Mustafa Kassem.

© 2020 Private

The death this week of Mustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-American imprisoned in Egypt after an unfair trial, underscores the Trump administration’s failed approach on human rights in Egypt.

Police arrested Kassem in August 2013, during protests against the military takeover in Cairo. He was held for more than five years, until his conviction and sentencing in September 2018 in an unfair trial alongside more than 700 others. According to his family, Kassem, a diabetic with a heart condition, was repeatedly refused appropriate medical care.

His death was not for lack of US attention. A year ago, Vice President Mike Pence raised Kassem’s case directly with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and said al-Sisi assured him he would give it “very serious attention.” In December 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised Kassem with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Ultimately, the US failed to secure Kassem’s release. Perhaps President al-Sisi found it hard to take the US’ pleas seriously considering the Trump administration’s praise and $1.3 billion annually in military aid. President Trump hosted al-Sisi at the White House in April and met with him on the sidelines of the G7 summit in August. He called al-Sisi “my favorite dictator” and praised the “fantastic job” he is doing in Egypt.

Other American citizens are still in prison in Egypt. Reem Desouky, an art teacher from Pennsylvania, was arrested in August 2019 over unspecified Facebook posts, along with her 13-year-old son, who was later released. Khaled Hassan, a limousine driver from New York, was forcibly disappeared in January 2018 for five months, during which time he alleges he was tortured and raped. Human Rights Watch has documented abusive conditions, denial of medical care, and arbitrary and extended detention in prisons which hold tens of thousands of Egyptian political prisoners. More than 300 of them began a hunger strike this week in protest of these terrible conditions.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have spoken out on Kassem’s death. Their anger was apparent in a press conference Wednesday morning cosponsored by Human Rights Watch. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) noted that Kassem’s death comes in the context of an administration that has abdicated its role on human rights around the world. Representative Peter King (R-NY) called for sanctions to be imposed on Egypt and the officials responsible for Kassem’s death.

Legislators should channel their anger into legislation that conditions US military aid to Egypt on human rights, and deny the Trump administration’s ability to waive those conditions. 

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2020, 11:00 am

Riot police arrest a protester outside a police station in Beirut, Lebanon on Wednesday, January 15, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Hussein Malla
 

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s riot police beat and violently arrested largely peaceful protesters and media workers during demonstrations on January 15, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. The Interior Ministry should promptly hold law enforcement officers accountable for using excessive force.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the El-Helou police station in Beirut on January 15 to demand the release of 57 protesters arrested during protests the previous night, some of whom had thrown water bottles and firecrackers at officers. At around 9:15 p.m., the Internal Security Force’s riot police charged onto the crowds, firing large amounts of teargas at protesters, beating some severely, and violently arresting at least 55. Riot police also beat at least eight media workers covering the protests and briefly detained three.

“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The vicious riot police attack on media workers doing their jobs is an egregious violation of security force obligations to abide by human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch interviewed six protesters and three media workers who witnessed the violence and reviewed live footage of the night’s events. All six protesters asked not to be named for their protection. Throughout the day, riot police scuffled with protesters in front of the El-Helou police station. Three protesters who were there before the attack began said that the protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful although some threw water bottles and fireworks at the police. Live footage Human Rights Watch reviewed corroborates their accounts.

Footage showed and witnesses said that dozens of riot police came out of the police station and began beating protesters indiscriminately and fired large quantities of teargas, driving protesters down to the residential Corniche el-Mazraa neighborhood. Live footage shows that some protesters then threw rocks at security forces and hurled teargas canisters back at them.

A reporter for the local TV outlet Al Jadeed said that teargas was “raining down” on protesters in Corniche el Mazraa. Three protesters said that some riot police fired teargas directly at protesters rather than in the air. “What was especially dangerous is that they were firing teargas in a residential area,” one protester said. “I saw teargas filling up some cars, and landing on people’s balconies.” Another protester said that her friend’s house was filled with teargas.

One protester said that as soon as she arrived at the scene, an officer beat her on her head and kicked her repeatedly. When she started bleeding profusely, another officer told the first one to stop. The protester said that her neck was injured and that she needed five stitches for a cut on her head. Another protester said that she saw several riot police beating a protester who was having trouble breathing due to the teargas. A 38-year-old protester said that he saw about five officers beating a protester on the head and a girl on her neck. Human Rights Watch reviewed footage of the incident clearly showing the two protesters’ injuries.

Footage also showed riot police violently arresting protesters and dragging them into the police station. A source at the Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters told Human Rights Watch that 55 people were arrested that evening. All the Lebanese detainees were released the next day. Foreigners were transferred to General Security, the agency that deals with the entry and exit of foreigners.

The Lebanese Red Cross reported that it transported 35 people to nearby hospitals and treated 10 at the scene. A source close to Lebanon Civil Defense, a government-funded emergency medical service, told Human Rights Watch that they transported 47 people to nearby hospitals and treated 38 on site.

Witnesses said that riot police attacked an MTV crew and two Al Jadeed crews while they were filming on live television. The MTV photographer was hospitalized. A Reuters video journalist, Issam Abdallah, told the media that dozens of riot police beat him on his head with their batons and kicked him in the face, resulting in three stitches on his head.

Hassan Rifai, an Al Jadeed reporter, told Human Rights Watch that around 10 p.m., a riot police officer cornered his 53-year-old cameraman, Samer al-Akdi, and hit him on his head, despite his repeated screams of “press, press.” When Rifai tried to intervene, Rifai said, the officer pushed him violently to the ground. Hassan Shaaban, a photographer for the Daily Star newspaper, told Human Rights Watch that a riot police officer yelled at him, “If you don’t stop filming, I will break the camera on your head and shove the baton up your ass.”

A reporter for a regional newspaper told Human Rights Watch, “For the first time, I did not feel protected as a journalist.”

Interior Minister Raya el-Hassan tweeted that she condemned the attacks on journalists and stated that accountability proceedings were already under way. She said that while the attacks are not justified, riot police were tired after being on full alert for three months. The Internal Security Forces chief also issued an apology to journalists “for what happened to them as they covered protests on Wednesday.”

Lebanese authorities should impartially investigate the use of force by riot police at the protests, and make the findings public, Human Rights Watch said. Security forces, including commanders, responsible for the use of unnecessary or excessive force should be disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate.

Victims of unlawful use of force by security forces should receive prompt compensation. Authorities should release detainees not charged with a recognizable offense.

