“I don’t have gloves; when we pick up the fruit bunches it hurts us,” said a palm fruit harvester that has worked for the company for over a decade. “Sometimes the fruit bunches fall on people or animals’ excrement.” Boteka, November 17, 2018.

© 2018 Luciana Téllez/Human Rights Watch.
Four European development banks have announced they will require a major palm oil company in the Democratic Republic of Congo to take steps to redress human rights abuses recently reported by Human Rights Watch.

The 95-page report, A Dirty Investment, concluded that Feronia, which is financed by the four banks, was responsible for health and labor rights abuses, and environmental harm.

The banks responded on the same day as the report launch, saying they would require the company to take a series of measures to deal with the violations. Feronia employs more than 10,000 workers through its subsidiary in Congo, and its plantations are home to more than 100,000 people.

Human Rights Watch found that the company exposes workers to toxic pesticides and engages in abusive employment practices that result in extreme poverty wages. The company’s factories also dump untreated industrial waste that may have contaminated the only source of drinking water for several hundred villagers. It was the development banks’ obligation to prevent and redress abuses, but their monitoring and accountability mechanisms failed to do so.

The government-owned banks – Belgian BIO, British CDC Group, German DEG, and Dutch FMO – have invested US$100 million in the company since 2013. CDC Group also owns 38 percent of Feronia.

Human Rights Watch conducted more than 200 interviews for the report and traveled 1,200 kilometers on the Congo River to reach people in the remote plantations.

The measures the banks announced include addressing labor rights violations that result in extremely low wages, ensuring wage parity between men and women, addressing villagers’ concerns around water contamination, and taking steps to protect the health of laborers who spray pesticides.

Human Rights Watch will continue to engage the banks over the implementation of these measures. What is still lacking, however, is a commitment to address the monitoring and accountability failures that allowed for these abuses to happen under their watch. The banks should carry out structural reforms, including strengthening monitoring and accountability mechanisms, that would not only protect thousands of workers in Congo, but also protect the rights of people affected by the more than 2,000 projects the banks are involved in across the developing world, where they control billions of dollars in investments.


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

When it was announced that the government of Fiji would chair this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, expectations were high. As a small island, Fiji sees climate change as an existential threat.

Indigenous peoples demand their rights at climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 2016,

© 2016 Katharina Rall / Human Rights Watch

The talks wrapped up on Friday, and during the last two weeks, advocates for gender equality and indigenous peoples made their voices heard and won hard-fought battles to better respect their rights. Notably, governments agreed to create a platform to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations climate responses, and adopted a Gender Action Plan that aims to better integrate gender equality in climate change policies.

There was also increased attention given to environmental rights defenders and indigenous people who have been killed, attacked, and threatened for their activism. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that governments often fail to conduct serious and timely investigations.

Just when the talks were nearing their end, human rights were pushed to the fore when Fijian prime minister and president of the climate talks, Frank Bainimarama, convened a high-level event about the importance of rights in climate negotiations. Why was this such a big deal? Because never before has any government presiding over the talks hosted an official event on human rights.

Bainimarama has also long been among those who have been silent on human rights issues. But on Thursday, he announced that integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement was an important element of Fiji’s presidency, which will continue through the coming year. Costa Rica’s environment minister, Edgar Gutiérrez-Espelata, also proposed concrete ways to integrate rights into the current negotiations about the so-called Paris Rulebook. For example, governments could reference human rights obligations in climate change action plans and climate negotiators could agree to build capacity among states on promoting human rights in climate action.

Of course, such commitments are worth little unless governments are willing to turn rhetoric into reality. If they are serious about fighting climate change, governments should also do more to integrate the protection of human rights in climate policies, while defending the rights of people working to protect the environment.

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

Myanmar press freedom and youth activists demonstrate for the release of two jailed Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in Yangon, Myanmar, September 16, 2018. 

©2018 Reuters/Ann Wang
(Bangkok) – Myanmar authorities should immediately drop all charges against an editor for broadcasting an interview with an armed group representative, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 30, police arrested and charged Nay Myo Lin, the editor-in-chief of the Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, under Myanmar’s overly broad Counter-Terrorism Law for an interview with the Arakan Army spokesperson.

In recent weeks, the Myanmar government has expanded its crackdown on journalists, including several editors. The actions have severely undermined press freedom and access to information in the country.

“The Myanmar authorities’ assault on media freedom by arresting journalists who are simply doing their job harms everyone’s access to information,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor. “Nay Myo Lin was unjustly charged and should immediately be released.”

On March 23, the Myanmar government designated the insurgent Arakan Army as a terrorist organization under the Counter-Terrorism Law and as an “unlawful association” under section 15(2) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act. On March 27, Nay Myo Lin interviewed the Arakan Army spokesperson Khaing Thu Kha and broadcast the interview under the title “Peace Process has stopped.”

The Mandalay Special Branch police filed a criminal complaint against Nay Myo Lin under sections 50(a) and 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law. Section 50(a) of the law authorizes a minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment for, among other actions, “causing fear among the public” or “damaging the security of the public.” Section 52(a) authorizes a sentence of three to seven years in prison for activities that “knowingly involve a terrorist group.”

Nay Myo Lin’s arrest reflects the government’s deepening crackdown on independent media. On March 31, police raided the home of the editor-in chief of the Yangon-based Khit Thit News media outlet. Police also raided the office of the Sittwe-based Narinjara news outlet, arresting three journalists – Thein Zaw, Aung Lin Htun, and Htun Khaing – and releasing them later that evening. The Democratic Voice of Burma reported that the editor-in-chief of Narinjara, Khaing Mrat Kyaw, has been charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law but has not been arrested.

“The baseless charges against Nay Myo Lin and Khaing Mrat Kyaw make clear that every journalist trying to cover Myanmar’s many conflicts is at risk,” Lakhdhir said. “So too are the humanitarian workers trying to bring aid to civilians at risk and human rights advocates monitoring abuse in conflict areas.”

While international human rights law allows governments to place restrictions on the media for national security reasons, these restrictions must be strictly necessary for a legitimate purpose and not be overbroad. They may not be used to suppress or withhold information of legitimate public interest not harmful to national security, or to prosecute journalists for reporting such information. For the government to fulfill this responsibility, journalists should be able to speak to and meet with a variety of people without fear of arrest or harassment – including those who are in conflict with the government or military.

The Myanmar government has repeatedly used draconian laws against journalists for reporting on military abuses or ethnic armed groups. In 2018, two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act after uncovering a massacre of Rohingya Muslims. They were released on a presidential pardon after spending more than a year in jail. Aung Marm Oo, the editor-in-chief of the news agency Development Media Group (DMG), which has reported on the conflict in Rakhine State, is currently facing a complaint under the Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Access to information is rapidly diminishing under Myanmar’s current government. On March 23, the Ministry of Transport and Communications instructed four mobile operators to block access to 221 websites deemed to be spreading “fake news” or containing explicit content, according to the media.

Narinjara and Development Media Group said that since March 24, they have been blocked by all four mobile operators, which include Norway’s Telenor, Qatari-owned Ooredoo, military-affiliated MyTel and the state-owned MPT. Telenor is the only telecommunications provider to have issued a statement about the government directive.

The current editor-in-chief of DMG, Phadu Tun Aung, told local media that by blocking the only two ethnic-Rakhine media outlets, the government had effectively silenced ethnic Rakhine voices. “By blocking our websites, [the government is] restricting the people’s right to information,” he said. Other registered media outlets in Shan and Karen States and Mandalay region also reported that they were blocked.

Any government restrictions on websites should clearly explain why the content is being taken down and should focus on specific content rather than whole domains.

The government should also lift the continued internet shutdowns in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States, which threaten the safety of civilians as fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar armed forces continues. The blanket shutdown violates international human rights law, which requires internet-based restrictions to be necessary and proportionate.

