Click to expand Image Palestinian residents who fled their houses in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, carry their belongings as they board a bus to be moved from Sidon municipality to an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) school, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, September 12, 2023.  © 2023 Mohammed Zaatari/AP Photo

At least 30 people have reportedly been killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced, since clashes erupted on July 31 between factions in Ain el-Helweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees live. As is often the case in times of violence, children who live in Ain el-Helweh are among the most harmed by the fighting.

Since August 19, armed factions have occupied all eight schools in the camp run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and reportedly looted education materials and equipment. Access to education for more than 11,000 Palestinian refugee children is at riskwith just days to go before the start of the school term.

Sparked by the attempted assassination of Mahmoud Khalil, a member of the Islamist militant group al-Shabab al-Muslim (“Muslim Youth”), and the subsequent assassination of Mohammed al-Armoushi, a military general of the Palestinian faction Fatah, the intermittent but fierce violent clashes have led to ”significant and widespread damage” to homes and infrastructure in Ain el-Helweh, according to UNRWA.

The violence has forced more than 4,000 people to flee their homes. Many are sheltering in three UNRWA schools and a training center outside the camp. If the violence continues, displaced families will not be able to return to their homes, and students will not be able to go back to school.

Today could be a turning point. Armed factions left the eight occupied schools this afternoon, while forces belonging to the Palestinian Joint Security Forces, a unit comprised of members of various Palestinian factions tasked with maintaining order in the camp, were deployed to guard the schools’ entrances, as part of ceasefire negotiations.

A tenuous ceasefire has held since September 14, but fighting could resume. Fatah has reportedly demanded the surrender to Lebanese authorities of those responsible for al-Armoushi's killing by the end of September. Thus far, the fighting, including artillery fire, has “led to massive destruction across most of the camp,” according to UNRWA.

Schools should not be battlegrounds. All parties should ensure the children of Ain el-Helweh can go back to school soon, and safely. Lebanon and Palestine have joined the Safe Schools Declaration to protect education. Armed groups should also follow the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use. And foreign donor governments should support UNRWA’s appeal for funds to aid camp residents, as well as the core budget its schools depend on, which could run out within a month.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2023, 9:53 pm
Click to expand Image Migrants from Syria walk towards a refugee camp at Kokkinotrimithia, outside of the capital Nicosia, in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, September 10, 2017.  © 2017 Petros Karadjias/AP Photo

On September 15, Cyprus Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou bemoaned that European Union member states cannot currently return asylum seekers to Syria, and said the EU should reevaluate whether Syria is safe for returns so that asylum seekers could be deported to or returned there. Cyprus has also taken measures to expedite asylum processing, reduce financial support to asylum seekers, and begin construction of a migrant detention center to, as Ioannou puts it,“make Cyprus an unattractive destination.”

Ioannou’s remarks come one day after United Nations Human Rights Chief Volker Türk warned of worsening security in Syria due to fighting in the country’s northeast. The UN Refugee Agency maintains that conditions in Syria prevent it from promoting or facilitating refugee returns.

Human Rights Watch has documented how Syrian security agencies arbitrarily detained, kidnapped, tortured, and killed refugees who returned to Syria between 2017 and 2021. That pattern of abuse and persecution has not ceased. As recently as July, Human Rights Watch found that returnees had been tortured in Syrian military intelligence’s custody and conscripted to serve in Syria’s military reserve force.

Ioannou cited the European Union Asylum Agency’s (EUAA) assessment that Damascus and other parts of government-controlled Syria are no longer experiencing generalized violence, but omitted the agency’s observation that people being returned to Damascus could still be at risk of persecution and that the capital’s general situation is such that sending people there who were not at risk of persecution would only be reasonable “in exceptional cases.”

The absence of indiscriminate violence in part of a country does not mean the country is safe. It doesn’t even mean those places where bullets are not flying are free from danger. In Syria, where the EUAA rates eight governorates as having high or exceptionally high levels of indiscriminate violence, the Assad government’s long-standing intolerance and suppression of dissent, and its suspicion and hostility toward Syrians whom it believes opposed it, means fear-of-persecution claims of anyone who fled the country must be seriously considered.

Governments eagerly looking for a green light to deport Syrians will run afoul of their nonrefoulement obligations if they do not fully and fairly examine both the threat of generalized violence and insecurity in much of Syria and the ongoing countrywide threat of persecution for anyone suspected of holding beliefs or identities not aligned with those controlling the area to which they would be returned.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2023, 8:18 pm
Click to expand Image Pedestrians walk across a crossroad as a big electronic screen supported by face-recognition system shows the image of a jaywalker at the intersection in Nanjing city, east China's Jiangsu province, July 4, 2019.  © 2019 Imaginechina via AP Photo

We are at a fork in the road regarding states’ approaches to facial recognition surveillance. On the one hand, governments in places like Israel and the United Kingdom are progressing plans to roll out widespread use of this powerful biometric technology. On the other hand, the latest draft of the European Union’s AI Act reveals an increased commitment to banning its use in public spaces.

This week, Human Rights Watch joined 180 rights groups and other experts calling on governments and companies to stop using facial recognition surveillance technology in public spaces and in migration and asylum contexts, as it is simply too dangerous and powerful to be used without negative consequences for human rights.

Facial recognition surveillance technology – the kind that scans, identifies, and profiles people en masse – is not compatible with international human rights law, as it amounts to mass surveillance. As well as undermining privacy rights, the technology threatens our rights to equality and nondiscrimination, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

In 2020, some of the big tech companies pledged a moratorium on selling facial recognition surveillance tech, in response to rights concerns, but self-regulation simply doesn’t work and at least one of those companies may now be rolling back on that commitment.

Meanwhile, facial recognition surveillance tech is increasingly used by governments to surveil protests, target people based on their ethnicity, and curb political dissent. As with much technology, it exacerbates existing structural inequities and hits people with marginalized and vulnerable identities hardest.

There is no safe use-case for this technology on our streets or at our borders. We urgently need governments to step up and ban facial recognition surveillance in these spaces, and companies to stop creating and using this powerful tech for surveillance purposes.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2023, 7:09 pm
Click to expand Image China's then-Minister for Foreign Affairs Qin Gang delivers a remote statement during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 27, 2023. © 2023 Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP Photo

The Chinese government appears increasingly anxious to silence critics of its appalling human rights record. At home, it arbitrarily detains or forcibly disappears them; abroad, it harasses them. At the United Nations, it’s seeking anotherterm on the UN’s top human rights body – the Human Rights Council – while telling member states to boycott public events highlighting its litany of human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

During the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level session in New York in September, China’s UN mission wrote to each UN member state to “strongly recommend your mission NOT to participate” in a side event on Xinjiang organized by the Atlantic Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The plea was ignored, as an audience of hundreds attended to hear details of the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and possible UN responses.