“The forces responsible for maintaining law and order in Lebanon need to respect the rules on the use of force,” Stork said. “The police need to abide by international crowd control standards.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2020, 8:00 am

Abdelqader Belliraj, arriving at a courthouse in Salé, Morocco, in 2008.

© 2008 Abdelhak Senna/AFP via Getty Images
 

(Tunis) – A man sentenced to life in prison in one of Morocco’s best-known trials for supposedly plotting terrorism, has apparently been held in abusive solitary detention for more than three years, Human Rights Watch said today. The mass trial in which he was convicted was marred by serious rights violations.

Abdelqader Belliraj, a dual Moroccan and Belgian citizen, is serving a life sentence largely based on his and co-defendants’ “confessions,” which they said were obtained under police torture. His wife told Human Rights Watch that Belliraj has been deprived of contact with inmates and confined to his cell 23 hours a day since 2016, which would contravene United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners.

“It is bad enough when a man gets a life sentence as the result of a miscarriage of justice, but keeping him in inhuman prison conditions for years is like twisting the knife,” said Eric Goldstein, acting director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “Abdelqader Belliraj and all prisoners in Morocco should be treated humanely, and that includes having daily contact with other human beings.”

Rachida Hatti, Belliraj’s wife, who lives in Belgium, is allowed to speak with him by phone. She said that her husband, who is in Toulal 2 prison in Meknes, has been allowed to leave his cell only one hour a day since May 2016, and that the authorities deprive him of contact with fellow inmates. “He told me that he often rejects that one hour out, because what’s the point of walking alone in a courtyard like a madman?” she asked.

On November 12, 2019, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Inter-Ministerial Delegation for Human Rights, an official body, inquiring about Belliraj’s isolation. The delegation said they had forwarded the letter to the prison administration, but Human Rights Watch has received no other response.

The “Belliraj affair” made front-page news in Morocco in 2008, when the then-interior minister announced with much fanfare the arrests of 35 men alleged to form “one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations to be dismantled recently.” However, the charges against Belliraj and his 34 co-defendants, including 5 political figures and a TV journalist, included no concrete acts since at least 2001. Moreover, the acts attributed to Belliraj, the alleged ringleader, included murders in Belgium that Belgian authorities had declined to prosecute and a robbery in Casablanca for which others had already been tried and convicted.

Several defendants, including Belliraj, said they were abducted and spent weeks being held incommunicado, while they were interrogated and tortured in police stations. All the defendants said they were either physically coerced or tricked into signing false confessions, which were used later as the principal evidence against them. Neither the first instance court, which convicted all of them in 2009, nor the appeals court, which upheld the convictions in 2010, investigated their torture claims. Their sentences ranged from suspended prison sentences to life in prison. 

In June 2011, the Court of Cassation confirmed most of the verdicts but sent six defendants for new trials. Five were convicted and one acquitted.

In 2012, King Mohammed VI granted his pardon to the journalist, four of the five political figures in the case, and one prisoner with serious health issues. Two others were pardoned in 2017, and 17 have left prison after serving their sentences. Eight men, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison, remain behind bars, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine: Belliraj, Mokhtar Lokman, Abdessamed Bennouh, Mohamed Yousfi, Abdellatif Bekhti, Abdellah Rammache, Jamal el-Bey, and Redouane el-Khalidi.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the “Mandela rules,” define solitary confinement as spending 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact, and say that prolonged solitary confinement – over 15 consecutive days – is considered cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Such treatment of prisoners is strictly prohibited under international law.

The Essex paper, a guidance document to those rules drawn up by experts, defines “meaningful contact” as “the amount and quality of social interaction and psychological stimulation which human beings require for their mental health.” The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has noted that, “It is generally acknowledged that all forms of solitary confinement without appropriate mental stimulation are likely, in the long term, to have damaging effects resulting in deterioration of mental faculties and social abilities.”

Morocco’s prison administration has a history of keeping prisoners in harsh isolation conditions. Family members of Nasser Zefzafi, a leader of largely peaceful protests in the restive Rif region, told Human Rights Watch that Zefzafi had been prevented from leaving his cell for 23 hours a day during at least a year after his transfer to Casablanca’s Oukacha prison in 2017. Toufik Bouachrine, a critical journalist convicted for sexual assault in a trial that a UN working group said was tainted by due process violations, was prevented from meeting other inmates and speaking with guards for more than a year after he was placed in Casablanca’s Ain El Borja prison in 2018.  

“Even though marred by due process violations, cases like Belliraj’s fade from view,” Goldstein said. “Ten years after their unfair trial, eight men remain in jail today, including at least one in apparently inhuman conditions. Let’s not forget their plight.”  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 17, 2020, 6:00 am

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a tour of a federal prison in Edgefield, South Carolina, July 8, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/John Bazemore

The United States Attorney General William Barr announced this week that the government has asked Apple to unlock two encrypted iPhones belonging to the perpetrator of last month’s fatal shooting at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida. Barr called the attack an act of terrorism, saying that access to the shooter’s devices would protect Americans.

What the attorney general misses is that his request could endanger us all: it would require companies to weaken the encryption that keeps our digital lives safe and secure.

Apple encrypts iPhones in such a way that even the company’s own engineers cannot unlock the devices. To comply with the government’s request, Apple would likely have to build special software to weaken every iPhone’s security, opening the door to government snooping and letting hackers exploit devices. Barr did not say why the government believes the information on the devices of the shooter, who killed three sailors and wounded eight others before he was killed, merits such an invasive measure.

Device encryption protects your most important digital information – details about your finances, sex life, family, and political views – from exploitation and surveillance. Journalists, whistleblowers, and activists rely on encrypted iPhones to stay safe around the world. Repressive governments and malware developers alike would be quick to exploit weakened security to harm Apple’s users.

This week’s request is just the latest attempt by the US government to weaken strong encryption for law enforcement purposes. In October 2019, Attorney General Barr demanded that Facebook halt plans to implement encrypted messaging on its platforms, citing the need for law enforcement to access that data in investigations.

Four years ago, the US government used a court order to try to force Apple to decrypt an iPhone owned by a perpetrator of a horrific attack in California. When Apple challenged the court order, the FBI paid professional hackers to break into the phone instead.

The US’ obligation to investigate and prosecute those involved in the tragic Pensacola attack isn’t a green light to override the cybersecurity of hundreds of millions of iPhone users. The US government should withdraw its request and not resort to court orders to force Apple to systematically weaken iPhone protections. Apple should also continue to stand firm on its commitment to its users and their human rights. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 16, 2020, 6:30 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting on drafting constitutional changes at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, January 16, 2020.