Internet service providers should fully resist unjustified internet shutdowns or takedowns, including by seeking a legal basis for any shutdown order and interpreting requests to cause the least intrusive restrictions. They should carry out their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and avoid complicity in human rights abuses especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Myanmar government has increasingly acted to restrict access to information it does not like and punish those who bring it to light,” Lakhdhir said. “Counter-terrorism laws should never be used against journalists for their reporting. Under these circumstances the future for press freedom in Myanmar is bleak.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cars are seen on highway 101 in Palo Alto, California, September 17, 2019.

© 2019 Yichuan Cao/Sipa via AP Images

United States President Donald Trump’s announcement of dramatically reduced fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, a move expected to lead to increased air pollution and emission of billions of tons more greenhouse gases, is the latest in a series of attacks on environmental protection since Trump took office. These have included the rollback of dozens of laws and regulations designed to protect the environment and human health.

For example, late last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that for an indefinite period of time it would not enforce monitoring and reporting requirements of many environmental regulations if the company can show a COVID-19 related reason for non-compliance.

Both of these policies will bring added harm to human health, with no meaningful justification.

The EPA policy means that most reporting requirements for companies polluting air and water will not be enforced. This means communities will not know what is discharged into the air they breathe.

The rollback of fuel standards will almost certainly have devastating impacts on efforts to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected to lead to one trillion more tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere which is equivalent to 20 percent of US total annual emissions or more than the total annual emissions of Canada. This comes at a time when it is critical that global emissions are dramatically reduced to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

It will almost certainly harm air quality, and air pollution is responsible for a number of respiratory, cardiovascular, and other health issues in the US. People infected with COVID-19 and living in communities with high levels of air pollution may also face higher risks of severe disease or death, as during the 2003 SARS epidemic, during which people who breathed dirtier air were about twice as likely to die from the infection. Air pollution causes more than 200,000 premature deaths in the US every year.   

The EPA’s overbroad policy offered no explanation as to why COVID-19 restrictions would impact monitoring or reporting. Nor did it justify the indefinite timing for the suspension of these requirements.

The rollback of fuel efficiency standards is even more arbitrary, and inconsistent with the position of the auto industry, which has advocated for improved, not lower, standards, in part because of “shifting market conditions and consumer preferences.”

Lower fuel efficiency vehicles will bring increased fuel consumption, which stands to benefit the fossil fuel industry.

In the midst of such a horrendous public health emergency, the US should be using all tools available to protect people’s health, instead of taking steps that undermine it.

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

A Batek woman walks near her village in Kuala Koh, Kelantan, Malaysia.

© 2009 Reuters

(New York) – Malaysia’s Health Ministry should release the results and act upon its investigation into the deaths of 16 Batek villagers in mid-2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The deaths occurred amid reports of contamination of the Indigenous community’s water supply and infringements on their customary land.

In May and June 2019, illness swept through the Batek villages of Kuala Koh in Kelantan state in Malaysia. Sixteen people died and more than half the village’s nearly 200 inhabitants were hospitalized.

The Malaysian government promised a full investigation and recovered the remains for post-mortem examinations. On September 26, 2019, the health minister, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, announced that the deaths were all due to measles and that the village water supply met water quality standards. However, the government has yet to release the post-mortem reports or the results of soil toxicology and water tests.

“Concerns about possible chemical and heavy metal contamination in the water and soil near Kuala Koh make it crucial for the government to publicly release the full results of its investigations into the villagers’ deaths,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Without full disclosure, questions about both the cause of death and the water quality will remain.”

The Batek are an Indigenous people living primarily in northeastern Peninsular Malaysia who have suffered a loss of forest habitat and been subjected to government relocation programs. The only water available to the communities of Kuala Koh comes from a water catchment area two kilometers downstream from a manganese mine.

After the Batek fell ill, the deputy water, land, and natural resources minister announced that the manganese mine would be closed, but noted that it was only one of a number of mines in the area. The Kuala Koh area is also suffering from deforestation and is surrounded by oil palm plantations.

In September, the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations, Malaysia (FPMPAM) announced that independent tests of the Kuala Koh water supply had revealed manganese in concentrations of 2.53 milligrams per liter – 25 times the World Health Organization (WHO) safety recommendation of 0.1 mg/liter. The health minister, while conceding that the water tests revealed the presence of heavy metals, stated that they were not present in lethal quantities and that heavy metals were not the cause of death.

Whether or not heavy metals in the water were a direct cause of death, water quality in Kuala Koh is a matter of serious concern to the Batek and other communities, and the full results of water and soil tests should be publicly disclosed.

The Malaysian authorities should end the neglect and marginalization of the country’s Indigenous peoples and ensure equal protection under the law.

National and local authorities should also make a public commitment to carry out the recommendations of the 2014 report by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s national human rights commission, in its national inquiry into the land rights of Indigenous peoples in Malaysia.

The report makes 18 recommendations with regard to six main issues: recognize Indigenous peoples’ customary rights to land; provide a remedy for land loss; address land development issues and imbalances; prevent future loss of native Indigenous peoples’ customary land; handle land administration issues; and recognize land as central to Indigenous peoples’ identity.

The United Nations special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights also made a number of recommendations to the government on Indigenous peoples’ rights following her visit to Malaysia in 2017.

The Malaysian government should develop a clear plan to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as the states of Sabah and Sarawak, consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The Batek are entitled to see the full analysis of the water they drink and the soil on which they live,” Adams said. “Keeping this information in government file cabinets would not be acceptable for residents of Kuala Lumpur, nor should it be considered acceptable for an Indigenous community.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 87th pre-session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child relating to Canada’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This submission is primarily based on research conducted between July 2015 and April 2016, and focuses on the water crisis in First Nation communities and the protection of education during armed conflict.

Water Crisis in First Nation Communities (articles 24, 27, and 29)

The water supplied to many First Nations communities on lands known as reserves is contaminated, hard to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems.[1]

The poor water and sanitation conditions has a disparate and negative impact on at-risk populations including children. Human Rights Watch research found that while the most severe public health concerns—water-borne illnesses and related deaths—have mostly been avoided through water advisories, the social costs and human rights impact of the crisis are considerable. In communities like Neskantaga and Shoal Lake 40 First Nations, a whole generation of children grew up unable to drink the water from the taps.

Many households surveyed by Human Rights Watch in 2016 reported problems related to skin infections, eczema, psoriasis, or other skin problems that they thought either were related to or exacerbated by the water conditions in their home. Many also reported changing hygiene habits, including limiting baths or showers for children, because of concerns about water quality. Limiting baths can have a direct impact on hygiene, and therefore on health.[2]

Lower-income or financially struggling families on First Nations reserves feel the water crisis intensely, and struggle with the cost of coping. Caregivers of children told Human Rights Watch that the poor water conditions in their communities made their care work more burdensome, time-consuming, and increased their worry. Some for example, expressed concern about the children swallowing water while bathing. “My son has a baby, he was a newborn at the time [we learned we had uranium in our water],” said one woman. “So I bathed that baby in bottled water because their skin is so sensitive and you don’t know if it will get in the mouth. We are told not to brush our teeth with that water, and you can’t boil it out… It’s a huge problem.”[3]

Poor quality water can add hours to simple caregiving tasks. A mother in Neskantaga First Nation described the hour-long daily process to wash bottles for her 4-month-old infant with a rare heart condition. She bathes him in water that she or her partner collects from the community’s reverse osmosis machine at the water treatment plant. To bathe the baby, every two days she boils the water then lets it cool in a small tub. This takes about two hours. To wash her baby’s bottles, she first rinses the milk out with tap water. Then she boils water from the reverse osmosis machine with the bottles. She then washes them in the sink, again with the treated plant water. This takes an hour. “It makes me feel tired, exhausted. It’s stressful,” she said.[4]