This week, China’s UN delegation in Geneva wrote to UN members telling them “to refrain from participating … in any way” in an event on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council session focused on the authorities’ suppression of media freedom in Hong Kong. But the event had a sizeable crowd of diplomats, journalists, and others interested in learning about ongoing abuses.

Despite Beijing characterizing these events – basic to the Human Rights Council’s functions – as “blatant violations” of the UN Charter, it is among the governments running in a UN General Assembly election on October 10 for membership in the council. On the surface it seems like it’s just the kind of election Beijing likes: a slate in Asia in which there are four candidates for four seats, denying countries any real choice, with no public discussion about whether it is qualified to serve.

But states do have a choice: to not vote for China. If China failed to secure a majority of the General Assembly’s 193 member states, it would not be elected. That’s the best possible outcome for a serial rights violator that has no business serving on a body whose members are supposed to uphold the highest international human rights standards.

Behind closed doors, officials from all manner of governments – often reluctant to criticize Beijing openly for fear of repercussions – tell us they know Chinese commit egregious and systemic human rights violations, and ask us what they can do. The answer is simple: don’t mark your ballot for a government that has shown nothing but contempt for the human rights of people across China and many abroad.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2023, 5:09 pm
Click to expand Image Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire at the village of Chaveira, near Macao, in central Portugal on Monday, July 22, 2019. © AP Photo/Sergio Azenha

Three years ago, four Portuguese children and two young adults filed a legal case against European governments for failing to take promised action to address the climate crisis. On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg heard their case.

The young people decided to take action after an unusually hot summer that saw deadly wildfires grip Portugal. Cláudia Duarte Agostinho, one of the group, told Human Rights Watch at the time: “It was in 2017, when the deadliest forest fires in Portugal’s history broke out, many in the region where I live, that we became aware that something had to be done.”

Since then, the situation has become even more acute. 2022 was the hottest year on record in Portugal, with six recorded heat waves. Increased heat, air pollution, and other extreme events linked to climate change are already harming children across Europe.

The young people’s lawyers argue that the Portuguese government, alongside other Council of Europe states, have failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with commitments made under the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. This is contributing to accelerating a climate crisis that violates their human rights to life, health, and nondiscrimination.

A new report by the United Nations confirmed that governments, including in Europe, are not doing enough to reduce emissions. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that in order to keep global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees C, the threshold suggested in the Paris Agreement, governments cannot expand fossil fuel operations. But despite the evidence presented by the IEA, some Council of Europe states are seeking to do just that.

While European governments would like to see the case dismissed, arguing it should be addressed by domestic courts. Council of Europe human rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović, who intervened as a third party, underlined the importance of the case being heard by the European Court. “If all states are allowed to do only the bare minimum, the global climate change goals will not be met,” she said.

This case is not the first time the court has been told how the climate crisis threatens human rights, and the Court has yet to rule in two other climate cases heard earlier this year – one of them brought by older women from Switzerland who made similar arguments about their rights. Together, these cases present an opportunity for Europe’s top human rights court to clarify how governments’ human rights obligations can play an important role in their response to the climate crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2023, 9:30 am
Click to expand Image Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 2023. © 2023

A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo denied provisional release to journalist Stanis Bujakera on Monday, ignoring international bail standards and a global outcry over his continued detention at Kinshasa’s Makala prison. Bujakera’s case highlights the government’s increasing repression of the media less than three months before the general election.

Bujakera, 33, is deputy director of the Congolese online news outlet, reporter for Jeune Afrique and the international news agency Reuters. He is the most followed journalist on social media in the country and his professionalism has been praised by peers and readers, including government officials, foreign diplomats, and researchers.

Police arrested Bujakera on September 8 at Kinshasa’s Ndjili airport while he was waiting to board a flight. Initially kept in police custody, he was placed in pretrial detention and transferred to prison on September 14 after being charged with “spreading false information,” “forgery and the use of forged documents,” and “distributing false documents.” He could face up to 15 years in prison, according to his lawyer. Authorities questioned Bujakera about an article published by Jeune Afrique citing an allegedly leaked intelligence report on the murder of Cherubin Okende, an opposition official who was found dead in Kinshasa in July. Authorities claim the report is fake and are accusing Bujakera of fabricating and distributing it despite the article not bearing his name.   

“They want me to give up sources that informed an article I didn’t write,” Bujakera told Human Rights Watch during a visit to Makala prison this week. “That’s why they have confiscated my phones and my laptop.”

Activists throughout Africa, foreign officials, press freedom groups and international celebrities have condemnedBujakera’s arbitrary arrest and detention. Reporters Without Borders referred his case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. On September 20, dozens of journalists demonstrated in Kinshasa, calling on authorities to release him and halt attacks against the press.

Speaking to the media in New York City last week, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi said he regretted what had happened to Bujakera, but he “cannot obstruct justice and not allow it to shed full light [on the situation].” Bujakera’s detention is a reminder that Tshisekedi’s pledge, soon after taking office, to have the media become “a real fourth estate,” is long forgotten. A rights-respecting democracy does not jail journalists for doing their job.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 11:01 am
Click to expand Image Displaced persons center in northern Ethiopia where many still suffer from the effects of the war that began in 2020, August 14, 2023. © 2023 Edgar GutiÈrrez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Photo

Last week, an independent United Nations inquiry into serious violations committed since the outbreak of armed conflict in northern Ethiopia released a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Its findings are chilling.

The report, by the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), exposes wide-ranging atrocities during the conflict, documenting 49 mass killings of Tigrayan civilians by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, widespread and systematic sexual violence against 10,000 Tigrayan women and girls, starvation, forced displacement, and arbitrary detention. It concludes that all warring parties, including Tigrayan forces, committed war crimes, and that federal government forces and their allies, including Eritrean forces, committed crimes against humanity.

ICHREE warned that neither the conflict nor violations in Tigray have ended, with abuses taking place on a national scale. It underscored significant violations in the regions of Amhara, Oromia, and elsewhere, pointing to mass arrests of ethnic Amhara since the government imposed a state of emergency in August.

ICHREE called for real accountability and questioned the Ethiopian government’s pledges to deliver on it. “Ethiopia has failed to effectively investigate violations,” the report says, noting that the government’s deeply flawed domestic process has served primarily to evade international scrutiny. “Impunity, rather than accountability, is the norm regarding past violations.”

Victims and their families across Ethiopia have consistently called for genuine investigations, justice, and redress, but have no trust in the country’s institutions to deliver. Victims and rights advocates have called on the European Union, which led efforts to establish ICHREE in 2021, to present a text to renew its mandate.

But with one week left to present draft resolutions at the Human Rights Council, there is still no indication the EU will present any follow-up text.

Victims’ hopes should not be abandoned by letting the situation in Ethiopia drop from the Council agenda. The Council should uphold ICHREE’s recommendation to “provide for continued international scrutiny and investigations into past and ongoing violations” by renewing the investigation’s mandate.