© 2020 Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans for constitutional reform that, among other things, seem to clear a path for him to remain in power – albeit not as president – after his term expires in 2024.

But the reforms have implications beyond Putin’s political future. Some, like me, are pondering the impact on the rights of millions of Russians if Putin’s call “to directly guarantee the priority of the Russian Constitution in our legal framework” becomes law.

This is the third time in four years that Russia’s authorities have pushed for the primacy of Russian law over international law. In July 2015, Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that judgments of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be implemented if they contradict Russia’s constitution.

Five months later, parliament adopted a law obligating the Constitutional Court to review rulings of any international human rights body and to declare them “non-executable” if the court deems they contradict the constitution. 

Putin’s proposal goes one step further, by enshrining in the constitution that international law, treaties, and decisions of international bodies are valid only if they “do not restrict rights and freedoms” or contradict the constitution.

Unlike the 2015 law, Putin’s proposal doesn’t indicate which institution would get to decide whether an international treaty is inconsistent with the constitution. And it’s also anyone’s guess how “rights and freedoms” in this context will interpreted.

But it’s hard to be optimistic. The dozens of laws adopted on “rights and freedoms” since the start of Putin’s third term in 2012 have severely eroded freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Russia’s rights record has deteriorated even while international law in theory at least has had legal primacy. It’s not hard to image how damaging Putin’s proposal could be if the government felt it wasn’t at all legally bound by international law.

The damage could go beyond Russia’s borders, as other governments in the region might want to copy efforts to pretend international legal norms don’t apply.

Russia is a party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which prohibits governments from invoking domestic law to justify failure to implement treaty obligations. The European Commission on Democracy through Law (known as the Venice Commission), an advisory body of the Council of Europe, opining on the 2015 law, stated that if Russia declares international legal decisions conflict with the constitution, the authorities would still have to find another way to implement the decision. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 16, 2020, 5:13 pm

The European Parliament today adopted a resolution condemning the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi ahead of the May 2020 elections. It also called on authorities to drop charges and immediately and unconditionally release four journalists working for Iwacu, one of the country’s last remaining independent newspapers, and all others arrested for exercising their fundamental rights.

From left to right: Térence Mpozenzi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Adolphe Masabarakiza.

© 2019 Iwacu

Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi, and their driver, Adolphe Masabarakiza, were arrested on October 22, 2019 while on a reporting trip to Bubanza Province, and later charged with being complicit in “threatening the security of the state.” Their judgment is due by the end of January.

The 15-year sentence requested by the prosecutor in this case is a warning to the few remaining journalists who dare to stay in Burundi: report on sensitive issues at your peril.

The European Union reacted to widespread human rights abuses triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision in 2015 to run for a third term by suspending direct budgetary support to the government, and imposing targeted sanctions against four individuals alleged to be involved in the subsequent crackdown on dissent. But these measures have had little impact.

One of those sanctioned, Col. Gervais Ndirakobuca, was recently appointed as director of the country’s national intelligence service.

Tensions continue to rise as Burundi’s polls approach. Local authorities and the ruling party’s notorious youth league members have beaten, threatened, and restricted people’s access to basic services to force them to “donate” money to fund the elections, and committed rampant abuses against the opposition.

These arrests, which followed several politically motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders, have already triggered an international outcry. In December 2019, 39 MEPs wrote to the Burundian government calling for the journalists’ release. 

Today’s resolution goes one step further. Burundian authorities should immediately restore conditions for free and fair elections, which includes ensuring the media can work without fear of ending up in jail. And the first necessary step should be the unconditional release of the Iwacu journalists who appear to have been prosecuted simply for doing their jobs. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 16, 2020, 12:09 pm

People walk past destruction from government airstrikes in the town of Ariha, in Idlib province, Syria, January 15, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed

In late December, United Nations member countries defeated an attempt by Russia to block funding for investigations into grave abuses in Syria, approving US$17.81 million for a team of investigators responsible for gathering evidence of serious crimes for future prosecutions and ensuring they have the resources necessary to do the work.

The UN General Assembly created the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) in 2016 in response to a stalemate at the UN Security Council, where Russia had used its veto  six times since 2011 to block action on the Syrian conflict. Since 2016, Russia has used its veto eight more times to the same effect. But Moscow was unable to prevent the IIIM’s creation in the General Assembly or block its inclusion in the UN budget.

Since its establishment, one key hurdle to the team’s work had been raising the necessary funds to carry out its mandate. Until now, it had relied on voluntary contributions from individual countries, including to recruit professional staff and to set up vital security systems. The reliance on voluntary contributions put its crucial work at risk, making it difficult for the team to plan and organize its work. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sought to change that by adding it to his proposed regular budget as mandated by the General Assembly.

For months, Russia has apparently been working to undermine the team, and diplomats were bracing for a battle at the General Assembly’s budget committee over the resourcing issue. Russia and Syria tried to sabotage the funding effort by arguing that the IIIM is illegal. They proposed amendments that would have scrubbed the mechanism from the UN’s budget, supported by a cadre of states including China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Myanmar (who was itself challenging funding for the IIIM’s sister mechanism on Myanmar).

But each attempt was successfully voted down under the leadership of the European Union, United States, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Qatar, Turkey, and others. While Russia and Syria made clear that they disassociated themselves from all references to the IIIM in the final budget, their campaign was defeated.

Weakening accountability mechanisms through UN budgetary means is an overlooked but potentially effective tactic, one to which both China and Russia appear committed. That this was averted here is something to celebrate. There will undoubtedly be obstacles ahead and the path to justice is frustratingly long, but this is an important step to ensuring abuses are well-documented and perpetrators are identified in efforts to bring justice to victims in Syria.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 16, 2020, 5:00 am

A relative pushes John Biel Dup’s wheelchair through the dirt paths of Protection of Civilians Camp 3 in Juba,. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps..

© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

People with disabilities around the world face serious obstacles to realizing their rights on an equal basis with others. Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 documents abuses such as violence, discrimination, segregation, and unlawful detention of people with disabilities in 32 countries including Australia, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and the United States.

Due to prevalent stigma and lack of adequate mental health services, thousands of people with mental health conditions are shackled – chained or locked up in small confined spaces – in many countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Indonesia, and Somaliland. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of shackling in homes, traditional and religious-based healing centers, schools, psychiatric hospitals, and state-run rehabilitation centers. Those shackled are often exposed to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and isolation. Though shackling persists in Indonesia, government agencies have made some progress by signing an agreement to monitor places where people with mental health conditions have been shackled. Governments should ban shackling and develop quality, accessible community-based support and mental health services.

