An officer of the National Police shoots at a group of people outside the shopping mall Metrocentro in Managua, Nicaragua, May 28, 2018. 

© 2018 Oscar Martín Sánchez Valdivia
(Brussels) – The European Union (EU) and its member states should act promptly under its newly adopted sanctions framework to impose targeted sanctions against President Daniel Ortega and other top Nicaraguan officials responsible for serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 14, 2019, EU foreign ministers adopted a legal framework for targeted restrictive measures against people and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Nicaragua, following violent repression of anti-government protests that broke out in April 2018.

“Now that the EU has the legal framework to sanction key Nicaraguan officials implicated in the brutal crackdown on opponents, it should swiftly impose travel bans and assets freezes against key officials responsible for serious abuses,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Pressure is pivotal to curb further violations and ensure accountability for acts that are serious crimes under international law.”

The crackdown on protests has resulted in at least 328 deaths, with thousands of people injured and hundreds arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many of those detained have suffered torture and other ill-treatment – including electric shocks, severe beatings, fingernail removal, asphyxiation, and rape – by the National Police, sometimes operating in coordination with armed pro-government gangs. The Ortega government has also targeted civic leaders and independent journalists.

In a letter sent to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and foreign ministers in July, Human Rights Watch urged the EU to impose targeted sanctions against seven senior Nicaraguan officials:

  • President Daniel Ortega, supreme chief of the National Police, who holds sweeping powers, including to “command” the police at his will and dismiss police chiefs who disobey his orders;
  • Retired Gen. Aminta Granera, former chief of the National Police, who was the head of the force until she was replaced by Gen. Francisco Díaz in September 2018;
  • Gen. Francisco Díaz, chief of the National Police, who is believed to have exercised significant control over the force first as deputy director and then in his current position as chief, which began in September 2018;
  • Gen. Ramon Avellán, deputy chief of the National Police, who acted as the highest-ranking member of the National Police in Masaya, where police and armed pro-government gangs brutally repressed protesters;
  • Gen. Jaime Vanegas, inspector general of the National Police, who is required under Nicaraguan law to investigate alleged rights violations by police officers and sanction those responsible;
  • Gen. Luis Pérez Olivas, chief of the Direction of Judicial Assistance (DAJ, also known as El Chipote), which was the “main place” where authorities carried out egregious violations against anti-government demonstrators, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported; and
  • Gen. Justo Pastor Urbina, chief of the Department of Special Operations (DOEP, its Spanish acronym), a police unit that played a “central role” in the repression throughout the country, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has reported.

Canada and the United States have already imposed sanctions against some Nicaragua officials, including the current chief of the National Police, General Díaz.

International pressure has played a key role in securing the Ortega government’s release of hundreds of detainees between mid-March and mid-June of this year. Charges were dropped against some of them under an amnesty law adopted by the government in June.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 22, 2019, 1:00 pm

A women’s rights protester is detained by police in Baku on October 20. 

© 2019 REUTERS/Aziz Karimov

(Berlin) – Azerbaijan police violently dispersed two peaceful protests in central Baku on October 19 and 20, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Police rounded up dozens of peaceful opposition and civic activists, beating and roughing them up while forcing them onto buses and into police cars.

Among those detained was the leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, who sustained numerous injuries at the hands of law enforcement officers while detained for several hours. Several other detained opposition activists told Human Rights Watch that they were severely beaten in police custody.

“Once again, the Azerbaijani government has shown complete disregard for people’s right to hold peaceful protests,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release all protesters and investigate any allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement.”

The National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and activists in Azerbaijan, organized the demonstration in central Baku for October 19. They called for the release of political prisoners and for free and fair elections and protested growing unemployment and economic injustice. A day later, several dozen women’s rights activists held a protest over violence against women and femicide, and killings by domestic partners.

The authorities had turned down requests to hold the protests in central Baku.

In the early hours of October 19, the Baku metro stopped operating at three stations in the city center. Police cordoned off wide areas in the city center, blocking main roads leading to it. Media and activists also reported that the internet was cut in the vicinity of the area and mobile phone coverage was spotty.

Several hundred protesters still made their way to the city center around 3 p.m., when the rally was to start. They chanted “Resign” and “Freedom.” Uniformed police and security officials in civilian clothes almost immediately moved in without warning to forcefully restrain protesters, twisting their arms in apparently painful positions, and violently dragging and carrying them to police vehicles.

The forcible treatment and arrests were seen on numerous videos, widely available on social media.

According to the police, they detained 60 of the approximately 220 people who participated in the unsanctioned demonstration on October 19, releasing 42 with a warning, and sending 18 cases to administrative courts.

The authorities also detained at least 10 senior opposition party members ahead of the October 19 rally. Among them was a prominent opposition journalist, Seymur Hazi, who was detained on October 17 and sentenced the same day to 15 days of administrative detention. Hazi’s wife told Human Rights Watch that the circumstances of her husband’s detention and alleged offense were not clear. The family found out about the detention from the ministry’s hotline hours after he had been sentenced.

Police detained Karimli and several others shortly after he left his apartment at about 3 p.m. Police separated Karimli from the others and put him on a different bus. Karimli was released around 11 p.m. with several stitches on his head and multiple bruises on his face. He said in a media interview that several police officers had pulled his hair and banged his head against the side of the bus twice. Then he was transferred to the Khatai district police, where, he said, law enforcement personnel continued to abuse him, including one officer who used his foot to try to choke Karimli as he lay on the floor. He said police filmed the beating, demanding from him to state on camera that he would stop his criticism of the government. He was later transferred to the Interior Ministry’s hospital, where he received several stitches to his head, after which he was dropped off near his house.

In a statement on October 21, the prosecutor’s office claimed that Karimli resisted arrest, beat two police officers, and sustained the injuries to his forehead as he resisted arrest.

Police also detained Tofig Yagublu, a prominent opposition politician and former political prisoner, shortly before they took Karimli. Yagublu’s lawyer met with his client in custody on October 21. He told Human Rights Watch that Yagublu said that three or four policemen beat him repeatedly, while they ordered him to make a public statement “repenting” his actions and pledging to stop his political activity.

The lawyer said Yagublu had visible bruises on his right eye approximately two centimeters long and several swollen areas on his head, and had difficulty walking. The lawyer also said Yagublu said he was beaten on the shoulders and ribs when lying on the floor. Doctors at the detention center had noted wounds during the routine medical exam at the facility. On October 21, Yagublu was taken to the Interior Ministry's hospital for a medical exam, where doctors confirmed that he had bruised ribs.

Azerbaijani authorities have not yet issued a statement on Yagublu’s condition.

Some 60 people were arrested during the weekend protests in Baku, Azerbaijan. The authorities say most have been released, while 18 remain in custody and will face charges. 

© 2019 REUTERS/Aziz Karimov

Police also dispersed several dozen women’s rights activists who gathered in the city center on October 20 to protest domestic violence. In particular the protesters wanted to highlight the recent killing of Leyla Mammadova, whose husband stabbed her to death in public, in front of her children and passersby. Police cordoned off the protest area and rounded up several activists, putting them on a bus and releasing them shortly thereafter.

While the constitution of Azerbaijan stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after simply notifying the relevant government body in advance, in practice authorities require that gatherings obtain a permit issued by local municipalities.

Earlier in October, Baku municipal authorities had denied the opposition protest organizers’ requests to hold the demonstrations in the city center, offering an alternative space in the Lokbatan suburb, an area about 20 kilometers away that is not easily accessible by public transportation. In response to the women’s rights activists, the authorities responded that the proposed protest site had many shops and restaurants and was therefore unsuitable for a rally.

On October 19, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office issued a warning about holding unsanctioned rallies, saying that law enforcement agencies “will be authorized to prevent illegal actions and take serious measures, including criminal liability against those breaking the law.”

Azerbaijan effectively imposes a blanket ban on protests in the central areas of Baku, which violates Azerbaijan’s international obligations to respect and protect freedom of assembly and expression, Human Rights Watch said. As the European Court of Human Rights has warned, “[s]weeping measures of a preventive nature to suppress freedom of assembly and expression […] do a disservice to democracy and often endanger it.”

Azerbaijan is a party to a number of human rights treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which obliges the government to respect the right of assembly and to refrain in all circumstances from engaging in prohibited ill-treatment of protesters. The government also has a duty to investigate and remedy violations.

On October 19, the European Union issued a statement calling on Azerbaijani authorities to release all those detained and to ensure that freedom of assembly can be fully exercised in line with the country’s international obligations.

In her statement, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatović condemned “the disproportionate use of force,” urging the authorities to ensure “effective investigations into allegations of ill treatment.”

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly rapporteurs on Azerbaijan and the United States Embassy also expressed deep concerns about the police dispersal of the peaceful protests.

“Although the demonstration was unsanctioned, the police should not have used force to disperse protesters who posed no threat,” Gogia said. “Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right, and the Azerbaijani authorities are obligated to tolerate peaceful protests, even in Baku’s center.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 22, 2019, 4:00 am

Lebanese riot police fire tear gas during a protest against government's plans to impose new taxes in Beirut, Lebanon, October 18, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Spontaneous anti-government demonstrations broke out across Lebanon last week, sparked by the announcement of a slew of new taxes. Thousands took to the streets to express anger against the entire political establishment, whom they blame for the country’s dire economic situation and endemic corruption.

The largely peaceful protests took an ugly turn on October 18th when the army used excessive force to clear areas of Beirut while the Internal Security Force’s riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at fleeing protesters. Security Forces reportedly detained over 100 protesters.

In response to protester’s demands, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri set a 72-hour deadline for the government to develop an economic plan to respond to their grievances. Today he announced the plan as protesters assembled in cities across the country.

The plan includes reforms to overhaul the failing electricity sector, a federal budget for 2020 that does not include new taxes on individuals, lower salaries for government officials including ministers and parliamentarians, and higher taxes on banks, alongside other reforms. Whatever the reforms might do to address some of the protesters’ grievances, they ignore calls for holding corrupt politicians to account.

Lebanon’s trust and accountability deficit is a result of the government’s perennial failure to hold officials and other perpetrators to account despite credible allegations of abuse and misconduct. From the fate of the 17,000 Lebanese kidnapped or “disappeared” during the 1975-1990 civil war, ongoing incidents of torture and death in detention, abuse of kids in school, illegal trash burning, abuse of migrant domestic workers, and abuse and discrimination against women and members of the LGBT community in Lebanon, people have again and again suffered the consequences of impunity for misconduct and worse.

In response to Hariri’s proposal, protesters on the streets immediately expressed lack of confidence and rage at the political establishment, claiming they would stand steadfast in their demands for accountability. If history is any guide, they are right to doubt that promised reforms will have their stated impact unless there is a genuine commitment to accountability for abuses.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 21, 2019, 7:04 pm

Profiles of political prisoners on HRW Cambodia Political Prisoner webpage. 

(New York) – The Cambodian government should cease arresting and detaining former opposition party members and rights activists for exercising their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its updated webpage of political prisoners. The Cambodian government is currently holding nearly 60 political prisoners throughout the country.

“The dozens of politically motivated arrests over the past three months demonstrate that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has no intention of lifting the heavy-handed repression that has darkened Cambodia in recent years,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign governments and donors should loudly call for an end to this wave of arrests and press Cambodia to immediately and unconditionally release all those wrongfully detained for criticizing the government.”