The crisis also impacts the cultural rights of First Nations communities. First Nations people in Ontario consider water sacred: water purifies, cleanses, and gives life to the environment and all living things. Likewise, many recognize a relationship with and responsibility to care for water. They have ceremonies, knowledge, customary laws, and ways of teaching children about their special relationship with water.[5]

Since Human Rights Watch’s research was published in 2016, the federal government has taken steps to increase transparency in situations in which First Nations communities have long been without a safe water supply and to work more closely with the communities to address the problems. The government created a webpage for ending boil water advisories and has provided up to date and easily accessible public data on progress related to ending the boil water advisories on reserves.[6] The government announced in early 2019 new investments to support ongoing efforts to eliminate and prevent long-term drinking water advisories. However, despite visible progress, the government has failed time and again to deliver on its promises for safe drinking water in many communities.[7]

Since 2015, Canadian officials have worked to eliminate drinking water advisories in First Nations reserves, lifting 88 long-term advisories through dedicated investments. However, at least 60 drinking water advisories remain in place as of writing[8] and the underlying systemic water and wastewater problems facing First Nations in Canada remain, including a lack of regulations to protect drinking water on reserves.[9]

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, during its review of Canada in 2016, urged the State party to “live up to its commitment to ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for the First Nations while ensuring their active participation in water planning and management.”[10]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government:

  • What actions are being taken to lift the numerous drinking water advisories that remain in place?
  • What steps are being taken to improve the lack of regulations to protect drinking water on reserves?
  • What is being done to work with First Nations on solutions and to promulgate enforceable drinking water and sanitation regulations?

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • In collaboration with First Nations, develop a plan for addressing water and sanitation conditions on reserves that allows for long-term and sustainable solutions beyond the current five-year goal to end boil water advisories. The plan should have:
  • Quantifiable targets;
  • Sufficient and consistent budget allocations;
  • A fixed timeframe for initial implementation;
  • Commitments for ongoing operation and maintenance support;
  • A time-bound commitment not only to end long-term drinking water advisories but guarantee safe drinking water for all and reduce risk level of high-risk water and wastewater assets on reserves; and
  • Specific recommendations, funding, and measures related to private or household-level water and wastewater systems.
  • Co-create with First Nations replacement legislation for the Safe Drinking Water For First Nations Act, and ensure that all legislative measures taken to address the water crisis are supported with the necessary resources and funding to secure effective implementation.
  • Establish an independent First Nations water commission to monitor and evaluate government performance related to water and wastewater on First Nations, including specifically the outcomes related to government water and wastewater funding commitments. In its work, the commission should take into account Indigenous customs, laws, and practices.
  • Support research to monitor skin or other hygiene-related health concerns associated with poor drinking water quality or drinking water advisories on reserves, especially targeted at groups acutely affected such as children.
  • Provide greater support for the monitoring of private household drinking water systems, including wells.
  • Engage First Nations on the cultural aspects of water in order to identify culturally acceptable, sustainable water policy and practical solutions on reserves.
  • Develop contingency plans in the case of major infrastructure failures for First Nations reserves, particularly in remote communities, including plans for possible evacuations or other extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of community members.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 28)

In February 2017, Canada endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[11] 

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government:

  • What concrete measures have the Canadian armed forces taken to deter the military use of schools in contravention of international law, including through its military manuals, policies, trainings, planning, and orders?

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Congratulate Canada for endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration.
  • Encourage Canada to share any good practices with other countries, including any including any recipients of humanitarian aid, development assistance, or military training.

[1] “Make it Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis,” Human Rights Watch, June 7, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/06/07/make-it-safe/canadas-obligation-end-first-nations-water-crisis

[2] Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe, p. 40.

[3] Human Rights Watch interview with Geraldine S., Batchewana First Nation, October 6, 2015.

[4] Human Rights Watch interview with Roxanne M., Neskantaga First Nation, October 20, 2015.

[6] “Ending long-term drinking water advisories,” Government of Canada, https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1506514143353/1533317130660 (accessed February 7, 2020)

[7] “Canada: Pressing Need to Improve First Nations’ Water Supply: On World Water Day, New Guide to Water Rights,” Human Rights Watch, March 22, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/22/canada-pressing-need-improve-first-nations-water-supply

[8] “Ending long-term drinking water advisories,” Government of Canada, https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1506514143353/1533317130660 (accessed February 7, 2020)

[9] “Canada: Blind Eye to First Nation Water Crisis: Neskantaga Community Needs Compensation, Assistance,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 2, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/02/canada-blind-eye-first-nation-water-crisis

[10] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report

of Canada,” March 23, 2016, E/C.12/CAN/CO/6, para 44.

[11] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This statement was delivered by Earthjustice on behalf of Amnesty International, Centre for International Environmental Law, CIVICUS, Child Rights International Network , the Interamerican Association of Environmental Defense,  Global Initiative for Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Greenpeace International and Human Rights Watch on the occasion of the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, at the 43rd regular session of the Human Rights Council.

Earth Justice delivers this statement on behalf of nine non-governmental organizations. We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report which usefully identifies a wealth of governmental good practices in recognizing and implementing a right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

The report highlights that 80% of UN member states have recognized this human right. It also shows that at least 90% UN member states have reported at least some good practices that reflect procedural and/or the substantive elements of this right. The report therefore shows that “environmental progress and the protection of human rights from environmental harm are possible”. While the report is clear that all states must urgently step up their action at all levels to adequately address the present “daunting and unprecedented global environmental crisis”, it also shows that global recognition of the right to a healthy environment is an essential ingredient of such efforts.

Our organizations therefore call on the Human Rights Council to promptly adopt a resolution recognizing the right to a healthy environment. At a time when people from around the world, and particularly children, are increasingly concerned and mobilized by the environmental crisis, and environmental human rights defenders continue to face violence, states need to make this important move signaling their unequivocal intention to work towards the fulfillment of this right for all.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A campaign poster showing environmental activists, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, who have been in detention for six months. 

© 2018 #anyhopefornature Campaign

(Beirut, February 19, 2020) – An Iranian revolutionary court has upheld the unjust sentences against eight environmental experts already detained for over two years, Human Rights Watch said today. Iranian authorities have failed to produce any evidence to support their charges against members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and should free them immediately.

On February 18, 2020, Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, confirmed at a news conference that a court of appeal had upheld sentences ranging from 6 to 10 years in prison against seven of the group’s members for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” Esmaili said the court also upheld a 4-year prison sentence for Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, another member of the group, for “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”

“Iran’s revolutionary courts are ‘revolutionary’ only in their ability to fabricate charges without evidence,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Two years on, there’s still not a shred of evidence against these environmental experts, and the authorities should release them immediately.”

The court upheld the 10-year sentences for Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz and ordered them to return allegedly “illicit income.” The court ordered Bayani to return US$360,000 of these “illicit funds;” authorities calculated this amount by multiplying Bayani’s latest annual salary from the United Nations Environment Programme, where she worked prior to joining the wildlife group, by her six years of working there, a source told Human Rights Watch.

The court also upheld the 8-year sentences for Houman Jokar and Taher Ghadirian on the charge of “cooperating with the hostile states of the US and Israel through spying against the Islamic Republic and in favor of the foreign intelligence services of the CIA and Mossad.” Likewise, the court of appeal upheld the 6-year sentences against Amir Hossein Khaleghian, Sepideh Kashani, and Sam Rajabi for “participating in spying against the Islamic Republic,” “participating in cooperation with the hostile state of the US,” and “cooperating with the hostile state of the US,” respectively.

The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arrested seven of the defendants on January 24 and 25, 2018, as well as Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian university professor. The authorities arrested Kouhpayeh, who was tried with the seven other activists, on February 25. On February 10, 2018, family members of Seyed Emami reported that he had died in detention under suspicious circumstances. Iranian authorities claimed that he committed suicide, but they have not conducted an impartial investigation into his death and had banned his wife from traveling until October 2019.