In countries facing conflict and humanitarian crises, such as Cameroon and South Sudan, people with disabilities are at heightened risk as they struggle to flee or are left behind when others flee. In April 2019, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed its first resolution calling for the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict by ensuring “access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance” with the participation of people with disabilities in humanitarian planning and delivery.

People with disabilities still face barriers to quality education due to discrimination, lack of reasonable accommodations, and inaccessible buildings and teaching. In South Africa, children with disabilities face prejudice from education officials and are often placed in special schools, excluding them from an inclusive education in mainstream classrooms. In addition to inaccessible infrastructure, children with disabilities in Iran are subjected to a mandatory medical assessment for school enrollment that includes a discriminatory I.Q. test to determine which type of school – if any – they are permitted to attend. Children with albinism are often excluded from schools, stigmatized by students and teachers, and, in Mozambique, kept at home due to fears of kidnapping and violence. Governments should end segregation of children with disabilities and ensure inclusive education where children with and without disabilities study together.

In numerous countries, including Brazil, Serbia, and India, many children and adults with disabilities are confined or unlawfully detained in closed state and private institutions where they may face violence, neglect, and, in some cases, physical and chemical restraint. But some countries, such as Armenia, are making progress in supporting people with disabilities to live independently in the community.

As we enter 2020, governments should do more to support people with disabilities and ensure they can enjoy the same rights and safety as others around the world.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 15, 2020, 4:01 pm

Former Central African Republic president Michel Djotodia (C) is received in Bangui on January 10, 2020 by political supporters.

© 2020 Florent Vergnes/AFP via Getty Images

Two former leaders accused of serious abuse have recently returned to Central Africa Republic.

Only two weeks after the return of former Central African Republic president Francois Bozizé to the country, former rebel, turned self-appointed president, Michel Djotodia landed in the capital, Bangui, last Friday.

Under Djotodia’s leadership, the Seleka, a mostly Muslim rebel coalition from the country’s north, ousted Bozizé in 2013. The Seleka then launched a looting and killing spree in the capital, specifically targeting areas where people close to Bozizé’s government lived.

We documented how, during the weekend of April 13, 2013, Seleka forces’ pickup trucks entered the Boy-Rabe neighborhood and shot indiscriminately at civilians to make them flee before Seleka men looted their homes. Scores were killed trying to run or plead with the Seleka.

Outside Bangui the situation was worse. Djotodia’s fighters killed civilians as they fled their homes, destroyed villages, looted schools and medical centers, and stole grain stocks. People fled to the bush where they suffered from disease, hunger, and exposure. That year, we drove through burned out villages and towns, only to be met along the road by starving civilians, living and dying in the bush.

When we shared evidence of crimes committed by the Seleka with Djotodia and his top commanders, we were met with a collective shrug. The consequences of their actions on civilians appeared to be of no concern. During Djotodia’s brief time as president, the country descended into a chaos that continues to have ramifications today. When he fled in 2014, he left behind a country in ruins.

Djotodia is reported to have stayed in close contact with some Seleka factions. His return, along with Bozizé’s, shows that those responsible for serious crimes feel, for now, untouchable. But their presence could give the government and its partners an opportunity to break with the past. A Special Criminal Court, established in June 2015, has a mandate to cover crimes committed by the Seleka. Additionally, an International Criminal Court investigation is ongoing. Prosecuting alleged crimes by the Seleka, and holding leaders like Djotodia accountable, could end the impunity that has driven so much violence and death over the past seven years.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 15, 2020, 7:00 am

A delegate attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters
 
(Johannesburg) – Weak domestic and regional institutions undermined human rights in several Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries during 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.  
 
Despite commitments to protect human rights in their constitutions, several countries struggled to promote human rights at home and failed to play a leadership role in placing human rights issues on the regional agenda. Countries of key concern in 2019 were South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Angola made some progress, including by reviewing abusive colonial-era legislation against homosexual conduct and respecting the right to protest.
 
“With the SADC Tribunal stripped of its human rights mandate and domestic mechanisms too weak to protect rights, Southern African countries struggled to improve protection of social, economic, and political rights over the past year,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “South Africa, with its strong institutions, needs to show leadership in promoting rights in the region.”
 
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.
 
South Africa
 
Economic insecurity, poverty, high unemployment, and inciting rhetoric by government officials, among other factors, led to xenophobic violence in 2019. On March 25, hundreds of foreign nationals in Durban were forced to seek shelter as mobs destroyed or looted their homes, trucks, and other belongings. That same day, the government issued a National Action Plan to combat xenophobia, racism, gender-based violence, and discrimination, and address the cycle of violence that plagues the country.
 
While an important step, the plan fails to address the lack of accountability for xenophobic crimes and has no clear implementation strategy. Virtually no one has been convicted for past outbreaks of xenophobic violence, including violence in Durban in 2015, and attacks in 2008 in which more than 60 people died.
 
While the ruling African National Congress’(ANC) 2019 election manifesto stated the party’s commitment to include “the needs of people with disability in all government programmes,” education in South Africa is not yet free for the majority of children with disabilities. Many children with disabilities, both in mainstream and special schools, are charged fees that other children do not pay.
 
The country is also struggling to address gender-based violence. The violence spurred an #AmINext movement on social media. Nationwide protests in September followed the killings of many women. According to Women’s Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, more than 30 women were killed by their spouses in August alone.
 
Zimbabwe
 
Despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s repeated commitment to human rights reforms, Zimbabwe remained highly intolerant of freedom of expression and assembly in 2019. During nationwide protests in mid-January following the announcement of a fuel price increase, security forces responded with lethal force, killing at least 17 people, raping at least 17 women, shooting and injuring 81 people, and arresting over 1,000 suspected protesters during door-to-door raids.
 
In the months that followed, dozens of activists, opposition leaders, and other government critics were arbitrarily arrested or abducted, beaten, or tortured by unidentified gunmen. There were few efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
 
The Zimbabwe authorities frequently used the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on “subverting a constitutional government” to prosecute those suspected of organizing protests. Among the 22 human rights defenders who faced such arbitrary charges in 2019, 7 were activists who attended a workshop in the Maldives hosted by the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies.
 
