Click to expand Image Haiti’s former minister of sports, Evans Lescouflair, speaks at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona, Spain, March 10, 2010. © 2010 AP Photo/ David Ramos

Thanks to the courage of survivors and whistleblowers, Haiti’s government is taking important steps to bring top sports officials implicated in child abuse to justice and out of sport.

On July 2, Haiti’s former minister of sports, Evans Lescouflair, was arrested by Interpol in Panama where he had sought to escape Haitian justice. Lescouflair stands accused of repeatedly raping an 11-year-old student while he was a teacher. He is also facing a civil lawsuit brought by several other people who have brought forward evidence that he sexually abused them.

“With Lescouflair in jail facing justice at last, our goal as survivors is to send a message that all children in Haiti and worldwide deserve full protection from sexual abuse at all times,” said Claude-Alix Bertrand, a childhood survivor of abuse who is also Haiti’s ambassador to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “Sport should should not be a place where powerful leaders abuse children and get away with it. We must use this case as a catalyst for permanent change to protect children in sport and beyond.”

Lescouflair was also a top official at the Haitian Football Federation, and was president of a youth football club.

This case follows the December 2020 suspension and lifetime ban for Haitian Football Federation President Yves Jean-Bart for sexually abusing women and girls on Haiti’s national football team. After an investigation, FIFA, the world football federation, banned Jean-Bart from football for life.

However, FIFA has not removed other Haitian federation officials who were involved in covering up sexual abuse and who still work with Haiti’s women’s national team, and has not attempted to collect the US$1 million fine it issued Jean-Bart.

Whistleblowers and survivors have been threatened to prevent them from bringing evidence of sexual abuse. After Jean-Bart’s appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in April, witnesses received threats by text that read: “I have your coffins prepared.”

Human Rights Watch has reported on new waves of violence threatening the justice system in Haiti. Haitian authorities should take steps to ensure access to justice, to protect whistleblowers and survivors, and to arrest and sanction sexual abusers in sport and their accomplices.

International sports bodies FIFA and the International Olympic Committee should support athlete survivors by banning child abusers from sport and upholding their own child safeguarding policies.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 1:30 pm
Click to expand Image Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza in Moscow. © 2021 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

(Berlin) – Russian authorities’ new spurious charge against opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza is a thinly veiled threat to the Russian public not to engage in dissent, Human Rights Watch said today. Russian authorities should immediately free Kara-Murza and drop all charges against him.

Kara-Murza was informed of the new charge, of involvement in an “undesirable” foreign organization, on August 3, 2022. He has been in detention since April on a trumped-up charge of spreading “fake news” about the Russian Armed Forces for his public criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It is now a pattern for the Kremlin to throw its critics behind bars on spurious charges and then continue to add new bogus charges against them to keep them there,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new charge against Kara-Murza is a blatant attempt to instill more fear among Russia’s civil society and deter it from mobilizing against the Kremlin and its war against Ukraine.”

Kara-Murza’s detention and prosecution is part of Russian authorities’ accelerated efforts to punish and silence all dissent, Human Rights Watch said.

In April, the police detained Kara-Murza on administrative grounds near his home in Moscow, claiming, falsely, that he had disobeyed police orders. While he was in detention, the authorities brought criminal charges of spreading “deliberately false information” about the Russian army for a speech he made before the Arizona House of Representatives in the United States, in March.

During his speech, he said that “the whole world sees what Putin’s regime is doing to Ukraine: the cluster bombs on residential areas, the bombings of maternity wards and hospitals and schools,” referring to these acts as war crimes. The prosecution claims that Kara-Murza’s speech was guided by “political hatred” against Russian authorities, an aggravated circumstance. Kara-Murza faces up to 10 years in prison on these charges.

The new charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. The investigators also opened a new case against Kara-Murza in July, alleging that he used funds from the US-based Free Russia Foundation, which the Russian authorities banned as “undesirable” in 2019, to organize a conference in October 2021.

Under Russia’s repressive “undesirables” laws, the prosecutor’s office can designate as “undesirable” any foreign or international organization that allegedly undermines Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. The organization must then cease its activities in Russia, and Russian citizens’ continued involvement with such organizations carries a criminal penalty of up to six years in prison.

More than 60 organizations have been blacklisted as “undesirable.” Russian authorities continue to expand the law to widen the scope of people who can be designated “undesirable” and of what constitutes “involvement.” So far in 2022, Russian courts have sentenced two activists to several years in prison on “undesirable” charges.

Kara-Murza had been a vice president of the Free Russia Foundation and a coordinator of Open Russia civic movement, both designated as “undesirable” by Russian authorities. He stepped down from his position at Free Russia Foundation in 2019 and Open Russia closed in May 2021.

In cruel irony, the conference that the authorities are using to incriminate Kara-Murza was dedicated to political prisoners in Russia and was co-organized by Russia’s prominent human rights group Memorial and the Sakharov Center, Human Rights Watch said. Co-organizers Sergey Davidis, of Memorial, and Sergey Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Center, publicly stated that the 2021 conference was organized together with Kara-Murza in his individual capacity, and that Free Russia Foundation had no involvement.

Kara-Murza’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told Human Rights Watch that he believes the authorities have made these spurious charges against Kara-Murza “to demonstrate that they can do whatever they want.”

When the police detained Kara-Murza in April, they denied his lawyers access to him at the police station for at least 12 hours, and his defense team is experiencing difficulties transmitting case materials to and from his detention facility. The courts have repeatedly closed preliminary hearings in Kara-Murza’s case to the public. His defense team is concerned that the trial may also take place behind closed doors, compounding concerns that Kara-Murza will be denied a fair trial.

Kara-Murza has been a vocal critic of Kremlin for years and was a close friend of the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. He survived two near-fatal poisonings, in 2015 and 2017, which Bellingcat investigative journalists reported was most likely orchestrated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). He has called for sanctions against the Kremlin and has spoken before political bodies throughout Europe, in the US, and at many international and intergovernmental forums, including the UN.

“The fake charges against Kara-Murza are purely politically motivated, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released, as should the many other Russians prosecuted on outrageous ‘fake news,’ ‘undesirable,’ and similar charges,” Williamson said. “The Russian authorities need to stop misusing and manipulating the justice system in their desperate efforts to stomp out dissent and opposition.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 1:24 pm
Click to expand Image Noureddine Adam, the chief of the FPRC, the main Central African armed group, poses in Birao, northern Central African Republic, on December 20, 2017. © 2017 ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP via Getty Images

Last week the International Criminal Court (ICC) made public an arrest warrant for a rebel leader in the Central African Republic, Noureddine Adam.

The warrant, which was previously sealed and dated back to January 2019, states that Adam is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture. Adam’s warrant is consistent with the ICC seeking to target the highest-ranking rebel leaders responsible for atrocities in the Central African Republic.

Adam was the number two leader of the Seleka, an armed rebel group that tore its way through the Central African Republic in 2013. One of the first leaders to arrive in the capital, Bangui, when the rebels took the city, Adam became the Minister of Public Security, then later national security advisor. In 2014 he fled Bangui with the rest of the Seleka, and has since moved between Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

The arrest warrant points to allegations that Adam oversaw torture.

He oversaw Seleka fighters, and in 2013 when we met and presented him with documentation of serious crimes perpetrated by the Seleka, he had one response: blanket denial. He blamed the wanton killings of women and children on anyone but Seleka fighters, even denying we spoke with villagers fleeing an attack who had identified Seleka soldiers. Yet evidence indicates that soldiers under his command brought chaos to Bangui and the provinces.

After he fled Bangui, Adam took command of other armed groups, emerging as a prime example of how abusive leaders who enjoy impunity continue to commit crimes.

Another Seleka commander, Mahamat Said Abdel Kan, is also facing charges at the ICC. His trial is due to begin in September. But Said did not have the same level of command that Adam held during the Seleka’s reign of terror. Prominent leaders from the anti-balaka militia – who fought the Seleka for years – have also been sent to The Hague for trial. One such leader, Maxim Mokom, was surrendered to the ICC last March by Chad.

Adam is reported to be in Sudan, where he continues to evade justice. Sudan should follow Chad’s lead and surrender ICC suspects to the court. Bearing in mind, Sudan has not yet handed over to the court its own alleged war criminals: three ex-officials, including former president Omer al-Bashir. Still, Adam should become an example of justice, not impunity, in the Central African Republic.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 1:00 pm
Click to expand Image Cambodian authorities force NagaWorld strikers onto city buses to remove them from picket lines near the NagaWorld Casino in Phnom Penh, February 23, 2022. © 2022 CamboJA News

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should press Cambodian authorities to stop using Japan-funded public buses to forcibly remove striking workers from picket lines in Phnom Penh, Human Rights Watch said today. The Cambodian government’s actions against workers have violated their basic rights to strike and to freedom of association and expression.

Since the NagaWorld Casino laid off 1,329 workers in April 2021, former employees have been protesting outside the casino in central Phnom Penh and went on strike in December. Local authorities have arrested dozens of striking union activists and forcibly removed them from the strike site in Japan-funded public buses, transporting them to the outskirts of the capital city or to Covid-19 quarantine sites.

“Japan should demand that Cambodian authorities stop misusing buses provided with Japanese taxpayer money or face being complicit in Cambodian government abuses against striking workers,” said Teppei Kasai, Asia program officer at Human Rights Watch. “The Japanese government should be promoting workers’ rights abroad, not allowing foreign aid to be used to undermine them.”

On September 27, 2016, the Japanese government signed a grant program of nearly 1.4 billion yen (US$10 million), to donate 80 buses to Phnom Penh.

In a June 24, 2022 letter, Human Rights Watch asked Japan’s foreign aid agency, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to disclose whether the Japanese government had expressed concerns or taken any action regarding the Cambodian government’s misuse of the buses. The agency responded on July 28 that “the Japanese government and JICA have been in close contact on a daily basis with the Cambodian government, including about the human rights situation, and are working on this matter in an appropriate manner, but considering this is a diplomatic matter, we would like to refrain from commenting on the details of the communication.”