On August 16, 2019, a group of former members of the judicially dissolved opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), announced that the exiled party leader Sam Rainsy and others planned to return to Cambodia on November 9. Since then, Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of people. More than 50 former CNRP members have been charged with crimes and 31 have been jailed. Arrests are continuing. Among the charges routinely being filed are plotting against the state, incitement to commit a felony, and discrediting judicial decisions – all of which appear to be baseless and politically motivated.

Among those arrested or jailed are:

  • Thoun Bunthorn, a former CNRP provincial council member in Rattanakiri and Ngin Sophat, a former CNRP district chief in the Rattanakiri town of Banglung were arrested on September 21, after they had expressed support on their Facebook accounts for the CNRP leadership’s return to Cambodia in November. They were accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
  • Kem Sokha, the CNRP leader, was arrested on September 3, 2017 for allegedly committing treason. Two years after his arrest on fabricated charges, Sokha remains under restrictive judicial supervision amounting to house arrest. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that he is being arbitrary detained. He is prohibited from leaving the area within a block radius of his house, meeting with opposition members, journalists, and foreigners, and conducting political activities. If convicted of treason, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
  • Nuth Pich, a former CNRP official, was arrested on August 17 on charges of “incitement to commit a felony” and that he had “discredited a judicial decision” after he had helped organize gatherings of former CNRP members to eat “Khmer noodles.” Authorities have treated these noodle-eating gatherings as acts of resistance to the decision of the government-controlled Supreme Court in November 2017 to dissolve the CNRP.

The Cambodian government’s crackdown on the political opposition and other independent voices has caused many CNRP leaders to flee abroad in recent years. On March 12, a court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the CNRP who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. On September 26, the court, without factual basis, charged all eight with attempting to stage a coup. The justice system has also been used to harass and prosecute former CNRP members remaining in the country.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly threatened to arrest any CNRP leader in exile who returns to Cambodia. On September 17, he declared that 10 ASEAN countries had received Cambodian arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy.

The updated Human Rights Watch Cambodian political prisoner webpage includes those being held in pretrial detention, including former members and supporters of the CNRP, rights activists, dissidents, journalists, and ordinary citizens who expressed their opinions online. Previously held political prisoners – who have been subsequently released because they served their sentence, were released on bail while awaiting trial, or received a royal pardon – are also profiled on the page in a separate section.

“The Cambodian government is rapidly filling its jails with activists who dare speak out about abuses, post criticism on Facebook, and meet opposition colleagues for Khmer noodles,” Robertson said. “EU decision-makers should be considering Cambodia’s deep downward spiral on human rights when looking toward next steps on rights and trade relations.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 21, 2019, 1:30 am

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech at an investment seminar organized by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on October 8, 2018. 

© 2018 Kyodo via AP Images

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should publicly hold Myanmar to account for military atrocities committed against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Human Rights Watch said today. It should discourage Japanese investment that would benefit the military or at the expense of minority groups.

On October 21, 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, is slated to speak in Tokyo at a conference sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to promote investment and business opportunities in Myanmar. When she has spoken at previous investment forums in Japan, Aung San Suu Kyi has downplayed or ignored the military’s serious abuses against the Rohingya.

“The Japanese government has been pitifully reluctant to speak out against abuses by Myanmar’s military, so officials should use Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to raise these issues directly,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Japan’s recent re-election to the UN Human Rights Council should encourage the government to improve its human rights foreign policy, including by calling on Japanese companies not to contribute to rights violations in Myanmar.”

In August 2017, the Myanmar military began a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, committing crimes against humanity and forcing more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Nearly one million Rohingya now live in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, while another 600,000 remain in Myanmar, confined to camps and villages without basic rights.

Japan has not acted to hold the Myanmar government accountable for abuses, but instead has continued business as usual. Earlier in October 2019, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in Tokyo with Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, whom the United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said should be among those investigated for “genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes” against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Abe told Hlaing the military should address the allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State by acting on the proposals of the government’s discredited International Commission of Enquiry, but ignored international efforts to address accountability.

The UN Fact-Finding Mission, in August, released a report on the Myanmar military’s control over the country’s economy and the main military conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). The two entities help the military, the Tatmadaw, generate considerable revenue and influence by strengthening “the Tatmadaw’s autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provid[ing] financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations.” The Fact-Finding Mission pressed for the international community to urgently take steps toward the financial isolation of the military.

Japanese investors should abide by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights by avoiding causing or contributing to human rights abuses through their own activities, and by seeking to prevent abuses that are directly linked to their operations by their business relationships. That would mean doing no business with Myanmar companies that have ties to the military and ensuring that investment did not worsen the human rights situation for Rohingya in Rakhine State.

The Japanese government should cooperate with international efforts to pursue accountability for the Myanmar military’s crimes against the Rohingya. This includes voting in favor of Myanmar-related human rights resolutions at the UN, calling for access to the country for the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, and closely cooperating with the UN’s new Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

“Encouraging foreign investment while ignoring human rights will only embolden the Myanmar government and military to further whitewash the heinous acts committed against the Rohingya,” Robertson said. “Not only have military commanders evaded justice for their widespread crimes but they have done so while sabotaging the country’s economic and democratic growth.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2019, 11:00 pm

People running away as Riot Police fire tear gas on protests in downtown Beirut on October 18, 2019.

© 2019 Tariq Keblaoui
 
(Beirut) – Lebanon’s security forces used excessive and unnecessary force against protesters in downtown Beirut on October 18, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The Internal Security Force’s riot police fired tear gas at thousands of largely peaceful protesters, including children, in downtown Beirut. The army cleared the areas, sometimes using excessive force, as riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at fleeing protesters.
 
The anti-government demonstrations, which began on the evening of October 17, were prompted by the government’s announcement of new taxes, including on the messaging application WhatsApp, which it revoked hours later due to popular outrage. However, the countrywide protests devolved into expressions of anger against the entire political establishment, whom they blame for the country’s dire economic situation.
 
“Instead of protecting protesters demanding reform, Lebanese security forces beat and arrested them, causing far more havoc than the protesters,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This should be a wake-up call to the Lebanese government that they can’t abuse the patience of their long-suffering citizens forever.”
 

Protesters demand government resignation in downtown Beirut on October 18, 2019.

© 2019 Aya Majzoub/Human Rights Watch
 
Thousands of protesters gathered across Beirut decrying what they called the government’s corruption and economic mismanagement and calling for its resignation. Similar protests took place in cities across the country, including Tripoli, Jbeil, Baalback, Saida, Sour, and Nabatieh.
 
Human Rights Watch observed the protests in Beirut, which took place downtown, in Hamra, and the main highway to the airport. During the day, thousands of people who appeared to be from a variety of sects, socioeconomic classes, and ages gathered in downtown Beirut, chanting against corruption and seeking the formation of a new government.
 
Although most protesters in central Beirut appeared to be peaceful, some young men looted construction sites, including Bechara al-Khoury Street, and blocked roads with burning tires and trash, including around downtown Beirut and entrances to the city, impeding access to the airport. Human Rights Watch also observed a small number of protesters in front of the Grand Serail – the Prime Minister’s headquarters – throw fireworks at riot police guarding the building.
 
Around 8 p.m. on October 18, Human Rights Watch saw riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds at the largest gathering, in front of the Grand Serail, without warning, causing panic. Thousands tried to flee down one main road, El Amir Bachir Street, as the army blocked many side roads.
 

Riot Police fire tear gas onto demonstrators in downtown Beirut on October 18, 2019.

© 2019 Tariq Keblaoui
 
Human Rights Watch observed dozens of people having trouble breathing and vomiting from tear gas inhalation, including women and children. Some protesters were carrying people who had fainted because of tear gas. Riot police also fired tear gas at the dispersing crowds.
 
“Lebanon’s security forces are among the best-funded government employees in the country,” Whitson said. “Clearly the government isn’t spending enough on training security forces on the appropriate and lawful use of tear gas.”
 
Human Rights Watch spoke with a protester who was seriously injured by a rubber bullet. The 32-year-old musician, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said that he and other demonstrators were playing music in Riad al-Solh, near the Grand Serail, when they saw the tear gas smoke. He was trapped between riot police and the tear gas, with nowhere to run. He said he saw a riot police officer point at him and then another officer fired a rubber bullet directly at him.
 
The musician said he covered his face with his hands and realized one of his fingers was hanging off. He got to a hospital where he said a doctor warned he may lose his finger. He said he saw many injured in the hospital, including one person shot in the face by a rubber bullet.
 
“Their [riot police] intention was to hurt us, not just to disperse us,” he told Human Rights Watch. “They shot directly at my face, not at my legs or in the air.”
 
After the security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets, many protesters in downtown Beirut responded by smashing shopfronts and looting stores. Human Rights Watch observed security forces clearing protesters on El Amir Bachir Street, Syria Street, and Bechara al-Khoury Street. Riot police fired tear gas at crowds as the army advanced, clashing with some protesters.
 
Videos show security forces apparently using excessive force against protesters. A local TV station showed footage that appeared to show a riot police officer violently kicking and beating a protester. In a video shared by a local journalist, a soldier appeared to repeatedly hit a fallen protester with a baton as another soldier seems to try to stop the journalist from filming. Images circulated on social media show individuals lined up face down on the streets after apparently being arrested by the security forces for participating in the protests. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify these images.
 
Ziad, a 38-year-old sound engineer arrested by riot police at around 9:30 p.m. in downtown Beirut, told Human Rights Watch that five police officers ran over and started punching him despite him raising his hands in surrender. He said they took him to security vehicles parked near Banks Street and forced him and other protesters to lie face down with their hands tied as security officers hit and insulted them. Less than an hour later, security forces put him and 35 other detainees in a military vehicle and took them to Al-Helo police station. Ziad said that he was not mistreated in the station and was released on October 19.
 
It is unclear how many protesters were injured or arrested on October 18. The Internal Security Forces announced the arrest of 70 individuals, but activists estimate that the total is close to 300. Other activists are reporting that many of those arrested were released bearing marks of abuse.
 
The Lebanese authorities should respond to the demonstrations in a proportional and lawful manner. They should release anyone arrested solely for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and assembly, Human Rights Watch said. The government should initiate an independent and impartial investigation into the conduct of the security forces and compensate victims of unlawful force by the security forces.
 
Under United Nations basic principles, law enforcement officials may only use force “when strictly necessary.” Should they use force, they must exercise restraint and ensure any use of force is proportionate. If security forces cause serious injuries, there should be an independent investigation leading to prosecutions, if the use of force is found to be unlawful.
 
“There is no excuse for beating and arresting peaceful protesters,” Whitson said. “The Lebanese authorities can’t beat the grievances out of their citizens and think these problems will go away.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2019, 6:00 pm

Migrants and asylum seekers in camp Vucjak where 2,500 people are now living in inhumane conditions without water, electricity, and medical care, Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, October 2019. 

© 2019 Private

Over a year after Human Rights Watch first criticized Bosnia’s failure to protect the basic rights of migrants and asylum seekers, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is warning of a fast-developing humanitarian emergency in a makeshift camp near the border with Croatia. Over 20,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Bosnia since January 2019, but violent and unlawful pushbacks from Croatia have created a bottleneck on the border, leaving many stranded in unsafe conditions.

The Vučjak tent camp was already overcrowded with 700 migrants living without running water, electricity, or medical care. But on October 16, police transferred around 1,700 more people to the camp from Bihać, the largest town in the area.