The former president, Robert Mugabe, who died on September 6, was never held to account for the widespread human rights violations and a decimation of the country’s economy that were the hallmark of his 37 years in power.  
 
The Mnangagwa administration made some efforts to amend or repeal repressive laws, including with the new Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill signed into law in November. But like the law it replaced, it potentially violates international human rights norms and standards, including the right to peaceful assembly.
 
Angola
 
Angola made some progress in respecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but continued crackdowns on peaceful protests in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda and the diamond-rich Lunda Norte province. In a significant step that is rare in the region, the government decriminalized same-sex conduct, but Parliament unanimously approved a retrogressive law that limits freedom of religion, leading to the closure of thousands of places of worship. 
 
Mozambique
 
In August, president Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade, the leader of the country’s main opposition party Renamo, signed a peace accord to end years of violence and pave the way for peaceful elections in October. A month later, Pope Francis visited, urging the strengthening of the accord. Nevertheless, the election campaign was marred by political violence targeting mainly opposition supporters.
 
Attacks by a suspected armed Islamist group increased in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Soldiers in the region were implicated on intimidation and arbitrary arrest, and there was a rise in the intimidation and harassment of journalists and activists in the region.
 
Eswatini (Swaziland)
 
Eswatini remained an absolute monarchy under King Mswati III, who has led the country since 1986. Eswatini has no legally recognized opposition parties due to a 1973 ban, despite the adoption of the 2005 constitution, which guarantees basic rights.
 
In a move significant for women’s rights, on August 30, the Eswatini High Court ruled that the common law doctrine of marital power, which gives a husband authority over his wife and their property, is unconstitutional. The progressive ruling builds on Eswatini’s law reform process, aimed at promoting and protecting women’s and girls’ rights, including the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2018.
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 15, 2020, 3:21 am

Children attending class on the first day of school, which was damaged by an airstrike during fighting between Saudi-led coaltion-backed government force and Houthi forces, Taizz, Yemen, September 3, 2019.

© 2019 Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

(Beirut) – Yemen’s armed conflict and humanitarian crisis is resulting in unspeakable suffering for millions of civilians despite increasing global attention to abuses occurring in the country, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The Saudi government’s murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 galvanized the international community to scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations in Yemen and their own potential complicity in these abuses through arms sales. 
 
The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group fighting since March 2015 are responsible for laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses. The conflict has killed and injured thousands of civilians. United Nations report in September 2019 found that: “parties to the conflict in Yemen are responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Some of these violations are likely to amount to war crimes.”  
 
It’s well-established that the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces are indiscriminately attacking, forcibly disappearing, and obstructing food and medicine to Yemeni civiliansamong other abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The international community, including states allied with parties to the conflict, should use the leverage they have to press the warring parties to end their violations and ensure accountability.” 
 
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. 
 
Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian objects in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others. The airstrike on detention center in August 2019 that killed and wounded at least 200 people was the single deadliest attack since the war began. 
 
Houthi forces have used banned antipersonnel landmines and fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Hodeida, killing and wounding civilians, and indiscriminately launched ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. 
 
The conflict has had a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Yemenisplacing millions of people at risk of famineYemen’s economy, already fragile prior to the conflict, has been gravely affected. Hundreds of thousands of families no longer have a steady source of income, and many public servants have not received a regular salary in several years 
 
Houthi forces, the Yemeni government, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and various UAE and Saudi-backed Yemeni armed groups have arbitrarily detained people, including children, and committed forced disappearances. Houthi forces have held people hostage. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children. 
 
The warring parties have not acknowledged any responsibility for violations, which has resulted in a pervasive lack of accountability and justice. 
 
Yemen’s civil society has faced security and political abusesWarring parties have attacked, harassedarrested, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, academics, and rights defenders, including members of the Baha’i faith. Women political activists, who have played a prominent role in human rights campaigning and peacebuilding, have been threatened and subjected to smear campaigns, and were excluded from peace talks in Sweden in December 2018. 
 
Instead of standing still amid the human suffering in Yemen, governments close to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Houthis should pressure their allies to end their grave human rights abuses and establish accountability measures,” Page said.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:15 pm

Ahmed Mansoor, one of the five political activists pardoned by the United Arab Emirates, plays with his children as he speaks to Reuters in Dubai on November 30, 2011. 

© 2011 REUTERS / Nikhil Monteiro

(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates authorities displayed a dangerous disregard for the rule of law in 2019 with arbitrary detentions, seriously flawed trials, and rampant abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020Despite declaring 2019 the “Year of Tolerance,” UAE rulers cemented their clampdown on all manners of peaceful dissent by continuing to hold activists who had completed their sentences without a clear legal basis 
 
Over the past year, there have also been increased concerns for the deteriorating health of two unjustly detained rights activists, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser bin Ghaith, who are being held in dismal prison conditions and denied access to health careBoth Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in prison solely for exercising his right to free expression, and bin Ghaithserving 10 years on charges stemming from criticizing UAE and Egyptian authoritiescarried out hunger strikes to protest their unjust convictions and deplorable treatment.  
 
Time and again during 2019as it garishly sang its own praises as a tolerant and rights-respecting state, the UAE proved just how little respect it really has for universal human rights,” said Michael Pagedeputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE’s fundamental disregard for the rule of law doesn’t just harm dissidents and critics of the regime, but anyone who may fall afoul of the authorities and the country’s flawed justice system. 
 
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. 
 
Especially in cases related to state security, people in the UAE experienced arbitrary and incommunicado detentiontorture and ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal assistance. Forced confessions were used as evidence in trial proceedings, and prisoners complained of dismal conditions and denial of adequate medical care, including lifesaving treatment for infectious diseases 
 
The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers visas to their employers. Those who leave their employers without permission faced punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. Many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. 
 
UAE laws continue to discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and fail to protect them from violence. And, in June, the UAE announced the withdrawal of most of its ground troops from the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, but UAE-backed Yemeni troops continued to commit abuses there.  
 
The UAE’s expensive efforts to paint itself as a respectable state on the world stage will continue to ring hollow as long as it does not back up its empty words and glossy gimmicks with real and genuine reform,” Page said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:15 pm

A Tunisian woman walks past a graffiti that reads "Freedom is a daily practice" in Tunis April 26, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters / Anis Mili

(Tunis) – Tunisia still faces numerous hurdles to protecting its human rights gains nine years after Tunisians ousted the authoritarian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020 
 
The authorities failed to scrap laws that are still being applied to punish Tunisians for peaceful criticism or for pursuing their private lives as they wish. The absence of a constitutional court, which the 2014 Constitution envisioned, deprives Tunisian citizens of the opportunity to challenge such laws.  
 