On October 24, 2018, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, said at a news conference that four detainees faced the charge of “sowing corruption on earth,” which includes the risk of the death penalty. He claimed that the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”

The environmental experts’ trial began in January 2019 but was halted in March. The trial resumed briefly in June but was halted again until it was concluded on November 2. Bayani had interrupted a trial session in February, saying that the defendants had been under psychological torture and were coerced into making false confessions. In a letter reviewed by BBC Persian, Bayani wrote that she has been threatened with injection of some substance in her arm by “rolling up her sleeves” and with torture by showing her “photos of torture devices.”

On October 14,  Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the authorities were changing the charge of “sowing corruption on earth” to a charge of collaborating with US and Israel to spy. During the trial, judiciary officials did not allow the detainees to choose their own lawyer, forcing them to be represented by lawyers who were pre-approved by the judiciary. The list that was announced in June 2018 did not include any human rights lawyers.

Over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. On May 22, 2018, ISNA reported that Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Institution, said during a speech at a biodiversity conference that the government had formed a committee consisting of the ministers of intelligence, interior, and justice and the president’s legal deputy, and that they had concluded there was no evidence to suggest those detained were spies.

On February 3, 2019, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, tweeted that he had received information that the National Security Council headed by President Hassan Rouhani did not consider the activities of the detained environmentalists to be spying.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the pre-sessional Working Group for the 77th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“the Committee”) relating to South Africa’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”).

  1. Protection of Sex workers (Articles 6 and 12)

Selling and buying sex in South Africa is illegal. The criminalisation of sex work has not deterred mostly poor, black and economically marginalized South African women from selling sex to make a living and support their children, and often other dependents too. Criminalisation in South Africa has, however, made sex work less safe, made sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation and crimes and meant that sex workers are less likely to report trafficking for fear of recrimination. Criminalisation undermines sex workers’ access to justice for crimes committed against them and exposes them to unchecked abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials, including police officers. And although the Department of Health’s national strategy on sex work and HIV is grounded in respect for the human rights of sex workers, outreach and non-discrimination, criminalisation hinders sex workers’ efforts to access health care, including HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report documented violence experienced by sex workers in South Africa, and their difficulties in reporting crimes and creating safe places to work. We interviewed 46 female sex workers in 10 interview sites in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng provinces. We also interviewed more than 40 lawyers, health workers and others working to provide services to this vulnerable population as well as representatives from the South African government.[1]

Sex workers described facing frequent arbitrary arrests and police profiling as well as coerced sex and extortion. They said that to avoid police harassment they were compelled to work in dangerous areas like dark parks, bushy areas behind bars, or back roads in towns where they felt unsafe. Sex workers also said that they often did not report crimes against them because they feared arrest or harassment. Some chose not to report out of fear that the police would laugh at them, blame them, or take no action. Many of the interviewees had been raped by men purporting to be clients, and almost all had been victims of robbery or serious violence, including being beaten, whipped, and stabbed.

Health workers and health rights activists interviewed said that criminalisation obstructs efforts to prevent and treat HIV infections among sex workers. Outreach workers from clinics providing services to sex workers have been arrested and police have relied on sex workers’ possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution, discouraging them from carrying them. Some sex workers also reported that arrest and detention interrupted their essential HIV treatment.[2]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Introduce a new law to parliament that removes criminal and administrative sanctions against consensual adult sex work and related offences, such as solicitation, and current prohibited practices such as “living off the earnings” of prostitution or brothel-keeping;
  • Recommend municipal governments reform or repeal overly broad by-laws prohibiting vague offences such as loitering and being a “public nuisance” so they can no longer be used to target vulnerable groups, including sex workers;
  • Implement an immediate moratorium on arrests of sex workers, including for loitering, indecent exposure and other misdemeanours;
  • Publicly commit to strict nationwide enforcement of provisions that prohibit torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, police brutality, coerced confessions or telling detainees to sign “admissions of guilt” paperwork without fully explaining the content;
  • Ensure police training and awareness-building on human rights and sex worker rights under international and South African law, tolerance and sensitive and non-discriminatory policing is carried out regularly and rigorously. This training should include on the correct protocol of arrest and police detention and also non-discrimination concerning crimes reported by sex workers.
  1. Girls’ Access to Education (Articles 10 and 12)

Insufficient Protections for Pregnant Students and Adolescent Mothers

South Africa has had a policy on the prevention and management of student pregnancies since 2007, which states that school children who are pregnant shall not be unfairly discriminated against and cannot be expelled.[3] However, research by South African NGOs indicates that this policy has not been fully respected by schools, and schools have often discriminated against female students.[4] Research conducted by South African organisations shows that some school officials continue to exclude pregnant girls from school or ask them to shift to other schools, contradicting their obligations to respect student’s right to compulsory education.[5]

In 2018, the government initiated a consultation to develop a new policy on management and prevention of student pregnancies.[6] This new policy has not yet been released at time of writing this submission.[7] Human Rights Watch recommends that the government removes any conditional measures–currently applied through the government’s 2007 policy—that impact on girls’ education or deter them from going back to school. For example, students should not have to wait a conditional period until they can return to school.[8]

The new policy should ensure that pregnant students can stay in school while they are medically able to, and that they return to school as soon as they are ready. Schools should also provide basic accommodations for adolescent parents, including: time to breastfeed during breaks, and time off in case a student’s child is ill or to comply with other medical or bureaucratic requirements.[9]

Through its policy, the government should communicate a clear obligation on all education establishments to respect girls’ right to stay in school. Schools should not be able to block a student’s return to school.

We welcome the Department of Basic Education’s commitment, expressed in this draft policy, to focus both on prevention and management of pregnancies. The government should act on its commitment to provide access to an age-appropriate, scientifically accurate sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), and ensure it is-embedded in its comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum.[10] The government’s new policy should stipulate the mandatory nature of this curriculum, and should specify that learners will have access to comprehensive sexuality education from primary school, in line with international guidance.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of South Africa:

  • What steps will the government take to fully guarantee, in law and policy, pregnant students and adolescent parents’ right to education?
  • What measures will the government adopt to fully support pregnant students and adolescent parents’ retention in school?
  • How will the government ensure provincial governments’ and schools’ compliance with its forthcoming policy on pregnancy management and prevention in schools?
  • How does the government ensure that its compulsory sexuality education curriculum complies with international standards, and how does it ensure that teachers are trained in its contents, and allocate time to teach it?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Encourage the government to adopt a human rights compliant policy that guarantees pregnant girls’ and adolescent parents’ right to education and includes basic accommodations to ensure parents are supported to stay in school. The government should regularly monitor this policy to ensure schools adhere to its provisions.

