leading to a violation of their rights, and opening the door for similar cases to be successful.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council also adopted two landmark resolutions on the environment. The first recognized the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment which will help empower local communities to defend their livelihoods, health, and culture against environmental destruction. The second established a new expert on human rights and climate change, to assess governments’ climate policies, provide them with guidance on how to uphold their rights obligations to address climate change, and call them out publicly when they fail to do so.

Just weeks out from COP26, these three decisions come at a time when forest fires, drought, heat, floods, and other extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change are already causing harm and suffering to millions of people. They put governments on notice that meeting their human rights obligations will need to be a central issue in the climate change negotiations in Glasgow and beyond.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 12, 2021, 4:53 pm
Click to expand Image People take part in a rally to support the LGBT legislation in Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan on June 6, 2021. © 2021 PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty

A Japanese transgender man, Gen Suzuki, 46, has filed a court request to have his legal gender recognized as male without undergoing sterilization surgery as prescribed by national law. His case highlights the urgent need for Japan to revise its outdated and harmful transgender legislation.

In Japan, transgender people who want to legally change their gender must appeal to a family court. Under the “Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act,” applicants must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be surgically sterilized. They also must be single and without children younger than 20.

In 2017, during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Japan pledged to revise the law. But despite mounting domestic and international pressure, the government has failed to do so. In 2019 Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the law did not violate Japan’s constitution. However, two of the justices recognized the need for reform. “The suffering that [transgender people] face in terms of gender is also of concern to society that is supposed to embrace diversity in gender identity,” they wrote.

UN experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have both urged Japan to eliminate the law’s discriminatory elements and to treat trans people, as well as their families, the same as other citizens.

Momentum is growing domestically as well, as legal, medical, and academic professionals are speaking out against the law. In 2019 a transgender woman sued the Japanese government over a law that prevents her from having her legal gender officially changed from “male” to “female,” only because she has an 8-year-old child.

Even the name of Japan’s law reflects the need to reform it. Referring to “gender identity disorders” is fundamentally out of sync with international medical standards. The World Health Organization (WHO) removed “gender identity disorders” from its International Classification of Diseases in 2019, and governments have until January 2022 to update their diagnostic coding systems, meaning the phrase should no longer be on the books.

From Suzuki’s case to the WHO, to the growing voices of experts at home, the message is clear: Japan needs to change its regressive law now. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 12, 2021, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image Participation in sport should provide children with the joy of play, and with an opportunity for physical and mental development and growth. In Japan, however, violence and abuse are too often a part of the child athlete’s experience. Photo montage of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium and youth in Japan training and playing popular sports. © 2019 imagenavi/Aflo; 2005 Doable/a.collectionRF/amanaimages; 2020 Human Rights Watch; 2015 Satoru Kobayashi/a.collectionRF/amanaimages; 2016 RYO/amanaimages; Trevor Williams/Getty Images; 2020 Human Rights Watch; 2016 Matsuo/Aflo; AdobeStock

(Tokyo) – The Japan Sports Agency and Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games should establish an independent national body to address the abuse of athletes in Japan, six Japanese and international nongovernmental organizations said today.

October 12, 2021 Japan Safe Sport Joint Letter

On October 12, 2021, Athlete Save Japan, Human Rights Watch, Japan Judo Accident Victims Association, Japan Safe Sport Project, Kantokuga Okottewa Ikenai Taikai, and Unisocc wrote to the Japan Sports Agency commissioner, Koji Murofushi, and the Tokyo Organizing Committee president, Seiko Hashimoto, and urged them to make a commitment to create a safe sport center.

Such a center would create a way for athletes to report abuse and for the authorities to track how the report is handled. It would establish meaningful remedies for athletes and parents and deter child abuse by identifying and decertifying abusive coaches. It would also provide activities to promote the concept of safe sport and access to professional legal assistance for athletes.

“Japanese athletes have long faced a harsh reality that in order to compete, they must endure abuse and mistreatment,” said Shoichi Sugiyama, a lawyer for athletes’ rights and founder of the Japan Safe Sport Project. “Japan can and should lead the global movement for reforms to protect children and athletes in sport.”

A Human Rights Watch report issued on July 20, 2020, “‘I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count’: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan,” documented that child athletes in Japan suffer physical, sexual, and verbal abuse when training for sports. Japanese sport has a history of corporal punishment against children, known as taibatsu.

In the years-long preparations for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, many Japanese athletes, parents, and human rights groups documented abuses such as more than 100 deaths of athletes in judo training since 1983.

The organizations also created the #AthletesAgainstAbuse campaign in Japanese and English calling for the establishment of a Japan Safe Sport Center.

“During the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, all eyes were on Tokyo,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, after the Games have closed, the attention shifts to their legacy and the long-term human rights benefits the Games can bring to children and families in Japan.”

Institutional gaps blunt Japan’s response to and prevention of abuse in sports. Currently in Japan, sports organizations have a primary responsibility to address abuse and protect athletes. Without clear and comprehensive athlete protection protocols from the governmental Japan Sports Agency, sports organizations on their own must create systems for the prevention, reporting, investigation, and punishment of athlete abuse. This fragmented authority structure has resulted in inconsistent and inadequate systems for protecting athletes.

“Japan at long last needs to set up a national independent body to address all allegations of athlete abuse,” said Keiko Kobayashi, former director of Japan Judo Accident Victims Association. “My son became severely disabled from taibatsu during judo training. His case is only the tip of the iceberg. Japan needs serious reforms now for the sake of future generations.”


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 12, 2021, 5:00 am