Tunisia’s progress on human rights will remain under threat until the authorities dismantle repressive laws and put in place key safeguards against abuses,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch.  
 
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. 
 
The Constitutional Court, as conceived by the constitution, could strike down existing and draft laws deemed unconstitutional, including those that would violate human rightsBut parliament has failed in its duty to kick off the process of selecting its share of judges, and until the court is staffed, it cannot begin operations.   
 
Tunisia made progress on transitional justice as the Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC), created under a 2013 transitional law to investigate human rights abuses from 1956 to 2013completed its mandate and delivered its final report on March 26, 2019The commission recommended judiciary and security force reforms to bar a return to systematic abuses, but the government has yet to act on its recommendations.  
 
The 13 specialized court chambers created by the transitional justice law to try those responsible for past human rights abuses face numerous obstacles. The obstacles include an inability to compel the accused and witnesses to appear, as the police refuse to fulfill their duty to enforce summonses against uncooperative defendants.  
 
Prosecutors in Tunisia have also charged bloggers, journalists, and social media activists under a number of penal code provisions. At least 14 were prosecuted under speech offenses in 2019, with six spending time in jail for criticizing state officials or revealing corruption by civil servants 
 
The authorities also prosecuted and imprisoned men suspected of being gay under Article 230 of the penal codewhich provides for up to three years in prison for “sodomy.” The government also subjected suspects to anal tests to prove homosexuality, despite making a commitment during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in May 2017 to end the discredited practice.   
 
Since the declaration of a state of emergency in November 2015, which remains in effect, hundreds of Tunisians have faced arbitrary limitations on their movement when traveling inside and out of the country. 
 
Parliament did not act on a draft law granting women equal rights in inheritance, which then-President Beji Caid Essebsi approved in 2018.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:14 pm

Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. 

© 2018 REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities carried out sweeping campaign of repression against independent dissidents and activists, including two waves of mass arrestsin 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020 
 
The arrests and harassment coincided with the most significant advancements for Saudi women in recent years, including removing travel restrictions for women 21 and over and granting women more control over civil status issues. 
 
Reforms for Saudi women do not whitewash the rampant harassment and detention of Saudi activists and intellectuals, including women’s rights activists, who simply expressed their views publicly or privately,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Saudi Arabia has any hope of rehabilitating its tattered image, the authorities should immediately release everyone they’ve locked away merely for their peaceful criticism.” 
 
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. 
 
Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, faced no meaningful justice during 2019 for abuses by state security agents over the past few years, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and the alleged torture of women’s rights advocates. 
 
Dozens of Saudi dissidents and activists, including four prominent women’s rights defenders, remain in detention while they and others face unfair trials on charges tied solely to their public criticism of the government or peaceful human rights work. Mass arrests in April and November targeted over 20 Saudi intellectuals and writers. 
 
As the leader of the coalition that began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. On June 20, 2019, a United Kingdom appeals court ruled that the UK government’s refusal to consider Saudi Arabia’s laws-of-war violations in Yemen before licensing arms sales was unlawful, a ruling that resulted in the suspension of new UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the government makes a new lawful decision on arms licenses or obtains a new court order. 
 
In late July, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers promulgated landmark amendments to three laws that will begin to dismantle the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system, including allowing women 21 and over to travel abroad and to obtain a passport without the approval of a male guardian. The reforms also included important advances for women on civil status issues, allowing wometo register their children’s births with the civil status office, which was previously restricted to fathers or paternal relatives. Changes to the Labor Law introduced a new protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, disability, or age. 
 
“It’s a cruel irony that Saudi women are enjoying new freedoms while some of those who fought hardest for them remain behind bars or facing blatantly unfair trials,” Page said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:13 pm

Workers in Katara cultural heritage village in Doha, Qatar. 

© 2018 Ramil Sitdikov / Sputnik via AP

(Beirut) – Migrant workers, asylum seekers, stateless people, and women in Qatar remained susceptible to abuse in 2019 despite new laws and regulations aimed at better protecting human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

In October 2019, the government announced significant reforms that would allow migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country without employer consent. These are key elements of the kafala (sponsorship) system that tie migrant workers’ visas to their employers and that have enabled abuse and exploitation of workers. The reforms were expected to be rolled out in January 2020. However, other elements of the system that can leave employers with some control over their workers appear slated to remain.

“Qatar’s recent labor reform declarations, if carried out in full, would indeed mark a significant step toward reforming the exploitative kafala system,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But fully dismantling the kafala system will require ensuring that a migrant worker’s legal status – their entry and residence – is not tied to any specific employer, as well as decriminalizing ‘absconding’ – that is, leaving an employer without permission.”

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.

In November, Qatar entered the third and last year of its technical cooperation program with the International Labour Organization (ILO), aimed at extensively reforming migrant workers’ conditions. The government introduced several reforms over the past three years that, while positive, have not gone far enough; moreover, implementation has been uneven. By the end of 2019, the kafala system remained largely intact and continued to facilitate the abuse and exploitation of the country’s migrant workforce.

Qatar has also turned away asylum seekers, despite a 2018 refugee asylum law, and entire families arbitrarily made stateless starting in 1996 have remained deprived of key human rights with no clear avenues for reclaiming their revoked citizenship.

Stateless members of the Ghufran clan, whose Qatari citizenship authorities arbitrarily withdrew more than a decade ago, remained deprived of their rights to work, obtain health care, receive an education, marry, start a family, and own property, as well as their freedom of movement. In 2019, Qatar made no commitments to rectify their status.

Throughout 2019, the Interior Ministry’s search and follow up department repeatedly threatened two people with deportation on vague grounds despite their stated desire to seek asylum under the 2018 law.

Qatari laws also discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The country’s male guardianship system undermines women’s rights to make autonomous decisions about marriage and travel.

In 2019, Qatar’s isolation by Saudi ArabiaBahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to infringe on the right to free expression, separate families, and affect medical care and education. Travel to and from Qatar remained restricted, and the land border with Saudi Arabia remained closed.

“Qatar passes laws and regulations with great fanfare designed to protect labor and refugee rights on paper, but without effective implementation and strict enforcement, these laws aren’t worth the ink they are written with and people remain vulnerable to serious abuse,” Page said. “Qatar also cannot claim to champion human rights while the suffering of communities – like those made stateless – goes unheeded.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:12 pm

Students protesting against a discriminatory government decision limiting enrollment in public university to 24 years, hold up signs that say “education is a right for all.”