The EU should promote human rights and accountability in Ethiopia by committing to a resolution to continue investigations into violations, report on the implementation of ICHREE’s recommendations, and seek public reporting to the Human Rights Council on Ethiopia’s situation. Not doing so would be renouncing its own commitments.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 10:15 am
Click to expand Image Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Tunisian President Kais Saied, centre, right and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, right, at the presidential palace in Carthage, Tunisia, July 16, 2023.  © 2023 Tunisian Presidency/AP Images

In a move terrible for human rights, the European Union Commission announced on Friday it will go ahead with a controversial deal on migration control, reached in July, by imminently releasing 67 million euros to Tunisia despite an absence of any specific human rights guarantees for migrants and asylum seekers, or any indication the EU has evaluated whether the funds would make the bloc complicit in abuses.

The deal – about which the EU’s diplomatic chief, Germany’s foreign minister, and others expressed unease – pledged financial support for migration management, among other areas, to Tunisia, effectively in exchange for Tunisia preventing boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers from irregularly departing for Europe.

The rush to send money comes after a significant increase in boats departing from Tunisia in recent weeks. This demonstrates once again how the EU’s obsession with sealing its borders over saving lives enables partners like Tunisia to not only go unchallenged for abuses they commit, but to also pressure the EU for more financial aid.

Part of the money – 42 million euros according to media reports – will go to Tunisia’s coast guard and navy.

Sea rescues are vital, but the EU mainly wants the Tunisian coast guard to intercept and forcibly return outgoing boats. But Human Rights Watch and others have documented how the coast guard has committed abuses during and after interceptions, including beatings, theft of peoples’ belongings, leaving people adrift, and dangerous maneuvers that could make boats capsize.

Black Africans in Tunisia have faced increased violence, arbitrary detention, and forced evictions exacerbated by the Tunisian president’s racial hate speech in February. Just before EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen settled her deal with President Kais Saied, Tunisian security forces had unlawfully collectively expelled over 1,300 Black African foreigners, including children, to border zones with Libya and Algeria. They suffered without adequate food and water for days and weeks before some were finally evacuated. But according to Libyan authorities, at least 27 died at the border.

Two weeks ago, the EU ombudsman asked the commission whether it had carried out any human rights assessment and how it plans to monitor implementation. She was ignored.

The EU should guarantee that Tunisia meets basic human rights benchmarks before sending a single Euro-cent to entities with a demonstrated poor human rights record. Not doing so risks implicating the EU in further fueling serious abuses and causing immense suffering.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 8:18 am
Click to expand Image A man holds up a South African flag as members of "Operation Dudula" march down a street in the Hillbrow neighborhood to deliver memoranda to several businesses in the area, Johannesburg, South Africa, February 19, 2022.  © 2022 Mohamed Shiraaz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo

South Africa has been grappling with sporadic and sometimes lethal xenophobic harassment and violence against African and Asian foreign nationals living in the country, including refugees, asylum seekers, and both documented and undocumented migrants.

On Monday last week, BBC Africa Eye released a documentary, Fear and Loathing in South Africa, which investigates the rise of xenophobia in the country and follows Operation Dudula, an anti-immigrant vigilante group that is reportedly violently targeting and harassing foreign nationals.

Launched in 2021 in Soweto, and now with branches across the country, Operation Dudula was conceived by South African youth activists in order to address crime and drug usage in Gauteng province’s communities. However, today the movement is better known for calling for mass deportation of undocumented migrants, blocking immigrants from accessing healthcare, raiding businesses belonging to foreign nationals, and forcing their shops to close. The isiZulu word Dudula means “to push out”, denoting pushing foreigners out of the country and back to their countries of origin.

The documentary spotlights how entrenched xenophobia is within the Operation Dudula movement, whose members use language derogatory to foreign nationals and sing struggle songs signifying a readiness to go to war with them. “To tell you the truth, I hate foreigners,” a member of Operation Dudula said. “How I wish they could just pack and go and leave our country.”

A message that came across loud and clear from the movement’s members is that, from their perspective, foreign nationals are the root cause of South Africa’s economic hardship and its challenges delivering needed services. However, as the documentary and various studies highlight, scapegoating immigrants will not improve basic service provision, reduce crime, or address the triple burden of inequality, poverty, and unemployment.

The documentary also points to a worrying trend towards anti-immigrant hate speech in the leadup to the 2024 general elections, with Operation Dudula confirming it will register as a political party and contest the elections.

South Africa’s constitution, which protects both citizens and noncitizens, states that everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, including the right “to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources.” The authorities in South Africa should reaffirm these values and openly speak out against xenophobia, seek accountability for attacks and abuses against foreign nationals, and promote inclusivity and social cohesion.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 8:07 am
Click to expand Image German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) welcomes Shavkat Mirsiyoyev, President of Uzbekistan, in front of the Chancellor's Office in Berlin, Germany, May 2, 2023. © 2023 Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

On September 29, German chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet with the presidents of the five countries in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Regional tensions, especially since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, are likely to dominate the agenda. But Germany should not pass up the opportunity to press the Central Asia leaders on the very poor human rights records in their countries.

The Ukraine war has sparked a new focus on this strategically important, resource rich region. At Friday’s meeting, Germany is expected to urge the five countries to resist efforts by Moscow to use trade routes through their region to evade sanctions. The gathering will also be the first of its kind led by a German chancellor or any national European leader. Last week Joe Biden held the first-ever summit between a United States President and his Central Asian counterparts. Following that meeting, the leaders issued a joint statement affirming their commitment to protecting rights.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, has met twice with Central Asian heads of state since last October and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier will also meet with his five counterparts on Friday.

Politically motivated prosecutions, suppression of free speech, and impunity for torture are widespread in Central Asia. Clashes during street protests in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2022 left over 250 people dead, with no proper accountability for these deaths. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan are carrying out a wave of attacks on civil society and independent media. Tajikistan has intensified repression of opposition voices, violently cracking down on peaceful dissent in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. And Turkmenistan remains one of the most closed and repressive countries in the world.

Germany plays a strong role on Central Asia, as a leading trade and investment partner and a key political motor behind the European Union’s Central Asia strategy. It should use this position to make clear that upholding fundamental human rights standards and respecting rule of law are essential to any long-term partnership between Europe and these authoritarian states.

The shockwaves sent by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have prompted Central Asia’s leaders to seek stronger ties with other allies, including in Europe. Germany should make the most of this newfound engagement, but on terms that promote the rights of the peoples throughout the region.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 8:00 am
Click to expand Image Workers dismantling a ship without adequate protective equipment in Chattogram Bangladesh. © 2023 Anukta Many European shipping companies are knowingly sending their end-of-life ships for scrap in dangerous and polluting yards in Bangladesh. Companies scrapping ships in Bangladesh’s yards use loopholes in international rules to profit at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment. Shipping companies should invest in building stable platform facilities at a standard that fully protects workers’ rights and handles waste disposal. The EU should revise its rules to close loopholes.