Built on a landfill near a field of active landmines left over from the war, conditions at Vučjak were already so deplorable that IOM has refused to operate there since Bihać city administration set up the camp in June 2019. Earlier this month the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights of Migrants called the camp unlivable for humans, which the UN office in Bosnia also echoed this week, calling for the immediate relocation of all migrants to adequate accommodation. Part of the problem, Šuhret Fazlić, the mayor of Bihać, told Human Rights Watch recently, is the failure of central authorities to provide shelter that meets acceptable humanitarian standards for the roughly 6,000 migrants in his town. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner urged the government to provide help to local authorities to handle the crisis in a manner compliant with human rights standards.

Fazlić is now threatening to cut services that the city has been providing to the camp, including water and sanitation. Meanwhile, the Red Cross, the only organization still operating in Vučjak, has announced it may need to halt operations due to the deteriorating situation in the camp. Bosnian authorities should act quickly to move migrants and asylum seekers from Vučjak to a place with safe and sanitary living conditions.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2019, 4:01 am

Relief services search for survivors after an airstrike on a private residence by an armed group known as the Libyan National Army killed three children on October 14, 2019 in Tripoli, Libya.

 

© 2019 Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services

(Beirut) – An airstrike by the Libyan National Army (LNA), on a home in a residential area of Tripoli on October 14, 2019 that killed three girls and wounded their mother and another sister, is an apparent violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. This attack on civilians is one of many that require an impartial and independent investigation to attribute responsibility and hold those responsible to account.

Under the command of General Khalifa Hiftar, the armed group LNA and affiliated forces have conducted a series of air strikes that resulted in civilian casualties. They began a military campaign in April to conquer the capital, Tripoli, from forces affiliated with the Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

“General Hiftar and his forces have repeatedly shown their disregard for civilians’ lives with disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian structures,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There is a dire need for an independent UN investigation to attribute responsibility for these airstrikes and ensure justice for war crimes and compensation for the victims’ families.”

In the October 14 airstrike, the LNA destroyed a home in the al-Fernaj residential neighborhood of Tripoli, and killed three sisters, ages 4, 5, and 7 and injured another sister, age 3, and the girls’ mother, said a statement by the GNA-aligned Tripoli military operations coalition Volcano of Rage, which is fighting the LNA The statement identified the casualties by name. An LNA spokesman, Ahmed al-Mismari, said that the airstrike targeted a “terrorist operations room” and denied targeting civilians. 

Destroyed private residence after an airstrike on a private residence by an armed group known as the Libyan National Army killed three children on October 14, 2019 in Tripoli, Libya.

 

© 2019 Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services

The LNA that is supported by the Interim Government in eastern Libya has consistently denied causing civilian deaths despite mounting evidence of their responsibility.

The UN has said that fighting between the two groups in and around Tripoli has, since April, killed at least 100 civilians and displaced 120,000.

The GNA in a statement blamed the LNA for the attack, as did the United Nations Mission in Libya, while the United States embassy attributed it to the “forces laying siege” to Tripoli.

Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with Husam Alter, a Tripoli resident who witnessed the airstrike and who was among the first responders to the incident, and with Osama Ali, the spokesman for the Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency services. Alter, who was on private business in the area, said he noticed at around noon a fighter jet circling for several minutes above the area, then dropping a bomb on a private house in a busy residential area. He said he ran toward the home and saw a large plume of smoke rising.

“As I arrived at the house, which consisted of two floors and a small annex, I saw that it had been completely destroyed,” he said. People had just started to clamber onto the debris to check for survivors. The father was outside with one of the girls, who was covered in gray dust, but he left quickly to take her to hospital. One of the neighbors said there were three more children in the house and other people and I started to remove the stones and debris with our hands until the ambulance and security services arrived.”

He said he left when relief services with a digger to came to search for the survivors as he could no longer see because of dust in his eyes.

Ali said that the Ambulance and Emergency Services recovered the bodies of the three sisters from the debris. He said that the family had been renting the house temporarily after being displaced from their own home in the Khila area in the southern suburbs of Tripoli due to the ongoing fighting.

Both men said that a fighter jet struck the house. Photographs and videos of the scene that Human Rights Watch reviewed showed damage consistent with an air-delivered munition.

The targeted house was about 20 meters from a compound belonging to Military Intelligence, Alter and Ali said. Some local sources said the compound, which seemed not to have been damaged, was not in use.

Mustafa al-Majae, spokesperson for the Tripoli military operations command, told Human Rights Watch that the compound adjacent to the house that was struck had been an administrative building for the military command, which owns it. He said that the compound was currently not in use and had no role in the military counteroffensive against the LNA. The LNA has produced no evidence showing that it was a military target justifying it being targeted despite being in a civilian neighborhood.

Both Alter and Ali said they did not see any military equipment in or around the house that was struck. Photos and videos of the attack reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear consistent with these statements.

Under the laws of war, civilians and civilian objects may never be the object of attacks. Warring parties are required to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects and to refrain from attacks that would disproportionately harm the civilian population or fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians.

The laws of war also prohibit disproportionate attacks, attacks that cause loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.

While Human Rights Watch could not confirm the status of the compound next to the targeted house, the GNA is obligated as a matter of principle to ensure that no civilians are adjacent to operational military facilities, given the heightened risk of their being in the line of fire.

Since April 4, Human Rights Watch has documented other LNA strikes that resulted in killing or injuring civilians and destroying homes and civilian structures with apparently no measures taken against those responsible and no compensation or payments to civilians. These attacks included a strike against a migrant detention center in Tajoura in July that killed 46 civilians

On October 6, the LNA attacked the Janzour Equestrian Club in the Janzour area of Tripoli, injuring six children and killing several horses. UN staff conducted an assessment to identify the targeted site and the nature of the attack and, blaming the LNA, found that “a fighter jet had dropped four unguided bombs on the Equestrian Club, a civilian facility, and that neither military assets nor military infrastructure were observed at the targeted site.”

Fighters affiliated with the LNA have a well-documented record of summarily executing civilians and fighters; forcibly displacing, torturing, and disappearing people; and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that have harmed civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the GNA also have a record of abuses including summary killings of captured fighters, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, torture, and disappearances.

Due to the partial collapse of the domestic criminal justice system, Libyan authorities have failed to investigate or prosecute those responsible for grave abuses. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Libya, since 2011. The court has recently issued two arrest warrants for Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for the war crime of murder related to incidents between June 2016 and January 2018.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi also continued to be subject to an ICC arrest warrant for his alleged role in attacks on civilians during the country’s 2011 uprising. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, a former official in the Gaddafi government, for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Libya between February and August 2011. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The United Nations has imposed a sanctions regime and arms embargo on Libya but has not effectively used them to punish those who commit gross human rights violations.

Given the current state of impunity in Libya, there is a dire need for an international inquiry, such as by an independent commission of inquiry or similar entity, with a mandate to impartially document abuses, identify those responsible for violations, and publicly report on the human rights situation in Libya, Human Rights Watch said. An upcoming opportunity to establish such an investigation will be during the March 2020 session of the UN Human Rights Council. Ghassan Salameh, the UN special representative to Libya; the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights; and several European governments have already endorsed such a move.

“There needs to be a much stronger focus on justice and accountability in Libya to deter further crimes,” Goldstein said. “As the attacks continue, civilians – and in this case small children – pay with their lives.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 19, 2019, 4:00 am

Undated photograph of Richwood Correctional Center, Louisiana, United States. 

© LaSalle Corrections

A second death this month in United States immigration custody raises disturbing questions about a system we know has failed to protect asylum seekers and other immigrants in its care over and over again. On Tuesday, Roylán Hernández-Díaz, a 43-year-old Cuban man, died in a detention center in Richwood, Louisiana, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and multiple news sources. His death came just nine days after the death of Nabene Abienwi, an asylum seeker from Cameroon, in ICE custody in California.

According to ICE, Hernández-Díaz came to a US port of entry on May 20 and entered ICE custody two days later. His wife told Buzzfeed News that Hernández-Díaz had applied for asylum because he had spoken out against the Cuban government and tried to leave the country multiple times. She said as a result, he had served nine years in prison.

After passing the “credible fear interview,” the initial stage for asylum screening, he requested “parole,” or release, while his case was pending. But – like the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers held in the South – he was denied. As a result, Hernández-Díaz stayed detained for months in one of three privately run jails that only began holding immigration detainees this year, in a state where there are few immigration attorneys and where immigration judges deny nearly all asylum cases.

A federal judge in September issued a preliminary injunction against denying parole without an individualized determination. It’s unclear if Hernández-Díaz received an individualized determination as required.

In response to his continued detention, Hernández-Díaz began a hunger strike just a few days ago, one of dozens of immigrants in detention in recent years who have taken this desperate step to draw attention to their continued detention, isolation, and poor treatment.

Other immigrants in detention reported ICE put Hernández-Díaz into segregation or “solitary confinement” in response. Under the most recent detention standards, people on hunger strike are to be put under medical observation, and only moved to isolation for medical reasons. Disciplinary segregation for a hunger strike would be unwarranted, but unsurprising. ICE has a history of misusing segregation, particularly for people with mental health conditions, and a corresponding track record of people dying by suicide after abysmal mental health care.

Hernández-Díaz came to the US seeking protection. Instead, he found an administration determined to make an already broken system even more indifferent toward human rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 7:30 pm

Building owned by the Marseille Church, where about 320 migrants currently live, including families and about 170 unaccompanied migrant children, Marseille, France, October 2019. 

© 2019 Collectif 59 Saint-Just

In Marseille, France, unaccompanied migrant children whom child protection authorities failed to provide a living place for have been squatting in an unoccupied building owned by the Catholic church. Now, even though it’s the Bouches-du-Rhône department that has failed to protect them, the authorities are prosecuting the children for illegal occupation of this building.

This perverse situation illustrates the French authorities’ shortcomings in protecting these children. About 170 unaccompanied children live in the building, according to the Collectif 59 St-Just and Réseau éducation sans frontières (Education Without Borders), groups working with youth.

The squat is overcrowded and infested with bed bugs, and is wholly inappropriate for children. But because the child protection system didn’t find them a place to live as it should have, the children view the squat as their only solution.|

Some of the youth being brought to court have been legally recognized as children and should be taken into care by child protection services. Others are in the process of having their age assessed, which sometimes takes weeks, and should be placed in shelters. According to local groups, as of yesterday, 36 children who had received a placement order from a judge, and should legally have been taken into care, were still living in the squat.

Age assessment in France has not always been fair, and Human Rights Watch has documented inappropriate age assessment procedures in Paris and the Hautes-Alpes. However, in Marseille, even some who were recognized as children after these procedures are left in the streets.

On October 11, in a case brought before Marseille’s administrative court on behalf of a migrant child, the court acknowledged that the squat’s living conditions are not acceptable for unaccompanied migrant children. It ordered the department to provide appropriate accommodation, as well as to take the child into care.

Even though the authorities’ failings have forced the children to live in precarious conditions, it is the children, because of the eviction proceedings, who have had to appear before a court. This is wrong. It’s past time for authorities to assume responsibility for these children, including those awaiting an age assessment, and find them a safe place to live and give them the care to which they are entitled.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 4:05 pm

Lawyer Alyona Popova speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Moscow, Russia.