© 2019 Mohamed Maa al-Einein Sid El-Kheir, Nouackchott, Mauritania

(Beirut) – Mauritania’s first presidential transition in a decade has raised hope that the new head of state, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, will ensure human rights protections for all Mauritanians, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020Ould Ghazouani should prioritize repealing repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, ensure women’s rights, and instruct security forces to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully.  
 
Under the outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, authorities used laws on criminal defamation and the counterterrorism law to prosecute and jail human rights defenders, activists, social media activists, and political dissidents. Two bloggers, Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddouwere detained for three months for social media posts criticizing corruption in Mauritania before charges against them were dropped.  
 
Mauritania’s Ould Ghazouani should prioritize long-overdue reform of a harsh penal code that allows the death penalty in blasphemy cases and that is effectively used to muzzle speech,” said Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “The new president should also take decisive steps to ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have the support they need to move on with their lives.”  
 
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. 
 
The penal code stipulates the death penalty for blasphemy. On July 29, 2019 – four days before Ould Ghazouani’s inauguration  the authorities freed Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a blogger who had been imprisoned in a blasphemy case for five-and-a-half years; a court initially sentenced him to death. Although an appeals court reduced the sentence to two years in prison, authorities held him in solitary and arbitrary detention for an additional 21 months, ostensibly for his own protection. Upon his release, Ould Mkhaitir immediately sought asylum in France.  
 
Mauritania should revoke criminal defamation and blasphemy laws and work towards abolishing the death penalty in all cases, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. 
 
In October 2019, police violently dispersed student demonstrations taking place in Nouakchott against a rule that prevented students who had reached the age of 25 from enrolling for the first time in public universities. In November, the government suspended this discriminatory rule.   
 
Under current legislation, all sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalized and there is no law against gender-based violence, despite a high prevalence of such violence in Mauritania. Women and girls face many barriers to accessing justice. For example, those who report rape risk prosecution for sexual relations outside of marriage (also known as zina) if they cannot prove that the sex was noconsensual 
 
The government should cease prosecutions and detentions in so-called zina cases, decriminalize the offense, and adopt a law on gender-based violence in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should also establish specialized prosecutorial units to assist victims of gender-based violence, ensure greater access to medical care, and provide direct support services to survivors. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:11 pm

Anti-government protesters wave Lebanese flags during ongoing anti-government protests, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2019. The Arabic on fist reads "Revolution." 

© 2019 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
 

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s authorities are failing to address a massive economic and political crisis that is endangering citizens’ access to vital services, including health care, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. Security forces have at times failed to protect protesters from violent attacks by counter-demonstrators.

Anti-government demonstrations began on the evening of October 17, 2019, after the government announced new taxes, including on the messaging application WhatsApp, which it soon revoked due to popular outrage. The countrywide protests intensified as people directed their anger against the entire political establishment, whom they blame for corruption and the country’s dire economic situation.

“Lebanon’s politicians have done little to stop living standards from plummeting and have not responded to protesters’ concerns about the worsening economic crisis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Their dereliction is threatening to drastically worsen access to health care and the availability of medical supplies.”

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.

Security forces have at times used excessive and unnecessary force against protesters. In one of the most violent incidents, on December 14 and 15, security forces – the Internal Security Forces’ Riot Police and the Parliament Police – used large quantities of teargas against protesters in downtown Beirut. Security forces also shot protesters with rubber bullets, sprayed them with water cannons, and violently beat some protesters. 

The financial crisis is endangering access to health care, as medical practitioners and public officials warn that hospitals may soon not be able to perform life-saving surgery or provide urgent medical care. The crisis stems from the government’s failure to reimburse private and public hospitals, including funds owed by the National Social Security Fund and military health funds, making it difficult to pay staff and purchase medical supplies. In addition, a dollar shortage has restricted the import of vital goods and led banks to curtail credit lines.

Authorities detained and charged people for speech critical of government officials, especially corruption allegations, and of religious institutions. Lawyers also used the defamation laws to file complaints against individuals and publications that express concern about the country’s economic situation.

Women, who have played a leading role in the protests, face systematic discrimination under Lebanese law. An estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and are at risk of exploitation and abuse.

The Higher Defense Council made several decisions that increased pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including to deport Syrians who enter Lebanon illegally, to demolish the refugee shelters, and to crack down on Syrians working without authorization.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:10 pm

Government of National Accord fighters take positions during clashes with east-based fighters from the Libyan National Army at Al-Yarmouk frontline in Tripoli, Libya on August 29, 2019.

© 2019 Amru Salahuddien/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)
 

(Beirut) – Armed groups loyal to one of two competing Libyan governments and their international backers are putting civilians at risk with indiscriminate attacks, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The United Nations Human Rights Council should establish a Commission of Inquiry to document abuses and identify those responsible with a view to future accountability.

Rival armed groups and their allies have carried out hundreds of drone and air strikes in and around Tripoli since the start of the conflict there in April 2019, killing and displacing civilians. A leaked UN report in November stated that the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Sudan, and Jordan had repeatedly violated the arms embargo on Libya by supplying weapons, drones, and fighters to the conflict parties. Migrants and asylum seekers remained at high risk of arbitrary detention, ill treatment, and inhumane detention conditions around the country.

“As long as armed groups enjoy impunity, civilians will pay the price,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Countries aiding the conflict parties should re-think their support for unaccountable and abusive armed groups that could make them complicit in serious human rights abuses.”

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.

In April, fighters affiliated with the eastern-based armed group known as Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Khalifa Hiftar and affiliated with the Interim Government in the east, attacked armed groups loyal to the Tripoli-based, internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The LNA received military support from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in violation of the Libya arms embargo. Foreign fighters from Sudan and Chad also reportedly supported the GNA and LNA, while Russian fighters reportedly supported the LNA. Meanwhile Turkey reportedly supported the GNA with armed drones, while the UAE supported the LNA with armed drones.

The UN estimates the conflict in Tripoli had killed at least 284 civilians and displaced more than 128,000 as of December. According to a leaked UN report, in one incident in June, an airstrike by an unspecified foreign country on a migrant detention center in a compound in Tajoura in the outskirts of Tripoli also used by militias killed over 43 civilians. In another incident, an apparently unlawful air strike on October 14 by LNA forces or their allies killed three small children in their home in Tripoli.