Discrimination in Education for Children with Disabilities

An estimated 600,000 children with disabilities remain out of school in South Africa, but the government has not published accurate, disaggregated data that shows exactly how many girls and boys with disabilities are out of school.[11]

The high cost of education, including school fees and other school-related costs, continues to be a significant barrier keeping children with disabilities out of school. South Africa does not guarantee the right to free primary or secondary education to all children in law or practice.[12] Research by Human Rights Watch in 2014 and 2015 found that the current fee-based system particularly discriminates against children with disabilities.[13] It results in many children with disabilities paying school fees that many children without disabilities do not, as well as additional costs, such as for uniforms, food, transport, and to secure reasonable accommodations for the child’s disability.[14]

South Africa’s Schools Act mandates that the state fund public schools on an equitable basis.[15] The government in turn requires that the governing bodies of public schools—made up of teachers, parents, and other community representatives—adopt a resolution for a school to charge fees and supplement a school’s funding “by charging school fees and doing other reasonable forms of fund-raising.”[16]

Public schools may be classified as “no-fee” schools, a status granted to public schools by provincial governments, which means that those schools should not charge fees. The “no-fee” designation is based on the “economic level of the community around the school,” and on a quintile system from poorest to richest, whereby the lowest three quintiles do not pay fees in designated public schools.[17]

The government treats public special schools differently from other public schools. Special schools are still not listed in the national government’s publicly available annual “no-fee” schools lists. In 2019, Human Rights Watch found that, for the first time, Gauteng province listed 5 special schools as “no-fee” out of 128 special schools in the whole province. The Western Cape province’s 2017 “no-fee” schools list excluded all special schools.[18]

Although a high number of students in special schools come from townships and predominantly poor areas of towns, many public special schools in urban areas are located in wealthier suburbs previously inaccessible to the majority of children under apartheid.[19] The income level of surrounding communities and locations means many special schools fail the “needs” or “poverty” test used to assess a school’s access to recurrent public funding or to qualify as a “no-fee” school.[20]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of South Africa:

  • How many children with disabilities remain out of school, and how many are girls?
  • What measures has the government adopted to ensure children with disabilities have access to free quality inclusive education, on an equal basis with children without disabilities, particularly in rural and remote areas? How do those measures respond to girls with disabilities needs?
  • What binding measures has the government taken to ensure provincial governments respect and fulfill the right to inclusive education of children with disabilities?
  • What steps has the government taken to ensure legislation and policy reflect the government’s obligation to provide free education, and its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to allow children with disabilities to access education without discrimination?
  • Will the government adopt legislation providing specific protections to children with disabilities and guaranteeing inclusive education?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Urge the government to disclose robust, disaggregated data on the number of children with disabilities out of school.
  • Urge the government to ensure access to free and compulsory primary education and to secondary education to children with disabilities, including by developing a detailed plan of action for the immediate realization of free compulsory primary education, in line with its responsibilities under international human rights law.
  • Call upon the government to adopt stronger legal protections for children with disabilities to complement the South African Schools Act. This includes a clear duty to provide reasonable accommodation in public ordinary schools, accompanied by specific provisions that prevent the rejection of students with disabilities from schools in their neighborhood.
  1. Targeting of Women Activists (Articles 2(c), 3 and 14)

Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants. When police are informed of attacks or threats, they sometimes fail to conduct timely or adequate investigations into the incidents. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report, women are often first to experience the harms of mining and can play a leading role in voicing these concerns, which makes them potential targets for harassment and attacks.[21] We cite activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities.[22]

In South Africa women are often the most directly responsible for children, and may be without a second parent present in the household, caretaking of others.[23] Research by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies found that threats against women in South Africa adversely affect their children and families because of the role women predominantly play as primary caregivers.[24] Women are also often first to experience the harms of extractive industries on land, water, food, health, and livelihoods.[25] In many places collecting water and gathering food are responsibilities of women and impacts on these resources affect them first. As elsewhere globally, on average women in South Africa are poorer than men and more vulnerable to sudden losses of income or food or water resources and the burden of buying more expensive alternatives. This often motivates them to play a leading role in voicing these concerns and acting as human rights defenders, which makes them potential targets for harassment and attacks.[26]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of South Africa to:

  • Publicly condemn assaults, threats, harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of activists, and direct the police and other government officials to stop all arbitrary arrests, harassment, or threats against community rights defenders.
  • Provide adequate and effective individual and collective protection measures to individuals and communities at risk.
  • Ensure that law enforcement authorities respect and protect the right to protest, including by not using unlawful measures of crowd control beyond what is strictly necessary to prevent harm to people or excessive harm to property.
  • Direct government officials at all levels, in particular in any departments responsible for regulating mining or protests, to comply with South Africa’s domestic and international obligations to respect, protect, and promote all human rights of activists across South Africa, including the community rights defenders in mining-affected communities, to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and protest, and the rights to health and a healthy environment.
  • Ensure women activists receive equal attention and support as male activists.

[1] Human Rights Watch, Why Sex Work Should be Decriminalised in South Africa, August 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/07/south-africa-decriminalise-sex-work

[2] Ibid.

[3] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed August 28, 2018), pp. 6 – 7. Despite its existence, schools continue to expel pregnant girls in breach of South Africa’s constitutional laws. Lisa Draga et al, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Chapter 8 – Pregnancy, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf (accessed August 28, 2018).

[4] Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27, “Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27 Submission to the Department of Basic Education in Respect of the Draft “National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools,” April 2018, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/EELC-and-S27-Submissi... (accessed August 15, 2018).

[5] Lisa Draga, Chandré Stuurman, and Demichelle Petherbridge, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Education Rights in South Africa – Chapter 8: Pregnancy,” 2017, http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf.

[6] Department of Basic Education, “DBE Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools,” 2018, https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Policies/Draft%20Pregna... (accessed August 15, 2018).

[7] Parliamentary Monitoring Group, “Inclusive Education: status update,” Basic Education Committee, October 30, 2019, https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/29205/.

[8] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed August 17, 2018).

[9] Human Rights Watch, Letter to the Department of Basic Education regarding their draft pregnancy policy, August 16, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/15/letter-south-africas-department-basi....

[10] Department of Basic Education, “Basic Education Department releases scripted lesson plans to the public to allay fears regarding comprehensive sexuality education content,” November 13, 2019, https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/CSE%20Scripted%20lesson... (accessed February 6, 2020).

[11] IOL, “Advocacy group heads to court as 600 000 disabled school kids forced to stay at home,” September 26, 2019, https://www.iol.co.za/news/advocacy-group-heads-to-court-as-600-000-disa... Human Rights Watch, “South Africa Education Barriers for Children with Disabilities,” August 18, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/08/18/south-africa-education-barriers-chil....

[12] Department of Basic Education, “School fees and exemption,” undated, https://www.education.gov.za/Informationfor/ParentsandGuardians/SchoolFe....

[13] Human Rights Watch, “South Africa: Education Barriers for Children with Disabilities,” August 18, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/08/18/south-africa-education-barriers-chil... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[14] “School fees” are defined as “any form of contribution of a monetary nature made or paid by a person or body in relation to the attendance or participation by a learner in any programme of a public school,” South African Schools Act, Act No. 24 of 2005: Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005, http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/a24-05_0.pdf, ch. 1 and s. 1(b).

[15] South African Schools Act, s. 34.

[16] Department of Basic Education, “School Fees and Exemption – No Fee Schools”, undated, http://www.education.gov.za/Parents/NoFeeSchools/tabid/408/Default.aspx (accessed August 9, 2018).

[17] Department of Education, “National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” General Notice 2363, October 12, 1998, http://www.education.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ZYYtOiXHTeE%3D&tab... (accessed August 5, 2018); Department of Basic Education, “Amended National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” January 16, 2015, http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/38397_gon17.pdf (accessed August 5, 2018).

[18] See for example, “Western Cape No Fee School 2017,” https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/2017%20No%... (accessed August 15, 2018)

[19] Human Rights Watch found that this is particularly the case in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces where special schools were traditionally set up to cater for white children with disabilities. Within Gauteng Province, many full-service schools are mainly in the outskirts of the city and the majority are Afrikaans speaking.

[20] Provincial Departments of Education are guided by a “Resource Targeting Table” to define needs-based allocations, “National Norms and Standards for school funding,” pp. 27-28. See Department of Basic Education, “Amended National Norms and Standards for School Funding,” Government Gazette no. 38397, 16 January 2015.

[21] Association for Women’s Rights in Development & Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, “Women Human Rights Defenders Confronting Extractive Industries: An Overview of Critical Risks and Human Rights Obligations,” pp. 10ss, https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/whrds-confronting_e... (accessed December 17, 2018).