It is evident from video footage circulating on social media that officials are using the buses to assist in strike-breaking. One video shows at least five uniformed police, accompanied by three men in civilian clothing – one of whom is holding a walkie-talkie – pushing and dragging three female strikers onto a bus stairwell. Human Rights Watch verified the authenticity of the video, identified the exact location, and matched the bus’s interior with the buses financed by Japan.

NagaWorld Casino’s mass layoff in April 2021 included the president of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), Chhim Sithar, and other union leaders and activists. Since then, the union has demanded the reinstatement of dismissed workers, in particular union leaders, and payment of fair compensation for those terminated in accordance with Cambodia’s Labor Law.

In December, the Cambodian authorities immediately and without basis labelled the union’s industrial action “illegal,” yet workers continued their strike. The authorities detained 11 union activists, including Chhim Sithar, on the basis of groundless “incitement” charges as well as alleged violations of Cambodia’s abusive “law on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other deadly infectious diseases,” even though strikers complied with the required Covid-19 measures.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Cambodia has ratified, provides for the right to strike. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that the right to strike is a right that workers and their organizations, including trade unions and federations, are “entitled to enjoy,” that any restrictions on this right “should not be excessive,” and that the “legitimate exercise of the right to strike should not entail prejudicial penalties of any sort, which would imply acts of anti-union discrimination.”

In 1991, Japan issued its charter on Official Development Assistance (ODA), which includes human rights as one of its principles. The principle regarding how aid should be used in Japan’s ODA Charter states: “Full attention should be paid to efforts for promoting democratization and the introduction of a market-oriented economy, and the situation regarding the protection of basic human rights and freedom in the recipient country.”

The Cambodian government’s use of the vehicles to assist in forcibly disbanding peaceful union protests, undercuts workers’ rights to strike, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and to bargain collectively, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Japanese government’s commitment to abide by its development assistance charter will raise serious doubts if no immediate and effective action is taken to end Cambodia’s misuse of its buses,” Kasai said. “Tokyo should send a clear message to the Cambodian government that respect for human rights is central to the bilateral relationship.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with African ministers at United Nations headquarters, May 18, 2022. © 2022 Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP

(Washington) – The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Rwanda from August 10 to 12, 2022, will come amid heightened concerns that the M23 armed group is, again, receiving Rwandan support for abusive operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. Blinken will also visit Congo where the M23 has expanded its control in the North Kivu province, in the eastern part of the country, targeting civilians with summary killings.

The visit provides an opportunity to condemn these attacks, including war crimes, and any documented support by Rwanda enabling the abusive conduct. The visit should also be used to highlight systematic human rights violations, including crackdowns on opponents and civil society, both within and across Rwanda’s borders. Secretary Blinken should press the authorities to release critics and opponents who have been jailed for exercising basic rights.

“Secretary of State Blinken should speak some hard truths during his trips to Rwanda and Congo,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Failing to address Rwanda’s abysmal human rights record has emboldened its officials to continue to commit abuse, even beyond its borders.”

Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has waged a brutal campaign against real and perceived critics of the government for years. Recently, high-profile critics, including internet bloggers, have been arrested and threatened. Some have recently said they were tortured in detention. The authorities rarely credibly investigate enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths of opponents. Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in unofficial detention facilities is common, especially around high-profile visits or large international events such as the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Blinken is set to raise the case of Paul Rusesabagina, whose arrest and detention in August 2020 falls within well-documented patterns of abuse against critics and raised grave concerns over the politicization of Rwanda’s judiciary. Rusesabagina, now a Belgian citizen, was living in the US when he travelled from the US to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He was forcibly disappeared until the Rwanda Investigation Bureau announced it had Rusesabagina in custody in Kigali. Human Rights Watch documented several due process and fair trial violations throughout Rusesabagina’s trial, which resulted in a lengthy sentence.

Blinken should also raise the cases of journalists, commentators, and opposition activists jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression. On May 30, a detained commentator popular on YouTube, Aimable Karasira, told a judge that he was tortured in detention and denied medical treatment. In a July 7 court appearance, he said he had been punished for revealing his treatment in detention and beaten again.

Attacks and threats against Rwandan refugees living abroad, including in Uganda, Mozambique, and Kenya, continue unabated. The victims have tended to be political opponents or critics of the Rwandan government or of President Paul Kagame.

Commentators, journalists, opposition activists, and others speaking out on current affairs and criticizing public policies in Rwanda have been forcibly disappeared, and some have died under suspicious circumstances. The Rwandan government consistently fails to effectively investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment, or ensure accountability. In many of these cases, the evidence points to the involvement of state security forces. This has created a climate of fear among the population and widespread impunity.

Among these cases is the suspicious death in police custody of well-known activist and singer Kizito Mihigo, despite calls from international partners including the then assistant US secretary of state for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy. Innocent Bahati, a popular poet who published his work focusing on social and human rights issues on YouTube, disappeared in suspicious circumstances on February 7, 2021, and remains missing. The authorities have made vague and unsubstantiated claims that he has left the country.

Blinken should ask for concrete updates on investigations and any steps taken by the authorities to deliver justice in these cases, Human Rights Watch said. The US should urgently signal that there will be consequences for the government’s repression and abuse in Rwanda and beyond its borders.

The M23 was originally made up of Congolese army soldiers who participated in a mutiny in early 2012. These soldiers had previously been rebels in a Rwandan-backed armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People. M23 committed widespread war crimes and took over large parts of North Kivu province throughout 2012, with direct support from Rwandan army troops deployed to eastern Congo.

UN investigators at the time also said that Ugandan army commanders had sent troops and weapons to reinforce some M23 operations and assisted the group with recruiting. In 2013, after the M23 briefly captured Goma, UN-backed Congolese government troops forced the M23 back into Rwanda and Uganda. Congolese authorities issued arrest warrants for UN-sanctioned M23 senior commanders in 2013. Rwanda and Uganda never acted on these extradition requests.

As Congo failed to demobilize the group over the last decade, the M23 began recruiting and rebuilding its ranks in 2021. Since May, the M23 has demonstrated a capacity to overrun UN-backed Congolese forces. UN sources and a senior Congolese official have suggested to Human Rights Watch that the group is receiving sustained external assistance.

On June 14, the United States embassy in Congo said it was “extremely concerned about the recent fighting in eastern [Congo] and the reported presence of Rwandan forces on [Congo]’s territory.” The UN Group of Experts on Congo, mandated by the UN Security Council to monitor the implementation of its sanctions regime, confirmed in its June report the presence of men in Rwandan military uniforms in M23 camps. On August 4, media reported that the UN Group of Experts report found “solid evidence” of Rwandan forces fighting alongside and providing other support to M23. The government of Rwanda has repeatedly denied supporting the M23.

As in 2012, the M23 are committing war crimes against civilians, Human Rights Watch said. Witnesses described summary killings of at least 29 people, including children, in June and July 2022. The US should raise with Rwanda the reliable reports that it is again supporting the M23’s abusive conduct in eastern Congo. Secretary Blinken should publicly condemn the M23 attacks in the strongest terms and warn of consequences to Rwanda for any support to the M23 in carrying out such abuses.

Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on July 20 that he would place a hold on US security assistance to Rwanda in Congress over concerns about its human rights record and its role in the conflict in Congo. In a letter to Blinken, Menendez asked for a comprehensive review of US policy toward Rwanda.

“The M23 thrives on impunity and cycles of violence fuelled by a disregard for basic human rights,” Mudge said. “Secretary Blinken should not gloss over the abuse in both Rwanda and Congo but instead put human rights front and center during his visit.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with African ministers at United Nations headquarters, May 18, 2022. © 2022 Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP

(Washington, DC) – United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken should publicly promote free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and anti-corruption efforts during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo on August 9 and 10, 2022, 17 US and Congolese organizations and experts said today. Blinken’s visit comes as the abusive M23 armed group has expanded its control in eastern Congo, attacking villages and summarily killing civilians. The UN Group of Experts on Congo recently confirmed renewed support for the M23 from the Rwandan military.

DR Congo under President Félix Tshisekedi is facing widespread human rights abuses and corruption, protracted attacks on civilians by numerous armed groups, and failed democratic institutions. The Congo Basin’s forests and peatlands, which are essential in the fight against climate change, are at increasing risk of logging and mining.

“The DR Congo’s government needs to demonstrate the political will to advance democracy, combat corruption, and address the country’s intensifying crises,” said Floribert Anzuluni of The Sentry and FILIMBI. “Secretary Blinken should denounce the escalating repression against activists, protesters, and journalists and warn that growing intolerance toward critics risks free, credible, and timely elections in 2023.”

Blinken should highlight the need for democratic elections that meet international standards, the groups said. The last elections, in 2018, were marred by widespread irregularities, including voter and candidate suppression, and non-credible official results, not meeting basic international standards for a democratic election. Congolese authorities should develop an accurate registration process with the timely publication of a voters’ list, make a commitment not to exclude lawful candidates or voters, ensure free campaigning by candidates and parties, and require transparent vote tabulation and reporting of results.

Blinken should also publicly condemn security force suppression of peaceful demonstrations and dissent. These problems have been particularly acute in eastern Congo, where the authorities have used martial law to curtail peaceful protests and other rights.

The resurgence of the M23 in the east has exacerbated fighting and abuses by dozens of armed groups in the region. Foreign military forces from Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi have also been implicated in abuses against civilians.

The M23, originally made up of soldiers who mutinied in early 2012, went on to commit widespread war crimes, with support from Rwandan troops. Over the past decade, Congo failed to demobilize the remnants of the group. In 2021 the M23 began rebuilding its ranks. Since May, M23 forces have at times overrun UN-backed Congolese forces in eastern Congo. Over the course of the renewed fighting, hate speech, in some cases by government officials, and stigmatization of communities linked to neighboring countries have been growing.