© AP Photo/Vladimir Kondrashev

Russian women’s rights activist Alyona Popova has filed a lawsuit against the Moscow city government, claiming its use of video with facial recognition technology violates privacy rights.

The lawsuit, filed in early October 2019, says the system processes citizens’ biometric data without their written consent violating Russia’s law on personal data and the right to privacy guaranteed in the Russian constitution. A hearing is scheduled for October 21.

Popova was detained on the spot in 2018 for holding a peaceful protest outside parliament against sexual harassment. A court fined her 20,000 rubles for violating Russia’s strict protest law. However, Popova claims that the surveillance video recording the picket used facial recognition technology, and even if not used to detain her in 2018, it violates her privacy and could put her at risk of future harassment and violations.

Facial recognition can track where people go, what they do, and who they meet. Its use can potentially restrict basic freedoms and make people feel less inclined to meet with others, or express themselves freely.

These concerns are valid in all societies, but they could prove even more serious for people living in authoritarian countries like Russia. Last month, journalists reported that Moscow’s authorities had ordered facial recognition technology for monitoring mass gatherings, which could identify participants in real-time. After the crackdown on recent peaceful protests and harsh sentences for protesters, this is a disturbing prospect.

In May 2019, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced plans to create one of the world’s biggest video surveillance systems with facial recognition, with more than 200,000 CCTV cameras.

Fears in Russia around facial recognition are valid. We have already seen what can happen in countries like China, where the government uses an elaborate system to track and monitor the movements of Uyghurs, an ethnic minority, across the country.

Russian civil society is speaking out against the use of facial recognition technology. Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights group, started a “Ban Cam” campaign, to stop the use of facial recognition until full transparency and security is ensured. As of today, more than 1,400 people signed a similar petition by Popova.

Russia needs more public discussions about how the use of facial recognition technology complies with Russia’s human rights obligations. Hopefully this will happen in the wake of Popova’s case, and beyond.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 4:01 pm

Marchers carry a rainbow flag during the annual gay pride parade in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Threatening sex educators with jail may seem extreme – but it seems Poland’s ruling Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) party is willing to go there to cement power by generating fear and misinformation.

Fueling intolerance and targeting rights activists, an independent judiciary, and a free press have become hallmarks of PiS since the party gained power in 2015, including in the run-up to October’s parliamentary elections. A bill on sex education, approved by the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, on Wednesday would take this a dangerous step further. It would amend the penal code to criminalize “anyone who promotes or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity.” In effect, sex educators, teachers, authors, and organizations providing information on reproductive health and sexuality could face a three-year prison sentence.

Last year, sex educators and LGBT and women’s rights activists told me about programs that had already been defunded, and the growing hostility directed against them. Right-wing groups in Poland have run smear campaigns, including accusing sex educators of promoting “depravity.” PiS’s actions and language have embolded them. In March 2019, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński openly criticized Warsaw’s mayor for supporting teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Educators have expressed fear about teaching. “Several times I’ve met someone and told them I’m a sex educator and they turn cold, keeping me at a distance because they are afraid of being harmed by knowing me,” one sex educator told me.

Work led by sex educators is crucial in a country where official policy means children rarely learn about their own bodies or intimate relationships. Poland’s “Preparation for Family Life” curriculum strays far from international standards on comprehensive sexuality education. Instead, it spreads misinformation, perpetuates harmful stereotypes about gender roles and sexuality, and promotes an anti-choice and anti-LGBT agenda.

A yet-to-be-established parliamentary commission will be tasked to work on the newly approved bill. Its recommendation to the Sejm should be unequivocal: the bill should be scrapped entirely.

As international bodies – including the World Health Organization and Council of Europe have emphasized – accurate, inclusive sexuality education is essential to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, reduce unwanted pregnancy and maternal mortality, and help children grow up to lead healthy, safe, and productive lives. Parliamentarians should remember that access to health care, including reproductive healthcare information, is a human right.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 2:58 pm

Police arrest a protester in Conakry, Guinea, on October 14, 2019. At least 9 people have been killed and dozens arrested during protests that  began on October 14 against a proposed new constitution and a possible third term for President Alpha Condé. 

© 2019 YOUSSOUF BAH/AP.

(Nairobi) – Guinea’s government should end its crackdown on the right to protest by releasing civil society leaders and demonstrators opposed to a new constitution, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also investigate the killings of protesters and one gendarme during three days of demonstrations which began October 14, 2019 in the capital, Conakry, and in towns in Guinea’s interior.

Guinea’s government has effectively banned street protests for over a year, citing threats to public security. But its crackdown on the right to protest has escalated in the last week as security forces arrested activists leading the opposition to a new constitution and used excessive force to break up nationwide protests, with the government acknowledging nine deaths, including a gendarme.

“Guinea’s government simply should not be denying people their right to express opposition to a new constitution,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A blanket protest ban, the arbitrary arrest of civil society leaders, and the violent dispersal of demonstrators shows that the government is prepared to trample on human rights to suppress dissent.”

Guinea is in political limbo as it awaits an announcement from President Alpha Condé about whether he will attempt to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in the 2020 presidential elections. President Condé has not said whether he intends to run again, but on October 9 his government completed consultations on the need for a new constitution.

The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (Le Front national de la défense de la Constitution, FNDC) – a coalition of nongovernmental groups and opposition parties that boycotted the consultation process – announced on October 7 nationwide demonstrations to begin on October 14. General Bourema Condé, the minister for territorial administration and decentralization, said on October 9 that the FNDC’s declaration “constitutes an open threat to the peace and security of our nation.”

On October 12, security forces arrested seven members of the FNDC leadership, including its coordinator, Abdourahmane Sanoh, during a meeting at Sanoh’s home. The detained FNDC members also included Sekou Koundouno, the FNDC’s head of planning, Ibrahima Diallo, operations chief, and Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, head of digital communications. Sanoh’s brother, Mamadou, was also later arrested.

A lawyer for those arrested told Human Rights Watch they were able to meet the detained men briefly on October 12 at police headquarters, but did not have access to them after they were moved to the barracks of the elite security force unit the Mobile Intervention and Security Force (Compagnie mobile d’intervention et de sécurité, CMIS) and the headquarters of Guinea’s intelligence services. The men were brought before a court on October 14 and imprisoned in Guinea’s central prison. On October 16, they were taken to a court to face trial for public order offenses. The trial was adjourned to October 18.

Despite the arrest of the FNDC leadership, widespread protests against a new constitution began on October 14 in Conakry and other towns. Journalists and witnesses reported an extensive deployment of police and gendarmes to break up protests, including by using water cannons and tear gas.

There were frequent clashes between protesters and the security forces in Conakry and in Guinea’s interior, with witnesses alleging that the security forces at times fired live ammunition toward protesters. Witnesses said protesters frequently threw stones and other projectiles at security force members.

Social media footage from October 15 showed police officers using batons to beat two protesters and, in one case, parading him naked while pretending to slit his throat. Human Rights Watch has documented at length the police and gendarmes use of firearms and excessive use of lethal force when policing past protests, as well as the beating of protesters, corruption, and other forms of criminality.

Guinea’s government justified the ban on this week’s protests on the grounds that the FNDC leadership did not notify the government of the demonstrations. President Condé on October 14 said he was committed to the right to protest, but that organizers must “inform and involve” the authorities so that “an itinerary is defined and appropriate security measures are taken to secure the demonstration.”

Such statements, however, ignore the reality that since July 2018, government officials have systematically prohibited all protests for which they received prior notification. Instead of working with the FNDC and other nongovernmental or opposition groups to facilitate the right to protest, security forces have over the past year arrested those who defy protest bans and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Protests continued on October 15 and 16, with the FNDC stating that 10 people had been shot dead this week and 70 others had gunshot wounds. Government statements have confirmed at least 9 dead but denied that police and gendarmes carried firearms to protests. The FNDC said that security forces arrested and detained more than 200 demonstrators.

Human Rights Watch recommended in April that the government should establish a special judicial unit to investigate deaths during protests. Members of the security forces are virtually never investigated or prosecuted for their alleged role in protest deaths.

“The Guinean government’s brutal suppression of protests and the near-total impunity for security forces abuses is a recipe for a worrying deterioration in human rights,” Dufka said. “Instead of arresting civil society leaders, the government should be investigating the worrying allegations of violence, including by the security forces, and sanctioning those responsible.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 4:01 am

Residents rescue injured child after strike on the displacement center in Hass on August 16, 2019.

© MacroMedia Center 2019

(Beirut) – A Syrian-Russian military alliance strike on a displacement compound in mid-August is an apparent war crime, Human Rights Watch said today.

Witnesses said there was no apparent military target for the attack in the town of Hass, in Idlib governorate. The strike killed at least 20 civilians at the center and displaced about 200 survivors. They fled to nearby villages and displacement compounds along the closed Turkish border under the control of the anti-government groups, where hundreds of thousands of other displaced Syrians are trapped with nowhere left to flee.

“Since the start of the offensive on Idlib, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has used unlawful tactics to kill and injure hundreds of civilians,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “The tragic loss of life and injury to civilians is made worse by the devastating impact these attacks have had on civilian infrastructure, bringing an ongoing displacement crisis in Syria to its breaking point.”

In April, the Syrian-Russian alliance escalated its military campaign on Idlib governorate and other parts of Northwest Syria, the last anti-government stronghold in the country. In its offensive, the alliance has killed at least 1,000 civilians and displaced over half a million others, according to the United Nations. The alliance has also struck other protected infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. Despite an August 30 ceasefire, aid workers told Human Rights Watch they are still unable to adequately assist many of the people displaced since April, leaving tens of thousands without shelter. On October 9, Turkey and armed factions invaded Northeast Syria, an area under the control of Kurdish-led forces. Active hostilities there have displaced a further 160,000, adding to the growing burden of displacement in Syria.

Human Rights Watch spoke to 24 witnesses and residents, who said that on the evening of August 16, an aircraft bombed a displacement compound run by a Syrian aid organization. Only Syrian and Russian air forces are known to be active in this part of Northwest Syria, which is under the control of anti-government groups. The center, founded in 2014 to house displaced families, is right outside the city of Hass, in a relatively remote area. It is made up of a series of residential and small commercial buildings around two open squares.

Witnesses said that no armed men or other military targets were in the displacement center. Most of the casualties Human Rights Watch documented were women and children. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify the absence of a military target in the vicinity, but even if there were one, using a weapon with wide-area effects in an area populated by civilians would have been unlawfully indiscriminate or expected to cause disproportionate civilian loss.

Six survivors said the strike hit one of the compound’s two squares, where the displaced families usually sat in the early evening while their children played. The civilians at the compound had all been repeatedly displaced by fighting in other parts of Syria. Survivors described the bloody aftermath of the strike, which killed many women and children and, in one case, an entire nuclear family including a pregnant woman. A cameraman working for Macro Media Center (MMC), a local media company, filmed and photographed the rescue effort.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery taken before and after the attack August 21. The damage signature in the satellite imagery is consistent with a large air-dropped munition falling on an open square, consistent with witness evidence. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm whether this was a single or multiple detonation.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed images and footage provided by the cameraman, who also published his photos and a video of the attack on Facebook just after 9 p.m. that evening. The footage showed major damage to the compound, as well as several injuries and deaths consistent with what witnesses described. There was no evidence of military objects in the footage.