[22] Human Rights Watch, “We Know Our Lives are in Danger”: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, April 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/04/16/we-know-our-lives-are-danger/envir... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[23] “Single Motherhood in South Africa,” The Borgen Project, https://borgenproject.org/single-motherhood-in-south-africa/ (accessed February 10, 2020).

[24] Gumboh, Esther, et al., “Victimisation Experiences of Activists in South Africa,” Centre for Applied Legal Studies, April 2018, p. 21ss, https://www.osf.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Centre-for-Applied-Leg....

[25] Human Rights Watch, “We Know Our Lives are in Danger”: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, April 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/04/16/we-know-our-lives-are-danger/envir... (accessed February 10, 2020).

[26] Association for Women’s Rights in Development & Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, “Women Human Rights Defenders Confronting Extractive Industries: An Overview of Critical Risks and Human Rights Obligations,” pp. 10ss, https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/whrds-confronting_e... (accessed December 17, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Brazil's Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sergio Moro, on May 15, 2019.

© 2019 Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil
Fires and deforestation in the Amazon captured the world’s attention in 2019 for good reason. Experts have long identified the Amazon forest as crucial to efforts to slow climate change. Some 29,944 square kilometers of it—an area about 20 times the size of the city of São Paulo—burned in August on live worldwide television. Preliminary data from Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) shows that deforestation alerts in the Amazon increased by 85 percent in 2019 over the previous year.  

But the emergency in the Amazon cannot simply be solved by fighting fires or planting trees. It is a public security crisis, as Human Rights Watch documented in a 165-page report released in September. We found that illegal deforestation and violence in the Amazon are largely driven by organized criminal networks. Besides burning the forest and cutting trees illegally, they launder money, bribe public officials, and invade public lands. They are stealing the wealth of the Amazon rainforest, which belongs to all Brazilians.


Rainforest Mafias: How Violence and Impunity Fuel Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them, and the government is failing to protect both the defenders and the rainforest itself.

The criminal networks field armed militias who intimidate, attack, and sometimes kill both public officials and local people who step up to defend the forest. And they do so with impunity. More than 300 people died violently during the past decade in the context of conflicts over land and resources in the Amazon, says the non-profit Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, in Portuguese), which keeps the only figures. Suspects were brought to trial in only 14 cases.

We documented 28 killings, 4 attempted killings, and more than 40 cases involving death threats. Suspects in only two of the killings went to trial, and nobody was prosecuted for the death threats. 

This is a public-security emergency that requires urgent attention from one ministry that until now has not figured prominently in the public debate about the Amazon, the federal Justice Ministry.

Many of the crimes committed by the criminal networks in the region are under federal jurisdiction, because they occur in indigenous territories, conservation areas or other federal land. Even when these criminal networks commit crimes in areas under state jurisdiction, they are often federal crimes. In any case, the federal police, which comes under the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, has the investigative mandate, capacity and the duty to protect the federal patrimony.

Finally, the impunity with which forest mafias operate in the Amazon is largely the result of insufficient will within justice institutions at all levels to ensure that these cases are properly investigated and prosecuted. Changing this passivity will require real leadership within the justice sector. No one is in a better position to exercise this leadership than the justice minister, Sérgio Moro. Minister Moro should work in coordination with the federal attorney general and state authorities to devise an effective national plan to ensure that the violence and other crimes committed by those engaged in illegal logging are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice. To do so, he may have to push back against his own government.

The Bolsonaro administration’s policies and rhetoric have only encouraged the mafias’ depredations and put the rainforest and its people at risk. President Jair Bolsonaro and  Environment Minister Ricardo Salles have disparaged not only environmental groups but the government’s own agencies, repeatedly making unsubstantiated accusations. They have weakened those same environmental agencies by cutting their budgets and removing experienced personnel. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the country’s main federal environmental agency, reported imposing 25 percent fewer fines for illegal deforestation and related infractions from January through September of 2019 than in the same period in 2018. Such measures and the bombast only benefit the criminal networks. Small wonder that deforestation rose during President Bolsonaro’s first year.

In response to international pressure, President Bolsonaro announced this month the creation of the Amazon Council, to be headed by Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a retired general. The exact function of the Council remains uncertain. Vice President Mourão has met with Minister Moro, the media report, to discuss a new Environmental Police Force for the Amazon. The force is to be recruited from military police officers in various states. Mobilizing police in remote areas of the Amazon to fight deforestation would be important, but it is not the whole solution.

To be effective, any initiative will need to address impunity for illegal logging and violence. The new Environmental Police Force should provide security and support to IBAMA field agents, several of whom told Human Rights Watch they feel abandoned by the government and at risk of attack from criminal networks.

The new environment force will also need to grapple with past failures to investigate properly violence against those who protect the forest. That failure is at the heart of the impunity. It would be a waste of time, resources, and opportunity to deploy a new police force without providing for the support that state and federal police and prosecutors, need to obtain convictions.

The coming months will show whether the government’s new initiatives are mere window dressing to appease the international community. The destruction of the Amazon is likely to accelerate unless the government makes a fundamental shift in its approach toward both the mafias responsible for deforestation and the agencies, environmental groups, and local communities defending the forest. A substantial part of that shift will be up to Minister Moro. We shall see if he is ready to shoulder the responsibility of saving the Amazon.

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

A man fetches water from a disused quarry in Harare, October 1, 2019. 

© 2020 AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

On February 2, Zimbabwe joined global efforts to mark World Wetlands Day with the theme, “Wetlands and Biodiversity.” This comes at a time when environmental groups have raised concerns about the government’s poor protection of wetlands in the country, particularly in the capital, Harare, which faces a major water crisis. More than half of the city’s 4.5 million residents are without access to clean water and are at risk of waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid.

Wetlands are important for several reasons. They filter water by breaking down harmful pollutants including chemicals, separate them from the water, and use the chemicals as fertilizer for vegetation growing on the wetland. They are also natural sewage systems, filtering out waste and running clean water into rivers.

Since May 2013, Zimbabwe has been a party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which seeks to protect and preserve wetlands. Local laws, including the 2006 Environmental Management Act and the Environmental Assessment and Ecosystem Protection Regulations of 2007, provide for the protection of wetlands. But not enough is being done to educate citizens, policymakers, and local and national government authorities on the importance of wetlands and on strengthening mechanisms for their protection. According to the local environmental group Harare Wetlands Trust, lack of appreciation of the importance of wetlands, coupled with poor urban planning and insufficient regulation, has resulted in the destruction of Harare’s wetlands through mostly illegal construction on wetlands that feed into Lake Chivero, Harare’s only water source. Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu, last week complained that illegal housing construction projects on the wetlands in Harare and Chitungwiza had turned the wetlands into “concrete jungles.”

For Zimbabwe to fulfill its obligation to the right to clean water, which impacts the rights to health and life, the government needs to take urgent action to protect wetlands and stop the ongoing and unprecedented degradation putting them at serious risk.

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

An aerial view of one of Kiribati’s islands.

© Matthieu Rytz
Despite recent and increasing efforts by the United States and other governments to narrow their interpretations of the refugee definition and to shirk their protection responsibilities, the need to expand the grounds for asylum is becoming increasingly urgent as the consequences of climate change become more pronounced.

A desperate appeal for asylum by a family from a Pacific island may have far-reaching implications for protecting people forcibly displaced by the effects of climate change. It could cause countries around the world to reconsider their laws and policies concerning refugees.

The case involves the Teitiota family, who fled the island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati in 2007 and sought asylum in New Zealand in 2013. Ms Teitiota told the New Zealand court that she feared for her children's health and wellbeing, that crops and coconut trees on the island were dying.


Anote's Ark Trailer - Sundance 2018

Trailer for the movie Anote’s Ark, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival 2018.