The UN Group of Experts on Congo, mandated by the UN Security Council to monitor the implementation of its sanctions regime, confirmed in June the presence of men in Rwandan military uniforms in M23 camps. On August 4, media reported that the Group of Experts found “solid evidence” of Rwandan forces fighting alongside and providing other support to the M23. The government of Rwanda has repeatedly denied supporting the M23. Additionally, violence by other armed groups has increased throughout the region, including around Beni and Ituri.

Blinken should make clear that the US will impose targeted sanctions on government officials and others found to be supporting abusive armed groups. He should also press for reform of the national army, riven by patronage relationships and embezzlement. Any settlement of the armed conflicts in the east should reject an amnesty for those responsible for grave international crimes, should not permit abusive commanders to integrate into Congo’s armed forces, and should include a vigorous disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program under new leadership.

“Secretary Blinken should inform Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, as President Barack Obama did in 2012, that the US will not tolerate any support for M23,” said Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo of the Centre d'études pour l'Action sociale (Center of studies for social Action, CEPAS). “He should emphasize the Congolese government’s need for military reform, including improved anti-corruption mechanisms, the vetting and removal of abusive officers, and investigations of officers implicated in past war crimes.”

President Félix Tshisekedi has made very little progress in dismantling high-level corruption, which stymies security, development, and responsible investment. Unrestrained corruption in the lucrative mining sector denies the Congolese people the benefits of the country’s vast natural wealth and deters responsible businesses from making long-term investments in the country. 

Blinken should urge the government to publish all mining contracts, including those with Dan Gertler, a businessman under US sanctions, the groups said. The government should make a genuine effort to combat systemic corruption, including in the mining and logging sectors, and impose accountability on those complicit in looting the country. It should address the findings of the “Congo Hold-Up” investigations, an account of large-scale corruption by a consortium of media and international groups.

Conflict across the Great Lakes region and political turmoil and violence in Congo necessitate a new regional policy strategy by the Biden administration to address urgent security and humanitarian issues, the groups said, including appointing a special envoy for the region. Past US special envoys to the Great Lakes Region who had senior diplomatic status and sufficient resources have played a vital role in mitigating conflict and addressing democracy and human rights issues, so long as they were sufficiently senior, pursued goals through diplomatic and financial pressure, and were well staffed. A special envoy could also help pursue administration priorities on global warming and protection of the Congo rainforest.

“Secretary Blinken’s trip to Congo should reinforce efforts to advance democratic elections, combat corruption, and end rights abuses,” said Ida Sawyer, director of the Crisis and Conflict Division at Human Rights Watch. “The US should appoint a special envoy to the Great Lakes region to demonstrate that it takes these problems seriously and wants to assist in meaningful democratic reforms.”

Signatories:

American Jewish World Service

Anthony W. Gambino, Former USAID Mission Director, DRC

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)

CREDDHO (Centre de recherche sur l’environnement, la démocratie et les droits de l’homme)

FILIMBI

Fred Bauma, Executive Secretary at Ebuteli, Lucha (lutte pour le changement) activist

Human Rights Watch

Jason Stearns, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Jewish World Watch

Joshua Z. Walker, Director of Programs, Congo Research Group, New York University Center on International Cooperation

Lucha (Lutte pour le changement)

Never Again Coalition

Panzi Foundation

RODHECIC (Réseau d'organisations des droits de l'homme et d'éducation civique d'inspiration chrétienne)

Stephen R. Weissman, Former Staff Director, US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa

The Sentry

UNIS

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 6:00 am
Click to expand Image Protesters at a rally in Minneapolis call for justice for George Floyd after closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial ended on April 19, 2021. © 2021 Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

(Geneva) – The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination should recommend the United States government to take immediate, tangible measures to dismantle structural racism in the US, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said today, releasing a joint report to the committee.

The United States, which in 1994 ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, will appear before the committee for a review of its compliance with the convention on August 11-12, 2022, in Geneva.

August 8, 2022 Racial Discrimination in the United States

“Decades after the US committed to end racial discrimination, systemic racism continues to infect our institutions,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “The Biden administration has shown it can name the problem, but the time has come to take bolder action to radically transform these abusive systems and fully implement US human rights obligations.”

President Joe Biden stated that “systemic racism” is “corrosive,” “destructive,” and “costly” when he adopted an executive order aimed at achieving racial equity in the United States. He is also the first US president to officially commemorate the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Yet his administration has not adopted an executive order to create a commission to study the need for reparations and develop specific remedies for the enslavement of people in the United States and its myriad legacies. Such a commission is also pending before the US Congress in a bill known as H.R. 40, and its Senate companion S. 40.

Under the anti-racism convention, the US is obligated to provide effective remedies, including reparations for racial discrimination, including ongoing structural discrimination that flows from the legacies of slavery.

“In the absence of congressional action to pass H.R. 40 and S. 40, President Biden should establish the commission to study and develop reparations for the legacies of slavery through executive order,” said Dreisen Heath, racial justice researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The US government needs to build an equitable future for all, and that requires going beyond ordinary public policy to take concrete measures to begin to comprehensively tackle everything from the yawning Black-white wealth gap to the terror of white supremacy.”

The anti-racism convention not only prohibits government actions that have a racist purpose or intent, but also those that have a racist effect or impact. In their report, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch detail the engrained policies in the United States that have disproportionately harmed non-white racial groups, especially Black Americans, including those leading to mass incarceration, police and immigration law enforcement killings and abuse, and policies affecting education, health, and reproductive rights.

The negative effects of these policies include:

The average white family in the US has roughly eight times the wealth of the average Black family, and white college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates. Almost two million people are locked up across the United States, with Black people imprisoned at a rate three times higher than white people. Black women are imprisoned at 1.7 times the rate of white women. Discrimination in enforcement of US immigration laws, including the US criminal re-entry statute, which a federal judge found was “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and would not have been enacted absent racial animus, continues unabated. In 2020, the US had an estimated 580,000 unhoused people, 39 percent of whom were Black, even though Black people are only 12 percent of the US total population. Though Black and white people use drugs at similar rates, Black people are imprisoned for drug crimes at five times the rate of white people. Police in the US continue to kill Indigenous, Latinx, and Black people at significantly higher rates, as much as 350 percent more frequently, than white people. Even greater racial disparities attend nonfatal uses of force by police.

On these issue areas and many others, the US government submitted its own report to the UN anti-racism committee in June 2021, claiming progress. In addition to refuting several of the US government’s claims, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, in their report, outline many of the areas in which the US is failing to uphold its obligations under the anti-racism convention, while recognizing some improvements. The groups also provide detailed steps the executive branch should take to begin to rectify the egregious failures under the convention.

“Since it ratified the treaty 30 years ago, the US has had plenty of time to come into compliance, but has miserably failed,” Dakwar said. “It’s long overdue for the US government to finally live up to its human rights promises, confront root causes of systemic racism, and adopt a plan of action to implement its international racial justice obligations. We expect the UN committee to hold the US to account. The ACLU and Human Rights Watch have provided the administration a roadmap toward compliance; they must use it, starting today.”

The joint report was drafted by a team of 10 former legal fellows at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU as a means of honoring the legacy of Aryeh Neier, former executive director of both organizations, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the creation of the joint Aryeh Neier Fellowship. Both organizations have engaged in decades of work alongside countless grassroots- and movement-based organizations to hold the US government accountable for racial injustice.

“Achieving racial justice in the United States requires unflinching dedication and substantive actions to end the compounding structural harms that stems from the enslavement of Black people and the legacies of settler colonialism,” Heath said. “This UN review should be a landmark moment of reckoning that furthers the cause of human rights for everyone in the United States.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 8, 2022, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Sri Lankan anti-government protesters call for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation,  Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 29, 2022. © 2022 Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via AP

Sri Lanka’s economic turmoil has become a full-blown political crisis and humanitarian emergency. The government defaulted on its debt in May, for the first time in its history, after years of economic mismanagement that has enriched a small number of elites and emptied the public coffers. Since then, protesters have driven President Gotabaya Rajapaksafrom power, demanding an end to the corruption and misgovernance that has left millions of people facing acute shortages of food, fuel, and medicine.

Despite the many challenges facing the country, the new government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe seems more focused on suppressing dissent than on solving the economic crisis, even as it negotiates a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The conditions the IMF places on this loan could either exacerbate the political and economic hardship or provide desperately needed relief while addressing underlying causes. The IMF should make clear to President Wickremesinghe that he needs to engage with the public, not silence them.

The program is expected to cap public spending, including public-sector wages, despite the IMF’s own guidanceacknowledging that public-sector wage cuts disproportionately harm women and encouraging alternative policies. It may also remove fuel and electricity subsidies and increase value-added or consumption taxes, which would drive up prices when millions are already struggling.

The IMF should use its leverage to ensure funding provides broad relief to Sri Lankans in a way that is transparent and accountable. A universal social protection program, recommended by the United Nations Development Programme and UNICEF, would avoid the staggering error rates and systemic corruption that has undermined the efficacy of Sri Lanka’s main safety net program, Samurdhi.

To finance an expansion in social protection, the IMF and government should look to introduce progressive taxation. It should also heed protesters’ calls, backed by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to root out systemic corruption and strengthen the rule of law.

Concrete measures the government can take include passing three anti-corruption bills that are currently before Parliament and reversing recent constitutional amendments that have undermined the independence of the judiciary, the human rights commission, and the bribery commission. It should also allow credible and independent investigations into corruption and support foreign governments to investigate, and if appropriate, return stolen assets hidden abroad.

Sri Lankans desperately need IMF support, but recent protests make clear that many seek reforms that will increase accountability and tackle the root causes of the country’s problems. The IMF’s actions should support these demands.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 5, 2022, 2:50 pm
Click to expand Image Révérien Ndikuriyo on the day of his election as secretary general of Burundi's ruling party in Gitega on January 24, 2021.   © 2021 Private

The head of Burundi’s ruling political party gave an appalling speech at a public event this week commemorating Lt. Gen. Adolphe Nshimirimina, who, before he was killed seven years ago, oversaw human rights violations including the killing, torture, and arbitrary arrest of suspected political opponents.