A displaced man who took on the responsibility of keeping track of the displaced families told Human Rights Watch that after the strike, the surviving families fled north but that some were unable to find shelter due to the large-scale displacement crisis. A father of eight told Human Rights Watch he had lived in the Hass displacement compound since 2015, and that now his family had no option but to take shelter in an abandoned school.

Witnesses said the August strike on the compound was not the first. On July 19, a Syrian-Russian helicopter strike on the same compound killed a man and destroyed one if its buildings, displacing 80 families living there. Forty families returned in early August because they couldn’t find shelter elsewhere. Khalid al-Satuf, 34, originally from Latamneh, was among them. He lost his wife and three children in the August 16 attack.

“After the barrel bomb attack on 19 July, I left Hass with my family because we were afraid of another attack, but I couldn’t find anywhere else to live as the rent is so high now everywhere, so we came back about two weeks before the August attack,” he said.

Deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians and civilian objects committed with criminal intent are war crimes. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, an attack against a civilian object constitutes a war crime if it is not imperatively demanded by necessities of the conflict. The laws of war require parties to a conflict to take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects.

People who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime. All governments that are parties to an armed conflict are obligated to investigate alleged war crimes by members of their armed forces.

As a member of the joint military operation, Russia is jointly responsible for unlawful attacks by the Syrian government. Providing weapons or material support to a country or nonstate actor knowing that it is likely to use them in a serious violation of international law creates risk of complicity for the supplier and the supporter.

The Syrian-Russian military alliance should immediately cease all unlawful attacks on Northwest Syria. It should take all feasible precautions to ensure that civilians are protected. Concerned countries should make clear to Syria and Russia that there will be no business as usual for officials who have intentionally or recklessly violated the laws of war. Turkey should not block asylum seekers fleeing the violence at its border.

Donors should provide additional funds and support, including to local Syrian organizations, to provide shelter to those displaced by the hostilities. All parties to the conflict should ensure safe passage for humanitarian assistance.

“Through its repeated strikes on civilian objects, the Syrian-Russian alliance has sent a message to civilians in Idlib that there is nowhere they can run to,” Simpson said. “By closing their borders as civilians are killed, maimed, and blocked from seeking safety, Turkey and other countries are making this nightmare a reality.”

For details of the attack and accounts from witnesses, please see below.

Satellite image recorded on the morning of August 21, 2019 identified multiple damage sites consistent with ground photos taken on August 16, 2019. A helicopter attack took place on July 19, hitting the second building located at the southwest corner of the displacement center. An aerial attack took place on August 16, dropping a munition over a square where people congregated. The satellite image shows a large impact crater and damage to multiple residential and commercial buildings located in the northern part of the displacement center, consistent with witness testimony.  

© Human Rights Watch. Photos © 2019 MacroMedia Center. Satellite imagery © 2019 Maxar Technologies; Source: EUSI

August 16 Attack

At about 7:30 p.m. on August 16, an aerial bomb hit a displacement center just outside Hass, a town in Idlib governorate, approximately 30 kilometers from the front lines where Syrian government and pro-government forces were fighting anti-government groups, including Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham. The attack killed 20 people and injured 52, according to the head of the displacement center. Human Rights Watch was able to verify 15 of the names by cross-referencing information from friends and relatives of the victims.

Human RightsWatch spoke by phone to 16 people who were at the displacement center at the time of the attack and confirmed that it happened just before the sunset prayer. Human Rights Watch also spoke to two witnesses who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack; two relatives who were not there; as well as a doctor, the head of the local council, and one staff member of the NGO that runs the center. Four witnesses who were at the displacement compound said they saw an aircraft fly right above the settlement just before the explosion. The others said they heard but didn’t see the aircraft. 

The head of the Hass Local Council, a civilian body providing services in Hass, who was in nearby olive groves at the time of attack, also said he saw an aircraft empty munitions over the compound right before the sunset prayer; after, he immediately called Syrian Civil Defense, a nongovernmental group, to rescue the injured.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with three people living in the compound who were not there at the time of the attack and who said that their relatives called them shortly afterward to tell them what happened.

Six witnesses who survived the attack said that the munition landed in a square between the residential buildings and shops in the compound. Dozens of families usually congregated there in the evening, and at the time of the attack, witnesses estimated, 20 to 30 people were in the square. One witness, who was checking the water tanks on the roof of a three-story residential building that was damaged, said:

The open area was full. I was on the roof, and could see them all. My friends were calling to me to come down and join them for tea, and I was telling them I am coming down, but in a blink of an eye, the plane had struck.

First responders and witnesses also described immense damage. The strike completely destroyed a row of one-story shops, partially damaged the south side of a three-story residential building, and created a large crater.

A man who was sitting outside in the square when the attack occurred said he saw the incoming plane:

The next thing I knew was that I was lying on the ground and my clothes were torn. There was smoke and dust everywhere. I had been talking to two men in the square and I could not see them. One of my eyes was hurting but it wasn’t a serious injury. I also couldn’t hear much and my hearing is still bad now because my right eardrum was burst.

This man lost his wife in the attack. He said:

Then I saw my wife lying face down on the ground and I started to cry. I thought she was unconscious, not dead. … We buried my wife in Killi [a town near the border] the same day, at 9 p.m. When I went back to the compound a few days later, I saw the huge crater next to where we had been sitting.

A resident at the center who was there during  the attack said that he went looking for his son after the explosion and found that he had died in the strike:

Outside I saw people crying and shouting. I saw my car, covered in flesh and blood. The shop was on fire. I walked through the square that was covered in blood and flesh and body parts and destruction. I saw the dead and injured. One of them was a boy holding 200 Syrian pounds in his hand who must have been on his way to buy something from the shop when the attack happened, and who had shrapnel in his back, lying on his chest shouting “help me. ” I saw a woman with her belly open and a fetus next to her. I saw a badly burned man who others told me died the next day.

Then I saw three children lying on the ground with grapes in their hands. They were dead. One of them was my son, Amjad, who had very serious neck and back injuries. One of them was a boy called Khalid, about 11 years old and from Kafr Zita. I didn’t know who the other boy was.

The attack killed entire families who had taken shelter in the displacement center after being displaced by hostilities elsewhere, and who had nowhere else to go, witnesses said. One man, who lost his wife and two children, said:

My family and I were all in the square when the attack happened. We used to sit there to enjoy the cool evening air. I was talking with some men and the women and kids were talking and playing. We heard a warplane above us but we didn’t expect anything bad to happen. Suddenly I saw a red flash, heard an explosion, and then everything went dark.

I was unconscious for a few seconds. I stood up and saw my wife and two daughters lying on the ground. The moment I saw them I knew they were dead. Just imagine how I felt at that moment, seeing them dead in front of me. I lost consciousness again and I woke up in the Maarat al-Numan hospital that evening.

In the hospital my relatives told me that my wife and two daughters Maria and Aya had died and that they were burying them in Ibin [town near the border] that same night. I was very badly burned on my back, arms, and parts of my face and did not want my [other] children to see me like that. It was two weeks before I saw them in the Atma hospital, which has a burn unit.

Human Rights Watch was able to verify the names of 15 people who died, including 7 children and 5 women, by contacting their relatives and friends and by cross-referencing the names through other witnesses.

Human Rights Watch cross-checked these names with lists of dead and injured recorded at the Maarat al-Numan hospital and with a list of the dead and injured received from the representative of the displaced people living in the settlement at the time of the attack. Human Rights Watch was able to verify the names of 12 of the 15 dead shared by the representative, and 9 of the 13 on the list  of injured shared by the representative, and 8 of the 16 names on the hospital’s list.

One child who was injured in the attack lost her father and one of her siblings in the strike. Her family had sought refuge in the displacement compound after an attack on Kafr Zita killed her mother, grandmother, and two of her uncles. The child, her siblings, and her grandfather all were injured. Human Rights Watch spoke to the child’s aunt, who said that they were unable to find a place to house all three surviving children given the extent of their injuries and that the siblings were separated and staying with different family members across northwest Syria.

The representative of the displaced people living in the settlements confirmed that after the attack everyone living there had left and, as of late September, had not returned.

Large crater made by the impact of the munition dropped in the August 16, 2019 strike on the displacement center in Hass, Syria. 

© MacroMedia Center 2019

July 19 Attack

Five witnesses described to Human Rights Watch a helicopter attack just after the sunset prayer at around 7:30 p.m. on July 19 that struck the displacement compound near Hass. Witnesses and relatives said that the attack killed a man in his mid-60s, identified as Abd al-Rahim a-Saghir.

His daughter said:

Just after evening prayer, I was standing with my father and my uncle’s children next to our building... Suddenly I heard a helicopter. I looked up and saw it coming toward us. It was quite low and I was very afraid. I went inside and stayed at the bottom of the stairs with my uncle’s children. My father said he would go to the roof. About one minute later I heard an explosion. I ran out of our building and to the building where my uncle lives so that he knew his children were safe.

After about 10 minutes I went back to my building. There were people at the entrance who stopped me from going inside because they were afraid there would be more bombs. Then my mother told me she had found my father lying on the stairs inside our building and that when she had raised the back of his head with her hand, she felt something soft. He was still breathing and she said some men had already taken him to the Maarat al-Numan hospital. When we got there, the doctors told us my father had died. We buried him the next morning in Kafr Zita.

Another witnesses said he saw the helicopter approach the compound. A third said he heard the explosion while it was hovering overhead. They both confirmed that the attack hit a three story building at the compound.

A man who witnessed the attack from a few hundred meters away from the compound said he also saw the helicopter drop two large objects onto a building there.

All five witnesses interviewed said there were no fighters in or near the compound and that as long as they had lived there, they had never seen fighters or military vehicles there.

 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 18, 2019, 4:00 am

Demonstrators march outside the US Capitol during the Poor People's Campaign rally in Washington, DC, June 23, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

(New York) – Governments should heed the call of the United Nations’ leading expert on poverty to fully integrate human rights protections into their efforts to digitize and automate welfare benefits and services, seven human rights groups said today.

In a report released this week, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warns that the rapid digitization and automation of welfare systems is hurting the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. Although governments have pledged to use these technologies to create more equitable and inclusive welfare programs, Alston found that the technologies have been used in ways that “surveil, target, harass, and punish beneficiaries.”  

“The UN expert’s findings show that automating welfare services poses unique and unprecedented threats to welfare rights and privacy,” said Amos Toh, senior artificial intelligence and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Using technology to administer welfare has risks and is not a panacea for rights-based reforms that safeguard the dignity and autonomy of society’s most vulnerable people.”

The human rights groups are Access Now, AlgorithmWatch, Amnesty International, Child Poverty Action Group, Human Rights Watch, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and Privacy International.

In the first global UN survey of digital welfare systems, Alston found that governments increasingly rely on automated decision-making and other data-driven technologies to verify the identity of welfare beneficiaries, assess their eligibility for various services, calculate benefit amounts, and detect welfare fraud. But the use of these technologies can create serious harm to human rights, the groups said.

The automation of key welfare functions without sufficient transparency, due process, and accountability raises the specter of mass violations of welfare rights. In the United Kingdom, errors in the Real Time Information System, which calculates benefits payments based on earnings information reported to the tax authority, have caused potentially catastrophic delays and reductions in benefit payments for impoverished families. Design flaws in automated fraud detection systems in Australia and the United States have also triggered debt notices to scores of beneficiaries, wrongfully accusing them of welfare fraud.