She explained that because of rising sea levels, people were moving from neighboring atols to Tarawa which led to overcrowding, frequent conflicts between residents and the spread of disease. She shared stories about children getting diarrhea and even dying because their already scarce drinking water had become contaminated.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of New Zealand dismissed the case, saying the family did not meet the standards required by the Refugee Convention and deported them in 2015.

That same year, the father of the family filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, an independent expert body that monitors government compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He claimed that New Zealand had violated his right to life under the covenant because the sea level rise had shrunk habitable space in Kiribati, resulting in violent land disputes and environmental degradation.

On January 7, the Committee issued its views, finding the threats to life posed by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change necessitate a broadening of refugee law. "The obligation not to extradite, deport or otherwise transfer pursuant to article 6 of the Covenant," the committee said, citing its provision on the right to life, "may be broader than the scope of non-refoulement under international refugee law, since it may also require the protection of aliens not entitled to refugee status."

The principle of non-refoulement is a cornerstone of international refugee law, barring the return of refugees - defined as people with a well-founded fear of being persecuted - to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

The committee noted that Kiribati will become uninhabitable within the next 10 to 15 years because of rising sea levels. Both sudden events, like storms, and slow processes, like salinization and land degradation, the committee said, "can propel cross-border movement of individuals seeking protection from climate-change related harm thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states."

Under a "moderate future scenario", scientists project that sea level rise in the next 30 years will put about 150 million people permanently below the high tide line. Although most of this displacement will not compel people to cross international borders, people living in countries like Kiribati, which are likely to become completely inundated, will have no choice but to seek asylum outside their country.

But Pacific islands are not alone in facing such threats. In landlocked countries like Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe, where populations are heavily reliant on agriculture and livestock, rising temperatures have contributed to flooding, drought, famine and disease that erode not only arable land but also the resilience of populations that have suffered armed conflict and human rights violations.

Whether environmental disasters are the direct cause of displacement or an aggravating factor in combination with violence, inequality, and poor governance, millions of people on the African continent have already been displaced internally or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries because they consider staying at their homes a threat to their lives.

Because the committee held out hope that the government of Kiribati still has time to intervene to protect its citizens through relocation and other measures, it did not accept the family's claim that their rights had been violated, saying the risk to their lives was not imminent.

One of the dissenting committee members who ruled on this case, however, wrote that the family would "have no access to safe drinking water, which poses an imminent threat to their lives," while another said, "It would indeed be counterintuitive to the protection of life, to wait for deaths to be very frequent and considerable; in order to consider the threshold of risk as met."

While there still may be room to argue whether life-threatening threats are imminent in particular cases, the Human Rights Committee has recognized that fundamental refugee-protection principles need to be broadened now.

This means not only that our common understanding of what it means to be a refugee needs to change, but also that the 173 countries that are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should ensure their asylum standards and procedures are adapted to protect all who face existential threats if returned to home countries that have become unlivable.

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

Mangroves in Haa Alifu Atoll, Maldives.

Photo credit: Ahuren/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

(New York) – The Maldives government should preserve a mangrove forest that helps protect local residents against increased risks from flooding and coastal erosion, Human Rights Watch said today. A large portion of the mangrove forest on the northern island of Kulhudhuffushi was previously destroyed to build an airport, and authorities are now considering plans to reclaim the remaining area for development after the island was upgraded to city status.

“The Maldives government will be putting more islanders at risk of their lives and livelihoods from flooding if they destroy more mangroves,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “The Maldives are already at serious risk from the effects of climate change, and the authorities should be taking urgent steps to protect island communities facing further harm.” 

Mangroves provide a natural protection against flooding, tsunamis, and other disasters. Kulhudhuffushi city has grown more vulnerable since 70 percent of the island’s mangroves were bulldozed to make way for a new airport in 2018. In December 2019, the island experienced serious flooding during heavy rains. Residents of Kulhudhuffushi told Human Rights Watch that flooding on the island has become more frequent and affects more homes than had been the case in previous years. They said areas adjacent to the destroyed natural mangrove buffers were the ones worst hit by the floods.

A 2017 environmental impact assessment had raised concerns about irreversible damage from the airport construction, as had local community activists, particularly women whose businesses depend on natural resources from the mangroves and adjacent palm forest. Despite these concerns, then-President Abdulla Yameen expedited the airport project before the 2018 presidential elections. Maldivian activists alleged that Thoriq Ibrahim, the environment minister at the time, overrode a decision by the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency, a quasi-independent government agency that reviews projects based on environmental impact assessment reports, not to issue a permit for the airport construction.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has pledged to ensure that environmental impact assessments are sound and their recommendations followed, but is currently considering a proposal to remove the remaining mangroves. In March 2019, the environment ministry accepted an offer by the Mangrove Action Project, an international nongovernmental organization, to help preserve the Kulhudhuffushi mangroves. Experts from the organization recommended that the government undertake conservation measures, including restoring the hydrology of the mangroves to protect the island from flooding.

The Maldives are one of the most vulnerable countries on earth to climate change, with the projected global sea-level rise potentially inundating many of its approximately 1,200 islands. With flooding, erosion, and other ecological disasters on the rise, mangrove forests and coral reefs are one of the Maldives’ most important natural protections against these extreme weather events.

“By adopting measures aimed at protecting Kulhudhuffushi’s remaining mangroves, Maldives authorities would signal a real commitment to protecting the island’s communities,” Gossman said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Workers march along a street to mark International Labor Day in Phnom Penh on May 1, 2019.

© 2019 Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government stepped up its crackdown on political opposition members and activists over the past year, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

At one point the government held nearly 90 political prisoners throughout the country, mostly people linked to the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). From January until mid-2019, the authorities ordered over 150 court and police summonses against CNRP members and supporters.

“The Cambodian government’s crackdown on the political opposition kicked into overdrive in 2019, resulting in dozens of wrongful detentions,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repression of the opposition, media, and activist groups has effectively turned the country’s democracy into a one-party state.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

After exiled CNRP leaders announced that they would return to Cambodia on November 9, local officials brought spurious charges against over 100 former CNRP members and supporters, including plotting a coup, incitement, and discrediting judicial decisions; authorities jailed 65 of them.

The government put in place measures to block the CNRP’s return, including placing military units at Cambodian-Thai border checkpoints, issuing orders to arrest CNRP leaders, sending arrest warrants to 10 ASEAN countries, and instructing airlines to bar CNRP leaders from boarding flights to Cambodia.

On November 10, authorities lifted highly restrictive conditions of judicial supervision, amounting to house arrest, on the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, though the politically motivated treason charges remain. Hun Sen made clear that Sokha’s case was going to trial, and that proceedings “will not only take a day or two, or a month or two – it will take a long time.” On December 2, the Phnom Penh court ordered the case to proceed to trial.

On November 14, Hun Sen announced that 72 detained CNRP members and supporters should be released on bail; 74 were released. However, none of the criminal charges against them were dropped.

The European Union initiated a formal review of Cambodia’s Everything but Arms (EBA) trade preferences. The EU’s confidential preliminary conclusion, sent to the Cambodian government on November 12, stated that Cambodia seriously and systematically violated the right to freedom of expression and other civil and political rights, and failed to protect labor rights.

“The EU sent Cambodia a clear signal that keeping EU trade benefits meant reversing recent repressive measures and revoking rights-abusing laws,” Robertson said. “Other foreign governments and donors should join the EU in pressing the Cambodian government to act, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees being held for the peaceful exercise of their basic rights.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Guinea under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It focuses on the human rights implications of largescale mining and hydroelectric dams, forced relocation from land in Conakry, and the Safe Schools Declaration.