The speech was given by Révérien Ndikuriyo, the secretary general of the Burundi’s ruling party, to which Nshimirimina also belonged, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD). Ndikuriyo's words were a slap in the face for Nshimirimana’s victims.

Ndikuriyo then launched a shocking attack on international human rights organizations documenting abuse in Burundi today, including by members of the ruling party’s notorious youth league, the Imbonerakure. Ndikuriyo boasted about the party’s strategy to militarize the youth league, whose members commit abuses across the country.

That a known human rights violator continues to be idolized is bad enough, but it is compounded by the diplomatic community’s failure to take a public stance against these developments. On the same day that Ndikuriyo was attacking international human rights groups, the European Union ambassador to Burundi held a meeting with President Évariste Ndayishimiye.

Seven years ago, on August 2, 2015, Nshimirimana, the former head of the intelligence service and a close ally of then-President Pierre Nkurunziza, was killed when unidentified men opened fire on his vehicle in Bujumbura, Burundi. One of the country’s most powerful and brutal figures, he was seen as untouchable.

Nshimirimana’s assassination took place as the country descended into a protracted human rights crisis, triggered by Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term. Protesters were killed, tortured, and jailed. Civil society organizations and independent media were decimated, with almost all of their leaders forced into exile. The day after Nshimirimana’s death, a leading Burundian human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, was shot and injured.

At the time, the international community reacted forcefully to the unfolding human rights crisis, by imposing targeted sanctions, restrictions on funding, and establishing a United Nations commission of inquiry on Burundi to investigate grave human rights violations.

This week, Ndikuriyo's defiant speech shows how little interest ruling party leaders have in addressing the country’s abysmal human rights record. Today’s diplomats should seize every opportunity to raise human rights issues with Burundi’s leaders, making clear their concern about this kind of inflammatory rhetoric.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 5, 2022, 12:30 pm
Click to expand Image Afghans waiting in lines to receive emergency assistance from the World Food Program (WFP) in Kabul, Afghanistan, November 3, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Bram Janssen

(Washington, DC) – Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis cannot be effectively addressed unless the United States and other governments ease restrictions on the country’s banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued an updated question-and-answer document outlining the economic crisis and steps to overcome it.

August 4, 2022 Economic Causes of Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Crisis

Questions and Answers on Sanctions and Banking Restrictions on the Taliban

The US and other governments and the World Bank Group revoked the credentials of the Central Bank of Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021. The US air strike on July 30, 2022, killing the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, should not derail ongoing discussions between the US and Afghanistan to urgently reach an agreement allowing ordinary Afghans to engage in legitimate commercial activity.

“Afghanistan’s intensifying hunger and health crisis is urgent and at its root a banking crisis,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Regardless of the Taliban’s status or credibility with outside governments, international economic restrictions are still driving the country’s catastrophe and hurting the Afghan people.”

Despite actions by the US and others to license banking transactions with Afghan entities, Afghanistan’s central bank remains unable to access its foreign currency reserves or process or receive most international transactions. As a result, the country continues to suffer from a major liquidity crisis and lack of banknotes. Businesses, humanitarian groups, and private banks continue to report extensive restrictions on their operational capacities. At the same time, because outside donors have severely cut funding to support Afghanistan health, education, and other essential sectors, millions of Afghans have lost their incomes.

Acute malnutrition is entrenched across Afghanistan, even though food and basic supplies are available in markets throughout the country. An Afghan humanitarian official told Human Rights Watch in mid-July, “People have nothing to eat. You may not imagine it, but children are starving…. The situation is dire, especially if you go to the villages.” He said he knew of one family who had lost two children, ages 5 and 2, to starvation in the last two months: “This is unbelievable in 2022.” He said that he knew of no shortages in food supplies and that the causes of the crisis were economic: “A functioning banking system is an immediate and crucial need to address the humanitarian crisis.”

Almost 20 million people – half the population – are suffering either level-3 “crisis” or level-4 “emergency” levels of food insecurity under the assessment system of the World Food Programme (WFP). Over one million children under 5 – especially at risk of dying when deprived of food – are suffering from prolonged acute malnutrition, meaning that even if they survive, they face significant health problems, including stunting. Recently, the WFP reported that tens of thousands of people in one province, Ghor, had slipped into “catastrophic” level-5 acute malnutrition, a precursor to famine.

Overall, more than 90 percent of Afghans have been suffering from some form of food insecurity since last August, skipping meals or whole days of eating and engaging in extreme coping mechanisms to pay for food, including sending children to work. Afghanistan’s economic collapse was caused in part by a collapse in most families’ incomes following the Taliban takeover and foreign donors’ decisions to suspend outside budgetary support for numerous government, humanitarian, and development sectors, including education and health.

US and World Bank decisions to restrict Afghanistan’s banking sector have significantly amplified the crisis by hampering most legitimate economic activities, including humanitarian efforts. The Central Bank of Afghanistan is unable to carry out basic central banking functions, including holding currency auctions, importing banknotes, and processing or settling legitimate commercial and humanitarian transactions. Because of these incapacities, even basic economic activities remain severely curtailed.

“Importers are struggling to pay for goods, humanitarian groups are facing problems with basic operations, and the Afghan diaspora can’t send enough money to their relatives and friends,” Sifton said. “Millions of hungry Afghans are experiencing the abysmal reality of seeing food at the market but being unable to purchase it.”

Making matters worse, Afghanistan’s economic crisis is occurring as inflation and cost increases have been accelerating, with an over 50 percent increase for basic household items since July 2021. According to World Bank data, prices for staples such as rice and wheat have almost doubled in the last two months. At the same time, prices for agricultural inputs like fertilizer and fuel have doubled, and they are in short supply, meaning Afghanistan’s own domestic food production is set to decrease in 2022.

The crisis’ impact on women and girls is especially severe. An Afghan woman working for a civil society group said that restrictions on women’s basic rights to freedom of movement and work have made it difficult “even for educated women who used to be financially independent,” and fall particularly hard on widows. “Pregnant women are really affected by the situation, especially because of the limited access to health care. I know dozens of widowed women who send me messages every day asking for help.”

Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation would be even worse had the United Nations and other aid providers not substantially increased their operations in 2022, Human Rights Watch said. As the World Food Programme stated in a food security assessment for June through November 2022, “The severity of the situation is only partially mitigated by the unprecedented surge of humanitarian assistance that covers 38 percent of the total population of Afghanistan in the current period. In the absence of such assistance, the magnitude and severity of needs would be dramatically higher.”

The Taliban leadership should recognize that their poor human rights record is imperiling hopes to reach any agreements to resolve the banking crisis, Human Rights Watch said. Since last August, the authorities have imposed strict restrictions on women and girls that violate their rights to education, work, health care, and freedom of movement and speech. Taliban authorities have also suppressed media and arbitrarily detained and at times executed perceived critics or opponents.

Taliban authorities are reportedly prepared to accept independent monitoring of the central bank by outside auditors, a key demand of the US government and World Bank. But they continue to reject key demands from governments to remove sanctioned officials from the central bank’s leadership and to reverse their position denying secondary education to girls and women. 

“The Taliban seem more interested in restricting the human rights of Afghan women and girls than in preventing starvation,” Sifton said. “If their leadership is seeking legitimacy, they need to rethink their priorities.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 4, 2022, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, speaks with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she prepares to leave Taipei, August 3, 2022. © 2022 Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP

“F***, she got off the plane!” a man in China yells, as he smashes chairs in a video posted on the popular Chinese microblog platform Weibo. “She” refers to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of United States House of Representatives. The man is upset that the Chinese government allowed her plane to land in Taiwan instead of shooting it down.

Chinese social media is awash with similar videos and posts calling for violence against Taiwan. Around the time of Pelosi’s arrival, the sheer volume of discussion on Weibo overwhelmed the platform; users reported difficulty loading the website and the mobile app.

China’s sealed-off internet has made it difficult for outsiders to see the depth of hostility circulating there. The authorities block many popular international websites in the country while also making it harder for people outside the country to access Chinese websites. What’s said on Chinese social media might not be representative of the thinking of the average person in China, but the volume of hate suggests an upswing in ultra-nationalism in recent years. This reflects in part incessant state propaganda and censorship over territorial, ethnic, and human rights issues.

“Taiwan has always been an inseparable part of China.” As someone who grew up in China, this propaganda line – whose accuracy has been widely rebuked by experts – and many others are so imprinted in my mind that I can still easily recite them even after years living abroad. Discussions challenging these Chinese Communist Party platitudes are strictly prohibited and could send one to prison. Many human rights lawyers, activists, and writers who advocated for dialogue, reconciliation, and freedom have been jailed or driven to exile. Much of what remains online is a cacophony of rage and hate.

Beijing is now tasting the bitter fruit of its own oppression. Some netizens are calling on the Chinese government to dissolve the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, the government body dealing with Taiwan, arguing that these officials are “traitors” in need of “punishment.” After many posts where users had shifted their anger away from Pelosi and towards the Chinese government for failing to stop her Taiwan visit, social media platforms and accounts belonging to state media started to censor user comments.

 

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 3, 2022, 8:19 pm
Click to expand Image A protest by the Irish-Syria Solidarity Movement outside the Danish Embassy on June 4, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. © 2021 Artur Widak/NurPhoto via AP

Denmark’s controversial move to designate parts of Syria ‘safe’, thereby opening the door for the potential return of hundreds of Syrian refugees, is losing ground.

The intervention comes by way of the Netherlands’ Council of State ruling on July 6 that Syrian asylum seekers in the Netherlands cannot be automatically transferred to Denmark under the European Union’s “Dublin” arrangement that concluded that it cannot be assumed “the prohibition of inhuman treatment is respected by the Danish authorities.”