(Dhaka) – Many European shipping companies are knowingly sending their end-of-life ships for scrap in dangerous and polluting yards in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said in a report released today.

The 90-page report, “Trading Lives for Profit: How the Shipping Industry Circumvents Regulations to Scrap Toxic Ships on Bangladesh’s Beaches” finds that Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards often take shortcuts on safety measures, dump toxic waste directly onto the beach and the surrounding environment, and deny workers living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injuries. The report reveals an entire network used by shipowners to circumvent international regulations prohibiting the export of ships to facilities like those in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections.

“Companies scrapping ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous and polluting yards are making a profit at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment,” said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Shipping companies should stop using loopholes in international regulations and take responsibility for safely and responsibly managing their waste.”

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, which will enter into force in 2025, should be strengthened to ensure a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry, the groups said. Countries should adhere to existing international labor and environmental laws regulating the disposal of ships, including the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

The report draws on interviews with 45 shipbreaking workers and workers’ relatives and 10 doctors and experts on ship recycling and Bangladesh environmental and labor laws, as well as analysis of public shipping databases, company financial reports and websites, Bangladesh maritime import records, and leaked import certificates. Human Rights Watch wrote to 21 companies seeking a response to our findings, including shipbreaking yards, shipping companies, flag registries, and cash buyers as well as the International Maritime Organization and four Bangladeshi government agencies.

Bangladesh is a top destination for scrapping ships. Since 2020, approximately 20,000 Bangladeshi workers have ripped apart more than 520 ships, far more tonnage than in any other country.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has described shipbreaking as one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Workers consistently said that they are not provided with adequate protective equipment, training, or tools to safely do their jobs. Workers described using their socks as gloves to avoid burning their hands as they cut through molten steel, wrapping their shirts around their mouths to avoid inhaling toxic fumes, and carrying chunks of steel barefoot.

Workers described injuries from falling chunks of steel or being trapped inside a ship when it caught fire or pipes exploded. Lack of accessible emergency medical care at shipyards meant that, in many cases, workers were forced to carry their injured coworkers from the beach to the road and find a private vehicle to take them to a hospital. In Bangladesh, the life expectancy for men in the shipbreaking industry is 20 years lower than the average. As a 31-year-old worker said, “If I am distracted for even a moment in the place where I work, I could die immediately.”

A 2019 survey of shipbreaking workers estimated that 13 percent of the workforce are children. Researchers noted, however, that this number jumps to 20 percent during illegal night shifts. Many workers interviewed began working at about age 13.

Shipbreaking workers said that they are often denied breaks or sick leave, even when they are injured on the job, violating Bangladesh labor laws. In most cases, workers are paid a fraction of what they are legally entitled to under Bangladesh’s minimum wage regulations for shipbreaking workers. Workers are rarely given formal contracts, which means that yard owners can cover up worker deaths and injuries. When workers attempt to unionize or protest conditions, they are fired and harassed.

Shipyards in Bangladesh use a method called “beaching” in which ships sail full steam onto the beach during high tide to be taken apart directly on the sand instead of using a dock or contained platform. Since the work is done directly on the sand, the worksite itself is full of hazards and toxic waste is dumped directly into the sand and sea. Toxic materials from the vessels, including asbestos, is handled without protective equipment and in some cases sold on the second-hand market, affecting health in surrounding communities.

International and regional laws prohibit the export of ships to places like the yards in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections. Yet many shipping companies have simply found ways to circumvent regulations and avoid culpability, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.

Ships sailing under an EU flag are required to recycle their ships in an EU-approved facility, none of which are in Bangladesh. Companies avoid the requirements by using a “flag of convenience” from another country.

Flags of convenience are sold by flag registries which, in many cases, are private companies operating in a different country from their flag state. In 2022, while over 30 percent of the world’s end-of-life fleet was owned by European companies, less than 5 percent had an EU flag when they were sold for scrap.

Shipping companies hoping to dump their ships in Bangladesh usually sell their ship to a scrap dealer called a cash buyer. In many cases, the buyer uses a shell company during its sale to scrapyards in Bangladesh, making it difficult to track the entity that actually controls and benefits from the sale.

A lack of enforcement of international laws and regulatory standards further enables ships to be scrapped under dangerous and environmentally damaging conditions. Waste declarations for ships imported to Bangladesh are often completed without any oversight, transparency, or clear accreditation, with potentially fatal consequences. Exporting countries outright ignore the requirements under the Basel Convention to obtain prior informed consent from the importing country and to ensure that end-of-life ships are only sent to countries with sufficient capacity for environmentally sustainable management of toxic waste.

While the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping companies, and shipbreaking yards promote the Hong Kong Convention as the solution to a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry, experts and activists have long-lamented major gaps in the convention that weaken its ability to provide an adequate level of regulation.

Instead of investing time and resources in greenwashing unsafe practices, companies should invest in proven safe methods of ship recycling, and they should stop insisting that beaching ships is safe, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.

To ensure global capacity to safely recycle the projected massive influx in end-of-life ships over the next decade, shipping companies should invest in building stable platform facilities at a standard that fully protects workers’ rights and include mechanisms for the downstream management and disposal of waste, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said. The EU should revise its Ship Recycling Regulation to effectively hold shipping companies liable and stop them from circumventing the law.

“Taking ships apart on tidal mudflats exposes workers to unacceptable risks with fatal consequences and causes irreparable damage to sensitive coastal ecosystems,” said Ingvild Jenssen, executive director and founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “The cost of sustainable ship recycling must be borne by the shipping sector, not people and the environment in Bangladesh.”

Selected Quotes, Accounts:

Pseudonyms are used to protect the workers.

“We are not safe in the shipyard while working,” said Kamrul, 39, who has worked in shipbreaking since he was 12. “Nails hit us, or flames hit us. Most of the workers at some point get burned. I never feel safe.”

“The ship is big,” said Ahmed, 26. “We cut the ship while hanging off the side using a rope ladder. Workers sometimes slip and fall into the water.”

Hasan, 25, said he left the job in April 2021 after he fell from the second floor of a ship: “I did not have a safety harness, so I fell about 4.5 meters to the ground floor.”

“I only make 200 taka per day, so I cannot afford gumboots that cost 800 taka,” said Sohrab, 27. “I work barefoot. This is why workers often get injured due to fire or with wire or nails stabbing into our feet. The company provides nothing for our safety. If I ask for safety equipment, the company owners say, ‘If you have a problem then leave.’”