“Automated decision-making should be made more transparent, as highlighted by the rapporteur, in three important ways,” said Matthias Spielkamp, executive director of AlgorithmWatch. “Citizens need to be able to understand what policies are implemented using algorithms and automation. The administration has to keep a register of all complex automation processes it uses that directly affect citizens. Also, there needs to be transparency of responsibility, so that people know who to contact to challenge a decision.”

The development of digital identity systems to screen welfare beneficiaries also increases the risk of unnecessary and disproportionate surveillance, and attendant risks to people’s security. In India, Human Rights Watch has found that the government’s mandatory biometric identification project, Aadhaar, imposes invasive data collection requirements as a condition for getting allotments of subsidized food grains and other essential public services.

In Kenya, Amnesty International has raised concern about the lack of adequate privacy protections and independent oversight in the national biometric identification system, Huduma Namba. Registration with the system is a condition of accessing welfare benefits and other government services.

“Before forcing entire populations into using digital identity programs, governments must first ask themselves, ‘Why ID?’, and prove these systems are necessary and will actually provide the intended benefits,” said Peter Micek, general counsel at Access Now. “With ill-conceived digital identity programs, authorities force communities to give up fundamental rights such as privacy in exchange for their rights to food, shelter, and well-being.”

Alston found that government agencies around the world undertake a wide range of “crucial decisions to go digital” without meaningful transparency or even a legal basis for doing so, denying “opportunities for legislative debate and for public inputs into shaping the relevant systems.”

“Independent oversight findings of illegality are being completely ignored,” said Elizabeth Farries, information rights program manager of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. “In Ireland, the government refuses to halt its compulsory rollout of the biometric Public Services Card for a wide range of services, despite being ordered to stop by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.” 

The groups also endorsed the UN expert’s recommendation that governments should establish laws ensuring that the private sector incorporates transparency, accountability, and other human rights safeguards in the development and sale of technologies to facilitate the delivery of welfare services and benefits.

"Whilst governments have been the ones increasingly pushing for digital welfare policies, we must also consider the other stakeholders driving this agenda,” said Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, director of strategy at Privacy International. “As pointed out by the special rapporteur, the private sector plays a role, but we maintain that we must also address the role of investment structures, such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, and leading funders. All those in the ecosystem must be held to account to protect people and to ensure they can live with dignity and autonomy, free from undue surveillance and exploitation. ”
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2019, 1:30 pm

Participants protest against discrimination and gender-based violence during a rally held by members of feminist organizations and social activists in Almaty, Kazakhstan September 28, 2019. The placard reads "To jail for violence, not truth". 

© 2019 REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

(Berlin) – Women in Kazakhstan facing domestic violence receive insufficient protection and have little recourse for justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Kazakhstan government sought to prevent family violence when adopting the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence a decade ago. But it still needs to take urgent steps to address gaps in legal protections and barriers survivors face in seeking justice and support services.

“Kazakhstan should have made much greater strides in protecting women from violence, but instead women continue to suffer,” said Viktoriya Kim, assistant Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government has renewed its commitments to provide help, but at the same time is sending women, and abusers, the message that abuse inside the home isn’t to be taken seriously.”

Between April and August 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 domestic violence survivors and 26 others, including women’s rights activists, shelter staff, lawyers, and a police officer responsible for protecting women from violence under a municipal department of the Ministry of Interior.

The Union of Crisis Centers of Kazakhstan, an umbrella organization of 16 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), reports that partners kill hundreds of women in Kazakhstan each year and that domestic violence takes place in one out of every eight families in Kazakhstan. Zulfia Baisakova, the head of the organization, said it receives about 14,000 calls annually regarding domestic violence, the vast majority from women. According to 2017 government statistics, 17 percent of all women ages 18 to 75 have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former husband or partner.

Human Rights Watch found that Kazakh authorities are neither adequately preventing violence nor holding abusers accountable. Police do not routinely inform women about available services and protection, such as their right to seek shelter or protection orders. Women said that police often encourage them to drop their complaints and reconcile with their abusers.

In July 2017, then-President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed amendments to Kazakhstan’s criminal code decriminalizing “battery” and “intentional infliction of light bodily harm,”  the articles most commonly used to investigate and prosecute domestic violence. This effectively eliminates the possibility of criminal prosecution for most domestic violence cases.

Ayana, a 32-year-old mother of four, whose real name Human Rights Watch is withholding for her privacy, described her six-year marriage as “hell.” She said that a few days after she was married in 2013, her husband brutally beat her, and beat her repeatedly until she escaped in early 2019. She said that her husband would taunt her, saying: “I understand [that I am doing something wrong], but it is just an administrative [offense] so it’s just a penalty [that I would have to pay].” Ayana said, “The government is devaluing women.”

In 2009, Kazakhstan adopted the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, which defines domestic violence as “a deliberate unlawful action or inaction” that includes “physical, psychological, sexual and/or economic” violence” and applies to “spouses and ex-spouses, persons who live or have lived together (cohabitants and former cohabitants), close relatives and persons who have a child or children in common.” The law provides for short-term protection orders, intended to prohibit contact between a survivor and their abuser for up to 30 days, and for survivors’ access to shelters and other services. However, neither the Domestic Violence Law nor the criminal code specifically criminalizes domestic violence.

On September 2, 2019, in his first address to the nation since taking office on June 12, Kazakhstan's new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said that in protecting the rights and security of its citizens Kazakhstan “urgently needs to tighten the penalties for sexual violence… and domestic violence against women.”

On October 10 and 11, in letters to Human Rights Watch, both the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan and the Interior Ministry respectively stated that there is a draft law that proposes amendments to the criminal and criminal procedure codes, including through tougher penalties for sex crimes, domestic violence, and similar offenses.

Human Rights Watch found that police and staff at crisis centers operated by either the government or nongovernmental groups have not received sufficient specialized training to respond effectively to victims of domestic violence. Domestic abuse in Kazakhstan is still widely perceived as a “family matter” and is underreported to police, Human Rights Watch found. Women’s rights activists, lawyers, service providers, and survivors all said that social barriers discourage women from reporting abuse to anyone outside the home, including to other members of their own families. State policies aimed at keeping the family “intact” make it more difficult for women to escape violence.

The Interior Ministry letter said that presently 40 crisis centers are functioning throughout the country. But as Kazakhstan’s population is over 18 million, this number suggests that the total number of shelter spaces for domestic violence victims falls short of recommended standards of one shelter space per 10,000 people. Dozens of NGOs also provide services, but such initiatives are not a sustainable alternative to government services and crisis centers. Moreover, staff at nongovernmental crisis centers said that they struggle to sustain services, including shelter, due to the lack of adequate funding.

Human Rights Watch also found that government-run crisis centers do not meet international standards for services for domestic violence survivors, and that many women in Kazakhstan still do not know where to turn for help. In the crisis centers Human Rights Watch visited, researchers found insufficient security procedures and heard testimony that crisis center staff blamed survivors for “provoking” their partners and urged them to reconcile with their abusers.

The Kazakh government’s failure to adequately protect women against domestic violence and ensure their access to justice violates Kazakhstan’s international human rights obligations, in particular under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The committee that oversees its implementation will review Kazakhstan’s progress during its 74th session from October 21 through November 8.

The Kazakh government should move urgently to amend the criminal code to recognize domestic violence as a stand-alone criminal offense and ensure that it carries penalties commensurate to the gravity of the violence, Human Rights Watch said.

Kazakh authorities should ensure that police respond effectively to domestic violence reports and that women facing abuse have access to support services, including crisis centers. Government service providers, police officers, medical personnel, and other relevant officials working on domestic violence should more regularly receive specialized training in preventing and responding to domestic violence.

“Women in Kazakhstan have the right to a life without violence, abuse, and harassment,” Kim said. “Kazakh authorities should ensure their safety and take urgent steps to fulfill its international obligations on domestic violence.”

For detailed findings on domestic violence in Kazakhstan, please see below.

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2019 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews with 16 survivors of domestic violence in three regions of Kazakhstan in May. In April and May, Human Rights Watch also interviewed women’s rights activists, social workers, psychologists, lawyers, representatives of government and nongovernmental crisis centers, and a police officer for the protection of women from violence under a municipal branch of the Ministry of Interior. Human Rights Watch conducted additional follow-up interviews in July and August. Human Rights Watch has used pseudonyms for all survivors and withheld some identifying details to protect survivors’ security and confidentiality.

The Supreme Court, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Kazakhstan responded to a Human Rights Watch request for information and data on October 10, 11, and 14 respectively. Human Rights Watch received a response from the prosecutor general’s office on October 16. Although it was too late to reflect the information in this report, it is linked here. Human Rights Watch will reply to the prosecutor’s office letter in the near future.

Impunity for Domestic Violence

In its October 11 letter, the Interior Ministry explained why “light bodily harm” and “battery” were decriminalized and said that “in all cases of domestic violence, with no exceptions, administrative cases are brought, and the perpetrators are held accountable.”

However, interviews with survivors and service providers revealed serious shortcomings in police response, including refusing to register victims’ complaints, failing to ensure that women were informed about their right to a protection order, and discouraging survivors from filing complaints. Interviewees said that low representation of women in law enforcement and judicial authorities compound problems for survivors.

Some said that the police urged them to reconcile with their abusers. Karlygash, a 30-year-old mother of three who divorced her abusive husband in 2018, said that after the divorce, her former husband beat her unconscious. She decided to file a complaint with police, but “he [neighborhood police officer] told me to forgive him [my ex-husband]. “‘This [a complaint on his record] will affect your children. If you forgive him,’ he said, ‘we’ll issue a protection order. He won’t touch or bother you.’” She did not file a complaint “for [the sake of my] children” and a few months later went back to her former husband, who continued to abuse her. She described an incident in February 2019: “He beat me with a chair. The floor, the stairs, everything was covered in blood.” The next day, Karlygash left for a shelter.

Other survivors said that police were dismissive or hostile when they tried to report abuse.

When Aigerim, 38, reported to the police in late 2018 that her husband continued to beat her despite complaints she had previously filed, the police officer told her they could not intervene or respond in any way because she did not have any visible wounds on her body. “I asked him, ‘[W]hat, are you going to wait until he kills me?’” she said.

Other women said that, although they filed complaints, police took no action to prevent or address the violence. Larissa, a 40-year-old mother of two, said that after she reported repeated abuse by her husband in the Almaty region in April 2019, the police did not appear to investigate or take steps to hold her husband accountable. “They are not looking for [my husband], not conducting any conversations [with him], do not ask the neighbors [about him] [since I filed the complaint],” she said. “In our country, domestic [violence] is not interesting to them [police].”

Zarina, 34, said that she filed a complaint against her partner in April after he beat her, and that the police informed her that her partner would serve 15 days of administrative arrest. But they released him three hours after detaining him. “My husband came home that day drunk,” Zarina said. “I called the police officer, who said he was busy and told me to call another officer, and that he would send a contact number. But he never did.” Zarina left for a shelter three days later.

Staff at both the government and nongovernmental crisis centers similarly said that police do not take domestic violence cases seriously, and do not treat domestic violence cases as a crime.