Under “Dublin”, the first EU country reached by an asylum seeker is usually responsible for processing their claim; the “Dublin system” permits an EU member state to automatically transfer an asylum seeker to the member state of first arrival. The system is premised on the assumption that EU member states share similar asylum standards and procedures, so asylum claims will be fairly examined wherever processed.

Following Denmark’s decision that two Assad-controlled areas, Damascus and Damascus Countryside, are now ‘safe’ for refugees to return to, the Netherlands will require an individual assessment to take place in each case before a transfer is considered.

It is astonishing that Denmark needs reminding that none of Syria is safe for refugee returns. The country is largely controlled by authorities responsible for crimes against humanity against their own citizens, buoyed by a network of state security agencies. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that Syrian refugees returned  from Lebanon and Jordan between 2017 and 2021 faced human rights abuses and persecution by the Syrian government and affiliated militias. The UN Refugee Agency maintains the position that it is not safe to return to Syria and it is neither facilitating nor promoting returns. It is also calling on host countries to maintain asylum protections for Syrian refugees. Also, on August 1, the US government redesignated Syria for Temporary Protected Status.

The Dutch decision will not overhaul the Danish designation that parts of Syria are safe – only the Danes can see to this. But it is telling that in 71 percent of cases, Denmark’s own Refugee Appeals Board has reversed decisions to remove temporary protection from Syrian refugees and granted them full refugee status. How long will it take for Denmark’s Immigration Service to get the message that Syria is not safe and repeal its dangerous designation?

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 3, 2022, 6:34 pm

(Beirut) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should pass a resolution at its September 2022 session to create an impartial fact-finding mission into the Beirut port explosion, 11 human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, said today, on the second anniversary of the explosion. The following is their statement:

We, the undersigned Lebanese and international organizations, call on the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council to put forward a resolution at the upcoming council session in September 2022 that would dispatch, without delay, an independent and impartial fact-finding mission for the August 4, 2020, Beirut explosion. The mission should establish the facts and circumstances, including the root causes, of the explosion, with a view to establishing state and individual responsibility and supporting justice for the victims.

The  explosion at Beirut’s Port was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in global history. The explosion sent shockwaves through the city, killing at least 220 people, wounding over 7,000, and causing extensive property damage. An initial investigation by Human Rights Watch points to the potential involvement of foreign-owned companies, as well as senior political and security officials in Lebanon.

Two years on, the domestic investigation has stagnated with no progress sight. The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly obstructed the course of the domestic investigation into the explosion by shielding politicians and officials implicated in the explosion from questioning, prosecution, and arrest. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Legal Action Worldwide, Legal Agenda, and the International Commission of Jurists have documented a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation, including flagrant political interference, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for the fair trial standards, and due process violations.

The politicians suspected in the case have filed over 25 requests to dismiss the judge leading the investigation, Tarek Bitar, and other judges involved in the case, causing the inquiry to be repeatedly suspended while the cases are adjudicated. The latest series of legal challenges filed against Judge Bitar have resulted in the suspension of the investigation since December 23, 2021.

It is now, more than ever, clear that the domestic investigation cannot deliver justice, making the establishment of an international fact finding mission  mandated by the UN Human Rights Council all the more urgent.  

"I am still breathing, but I am dead inside,” said Mireille Khoury, mother of Elias Khoury who was killed by the explosion at the age of 15. “It is my right to know why my son was taken away from me and who was responsible. This is my son's and my right. So far, Lebanon and the international community have failed us, the victims and the survivors of the explosion."

The survivors of the explosion and the families of the victims have previously sent two letters to the member and observer states of the Human Rights Council urging them to support a resolution establishing such an international investigation. Another letter was sent to the High Commissioner of Human Rights in March 2022 which remains unanswered. The international community has failed to heed their demands around the importance of uncovering the truth behind the Beirut Port Explosion, to break the cycle of impunity and recurrence at a crucial juncture in Lebanon’s history.

“As the Lebanese authorities continue to brazenly obstruct and delay the domestic investigation into the port explosion, an international investigation is the only way forward to ensure that justice is delivered,” said Diana Semaan, acting deputy director at Amnesty International. “The Lebanese authorities tragically failed to protect the lives of its people killed in the port explosion and since then they have stood against victims in their fight for justice.”

The Beirut explosion was a tragedy of historic proportions, arising from the failure to protect the fundamental right to life – and its impact will be felt for far longer than it takes to physically rebuild the city. Establishing the truth of what happened on August 4, 2020, is the critical foundation for providing redress and rebuilding after the devastation of that day as well to reduce the chance of similar catastrophic failures arising again in future.

The thousands of individuals whose lives have been upended and the millions who saw their capital city destroyed deserve nothing less.

"After two years of the failure of the domestic investigation, we call for an independent and impartial fact-finding mission to investigate the Beirut Port explosion.” said Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director of Legal Action Worldwide. “It is absolutely vital to achieve justice and uncover the truth, not only for victims, survivors, and their families but also for Lebanon. Lebanon cannot be built on shaky foundations."

Signatories:

Amnesty International

HELEM

Human Rights Research League

Human Rights Watch

Legal Action Worldwide

Mwatana for Human Rights

The Socio-Economic Justice Initiative- MAAN and Beirut607

The Swiss Foundation Accountability Now

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)

Tunisian Human Rights League 

Dr. Nasser Saidi

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 3, 2022, 6:00 am
Click to expand Image Sri Lankan police and military personnel near the parliament in Colombo, July 19, 2022. © 2022 Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via AP

(New York) – The Sri Lankan government is using emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis, Human Rights Watch said today. Since Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president on July 21, 2022, the police and military have sought to curtail protests through the intimidation, surveillance, and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, civil society activists, lawyers, and journalists.

Anti-government protests in Colombo and elsewhere in the country led then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country before resigning on July 15. On July 22, President Wickremesinghe ordered security forces to disperse protesters and break up their main site in central Colombo. The police have subsequently targeted perceived protest leaders for arrest and detention.

“The Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on peaceful dissent appears to be a misguided and unlawful attempt to divert attention from the need to address the country’s urgent economic crisis,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lanka’s international partners should be clear that they need to be working with a rights-respecting administration to address Sri Lanka’s deeply rooted economic problems.”

Security forces injured more than 50 people in the July 22 early morning raid on the main janatha aragalaya (people’s struggle) site in Colombo. Security forces assaulted and beat three journalists from Xposure News – Chaturanga Pradeep Kumara, Rasika Gunawardana, and Shabeer Mohammed – and at least one other journalist, Jareen Samuel of the BBC, during the raid. Wickremesinghe berated foreign diplomats for criticizing the security forces’ use of excessive force and took no action to hold those responsible to account.

A number of Buddhist monks and Christian clergy had joined the protests. The media reported that the Colombo Magistrates’ Court on July 25 had issued a travel ban on Father Jeewantha Peiris, a Catholic priest who had been prominent in the protests, and several others. Two days later police visited Father Peiris’s church and said that they had orders to arrest him. In a July 31 statement, 1,640 members of the Catholic clergy condemned targeting the priest, saying that they had all backed the protests.

On July 26, the authorities arrested another prominent protester, Dhaniz Ali, from an international flight about to depart from Colombo. On July 27, unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted Veranga Pushpika, a former student activist and journalist who had also been active in the protests, from a bus in Colombo. Police did not disclose his whereabouts to lawyers or the Human Rights Commission for several hours before acknowledging his arrest.

Human rights defenders said that the police sought to obstruct defense lawyers from meeting with four protesters who had been arrested after they handed over to the police a large sum of money taken from the president’s official residence after protesters had occupied it.

Lawyers and media organizations told Human Rights Watch that they have experienced increased intimidation, including threats of violence and surveillance. In one episode, a group of men claiming to be police officers, but not wearing uniform, visited the office of an online publication, Xposure News, on July 27 and demanded that a security guard identify people shown in photographs and show them CCTV footage.

On July 31, a student protester said in a statement on Facebook that he had been detained and interrogated for three hours by security force personnel who warned him that they could plant drugs on him and arrest him. Police summoned the social media activist Rathidu Senarathna, known as “Ratta,” on August 1 and arrested him after questioning. A Colombo magistrate also issued a foreign travel ban on Senarathna and 11 others suspected of illegal assembly and causing damage to property. On August 2, the authorities seized the passport of a British national, Kayleigh Fraser, who had posted about the protests on social media.

The authorities arrested at least seven people for the July 9 arson attack on Wickremesinghe’s private residence. Activists said that at least some of those detained were known to have been bystanders. Police are investigating a hotel that allegedly provided food to protesters and have raided, sometimes without warrants, the homes or workplaces of several protesters who are in hiding.

In a statement, 175 Sri Lankan human rights defenders and civil society organizations expressed concern about “disturbing developments of abduction, arrest, intimidation, and reprisals against protesters.” Members of the Catholic clergy said the government should “stop the repression of those involved and supporting the Aragalaya and focus on listening to grievances and aspirations of people and take actions to address both immediate and long-term problems.”

Under the state of emergency that President Wickremesinghe declared on July 18, the period that a person may be detained before being brought before a magistrate has been increased from 24 to 72 hours. The authorities have been granted sweeping additional powers of search and arrest, and the military has been empowered to detain people for up to a day without disclosing their detention. These provisions increase the risk of torture and enforced disappearance.

Under international human rights law, protections against torture, the excessive use of force, and other fundamental rights must never be violated, including during a state of emergency. Provisions of the state of emergency contrary to international standards should be immediately revoked, Human Rights Watch said.

The emergency regulations also introduce extreme new sentencing rules for several offenses, including damage to property and trespassing, which can now result in a life sentence and carry a minimum term of 20 years in prison. Among the offenses subject to harsher sentencing is a provision of the penal code that has previously been used to prosecute same-sex conduct. The decree provides that bail will not be available for those accused of offenses under the emergency regulations.

The state of emergency also gives the president and the police broad powers to ban public gatherings, allows the police or military to order anyone to leave any public place or face arrest, and makes it an offense to cause “disaffection” or to spread “rumors.” These provisions are vague, overly broad, and disproportionate in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and movement. 