On November 19, 2017, during an illegal night shift at around midnight, Rakib, 20, was cutting a heavy piece of iron when the piece fell, chopping off his left leg, while an iron rod pierced his stomach. He was pinned to the ground for 45 minutes before other workers were able to rescue him. Because he was working in the middle of the night, there were no cars or rikshaws immediately available, so his coworkers carried him on their shoulders to a hospital. Rakib said the yard owners were only willing to pay for lifesaving treatment, and so he was discharged after 17 days. He developed gangrene on his leg, and the family had to take loans to pay for private healthcare. Rakib said that the shipyard owners have refused to pay any compensation. “I'm only 20 years old and my life is totally ruined by this accident,” Rakib said.

On June 19, 2019, Sakawat, 28, was carrying an iron bundle on his shoulder when he slipped and the bundle fell, smashing his right foot. He went to a hospital where his foot was ultimately amputated. The yard owners refused to cover his medical costs, and so he used his entire savings and borrowed from friends. He is now homeless and sleeps at the railway station where he begs for money.

When workers burn through ships without respirators and other recommended protective equipment they can inhale extremely toxic substances. Tanvir, 50, who works as a cutter, said “When we do the cutting, the smoke gives us respiratory problems like coughing and breathing difficulties. We are not provided any respirators, so we try to use our own clothes as masks but still the smoke gets through.”

Workers said they are rarely given breaks or space to safely rest, despite working six days per week in 8-12 hours shifts. Ariful, 28, said that they are reprimanded for resting: “If the foreman or the yard authorities find us sitting or taking rest, they scold,” he said.

“Workers have no written contracts,” Rashed, a worker and labor rights activist, explained. “This means employers can refuse to pay wages. Employers do not pay the minimum wage announced by the government. Owners just pay according to their will.”

“Some companies take signatures from workers only for official purposes,” said Asok, 27. “But really these ‘contracts’ are not handed over to the workers. Sometimes we sign on a contract paper but also sometimes just a blank piece of paper.”

“We do not have any workers union which can fight for our rights,” said Syed, 22. No one works on our behalf or about our rights.” Kamrul, 39, said “If workers raise their voice, they will lose their jobs.” Ahmed, 26, said:

“If the company finds out that I spoke with you then I will face retaliation and could lose my job,” said Ahmed, 26. “But what I am telling you is true. I don’t know if the ship breaking yard companies will ever think of us as human and provide us with safety equipment.”

“The life of the shipbreaking workers inside the yards or outside always remains hidden because of the pressure of the company owners,” said Sohel, 28. “If we talk or raise our voice, we will lose our jobs.”

Asok, 45, who has worked in shipbreaking since he was 10 years old, said that in recent years the shipyard owners created some storage rooms for waste, but that “they are throwing that waste into the sea.” Aijaz, 25, said that he used to be a fisherman but started working in shipbreaking because he had lost his livelihood: “Water is polluted by the ship when they throw the fuel and chemicals in the water that is harmful for the sea plants and fish. Fishermen are not getting fish as they got before. There is a scarcity of fish in the coastal areas here.”

“The sea water is being polluted by the ships and it is poisonous in the sea water, so the fisherman are not finding any fish,” said Masum, 44, who started selling fish after he was injured in the shipbreaking yards, “the fish are dying.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2023, 12:00 am
Click to expand Image Haitian community leaders, immigrant community members, and their supporters gather on October 22, 2021 at the Newark Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Newark, New Jersey to demand that President Biden's administration stop deportations of Haitians. © Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should suspend deportation flights to Haiti, 74 organizations including Human Rights Watch said on September 26, 2023, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. The groups urged him to suspend all such flights, beginning with one currently scheduled for September 28.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on all governments to “suspend the forced return of Haitians to their country” in November 2022, but the US government has sent nine deportation flights to Haiti since that time.

“These forced returns appear to conflict with the United States’ legal obligations under international law not to send people back to a place that would put them at risk of serious harm,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the current violence and lack of government security measures in Haiti, sending people back there is sending them into a disaster zone.”

UNHCR warned in its advisory for Haiti that “the forced removal of people to a place where they may face risk of persecution, torture or other serious or irreparable harm would amount to ‘refoulement,’ which is explicitly prohibited under international refugee and human rights law.”

The US government is continuing to deport Haitians to Haiti even though, on February 4, it extended the designation of Haiti for temporary protected status, based on Haiti “experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions resulting from grave insecurity and gang crime.” Temporary protected status bars the deportation of Haitians who were present in the United States as of that date. Further, on August 30, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince called on all Americans to leave Haiti “as soon as possible.”

“Telling Americans to leave Haiti as soon as possible because it is too dangerous for them while simultaneously loading Haitians onto deportation flights reveals a mind-boggling double standard,” Frelick said. “And the risks faced by Haitians who came after the temporary protected status eligibility date are no less than for those who were in the United States before that date.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 27, 2023, 4:45 pm
Click to expand Image 2018 Obama scholar Hoang Thi Minh Hong © Private

Update: On September 28, 2023, a court in Ho Chi Minh City convicted and sentenced Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years in prison.

(Bangkok) - The Vietnamese government should immediately drop all charges against the prominent environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong and unconditionally release her, Human Rights Watch said today. A court in Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled to hear her criminal case on September 28, 2023.

On May 30, Ho Chi Minh City police arrested Hoang Thi Minh Hong on tax evasion charges, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison plus fines. In October 2022, she had abruptly shut down without explanation CHANGE VN, the influential nongovernmental organization she had founded a decade earlier. The organization addressed problems of climate change, pollution, and endangered wildlife in Vietnam.

“The Vietnamese authorities are using the vaguely worded tax code as a weapon to punish environmental leaders whom the ruling Communist Party deems a threat to their power,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should stop punishing activists for peacefully advocating action on climate change and for green policies, and drop the case against Hoang Thi Minh Hong.”

Hoang Thi Minh Hong, 51, founded CHANGE VN in 2013 “to encourage, promote environmental conservation through education, creative communications that encourage behavioral change and inspire the Vietnamese community to take actions.” The organization focused on three key issues: protect endangered wildlife; raise awareness on climate change; and campaign to reduce pollution. CHANGE VN spearheaded more than 200 projects and campaigns related to the environment. Its website has been shut down.

In 2018, Hoang Thi Minh Hong was one of 12 international activists who received a grant from the first Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University. In December 2018, US President Barack Obama tweeted, “Leaders like Hong Hoang, who mobilized a youth-led movement to create a greener world after becoming the first Vietnamese person [in 1997] to visit Antarctica.”

Over the past two years, the Vietnamese government has stepped up its crackdown against mainstream civil society activists. Police arrested the prominent environmental campaigners Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, and Bach Hung Duong in 2021, and Nguy Thi Khanh and Hoang Ngoc Giao in 2022, all on tax evasion charges under article 200 of the criminal code.

International pressure purportedly pushed the Vietnamese authorities to release Mai Phan Loi and Nguy Thi Khanh a few months before the end of their prison sentences. Bach Hung Duong, who was sentenced to 27 months in prison, should have completed his prison sentence as of September 25. Dang Dinh Bach, who remains behinds bars, was reportedly assaulted in prison for demanding that the prison guards respect his basic rights.