A parliament member, Seham Sergewa, remains missing after an armed group with links to the LNA abducted her from her home in Benghazi in July. Sergewa had been outspoken in opposing the LNA assault on Tripoli.

Several thousand detained migrants and asylum seekers face inhumane conditions in prisons run by the GNA’s Interior Ministry and by smugglers and traffickers, and are at risk of forced labor, beatings, and sexual assault. Support by the European Union and some member states including Italy and France to Libyan authorities to intercept and return migrants to Libya is instrumental in enabling these abuses.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Libya since 2011, has issued arrest warrants against Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Benghazi-based commander affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA), for unlawful killings. He remains at large.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:10 pm

Security forces block a road as teachers protest in Amman, Jordan, September 5, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Omar Akour
 

(Amman) – Jordanian authorities stepped up arrests of protesters and political and anti-corruption activists in 2019 as protests against Jordan’s economic austerity policies increased, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The authorities detained dozens of political activists and charged some with vague provisions of Jordanian laws used to limit free expression such as “undermining the political regime,” insulting the king, or online slander.

“Jordan increasingly closed avenues for public protests and online expression in 2019,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordanian officials and lawmakers should make it a priority in 2020 to remove vague criminal regulations used to curtail peaceful speech.”

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.

In 2019, lawmakers rejected a proposed amendment to the personal status law that would have increased the minimum marriage age from 15 to 16. In May, the parliament approved amendments to the labor law that exempted non-citizen children of Jordanian mothers from work permit requirements, but Jordan continues to discriminate against Jordanian women by not allowing them to pass their nationality to their children on par with men.

In late December 2018, the government proposed amendments to Jordan’s 2015 Electronic Crimes Law that would restrict freedom of expression with criminal penalties for posting “rumors” or “fake news” with “bad intentions” or engaging in “hate speech” online. The amendments maintain criminal penalties for online defamation but, in a positive move, would eliminate pretrial detention for this offense. Jordan’s lower house of parliament rejected the draft amendments in February 2019 and as of September they were under consideration in the upper house.

In July, security officials expelled over 200 members of the extended al-Shahin family from their home governorate, Madaba, on the basis of a local practice known as jalwa, under which security authorities can temporarily displace family members of accused murderers to deter potential revenge attacks. Members of the al-Shahin family were permitted to return to Madaba Governorate in mid-October.

Jordan hosted over 657,000 Syrian refugees and over 90,000 refugees of other nationalities in 2019, but the authorities have not allowed other Syrians to enter Jordan to seek asylum since mid-2016. Jordanian authorities did not allow aid deliveries from Jordan to tens of thousands of Syrians at a remote camp along the border. Beginning in January, Jordanian authorities prevented UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, from registering as asylum seekers people who entered the country for medical treatment, study, tourism, or work, effectively barring non-Syrians from registering and leaving many without documentation or access to services.

“By preventing those fleeing persecution in their home countries from seeking asylum, Jordan is putting its reputation as one of the last regional havens for protection at risk,” Page said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:09 pm

Iranian protesters gather around a burning car during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. 

© 2019 AFP/Getty Images

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities intensified their crackdown during 2019 against protests across the country, using mass arrests and lethal force, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The protests were spurred by deteriorating economic conditions, perceptions of corruption, and the lack of political and social freedoms.

Iran’s judiciary dramatically increased the cost of peaceful dissent during 2019, sentencing dozens of human rights defenders to decades-long prison sentences. In one of the bloodiest crackdowns since the 1979 Revolution, authorities responded to widespread protests after the abrupt increase in fuel prices in November 2019 by directly targeting protesters who posed no threat to life with lethal force.

“Iranian leaders have responded to widespread disgust over corrupt and brutal rule with violent repression and by silencing of all domestic dissent lest it threaten their power,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The use of lethal force against protesters demonstrates the authorities’ complete lack of concern about the effect of deteriorating economic conditions on Iranian citizens.”

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.

On January 3, 2020, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force commander, was killed in a United States drone attack at Baghdad airport. In addition to the serious regional and international ramifications already unfolding, Iran’s repressive political establishment is seizing on the killing to repress dissent, particularly with regard to regional and foreign policy issues.  

Iranian authorities have refused to release official figures for deaths or arrests during the crackdown. Amnesty International said that at least 305 people were reported killed in the protests. A parliament member estimated that security forces arrested about 7,000 people, many of whom remain at risk of mistreatment and torture.

US sanctions, which make inadequate provision for access to essential medicine, are also affecting the country’s economy and pose a serious threat to Iranians’ right to health. The “humanitarian exemptions” under the sanctions have been ineffective and have almost certainly contributed to documented medical shortages, ranging from a lack of critical drugs for epilepsy patients to limited chemotherapy medications for Iranians with cancer.

Revolutionary courts sentenced dozens of activists to prison during 2019 for their peaceful actions, including labor rights activists such as Sepideh Gholian, Ismael Bakhshi, and Marzieh Amiri, and human rights lawyers such as Nasrin Sotoudeh. In July and August, a branch of the revolutionary court of first instance sentenced four women who had challenged Iran’s compulsory hijab laws – Yasman Ariani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, Mojgan Keshavarz, and Saba Kordafshari – to prison terms of more than a decade.

The authorities detain Iranian dual and foreign nationals on vaguely defined national security charges, while signaling that they are open to using these detainees as bargaining chips in bilateral negotiations with Western countries.

In November, another branch of Iran’s revolutionary court of first instance sentenced eight environmental experts who have been detained for over two years on the charge of “collaborating with the enemy state of the United States” to prison terms ranging from 4 to 10 years. On February 8, 2018, Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian university professor who was arrested with the group, died in detention under suspicious circumstances.

According to the group Iran Human Rights, Iran had executed at least 227 people as of November 1, 2019, compared with 253 in 2018, including at least 2 sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed as children.

Iranian women face discrimination in law and practice. However, after more than a decade of advocacy, on October 2, the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, finally approved an amendment to Iran’s nationality law that allows Iranian women married to men with foreign nationality to request Iranian citizenship for their children under age 18 if there is no “security problem.”

Iranian law allows girls to marry at 13 and boys at 15, and younger if authorized by a judge. The judicial parliamentary commission has blocked efforts to increase the minimum age.

Children with disabilities face barriers to inclusive education. These include a mandatory medical exam, the physical inaccessibility of school buildings, discriminatory attitudes of school staff, and a lack of adequate training for teachers and school administrators. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 14, 2020, 8:09 pm