In a statement following the assault on protesters on July 22, the European Union noted that it “expects the new Government to work in full compliance” with its human rights commitments, made in exchange for tariff free access to the EU market under the bloc’s GSP+ program. The World Bank said in a statement that the government should address “the root structural causes that created this crisis to ensure that Sri Lanka’s future recovery and development is resilient and inclusive.” Earlier, the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated that any agreement with the International Monetary Fund “must be contingent on … strong anti-corruption measures and promotion of the rule of law.”

“The people of Sri Lanka are reeling under an economic crisis that has plunged millions into food insecurity, the closure of schools, and shortages of medicine, fuel, and other necessities,” Ganguly said. “The government needs to end its repressive policies and practices and act urgently to address people’s basic needs, win public trust, and uphold the rule of law by holding those responsible to account.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 2, 2022, 10:00 pm
Click to expand Image Employees of Jammu and Kashmir Teachers Association protest against the killing of their colleague Rajni Bala in Jammu and Kashmir, India, June 2, 2022.   © 2022 AP Photo/Channi

(New York) – Indian authorities are restricting free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in Jammu and Kashmir three years after revoking the region’s special autonomous status, Human Rights Watch said today. The government’s repressive policies and failure to investigate and prosecute alleged security force abuses have increased insecurity among Kashmiris.

On August 5, 2019, the Indian government, promising security and reform, revoked the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two federally governed territories. The government action was accompanied by serious rights violations including arbitrary detention of hundreds of people, a total communications blackout, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assembly. Since then, the authorities have released many of the detainees and restored the internet, but have intensified their crackdown on media and civil society groups, including through frequent use of counterterrorism and public safety laws.

“Three years after the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status, the Indian authorities appear to be more concerned with projecting an image of normalcy than ensuring rights and accountability,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to end the assault on fundamental freedoms and act to protect minority groups at risk.”

The authorities have invoked the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, as well as terrorism allegations, to conduct raids and arbitrarily detain journalists, activists, and political leaders without evidence and meaningful judicial review. The authorities have also barred several prominent Kashmiris from traveling abroad without providing reasons. Since August 2019, militants have killed at least 118 civilians, including 21 people from minority Hindu and Sikh communities.

In November 2021, the authorities arrested a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, on politically motivated charges under the abusive counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Parvez, 44, is the program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. He has documented cases of enforced disappearances and investigated unmarked graves in Kashmir, and as a result, the Indian authorities have repeatedly targeted him for his human rights work.

United Nations human rights experts, calling for his immediate release, expressed “regret that the Government continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict civil society’s, the media’s and human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms.”

Journalists in Kashmir face increasing harassment by security forces, including raids and arbitrary arrests on terrorism charges. Authorities in India have shut down the internet more often than anywhere else in the world. A majority of those shutdowns have been in Kashmir, where they are used to curb protests and access to information.

Since August 2019, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir have faced police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, restrictions on freedom of movement, or fabricated criminal cases for their reporting. In June 2020, the government announced a new media policy that made it easier for the authorities to censor news in the region. In 2022, the authorities rearrested Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan, and Sajad Gul under the Public Safety Act after they had been granted bail separately in other cases filed against them in retaliation for their journalism work.

Since 2019, the security forces have been implicated in numerous abuses including routine harassment and ill-treatment at checkpoints, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings. In March 2021, five UN expert mandates wrote to the Indian government seeking information about the detention of a Kashmiri politician, Waheed Para; the alleged killing in custody of a shopkeeper, Irfan Ahmad Dar; and the enforced disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani, a resident of Shopian district. They raised concerns about “the repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights used against the local population, as well as of intimidations, searches, and confiscations committed by national security agents.”

There has been no accountability for these recent alleged extrajudicial killings or past killings and abuses by security forces, in part because of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives members of the armed forces effective immunity from prosecution. Since the law came into force in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts. Rights groups have long documented that the law has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination, and called for its repeal. Affected residents, activists, government-appointed committees, politicians, and UN human rights bodies have also criticized the law.

Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris – many of them Hindu, known as Pandits – were displaced from the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley after a spate of attacks by militant groups in 1989-90. The government has failed to provide for their safe return. Kashmiri Pandits employed in government jobs in Kashmir Valley have been on an indefinite strike, demanding relocation, after gunmen shot Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit government employee, in his office in the Budgam district in May 2022.

The government claims that it has provided government jobs for 5,502 Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley, and that no Kashmiri Pandit has migrated from this region since 2019. However, on June 1, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a group representing the minority population in the region, wrote to the region’s chief justice raising concerns for their safety, accusing the government of preventing them from relocating, and seeking high court intervention.

Instead of addressing human rights concerns, Indian officials have sought to project the appearance of progress, Human Rights Watch said. A year ago, the foreign minister said government policies in Kashmir have led to real “democracy, development, good governance and empowerment.” In July, during a visit to Kashmir, the home minister said that “a new era was established in Kashmir,” and that it was on the “path of peace and development.”

“The security forces’ raids and targeted attacks by militants in Kashmir are grim reminders of the unending cycle of violence linked to repressive Indian government policies and the failure to bring abusive forces to account,” Ganguly said. “The Indian authorities should ensure justice for security force abuses and end policies that violate the fundamental rights of Kashmiri people.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 2, 2022, 11:38 am
Click to expand Image A man shows a picture of the victim Nigerian street vendor Alika Ogorchukwu, in Civitanova Marche, Italy, July 30, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Chiara Gabrielli

On Friday in the small town of Civitanova Marche on Italy’s Adriatic coast, an Italian man beat and strangled a Nigerian street vendor in broad daylight.

Alika Ogorchukwu, 39, had apparently tried to sell the alleged assailant and his girlfriend a packet of tissues and then asked for some change.

Public debate is focused on gruesome details of the crime: Ogorchukwu was beaten with the crutch he used to walk and bystanders failed to intervene for the four minutes it took to kill him. Attention has also focused on the fact that the suspect’s lawyer says the suspect has a mental health condition.

Yet there’s another troubling aspect to this story: The police have excluded any possible racist motivation behind the violence. Said Deputy Police Commissioner Matteo Luconi, “There is certainly no racial element.” He also said the suspect’s reaction was due to “a particularly insistent request for a handout.”

Italy has historically failed to respond adequately to hate crimes. It has a law providing for longer prison sentences for racially aggravated crimes. But law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts tend to pursue this only if racism is identified as the sole motive.

That’s why in 2009 a court didn’t recognize any racist motivation when it convicted two men of murdering 19-year-old Italian Abdoul Guiebre after he stole a packet of cookies from their coffee shop, even though the killers shouted racist slurs and, “Thieves, go back to your own country.” The judge ruled that the perpetrators had, “a conservative vision of one’s cultural and territorial integrity, more than in a discriminatory theory of racial superiority.”

But as Guiebre’s grieving father told me, “If my son had had a different color of skin, the [perpetrators] wouldn’t have acted like that.”

The failure to identify hate crimes reflects a failure to acknowledge that racialized thinking influences behavior. It also means official statistics for hate crimes are low, giving Italian authorities and society a pretext to claim racially aggravated violence is rare and adopt the platitude that “Italy is not a racist country.”

Alika Ogorchukwu’s death is now an issue in the lead-up to Italy’s snap elections in September. It is insufficient that political party leaders across the political spectrum have condemned the killing. Italy needs to reckon with the institutional racism in its laws and policies. A call by all parties for a serious investigation of the role race played in the killing would be a start.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 2, 2022, 8:12 am
Click to expand Image Protesters in Nairobi, Kenya during a demonstration against police brutality on June 8, 2020.  © 2020 Sipa via AP Images

(Nairobi) – The failure of Kenyan authorities to address accountability for past abuses by police heightens the risk of police abuse around the August 9, 2022, general elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Kenya has a history of election-related violence including excessive, unlawful use of force by police, with few, if any, police officers held to account.

Victims’ families, activists, government officials, and police officers, have expressed concerns about possible violence if the August 9 presidential election results are disputed. In the aftermath of the 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch and other Kenyan and international human rights organizations documented killings by police and armed gangs, of 104 people, most of the victims being supporters of the then main opposition party, the National Super Alliance (NASA). With just seven days to another general election, Kenyan authorities have yet to take steps to ensure justice for police abuses that characterized the 2017 general elections, or to credibly investigate allegations that police are involved in recent extrajudicial killings.

“The failure to tackle police abuse in previous Kenyan elections risks emboldening them to continue their misconduct around this year’s general election,” said Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya’s government needs to enforce police accountability, including by restarting stalled police reform, and ending political interference of the police to end this worrying trend.”

Between April and June 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people, including 15 activists involved in police reform work, 3 police officers, including a deputy commissioner in charge of operations, 1 current and 2 former employees of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a state-funded civilian police accountability institution, 4 journalists who report on police issues, and a middle level state officer at the national Ministry of Interior and Coordination.

Some of those interviewed attributed the problem of police abuse, including excessive and unlawful use of force as a crowd control tactic during election periods, to the long-standing culture of impunity for police abuses. Activists and others said that the failure of the Oversight Authority to carry out its work, especially in recent years, has been a major problem, and that political interference has weakened efforts to prosecute police abuses.

Human Rights Watch found that addressing the lack of accountability for police abuses has been hampered by political interference in police work, investigative failures by the oversight authority, a lack of police cooperation in investigating abuses by police, a lack of political will to end the abuses and ensure accountability, and stalled police reforms.

Another problem is the lack of budgetary independence of the police service and the Oversight Authority, which government officials have leveraged to undermine the independence of the two institutions. Kenyan authorities have also undermined the quest for accountability by their actions, including stopping the police vetting process in 2014, reinstating vetted officers earlier sacked for their role in abusive practices, and weakening laws enacted over the past decade that aimed to enhance police accountability.