Vietnam’s repressive practices are occurring just as the government has sought to amplify its professed commitment to reduce carbon emissions through the implementation of a US$15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), funded by the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and the European Union and some its major member countries.

On September 11, US President Joe Biden visited Vietnam to confirm an unprecedented upgrade of the relationship between the US and Vietnam to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” Among the key goals agreed upon by the two countries were “promoting and protecting human rights,” “advancing climate,” and ensuring “environment cooperation.” But just four days after Biden departed Hanoi, Vietnam arrested another prominent environmental researcher, Ngo Thi To Nhien, the executive director of the Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET). VIET works alongside the United Nations and donors to help provide research and planning advice for the JETP.

“Having imprisoned the country’s human rights defenders and democracy activists, the Vietnamese government is now targeting those working for a cleaner, more sustainable environment,” Robertson said. “International donors need to be clear with Vietnam’s leaders that the Just Energy Transition Partnership cannot move forward so long as environmental activists are under attack.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 27, 2023, 1:00 pm
Click to expand Image Egyptian army soldiers guard the entrance of tunnels and the Suez Canal area, in Ismailia, Egypt, November 17, 2019. © 2019 REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The United States Department of State recently added Egypt to its list of countries implicated in using child soldiers. The unprecedented step was based on independent reports that the Egyptian military conducted joint operations with allied militia groups in North Sinai that recruited children, including some used in hostilities against the armed group Wilayat Sina, which is linked to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

In August, the Egyptian rights group Sinai Foundation for Human Rights reported that army-aligned militias in North Sinai recruited boys – some as young as 16 – for logistical and combat operations. Some of those children were injured or killed. The Egyptian military has increasingly relied on these militias, created by local clans, in its fight against Wilayat Sina.

The North Sinai militias have openly published photos and videos of child soldiers on Facebook and TikTok.

The United Nations Security Council has identified child recruitment as one of six grave violations against children in times of war. International human rights law prohibits the recruitment or use of children younger than 18. The use of children under 15 is a war crime.

Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses committed by the Egyptian military and pro-army groups in Sinai since 2013. Some of these abuses, such as extrajudicial and summary executions of detainees, could amount to war crimes.

In 2008, the US Congress passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which withholds certain types of US military assistance from governments using children in their forces or supporting militias that recruit children. The law is designed to pressure governments to end child recruitment and release children from their forces.

Listing Egypt on the child soldiers list is significant step towards scrutinizing abuses by Egypt’s military in North Sinai. But it will not have immediate military consequences for Egypt because the Biden administration waived the Child Soldiers Prevention Act’s provisions that would have barred Egypt from receiving at least US$1.3 billion in US military assistance. On September 14, the Biden administration announced it would allow Egypt specifically to receive military assistance, despite ongoing government repression.

But the child soldiers listing puts Egypt on notice. The US government should live up to the intent of the law and only provide military assistance to Egypt if the government holds its security forces to account and ends their abuses.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 26, 2023, 12:07 pm
Click to expand Image Twenty-two defendants, including blogger and lawyer Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, listen to the verdict in their trial on charges related to the July 2022 protests in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, at a court in Bukhara, Uzbekistan on January 31, 2023. © 2023 Uzbekistan Supreme Court / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As if arbitrarily jailing the outspoken Karakalpak blogger and lawyer Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov on a 16-year prison sentence on January 31 for his alleged role in the July 2022 Karakalpakstan protests wasn’t enough for the Uzbek authorities, now they are isolating and punishing him further.

On September 19, Tazhimuratov’s lawyer Sergey Mayorov released a video statement describing his client’s prison conditions after meeting with him the day before.

In the video, Mayorov noted how prison officials have been failing to provide Tazhimuratov adequate health care or food and are limiting his right to receive information from the outside world. Tazhimuratov doesn’t have access to a prison library or media, or to a television. He is kept isolated in a single cell and prison officials also apparently won’t assign Tazhimuratov to a work detail, further limiting his contact with other prisoners.

Mayorov intends to file complaints with the prosecutor, prison administration officials, and law enforcement bodies, outlining how his client’s rights “are being violated while he is serving his prison sentence.”

Mayorov separately told Human Rights Watch that Tazhimuratov had noticeably lost weight and that the conditions of his imprisonment were taking a serious toll on his client’s physical and psychological health.

Like any detainee, Tazhimuratov has a right to absolute protection against inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as his other basic rights including to adequate nutrition and health care. The United Nations Minimum Standard on the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, state that “the prison system … shall not aggravate the suffering inherent in [depriving a person of his liberty].” They also stipulate that “prison administrations and other competent authorities should offer education, vocational training and work.”

Tazhimuratov, whose “crime” was to call for a peaceful protest and speak out against proposed constitutional amendments that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its sovereign status, should not be languishing in prison.

Until Tazhimuratov is free, Uzbek authorities have the responsibility to ensure he suffers no further harm in prison and that he is not isolated from others without just cause. Prison officials should urgently and thoroughly review the conditions in which Tazhimuratov is being held and ensure he has access to adequate health care and food, and is able to receive news and other information from the outside world.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 26, 2023, 8:12 am
Click to expand Image Polish border guards watch asylum seekers stuck at the Polish-Belarus border in Bialowieza, May 28, 2023. © 2023 Sipa via AP Images

Polish authorities have hit a new low in their assault on civil society when they arrested and charged a 48-year-old humanitarian aid worker on September 7 for helping migrants and asylum seekers stranded at the Poland-Belarus border as a result of unlawful, and often violent, pushbacks by both countries.

Ewa, the humanitarian aid worker, is charged with heading a criminal group organizing illegal border crossings to Poland – a crime that bears a maximum of 10 years in prison. While criminal prosecutions of humanitarian aid workers in Poland are not uncommon, Ewa’s is the first in which a judge ordered pre-trial detention, a decision her lawyers are currently appealing.

Beyond Ewa’s detention, the public utterances by Zbigniew Ziobro, who serves as both Minister of Justice and General Prosecutor, are particularly troubling. Polish law enables the Minister of Justice arbitrarily to interfere with judicial appointments, in violation of EU law and fair trial rights including the presumption of innocence. Ziobro has a track record of using his office to interfere with judicial processes, and in this case has made public statementsalluding to Ewa’s guilt. The defense meanwhile is precluded by law from commenting on the case during proceedings.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has repeatedly undermined the independence of the courts and disciplined judges who criticize judicial overhauls – interferences with the rule of law that have been ruled unlawful by the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights.

Ewa’s arrest comes just around the release of Agnieszka Holland’s movie, “The Green Border,” which depicts abuses and unlawful returns of migrants and asylum seekers from Poland to Belarus. Government ministers and officials responded to the film with an avalanche of vitriol, including Ziobro, who called Holland a “supporter of Russian propaganda” who shows the Poles “as bandits and murderers,” and referred to the movie as “Nazi propaganda.”