  1. Natural Resources (Articles 11, 12, 25)

Guinea possesses the world’s largest bauxite reserves, as well as large amounts of iron ore, gold, and diamonds.[1] Guinea’s bauxite sector has grown rapidly since 2015, with Guinea being the largest supplier of bauxite to China, the world’s largest aluminum producer.[2]

While Guinea’s bauxite boom provides much-needed tax revenue for the government and has created thousands of jobs, the government has failed to adequately regulate the industry and ensure companies respect the environment and the rights of local communities. Mining companies have expropriated ancestral farmlands without adequate compensation, threatening tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods.[3] Damage to water sources, as well as increased demand due to population migration to mining sites, has reduced communities’ access to water for drinking, washing, and cooking.[4] Dust produced by bauxite mining and transport has left families and health workers worried that reduced air quality threatens their health and environment.[5]

Guinea has also, since 2015, begun to more rapidly develop its enormous potential for hydroelectric power. Guinea opened the Kaleta dam in 2015, and is currently constructing at least three other hydropower dams, the most advanced of which, Souapiti, will be operational in 2020.[6] Hydropower projects have the potential to increase access to electricity in a country in desperate need of reliable power.[7] The Guinean government has so far failed, however, to adequately protect the rights of the thousands of people displaced by dams.

The more than 16,000 people to be displaced by Souapiti, for example, have received inadequate compensation or replacement land, leaving them struggling to feed their families, re-establish their livelihoods, and live with dignity.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of Guinea:

  • What steps is the government of Guinea taking to protect communities from the potentially negative impacts of bauxite and other forms of industrial mining?
  • What proportion of the electricity produced by new hydroelectric projects will be used for domestic consumption, including for essential services like schools and hospitals, and how much will be used by the mining industry or exported abroad?
  • What steps is the government of Guinea taking to ensure that communities displaced by hydroelectric dams are able to return to the standard of living they enjoyed prior to their displacement?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Guinea to:

  • Enact detailed legislation to require that mining and hydroelectric companies provide fair compensation for land, including through replacement land where possible, to individuals and communities that lose land to natural resource exploitations;
  • Improve the access of affected communities and civil society organizations to environmental and social impact assessments, management plans, and other government and company data related to the human rights, social and environmental impacts of mining and other natural resource projects;
  • Ensure that government regulators investigate and sanction companies that violate Guinean laws regarding social and environmental management;
  • Adopt and fully implement the standards of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative by governments, major multinational extractive companies, and NGOs that seek to address the risk of human rights abuses arising from security arrangements in the oil, gas and mining industries.
  1. Forced Evictions (Article 11)

Between February and May 2019, the Guinean government forcibly evicted more than 20,000 people from neighborhoods in Conakry in order to provide land for government ministries, foreign embassies, businesses, and other public works.[8] The government provided inadequate notice to the majority of those evicted and no alternative housing for demolished homes.

Although the government maintains that the evicted areas were state land, many people said that they had documentary proof that their families had decades-old property rights over the land.[9] The government did not investigate the property claims of those affected before demolishing homes and has provided virtually no compensation or humanitarian assistance to those evicted.[10]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Guinea to:

  • Halt any further evictions until it can guarantee respect for the rights of residents, including adequate notice, compensation, and resettlement prior to evictions;
  • Take immediate steps to provide assistance, including alternative accommodation and other remedies, to those affected by forced evictions;
  • Provide adequate compensation to all individuals forcibly evicted who have not received such compensation.

The Safe Schools Declaration (Article 13)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict;[11] the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[12] As of January 2020, 101 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, including 27 of Guinea’s fellow African Union members.

In November 2019, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child urged all African Union member states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, “realizing the dangers that the military use of schools poses.”[13] The African Union’s Peace and Security Council has also repeatedly urged all African Union member states to endorse the declaration.[14] Guinea, however, has yet to endorse this important declaration.[15]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee pose the following questions to the government of Guinea:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in the pre-deployment training provided to Guinean troops participating in peacekeeping missions?
  • Do any Guinean laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Guinea to:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including those in peacekeeping operations, some of which Guinea is supporting, and including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.

[1] Ministry of Mines and Geology, “Bauxite: Become a Leader in Global Production,” (Undated) http://mines.gov.gn/ressources/bauxite/ (accessed May 22, 2018).

[2] “China Aluminum Capacity Cuts Boost Market Leader, Prices,” Reuters, August 3, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-metals-aluminium/china-aluminum... (accessed March 20, 2018); “Chinese bauxite imports in February down by 13.4% MOM,” Asian Metal, March 27, 2018.

[3] Human Rights Watch, “’What Do We Get Out of It?’: The Human Rights Impact of Bauxite Mining in Guinea,” October 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/10/04/what-do-we-get-out-it/human-rights... (accessed January 1, 2020).

[4] Αristeidis Mertzanis, "The opencast bauxite mining in N.E. Ghiona: Ecoenvironmental impacts and geomorphological changes (Central Greece)," Journal of Geography and Regional Planning, vol. 5 (2011), pp. 21-35; Noor Hisham Abdullah et. al, “Potential Health Impacts of Bauxite Mining in Kuantan,” The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 23 (2016), pp. 1-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934713/ (accessed March 26, 2018); Metro Mining Ltd, "Bauxite Hills Project: Initial Advice Statement," October 2015, https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/management/impact-assessment/eisprocesses/doc... (accessed March 26, 2018), pp. 3-58.

[5]  “Tackling the global clean air challenge,” World Health Organization press release, accessed July 21, 2017, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2011/air_pollution_20110926.... World Health Organization, “Health Effects of Particulate Matter,” 2013, http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/189051/Health-effect... (accessed July 21, 2017), p. 6.

[6] At least two other dams are under construction – the 300 megawatt Amaria dam and the 300 MW Koukoutamba dam. “Présidence – Energie : La convention de concession du barrage Amaria signée," Guinée News, May 2, 2019, https://www.guineenews.org/presidence-energie-la-convention-de-concessio... (accessed January 5, 2020). “Sinohydro to build the 294 MW Koukoutamba dam in Guinea,” The International Journal on Hydropower & Dams, March 13, 2019, https://www.hydropower-dams.com/news/sinohydro-to-build-the-294-mw-kouko... (accessed January 5, 2020).

[7] In 2017, Guinea had a rate of electricity access of about 29 percent, below that year’s average for sub-Sahara Africa of 43 percent. World Bank (International Development Association), Guinea Electricity Access Scale Up Project Proposal, January 25, 2019, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/869041550631657109/pdf/Guinea-..., paras 7-8 (accessed November 18, 2019).

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Guinea: Draconian Forced Evictions: Thousands of Homes Razed in Capital; Residents Denied Aid, Compensation,” June 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/18/guinea-draconian-forced-evictions

[9] Ibid.

[10] International and African human rights instruments protect individuals and communities, including those with customary land tenure, from arbitrary interference with their rights to property and land. The UN Basic Principles on Evictions state that, irrespective of whether people hold title to property, they are entitled to compensation for lost land as well as for material damage and loss of earnings. See UN Human Rights Committee, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement,” A/HRC/4/18, p. 13.

[11] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed December 20, 2019).

[12] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed December 20, 2019).

[13] African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “Outcome Statement for the Day of General Discussion on Children Affected by Armed Conflict,” November 26, 2019, https://www.acerwc.africa/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Outcome-Statement_-....

[14] African Union, Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the African Union’s 597th meeting on May 10, 2016: “Children in Armed Conflicts in Africa with particular focus on protecting schools from attacks during armed conflict;” Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the African Union’s 615th meeting on August 9,  2016: “Education of Refugees and Displaced Children in Africa;” Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the 692nd meeting on June 13, 2017, of the PSC dedicated to an Open Session on the theme: “Ending Child Marriages;” and Press Statement on the Peace and Security Council of the 706th meeting on July 26, 2017, of the PSC on the theme: “Child Soldiers/Out of School Children in Armed Conflict in Africa.”

[15] “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements,” Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, http://www.protectingeducation.org/guidelines/support (accessed June 29, 2019).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am