The majority of those interviewed said they were worried that police will respond abusively to violence or public protests around any election results’ disputes after the August voting. Several activists expressed concerns that the elections come at a time when the country is experiencing ongoing extrajudicial killings and disappearances, including those with alleged police involvement. In its annual report in April 2022, Missing Voices, a coalition of 15 civil society organizations including Human Rights Watch, documented 219 incidents in 2021 alone; 187 killings by police and 32 enforced disappearances.

Kenyan and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented excessive use of force by police, including execution of suspects and innocent bystanders between 2018 and 2020. Even though the identities of some individual officers implicated in the killings are known, Kenyan authorities have done little to end these killings. Kenyan authorities have also failed to investigate reports of threats by police against activists calling for accountability.

Current and former employees of the Oversight Authority said that police and other government officials frustrated the authority’s efforts to investigate and prosecute officers implicated in the 2017 killings.

One former official said that, despite repeated written requests and a court order during an inquest into one of the killings, the police have declined to release the operational orders that were crucial to the authority’s ability to identify the officers who did the killing. The current and former officials said that police and other senior government officials intimidated witnesses, shielded errant officers from justice, refused to abide by legal requirements to inform the Oversight Authority whenever a death occurred, and blocked officers from testifying against other officers. One said that allowing police to operate without name tags makes it difficult for victims and witnesses to identify abusers.

Allowing police officers to block investigations into serious abuses not only undermines justice for the victims, but also negatively impacts police credibility, Human Rights Watch said.

Kenyan activists, including Diana Gichengo of Amnesty International Kenya, attribute the persistence of police abuses and continued lack of accountability to, among other things, stalled police reforms, which had been strongly recommended by various government commissions.

The Commission of Inquiry into the post-election violence of 2007 found that police had raped, looted, and killed at least 405 people, among other abuses, and recommended police reforms to address systemic failures and partisanship within the police as well as some level of civilian oversight.

On May 7, Dominic Kisavi, a deputy police commissioner in charge of operations, told Human Rights Watch that police are not required to provide the information to the Oversight Authority and that the lack of accountability for the 2017 post-election abuses resulted from a lack of a clear command structure among the officers who had been deployed to quell the riots and not from a lack of cooperation by senior officers.

“We have now decided that the formalized units like the General Service Unit will only be deployed when necessary, and they will strictly work under the ground commander when they get deployed,” Kisavi said referring to the killings in Kisumu and Nairobi that have largely been blamed on the GSU, who were receiving instructions from Nairobi rather than the ground commander. He said the problems with law enforcement operations in 2017 elections are being addressed as part of preparation for the 2022 election. Further, he said that complying with Oversight Authority requests would depend on whether doing so would compromise operations or undermine national security, a position inconsistent with Kenya’s 2011 National Police Service Act, which requires police to cooperate with the authority.

Kenyan authorities should ensure that all police abuses, in the 2017 and earlier elections and more generally, are thoroughly and credibly investigated, and all the officers found culpable, including for obstructing justice and investigations into police abuse, are held to account in accordance with national law, Human Rights Watch said.

Under the National Police Service Act, lethal force is only justified when strictly unavoidable to protect life, in line with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Police Service Act also requires police officers who use lethal fire to report to their immediate superior, explaining the circumstances that necessitated the use of force.

Kenyan security forces should abide by all aspects of the UN basic principles, which stipulate that law enforcement officials should use nonviolent means, use firearms only in extreme cases that involve an imminent threat of death and serious injury, and only when other less extreme methods are insufficient. The basic principles also require governments to ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense.

On June 28, a Human Rights Watch team, led by Executive Director Kenneth Roth, met with William Ruto, incumbent deputy president and a 2022 presidential candidate, and Martha Karua, the running mate of Raila Odinga, another presidential candidate. Both promised to resolve any disputes that may arise out of the upcoming elections through the courts and pledged to continue to discourage their supporters from engaging in violence.

“Kenyan authorities need to do more to preserve the independence of the police and investigative bodies, and ensure that law enforcement operations, elections related or otherwise, are guided by national and international law,” Namwaya said. “An accountable police service that upholds the law and protects the public from violence is in Kenya’s interest.”

For additional details and findings, please see below.

Background

In the August 9 general election, Kenyans will vote for members of county assemblies, county governors, members of the national assembly and senate, and the successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has completed his two five-year terms allowed under the constitution. While the campaign period has been peaceful, there are concerns over possible violence if the presidential vote is disputed.

Kenyan police have for decades been implicated in serious human rights abuses, especially around elections, including in 2007 and 2017. The authorities have rarely investigated these abuses. Between 2007 and 2010, several government commissions made far-reaching recommendations to address abusive police conduct and lack of accountability, particularly around elections, but they were subsequently weakened or never carried out.

The 2008 report of the Commission of Inquiry into 2007-2008 Post Election Violence found that police had unlawfully killed 405 people, including children. The report implicated police in rape, murder, and looting, among other abuses. It recommended constitutional and institutional reforms to address systemic failures and police partisanship, as well as some level of civilian oversight.

The February 2009 report of the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary executions concluded that there was a climate of impunity, corruption, and disregard for human rights among the police. The rapporteur found that police operated death squads that routinely kidnapped and murdered suspected criminals and dumped their bodies. The rapporteur recommended legal, institutional, and constitutional reform; removal of the police commissioner; and vetting of the other police officers implicated in human rights abuses.

In May 2009, a report by the Kenya National Task Force on Police Reforms, headed by Justice Philip Ransley, found that Kenyan police were brutal, oppressive, extortionate, abusive, ineffective, and corrupt. Justice Ransley recommended legal, policy and constitutional, and structural reforms to make police more independent from political interference, and accountable.

Based on these findings, and the views of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, which completed its work in 2001, the 2010 Kenyan Constitution included provisions aimed at reforming the police to ensure accountability and independence. In 2011, to carry out the recommendations, Kenyan authorities introduced new laws and created new institutions including the Oversight Authority; the National Police Service Commission, responsible for recommending senior police officials for appointment; and a restructured police service that included an Internal Affairs Unit to deal with internal police complaints.

In the decade since, these reforms have yet to lead to desired changes in police abuses and the culture of impunity. Between August 2017 and February 2018, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of 104 people by police and pro-government armed gangs, including 6-month-old Samantha Pendo in Kisumu, western Kenya, and 9-year-old Stephanie Moraa Gesamba in Nairobi. In November 2017, the director of public prosecutions ordered a public inquest into the killing of the two children.

Although the inquest found police responsible for the deaths, it failed to identify the officer who beat Pendo to death and the officer who shot Moraa. Police failed to comply with court orders to produce operational orders and the register of the movement of arms and ammunition that might have helped identify the officers.

Six Kenyan activists told Human Rights Watch that they do not believe recent police pledges for rights-respecting responses to any violence during or after August elections. They said that the authorities need to restart the stalled police reforms to enhance independence of the police and remove officers implicated in human rights abuses, including use of excessive force during elections.

Attempts to Undermine Reforms

Between 2013 and 2016, instead of taking steps to carry out police reforms, the authorities introduced legal amendments that largely weakened police accountability institutions created under the 2010 Constitution.

In 2014, the government passed laws that expanded the role of the president in appointing members of the Oversight Commission and the National Police Service Commission, undermining their independence. The authorities also threatened to cut the Oversight Commission’s budget to discourage it from investigating politically sensitive allegations of police abuse. Authorities also introduced amendments in 2014 that compromised the independence of the Inspector General of Police, allowing the president to have the final say on the appointment of the inspector general, instead of the earlier requirement for the National Police Service Commission to recruit competitively and only submit the name of the final candidate to the president for appointment.

The 2014 amendments to the National Police Service Act undermined police independence. Activists said the amendments allow the executive branch of government to issue illegal orders from Nairobi that police are forced to carry out, especially around elections. A member of the Police Reforms Working Group, a consortium of Kenyan civil society groups advocating comprehensive police reforms, said that despite all efforts to reform the police, their lack of financial independence to act and make decisions without political interference has become more acute.

“The police budget is controlled by the Ministry of Interior,” the person said. He continued:

“The IG [Inspector General] is taking orders from the president. Police commanders in the counties are taking orders from regional and county commissioners, who are officers in the Ministry of Interior. This is very deliberate and undermines the original purpose of reforms.”

Stalled Police Vetting

The vetting process, established in the National Police Service Act, 2011, was important to identify and remove officers implicated in serious human rights abuses, including for the use of excessive force.

By early 2014, a vetting panel set up in 2012 by the National Police Service Commission had found 20 out of the 200 vetted officers, mostly top police commanders, unfit to serve, but Kenyan media suggested the number could have been as high as 300 officers. In 2014, the government then suspended vetting for the then 78,000-member police force indefinitely. It has not been restarted since.

Gichengo, of Amnesty International Kenya, said the vetting was also aimed at removing those who had failed in their command responsibilities and those implicated in corruption. Kenyan activists say that suspending the vetting process emboldened police officers previously implicated in abuses and further entrenched the culture of impunity that the reforms meant to address.

Members of the Police Reforms Working Group said that the authorities have not only failed to restart the vetting process but have since reinstated nearly all the 20 officers the vetting panel found unsuitable to serve. One activist said:

“It sends the wrong message when all the officers who had been implicated in human rights abuses and sacked after vetting, are suddenly brought back to employment at even more senior positions.”

An activist involved in police reform work for close to two decades said it was a major blow to the fight for accountability within the police service. A third activist said that it is difficult to believe that police will not use lethal force at protests during or after the August election, or that if there are killings by the police, those implicated will be held to account.

Police Use of Lethal Force

Nearly all of those interviewed, including the former and current Oversight Authority employees, expressed concern at the rise in extrajudicial killings by police and the inability of the authorities to ensure accountability. A journalist who has been reporting on police issues for two decades said:

“It is no longer an issue of a few rogue officers. The killings are now happening across the county by many different officers. It is becoming the norm.”