Pushbacks violate international law by denying access to asylum procedures and due process, and Polish courts have on several occasions ruled pushbacks at the Belarus border unlawful. Nonetheless, a Polish border guard commander in May 2022 admitted to Human Rights Watch that his staff engage in pushbacks.

Instead of prosecuting and criminalizing those who bring aid to people stranded and suffering because of unlawful policies and practices, Poland’s government would do better to respect its obligations under international refugee and EU law and provide people the opportunity to seek asylum. The European Commission should call on Poland to immediately stop criminalizing civil society.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2023, 8:29 pm
Click to expand Image Brazilian Xokleng Indigenous people celebrate after a majority on Brazil's Supreme Court voted against the so-called legal thesis of 'Marco Temporal' (Temporal Milestone), in Brasilia, Brazil September 21, 2023. © 2023 REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

On September 21, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld Indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional lands by ruling against the so-called cutoff date, a legal argument that Indigenous peoples should not obtain title of their ancestral territories if they were not physically present on them on October 5, 1988, the day Brazil’s current Constitution was adopted.

Following the decision, Indigenous people across Brazil celebrated what they have called “the ruling of the century.” It is also of major significance for the global climate, as demarcating Indigenous territories has been repeatedly demonstrated to be one of the most effective barriers against deforestation in the Amazon.

The case, which had been on the Supreme Court’s docket for years, stems from a dispute in which Santa Catarina state used the cutoff date argument to challenge lands claimed by the Xokleng Indigenous people. Even before deciding on the merits, the Court determined that its ruling on this case would be applicable to similar cases across Brazil.

Indigenous people from around the country travelled year after year to Brasilia from remote locations, to call on judges and lawmakers to respect their rights. This ruling will strengthen their tenacious fight to preserve the environment and their way of life, which depends significantly on the land.

The ruling brings immense relief to Indigenous people. If upheld, the arbitrary cutoff date would have made the titling of Indigenous territories impossible for communities who were expelled from their land before 1988 and could not prove they were involved in an ongoing dispute over their claim back then.

However, the rural caucus in Congress, which is tightly linked to agribusiness, also introduced an initiative that would enshrine the cut off date thesis in legislation. The fate of that proposal remains to be seen.

The court’s decision is consistent with precedent from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has recognized the right of Indigenous peoples to their land and said that right continues as long as their “material, cultural, or spiritual connection” with the land persists.

The administration of President Lula da Silva should respond to the ruling by speeding up titling of Indigenous territories, some of which have been pending for decades, and ensuring accountability for violence and threats against Indigenous defenders who speak up for their communities’ land rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2023, 2:05 pm

(Brasilia) – The Brazilian government, in its upcoming plan for people with disabilities, should set out concrete plans for deinstitutionalization, Human Rights Watch said today. The plan, to be released in October 2023, is a timely opportunity to create a system that would enable people with disabilities to live independently in the community.

Thousands of people with disabilities in Brazil live in institutions or inclusive residences – small group homes for up to 10 people with disabilities – under prison-like conditions, new research by Human Rights Watch confirms. The Brazilian federal government’s second disability policy plan, Viver sem Limites II (“Living Without Limits II”), does not currently address their situation, according to interviews with officials in charge of implementing the plan, despite its emphasis on human dignity, ending discrimination, and confronting the barriers to full citizen participation.

“In Brazil, many people with disabilities are forced to live in institutions because the government has failed to provide adequate support for community living,” said Carlos Ríos-Espinosa, associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Now that Brazil is reintroducing its plan for the rights of people with disabilities, it has a critical opportunity to address the harm of being warehoused in institutions and institution-like facilities.”

One initiative that has been underway in Brazil is the inclusive residences program for people with disabilities who have moved out of large institutions. Although inclusive residences are intended to provide better individualized support than large institutions because they are supposed to admit no more than 10 people, they still deny people with disabilities their rights to legal capacity, to live independently, and to make decisions for themselves, Human Rights Watch said.

From September 4 through 8, Human Rights Watch revisited three institutions in Brasilia and São Paulo whose living conditions it had documented in a May 2018 report, as well as a fourth it had not previously visited. A staff member at one of the institutions visited said that it had started functioning as an “inclusive residence,” though it still has 55 residents.

None of the institutions visited, including the one converted to an inclusive residence, provide people with disabilities with adequate living options to take meaningful control over their lives. Staff at these institutions still determined their schedules for waking up, eating, sleeping, and taking outings, if any.

At an institution in Brasilia, Human Rights Watch interviewed a woman, with staff permission, who had been previously interviewed in 2016. She gave Human Rights Watch her consent to record the interview. But when researchers began to record, a staff member stopped them saying: “She does not have autonomy to decide for herself. You need a court order to give you permission to make a recorded interview.”

When Human Rights Watch interviewed the woman in 2016, she had said the institution is “like a prison.” From the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 until June 2023, the residence stopped all visits for their residents.

Human Rights Watch also revisited an institution in São Paulo where 11 people with disabilities live. The manager said that before the pandemic, these residents seldom left, and had only five formal outings a year. She said that during the pandemic period, residents were only allowed to leave for medical appointments.

On September 5 and 6, Human Rights Watch met with public authorities responsible for implementing the new plan, who said the federal government plans to build 200 more inclusive residences. Instead, the government should establish a concrete and time-bound plan for deinstitutionalization, shifting directly to community-based support for people with disabilities, and ensuring that all investment is directed to this end, Human Rights Watch said. The Brazilian federal government should also review the inclusive residence program to ensure that such residences facilitate independent living, rather than serve as substitutes for institutions.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which monitors the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, recommended in 2015 that the Brazilian government should create more community alternatives for people with disabilities to exercise the right to live independently. Community-based alternatives include diverse services like personal assistants, accessible and affordable housing, and supported decision making, among others.

Many other countries are seeking community-based alternatives. For example, Kazakhstan and Moldova have piloted independent living programs that may serve as models for such programs. The Brazilian government should also establish a working group, in close consultation with organizations of people with disabilities, to develop policies that support alternatives for independent living.

“When Brazil’s president releases the Viver sem Limites II, ‘Living without Limits,’ he should pledge to progressively end institutionalization and the many limitations it brings,” Ríos-Espinosa said. “Otherwise, the title of Brazil’s disability rights plan is another empty promise.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2023, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image Dark clouds and stormy seas foreshadow future climate change impacts on the island of Gardi Sugdub. © 2023 Pamela Vacacurva for Human Rights Watch

Today – September 25, 2023 – is the day everything could have changed for the people of Gardi Sugdub, an island off Panama. On this tiny, crowded island, floods and rising seas pose an existential threat. For over a decade, this Guna Indigenous community who lives there has dreamt of relocation to a mainland site out of harm’s way, and Panama’s authorities have assured them support. In fact, Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo has repeatedly promised that, as of this date, 300 new homes would finally be ready for them.