Decriminalization, Problematic Penalties, Poor Enforcement

Prior to July 2017, prosecutions of domestic violence under the provisions of “battery” and “infliction of light bodily harm” of the criminal code could be sanctioned with a maximum fine of 226,900 tenge up to 453,800 tenge (approximately US$677-$1,354) and arrest of 45 and up to 60 days. In July 2017, then-President Nazarbaev signed amendments decriminalizing “infliction of light bodily harm” and “battery.” They were re-introduced as administrative offenses carrying lesser fines of 25,250 tenge to 101,000 tenge (approximately US$65-$260) and administrative arrest of up to 20 days.

In 2015, the criminal code had been amended to suspend provisions providing a legal basis for arrest from January 2017 until January 2020, so those sentenced to short-term criminal detention could not be lawfully held, including for domestic abuse. The Interior Ministry said in its letter that people convicted were not held in detention due to a lack of appropriate holding facilities.

Kazakh officials who supported and initiated the 2017 move to eliminate the offenses from the criminal code have contended that, because these offenses were subject to private prosecutions, they hindered access to justice for domestic violence victims. The Interior Ministry echoed this reasoning in its letter. Under Kazakhstan’s law, private prosecutions can only be initiated by an injured party, who then bears the burden of gathering the evidence necessary for prosecution as well as all the related costs. Such prosecutions can also be terminated if an abuser reconciles with the victim.

The Kazakhstan government’s intention in removing the two offenses from the criminal code may indeed have been grounded in seeking ways to reduce the burden on women in pursing private prosecutions. However, the result was to remove what was virtually the sole possibility for criminal prosecution in most domestic violence cases. Domestic violence is a serious crime, and as required by international law, governments should prosecute it as a criminal offense with the burden of evidence gathering and initiation of a legal case resting with the state prosecutorial authorities, not the victims.

The Interior Ministry’s letter stated that transferring “infliction of light bodily harm” and “battery” to the administrative code facilitated “ensuring accountability for a maximum of offenders.”

According to data provided by the Supreme Court, in the first nine months of 2019, administrative courts received 19,331 cases involving unlawful actions among family members (art. 73 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, covering such actions as swearing, damaging property, disturbing the peace within the home and the like). Of these, 4,308 were sanctioned with up to three days of arrest, 59 with fines, and 3,322 with warnings.

For the first nine months of 2019, Kazakhstan’s administrative courts received 12,146 cases of “infliction of light bodily harm” and appeared to issue penalties in 4,057 cases: 2,687 with fines; 1,363 with arrest; and 7 with warnings. Administrative courts received 5,266 cases of “battery” and issued penalties in 1,264 of these cases: 696 with fines; 564 with arrest; and 4 with warnings.

However, there is no stand-alone administrative offense of domestic violence, and the data provided for “light bodily harm” and “battery” does not indicate how many of these cases involved domestic violence.

There is also no stand-alone criminal offense of domestic violence, so it is likewise impossible to determine whether the Interior Ministry’s data on criminal cases related to “light bodily harm” and “battery” prior to decriminalization includes cases of domestic violence.

Even in cases of the lesser administrative offenses, Human Rights Watch documented poor police enforcement. In addition, survivors and service providers said that the administrative penalties do not offer adequate protection from domestic violence. Karlygash, whose former husband repeatedly beat her in the last four years of their seven-year marriage, including when she was pregnant, said that she never filed a complaint against him. “[I]t did not make any sense,” she said. “[The police would] lock him up for 15 days, then they will let him go, and that is it. And after that he would be really angry.”

Several women said that the threat of a fine is not an effective deterrent against abuse. They said their abusers were aware they could be fined for beating them, but that they “did not care.”

Gulim, a 26-year-old mother of one, said that after she filed a complaint against her husband for beating her in 2019, an Almaty court fined her husband 37,000 tenge (US$99) to be paid to the state. Gulim felt she was denied justice: “Why [does he have to pay] the state? I don’t understand. I was the one beaten up. Turns out it is profitable for the government [to fine him], compared to just locking him up.”

A system of fines in Kazakhstan effectively permits an abuser to pay for the right to abuse, and sends a message that the government will tolerate abuse unless and until there is very serious or lethal violence. Several other women whose abusive husbands faced administrative fines said that the money to pay the fine came out of the family budget, thus penalizing the whole family.

Ayana said that, after her husband received an administrative penalty for abusing her, he told her on the telephone, “[B]ecause of your complaint, now I have to pay 100,000 tenge (US$258) and I would rather have it to spend on my children.” Ayana said, “Really, it is better for me if he spends this money on [our] children.”

A police officer interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that, in her experience, when women learn that the fine is to be paid from the family budget it prevents them from reporting the violence and filing a complaint.

Protection Orders

The Interior Ministry said in its letter that for the first nine months of 2019, police issued 58,011 protection orders and held 3,084 abusers accountable for violating protection orders.

Under Kazakh law, protection orders are issued by police and designed to ensure protection from an abuser for up to 30 days by prohibiting contact between the abuser and victim. But women’s rights activists and lawyers said that many women in Kazakhstan do not know they are entitled to protection orders and that such orders are ineffective because the police do not enforce them.

Elina Enikeeva, a lawyer at Sana-Sezim, an NGO in Shymkent that provides psychological counseling and legal aid to domestic violence survivors, said: “[P]rotection orders are not a working mechanism. Police do not issue them, [and they] do not inform survivors [of their existence].”

Aigerim, a 38-year-old mother of three, said that when she reported beatings by her husband to her neighborhood police officers in 2018, they did not provide information about her right to a protection order. It was only after she consulted a more senior police official that she learned she could request one. “I asked them [the neighborhood police officers] why they didn’t offer me one,” Aigerim said. “One of the officers said, ‘Oh? You needed one?’”

The law on prevention of domestic violence requires police to check the person’s adherence to the protection order’s provisions at least once every seven days. In Aigerim’s case, even after she was issued a protection order, her husband stalked her for a week, in violation of the order. Police knew about it but did nothing to enforce the order and hold her husband accountable.

Police failure to initiate and enforce protection orders jeopardizes their purpose and helps to foster a climate of impunity. Zhanara Nurmukhanova, the president of the Taldykorgan Regional Women’s Support Center, said: “[Abusers] do not take protection orders seriously, do not show up for preventive conversations [with police].”

Economic, Social Barriers to Help, Justice

Almost all the lawyers, women’s rights activists, and survivors interviewed said that social pressure, fear of recurrent abuse, stigmatization, and economic dependence prevent survivors from seeking protection, assistance, and justice. The Interior Ministry said in its letter that many women do not report domestic violence or drop their complaints because of psychological pressure by abusers and because they are economically dependent on abusers.

Raushan Khudaishukurova, a social worker at Sana-Sezim, said that the majority of survivors who approach the organization for assistance ultimately reconcile with their abusers “because of the situation [they are] in: relatives are against [their] divorce, [the survivor] does not have a job, her children [need a father].”

Stigma and Family Rejection

The belief that women are subservient to their husbands and the risk of stigma prevent survivors from reporting domestic abuse and seeking services and support. Several women who attempted to leave abusive relationships said that their own families or their spouses’ families had encouraged them to return and reconcile with their abusers.

Anara, 25, said that when she was one-month pregnant with her second child in 2016, her partner “beat and choked” her and “ran at me with a knife” after she denied him sex. She called a relative, asking for help, but the family member responded saying: “No! You got married. [If you die,] you will die there!”

That night, Anara fled with her young son to her relative’s place. “When I showed my bruises [to her], she said, ‘It’s not a big deal. It happens when you have a husband.’ I didn’t even think about reporting to the police and did not seek any medical help.”

Botagoz, a 37-year-old mother of one, said her partner started beating her two months after they began living together in 2018. When she told her sister-in-law about the violence, she said, “Endure, endure.” When Botagoz’s mother and sister found out about the beatings, they asked Botagoz’s in-laws to give Botagoz “a chance,” since it was her first ‘marriage,’ meaning they thought she did not know how to be an obedient wife.

Elina Enikeeva, a lawyer at Sana-Sezim, said that persistent perceptions about women’s roles and the importance of maintaining family at all costs make escaping abuse all the more difficult. “Often relatives [of the survivor] do not take her back,” Elikeeva said. “[They think] it’s shameful, that she is spoiled goods.’”

Several other survivors said that even after they left their abusive husbands or were divorced, their former partners believed they were entitled to a relationship, including subjecting them to violence.

Aigerim said that her husband has been stalking her since she filed for divorce in March. “He calls, screams at me, won’t give me any peace,” she said. “[He screams,] ‘You’re still my wife. I have the right to admonish you and beat you.’”

Dependence on Abusers

Many interviewees said that women remain in violent relationships in part because of their reliance on their husbands or their husband’s families for food and shelter. Most women interviewed said they worked outside of the home before marriage and had to quit their jobs, either because their husbands pressured them or to care for their children.

Saule, 38, whose husband brutally abused, raped, and humiliated her beginning in 2017, said that when they moved to a different city, her husband forced her to quit her job. Saule said she endured his abuse because of “fear [of my husband] and [because] I had nowhere to go.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Nurgul suffered a concussion after her husband threw her against the wall during one episode of violence in late 2018. She said that she did not seek medical help and stayed at home, because she did not know where to seek shelter with her children.

The police officer said that most women either do not report domestic violence or drop their complaints before or during prosecution because “they have nowhere to go.”

Crisis Centers and Services for Survivors

According to 2017 data of the Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy, Kazakhstan has 30 crisis centers, in 13 of the country’s 14 regions, as well as in cities of Almaty and Astana (name at time of writing), with 18 of them offering shelter space. Information provided by the Interior Ministry on October 11 stated that presently there are 40 crisis centers, but did not indicate how many shelter spaces there are. The October 14 letter from the Labor and Social Protection Ministry stated that as of 2018, Kazakhstan had 29 crisis centers, of which 10 are state-funded with the capacity for 2,500 people and 19 are non-state funded centers with a total of 900 spaces. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection also noted that starting in 2017, it provided funds to regional budgets, as well as to the city budgets of Almaty and Astana (as per the letter) to support social service organizations run by the government or nongovernmental groups.

Kazakhstan’s Domestic Violence Law guarantees survivors’ access to social services, including to shelter at government-run crisis centers. The Interior Ministry said in its letter that police cooperate with service providers and had referred more than 24,000 women for consultations already in 2019.

Under the law, available services should include psychological and legal consultation and temporary accommodation to women fleeing abuse for up to six months, although it stipulates that temporary accommodation is only available to survivors based on the feasibility of the service provider organizations. The law requires service providers to maintain confidentiality and ensure the safety of the survivor. However, it also requires reporting domestic abuse to the police while protecting personal data, even when survivors refuse to file a complaint.

Some government-run crisis centers staff said that it is difficult to protect survivors’ personal information while simultaneously involving police in cases reported to them. Mandatory reporting of identifying information to police contradicts guidance on service provision for domestic violence, which calls for confidentiality and information-sharing only with a survivor’s informed consent, with exceptions only where the health, life, or security of the survivor or others is deemed to be at risk.

Human Rights Watch visited three government-run centers and three run by NGOs. Staff members expressed a desire to provide adequate support and protection to survivors of domestic abuse with the information and resources at their disposal. Yet Human Rights Watch found that staff in the government-run crisis centers lacked sufficient training to provide services for victims of domestic violence.

Staff blamed women for provoking their partners and pressured them to reconcile with their abusers to keep their families intact. One crisis center employee said that the violence is often “a woman’s fault, she pushes her husband to alcohol addiction, she does not listen to her husband, or has a difficult personality.” Another employee at the same crisis center said the staff’s approach “was usually to send [survivors] back to their husbands.”