A former journalist, now an activist, who has worked for five years on police reforms said there is an unwritten police order to shoot to kill:

“It is never declared, but the officers are usually just given orders like ‘We don’t want to see nonsense. Go there and quell protests or deal with the criminals.”

A serving police officer and a human rights activist, who has been documenting cases of police killings in Kenya, both said killings by police have become so rampant that it is possible there are more killings than there were before the police vetting process.

In a widely publicized case, in 2016, the bodies of an International Justice Mission lawyer Willy Kimani, his client, and a taxi driver, were retrieved from Ol Donyo Sabuk river, Kilimambogo, central Kenya. Four police officers were prosecuted, with three being found guilty of murder, by the courts recently. But such prosecutions are the exception rather than the rule.

In March 2022, residents of Yala, Siaya county, western Kenya raised alarm over bodies apparently dumped by unidentified people in the Yala river at night. The residents told the media that they had retrieved bodies from the river almost daily between July 2021 and January 2022, but police in the area had ignored these reports. In March, the residents were joined by several human rights activists from Nairobi and Mombasa to retrieve the bodies, and by mid-May they had retrieved more than 30 bodies from the river. Some of the bodies were of people who had, according to reports in the Kenyan media, long been missing, including that of an officer of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Francis Oyaro, who had been missing for months.

The bodies were taken to the Yala Sub-County mortuary, where pathologists took samples for testing to identify them, but police did little to investigate these deaths, said a Mombasa based activist. A Nairobi-based activists’ protection organization that is not identified for security reasons said that some of the community leaders who had been at the forefront of bringing the issue to public attention have been threatened by people who identified themselves as police.

Some of those interviewed expressed concern that police have publicly defended extrajudicial killings or even celebrated them. An activist said:

“If police can feel this confident to kill, celebrate the killing and defend it publicly, why would anyone think they will not kill if deployed to quell violence at elections, especially when they know their bosses will help them to get away with it.”

The police blame human rights standards for making their work difficult, said a longtime crime reporter. “Police accuse courts of freeing suspects for lack of evidence and claim the suspects then go ahead to commit more crimes,” a journalist said. Some senior police commanders and political leaders have blamed the courts for failing to convict suspects while judges have blamed police for shoddy investigations.

Failures in Oversight Authority Investigations

Four activists who work closely with Independent Policing Oversight Authority expressed concern that its desire to ensure abusive officers are held to account seems to be waning, with at least three questioning whether the authority is still independent. These concerns may be linked to changes introduced in 2014 to the appointment of its commissioners and threats to its budget.

One Police Reforms Working Group member said that the Oversight Authority “appears more eager to please the executive and police than to truly ensure accountability. When you hear police saying they are very happy with IPOA, you should know that we have lost the fight on police accountability.”

A journalist who reports on police issues said, “IPOA has dropped the ball. But it is not just IPOA, even the NPSC is no longer doing its work. It is controlled by police and the executive and therefore can do little that police do not approve. The idea of independence and accountability was lost the moment NPSC stopped the vetting of police and allowed sacked police officers to return to work.”

Human Rights Watch has since April repeatedly contacted the Oversight Authority chairperson, Anne Makori, seeking an interview, but she did not respond. A senior officer at the Oversight Authority said that, by May 2022, the authority had successfully prosecuted 17 cases of abusive police officers, most accused of murder and use of excessive force, since it became operational in 2012. In the same period, another 141 cases were pending before the courts while over 4,000 reports or complaints relating to murder and excessive use of force have been filed against the police, according to the Oversight Authority official.

Most of the concluded and pending cases were investigated and filed in court before what Kenyan activists see as the authority’s shift in approach to police accountability issues, which they say began slightly more than two years ago. The current officer described some of the institution’s challenges with investigating abusive police officers as: lack of police cooperation, lack of political will or support from the government, interference from senior government officers, and internal weaknesses within the authority.

In June, Kenyan activists said they are concerned that the authority has been either unable or unwilling to respond to the recent cases of extrajudicial killings, and possible enforced disappearances, including instances in which police social media posts seem to boast about a killing or a disappearance.

An activist who works with one of Kenya’s leading human rights groups said:

“The trend we have noticed is that IPOA is quick to investigate less politically sensitive cases.” But they don’t even attempt to open investigations into some of the killings and disappearances that we have witnessed recently. This is also the reason they are unable to investigate police killings during elections because these are politically sensitive.”

While those interviewed agree that lack of cooperation from the police is a major stumbling block to police accountability, especially regarding the killings during the 2017 elections, they accuse the Oversight Authority of also lacking the political will to investigate these abuses. “If IPOA really wanted to investigate police killings in the aftermath of the 2017 elections, the officials would recommend a public inquest into the more than 100 killings reported during the 2017 elections, and not just two,” said an activist who works with one of Kenya’s pioneer rights organizations. “But that is not the case.”

Some activists say they do not understand why the authority only recommended public inquests in the case of the killings of the two children when more than 100 people were killed by police and pro-government militia in 2017. “These two cases were low-hanging fruit that IPOA latched onto to appear to be doing something,” another activist said. “Truth is that the state was embarrassed. There was no way to justify the killing of a 6-month-old or a 9-year-old who were just playing in their houses. Even then, no one has been prosecuted for the killing of these two children, five years down the line. IPOA has also made little attempt to investigate the numerous other cases.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 2, 2022, 3:00 am
Click to expand Image Reconstruction of the July 30, 2021, interception facilitated by Frontex drone. In addition to the track of the Frontex drone, the map shows the track of Seabird (a Sea-Watch airplane) that witnessed the interception. It also shows the NGO vessel Sea Watch 3 in the vicinity. There is no vessel tracking data for the Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat Ras Jadir or the intercepted vessel. Map courtesy of Border Forensics.

“We didn’t know it was the Libyans until the boat got close enough and we could see the flag. At that point we started to scream and cry. One man tried to jump into the sea and we had to stop him. We fought off as much as we could to not be taken back, but we couldn’t do anything about it,” Dawit told us. It was July 30, 2021, and Dawit, from Eritrea, his wife, and young daughter were trying to seek refuge in Europe.

Instead, they were among the more than 32,450 people intercepted by Libyan forces last year and hauled back to arbitrary detention and abuse in Libya.

Despite overwhelming evidence of torture and exploitation of migrants and refugees in Libya – crimes against humanity, according to the United Nations – over the last few years the European Union has propped up Libyan forces’ efforts to intercept the boats. It has withdrawn its own vessels and installed a network of aerial assets run by private companies. Since May 2021, the EU border agency Frontex has deployed a drone out of Malta, and its flight patterns show the crucial role it plays in detecting boats close to Libyan coasts. Frontex gives the information from the drone to coastal authorities, including Libya.

Frontex claims the surveillance is to aid rescue, but the information facilitates interceptions and returns to Libya. The day Dawit and his family were caught at sea, Libyan forces intercepted at least two other boats and took at least 228 people back to Libya. One of those boats was intercepted in international waters, inside the Maltese search-and-rescue area. The drone’s flight path suggests it was monitoring the boat’s trajectory, but Frontex never informed the nearby nongovernmental Sea-Watch rescue vessel.

Human Rights Watch and Border Forensics, a nonprofit that uses innovative visual and spatial analysis to investigate border violence, are examining how the shift from sea to air surveillance contributes to the cycle of extreme abuse in Libya. Frontex’s lack of transparency – they have rejected ours and Sea-Watch’s requests for information about their activities on July 30, 2021 – leaves many questions about their role unanswered.

Dawit and others panicked when they saw the Libyan boat because they knew what awaited upon return. He and his family ended up in prison for almost two months, released only after paying US$1,800. They are still in Libya, hoping for a chance to reach safety in a country that respects their rights and dignity.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: August 1, 2022, 10:00 am

Toward the end of his reign, Morocco’s King Hassan II eased his iron-fisted grip on the country, releasing long-serving political prisoners and allowing more space for dissent.

Upon Hassan II’s death in 1999, he was succeeded by his son, King Mohammed VI, who maintained a cautious pace of reform, burnishing Morocco’s reputation as an exception in a region rife with repressive governments. In 2012, Hillary Clinton, then US secretary of state, hailed Morocco as “a leader and model” in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 prompted a course reversal. Although major street protests in Morocco never threatened to topple the regime, authorities soon began to stall and even reverse the reforms.

July 28, 2022 “They’ll Get You No Matter What”

A decade later, Morocco is relatively stable and free of political violence, but it is no longer an exception to the region’s repressive norm. Yet Moroccan authorities continue to zealously promote the kingdom’s image as a “model” and champion of human rights.

A centerpiece of this strategy, which Human Rights Watch has documented in a new report, is what we term a playbook to crush dissent: an ensemble of measures devised to subtly silence prominent critical journalists, dissidents, and human rights activists who either refused to soften their tone or go into exile.

Click to expand Image Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni after leaving prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. © 2019 Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

Scurrilous stories appear in pro-government media against critics and sometimes their relatives. They may be subject to physical or digital surveillance, and anonymous threats. 

Ultimately, some face criminal investigations leading to convictions and imprisonment after unfair trials. Some are accused of crimes relating to private consensual conduct, such as nonmarital sex or abortion. Others are accused of serious crimes such as espionage, embezzlement, and even rape or sexual assault.

Because people aren’t being imprisoned for speech offenses, Moroccan authorities can claim that free expression is alive and well. As for character assassination on pro-government websites, Moroccan authorities might argue it is just part of the media landscape.

Yes, serious crimes should be properly investigated, and no one should be above the law. But in Morocco, the chances of a fair trial are remote if the defendant is a dissident.

And while scandal-mongering media exist in many countries, in Morocco, there is no independent press to counter it.

This crackdown on the regime’s critics may be indirect, but Morocco’s allies and the UN should not shy away from denouncing it for what it is: state-sponsored repression that shouldn’t exist in a country that wishes to be seen as rights-respecting.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 29, 2022, 3:00 pm
window.location = 'https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2022/07/28/ecuador-gang-control-prisons-enabled-massacres';
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: July 28, 2022, 1:00 pm

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