However, today is here and not a single person has moved. Ministry of Housing officials have pushed the move date back, yet again, to February 29, 2024. As Human Rights Watch reported in July, this delay is just the latest in a long string of unfulfilled pledges to this community. The Gardi Sugdub community can’t survive on promises alone. Government follow-through is needed so the community can relocate in a dignified way and rebuild their lives on higher, safer ground. The new site must protect people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, water, health, education, and culture.

These conditions are not yet in place, but with appropriate action by relevant authorities, they could be by February 2024. The people of Gardi Sugdub – and the international community – are anxiously waiting.

Gardi Sugdub is not an isolated case. Many of Panama’s other coastal communities facing sea level rise may need to move, and around the globe hundreds of additional communities will find themselves in a similar position. The experience of Gardi Sugdub shows that planned relocation is complex, time-consuming, and risky. A lot can go wrong. But it doesn’t have to. Forward-looking, rights-respecting planning at a national level is essential. That requires policies informed by human rights principles of nondiscrimination and informed consent, adequate funding, and support over time.

Every country with a coastline needs to take the issue of planned relocation of communities facing sea level rise seriously. Governments, including Panama, should act today to prevent foreseeable rights violations of tomorrow. Following through on promises to the Gardi Sugdub community is an essential step.

Read a text description of this video

The Guna people have been on the coast of Guna Yala [in Panama] for over 100 years.

The ancestral knowledge and experience of the Guna people contributes a lot towards [fighting] climate change.

We will leave the island and move to the mainland because the circumstances warrant it // due to overcrowding, as we already have a large population on the island, // and many families live in cramped conditions.

That’s why it became a priority for us to move to the mainland.

This is Gardi Sugdub a small island off the coast of Panama, as in 1984. // It’s been home to the Indigenous community for generations.

Nearly four decades on, a growing population and rising sea levels have led the community to make the courageous decision to relocate to the mainland.

They have asked for the government support to do so with dignity.

Almost 50% of the problems we have on the island // are related to housing shortages, lack of proper waste management // infrastructure and water issues.

Climate change is intensifying every year.

The relocation project is the initiative of the people and the Gardi Sugdub community, // and it’s an ambitious project.

It is one of many communities that is currently undertaking relocation related to sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Panama could be the first country in the Americas to take relocation planning seriously at a national level. // but to date the Gardi Sugdub project is not going to plan.

The president committed to delivering it [the new relocation site] in September [2023], but we doubt it will happen.

The government agreed to build 300 new homes and provide potable water, sanitation, and road access services at the relocation site.

But the new site, which is on the mainland, isn’t finished, and no one has yet relocated.

The Ministry of Housing has once again delayed the relocation date from September 2023 to February 29, 2024.

They [the government] have to support us in relocating 300 families. // That is the first thing we think about, what the move will be like.

Everyone with their canoe, their little boat, // and a significant number of people to move, it’s incredible, incredible.

The government should pay much more attention to that.

Well, my school is not in good condition because the street flood when it starts raining. // Sometimes inside the classrooms, // drops fall which create puddles

inside the room, so we get wet.

Naila’s school is deteriorating from water damage, with walls visibly cracking and crumbling behind large damp areas.

The biggest advantage for us would be to move to the new place [the relocation site] and have a better-quality education.

At the government level, the environment authority is responsible for the environment // but there is no plan, no public policy, or resettlement plan.

We have been waiting for this project for over ten to 15 years.

Some community members feel they have not been included in the planning for the relocation project.

Initially, our idea was to build our traditional homes using thatched roofs and bamboo walls.

But the government, without consulting us, assigned us the housing units.

If they had listened to us and considered our feelings // and the community had been part of it, it would have been very different. // We could have kept our identity.

The Ministry of Housing doesn’t have a plan to address these challenges when Indigenous people want to relocate.

There is a lack of national strategy for climate change.

The government should ensure inclusive community participation, develop policy, and allocate funds

to support Gardi Sugdub and other planned relocations of communities facing sea level rise in the future.

The initiative of the Gardi community to relocate can serve as an example and a model.

However, there is still much to be done, // the government planning and approach should match the communities’ aspirations.

Yes, it has been a great hope, almost 13 years of struggle, // 13 years of work.

Many of the people who started cleaning the land, searching for the ideal place, have passed away.

But we are still here.

It can be a joy for our children, our grandchildren.

It can also be a joy to be the first // because communities that have to move to the mainland // will have a model and will be able to fight to improve the process and fight.

They will be able to demand what they desire.

Producer/Editor – Ellie Kealey; Producers- Erica Bower, Pamela Vacacurva, Blas Lopez: Videographers – Wagua Films, Pamela Vacacurva; Music, Audio Network.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2023, 5:00 am
Click to expand Image Former Guinean president Moussa Dadis Camara, one of eleven men accused of committing crimes during the 2009 Guinean stadium massacre, is heard by judges on December 19, 2022, as part of a domestic trial in Conakry, Guinea.  ©2023 Abdoulaye Bella Diallo In the past year, more than 50 victims of Guinea’s 2009 brutal stadium massacre have been heard by judges in front of 11 accused, including Guinea’s former president. The trial is a rare current example of domestic accountability involving high-level suspects and should inspire more similar justice efforts. International partners can help ensure the trial is fair and effective, including through adequate resources, scrutiny, and support for the proceedings.

(New York) – A landmark trial before a domestic court in Guinea of a brutal massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 2009 in the country’s capital is making significant progress, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a question-and-answer document about the events.

September 28, 2023, marks one year since the trial began and the fourteenth anniversary of the security forces attack in which more than 150 people died and scores of women were raped. The trial, which has been on judicial recess during August and September, is set to resume on October 3.

“During the past year, more than 50 victims of Guinea’s horrific stadium massacre and each of the 11 accused, including Guinea’s former president and ministers, have been heard at the trial,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The trial is a landmark justice effort for the victims and the country, and it should help inspire more domestic accountability efforts globally.”

The question-and-answer document details the following:

11 defendants’ identities and their rights at trial. Progress in the proceedings and next steps. Role of victims in the trial. Broadcast and media coverage of the proceedings. Challenges around resources and security. How international entities can help promote the trial’s fair and effective progress. Guinea’s current political context.

The trial is the first of its kind involving human rights abuses of this scale in Guinea and a rare current example of domestic accountability for atrocities involving high-level suspects, Human Rights Watch said. The trial has captured the nation’s attention in many ways, including broadcasting the proceedings live.

“The trial needs continued encouragement, scrutiny and support from international players, including the International Criminal Court, United Nations, and donors,” Keppler said. “The victims and their families have long campaigned for this trial and deserve to see the people responsible for the massacre held to account.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 25, 2023, 4:45 am

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