Anara, 25, sought shelter at a government-run crisis center with her three children in 2019, after her abusive partner repeatedly called and threatened to kill her. She said that staff at the crisis center insisted on informing a relative of her whereabouts, despite Anara’s objection. She had to speak with the director to stop the center’s employees from revealing her location. “Here [at the crisis center], reconciliation is their prime goal,” Anara said. “That’s not what I want.”

Another survivor at the same crisis center said that she stopped attending counseling sessions after the psychologist advised her to return to her abusive husband. She recalled the counselor telling her, “Don’t make your children orphans. Women are themselves at fault. You talk to [your husband]. He’ll say in writing that he won’t beat you.’”

Human Rights Watch also documented several instances in which staff at government-run centers invited survivors’ abusers or relatives to the shelter, reportedly with the aim of trying to reconcile them or “find the reason for the abuse.” Kazakhstan’s domestic violence law allows police to “conduct preventive conversations” with abusers “in the formal premises of the entities of domestic violence prevention,” which appears to have been interpreted to include crisis centers. This provision is at serious odds with effectively protecting the rights of survivors and with prioritizing their safety, confidentiality, and well-being, in keeping with international standards.

Raushan, 27, said that she sought help at a government-run crisis center for a second time after she decided to divorce her husband in 2019. When she returned to the center, she discovered that employees had invited her mother-in-law and her husband, who were already there. “Employees of the crisis center pressured me to reconcile with my husband,” Raushan said. “They told my husband to show me his hands, saying, ‘Look [at his hands], he works hard. [This situation] is all your fault! If you do not return to your husband within six months, [the state] will take your kids away from you.’”

In some cases, Human Rights Watch found that women were not aware of their right to crisis center protection and did not know where to go for help.

Zarina, a 34-year-old mother of four, said that she only fled her abusive partner after her sister found out and told her about a hotline [for shelter]. “I had no idea there were places like this [crisis centers],” she said. “Where would I have gone otherwise?”

Lyazzat, a 48-year-old mother of one, said that after her husband fractured her rib in 2019, she hid out in her brother-in-law’s house for three days because she did not know where else she could go. Lyazzat was able to move into a shelter after she discovered a hotline for victims of abuse in a magazine in her brother-in-law’s home.

Recommendations

The government of Kazakhstan should:

  • Urgently introduce criminal provisions to ensure domestic violence is a stand-alone crime and can be handled with a public prosecution, with appropriate punishments commensurate with the gravity of the abuse;
  • In the meantime, enforce the existing law and prosecute abusers for assault and causing bodily harm to the fullest extent of the law;
  • Ensure that police initiate, enforce, and monitor protection orders;
  • Develop and implement mandatory training on domestic violence prevention and response for law enforcement officials, health care workers, and employees of government-run crisis centers in line with international standards and best practices;
  • Ensure that social services for survivors are comprehensive, professional, and inclusive by systematically training staff at shelters, crisis centers, and service provider organizations;
  • Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate the public about domestic violence, how and where to get services, and how to seek redress;
  • Ensure that survivors of domestic abuse have immediate and straightforward access to protection, including through ensuring sufficient shelter spaces, including in rural areas;
  • Ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention);
  • Invite the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on violence against women for a country visit to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s international partners, including the United States, the European Union, and its member states, should press the government to address domestic violence, including calling on the authorities to make it a stand-alone crime. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences should request a visit to Kazakhstan.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 17, 2019, 4:00 am

A rainbow flag is carried during a parade as a part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, July 14, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is urging South Korea to revamp its sexuality education curriculum to cover age-appropriate topics like pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These steps are crucial if South Korea is to address the needs of all youth, curb harmful gender stereotypes, and halt rising HIV rates in the country.

Children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) need comprehensive sex education for the same reasons as other kids – to understand their bodies, form healthy relationships, and keep themselves safe.

But LGBT children in South Korea rarely receive the education necessary to meet those goals. In fact, the Ministry of Education has excluded any mention of LGBT issues from the sexuality education curriculum and reinforced stereotypical gender roles, depriving children of basic knowledge about gender and sexuality.

Even teachers who want to be inclusive can have difficulty bringing these issues into the classroom. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, South Korean sexuality educators have said they fear discipline or parental backlash if they try to raise LGBT issues with students.

The predictable result is that many LGBT children do not learn the basics of sexual health and wellness, and too often lack the information to let them know they’re not alone.

Revamping the sexuality education curriculum should be part of a larger package of reforms to protect LGBT kids in South Korea. After more than a decade of failed attempts, the National Assembly still has not enacted legislation that would prohibit discrimination, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UN children’s rights committee also encouraged the government to address bullying and cyberbullying, of which LGBT and other minority children are often targets.

South Korea has models it can look to for these reforms, including UNESCO’s guidelines on sexuality education. If the government wants to ensure the rights, health, and well-being of children, it can start by giving all kids – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – the basic information they need to thrive.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 16, 2019, 10:02 pm

Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor smiles while speaking to Associated Press journalists in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

© 2016 AP Images

(Beirut) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) should free the unjustly imprisoned prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor ahead of his 50th birthday on October 22, 2019, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and over 135 other organizations said today in a letter to the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned for the health of Mansoor, whom authorities have held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods.

“As the UAE brazenly promotes itself as a tolerant and rights-respecting state, Ahmed Mansoor, the man who stood up for so many people unjustly imprisoned before him, stands to mark his 50th birthday in solitary confinement in deplorable conditions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All over the world, organizations and individuals are joining forces to call on the UAE not to let Mansoor spend a third birthday in prison.” 

UAE security forces arrested Mansoor on March 20, 2017. For more than a year, he had no access to a lawyer and only very limited visits with family. Following a closed trial, Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2018 for insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols,” including its leaders, based on his peaceful calls for reform. On December 31, 2018, the Federal Supreme Court, the country’s court of last resort in state security cases, upheld his sentence, quashing his final chance at early release.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 16, 2019, 2:54 pm

In mid-July 2019, peaceful protests began in Moscow, triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the September 8 city legislature elections. Authorities responded with brute force, in many cases violently confronting the peaceful protesters. In July-September, 17 people were arrested on charges of “mass rioting” and/or assaulting police. The mass rioting charges are groundless: video footage of the events leading up to these arrests show police breaking up peaceful marches and assemblies.  

Despite the fact that most of the police assault charges ranged from excessive to groundless, some of the accused have already been sentenced to several years of prison. Even in those cases where protesters may have committed an infraction, the sentences in these instances have been excessive.

Jump to Selected Case SummariesJump to Full List

Video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that many of the accused did not engage in any aggressive behavior. Some threw empty plastic bottles or attempted to stop police officers from beating peaceful protesters. One man pulled a police officer’s arm from a protester and another tried to touch an officer’s visor.

Two men’s behavior was more serious: in one case, a man threw a metal trash can at a police officer, and in another, a man sprayed a chemical substance in the direction of officers. But even in these cases, the evidence doesn’t support the charges and no officers were injured.

By October, of these 17,

  • five were sentenced on assault charges to 2 to 3.5 years in prison.  One of them, Pavel Ustinov, was released from jail on his own recognizance on September 20, following on a vigorous public campaign in his support, and on appeal, on September  30 a court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed the sentence to a one-year suspended sentence;
  • seven were released and their cases closed.  One of these seven was freed following an emergency hospitalization, and another, Alexey Minyailo, was released after seven weeks in pretrial custody;
  • four remained in pre-trial detention or under house arrest. They include Yegor Zhukov, a university student whose charges were changed from mass rioting to “inciting extremism online”;
  •  one, released on his recognizance, is awaiting trial.  

Sustained, public campaigns contributed to the nearly unprecedented releases of Pavel Ustinov and Alexei Miyailo. Famous theater personalities, A-list pop-stars, and other prominent figures, including those who never showed anything but loyalty toward the Kremlin, spoke up in defense  of Pavel Ustinov and called for his release. A group of Russian Orthodox priests were among the many people who campaigned on behalf of Minyailo. Following this, a court dropped the case against him and freed him. These developments inspired hope for the others jailed on politically motivated charges. However, in October law enforcement authorities arrested five more men as part of the Moscow case and charged them with police assault.

One activist, Konstantin Kotov, received a four-year prison sentence for “repeated” participation in unsanctioned public gatherings. Despite vigorous public campaigning on his behalf, he is still in jail pending appeal. Criminal prosecution for serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Six of the unregistered candidates received repeated administrative charges and temporary arrest sentences for violating regulations on mass gatherings, leaving them at risk of criminal prosecution, similarly to Kotov.

Courts issued warnings to two couples who brought their children to the protests, after the prosecutor’s office sought to have them stripped of their parental rights.  Also, one man received five years’ imprisonment for a provocative tweet suggesting that law enforcement officers’ children could become the target of reprisals.

Criminally prosecuting people merely for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, including “repeated” participation in or organization of public gatherings, violates Russia’s international human rights law obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.

Criminal charges for interfering with police arrests and assaulting police officers are not improper, but the circumstances of many of the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch—limited or no contact with police, negligible harm, and in some instances accounts by police that are exaggerated or possibly untruthful—strongly suggest the purpose of these charges was to discourage the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful protest.

When criminal charges are appropriate, the sanctions sought and imposed should be proportionate to the offense. All the sentences imposed in the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear excessive.

Selected Case Summaries

Danil Beglets

Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Danil Beglets

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Danil Beglets (born 1992) is an entrepreneur. He has a baby and a toddler, and lives in Mytishchi, a small town near Moscow, with his family. Between 6 and 6.30 p.m. on July 27, Beglets pulled a peaceful protester away from a police officer on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, grabbing the officer’s wrist as he did so. Beglets does not deny grabbing the officer’s wrist. Video footage of the events on Bolshaya Dmitrovka show that the entire interaction lasted about two seconds. According to the prosecution, Beglets’s action “caused physical pain” to the officer. The officer did not sustain any injuries as a result. Beglets pleaded guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer (article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code: “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sought a suspended sentence. On September 3, 2019, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court sentenced him to two years in a medium-security corrections facility.

Update: On appeal, on October 7, 2019, the Moscow City Court upheld the sentence.

Видео задержанного сегодня по 212 гражданина Белец pic.twitter.com/EaGink4qqa

— Илиас Меркури (@imerkouri) 9 August 2019

Kirill Zhukov

Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Kirill Zhukov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Kirill Zhukov (born 1990) is a civic activist and former law enforcement officer from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court convicted him on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, at around 4:30 p.m., when police were detaining protesters on Tverskaya Street, Zhukov hit a National Guard officer on the visor of his helmet. The prosecution claimed that Zhukov attempted to deliver a blow to dislodge the helmet, causing the officer physical pain. Zhukov argued he waved his left hand in front of the officer’s visor. Available video footage shows Zhukov reaching out towards the lower part of the officer’s visor, and the officer jerking his head back in response. It is difficult to determine from the video whether Zhukov’s hand made fleeting contact with the visor, but he did not swing his arm at the officer or otherwise appear to attempt to “deliver a blow.”

Update: On appeal, on October 9, 2019, the Moscow City Court upheld the sentence.

Полиция Москвы задержала ещё одного участника митинга 27 июля. 28-летнего Кирилла Жукова проверяют по статье 318 УК РФ. Сейчас он на допросе в СКР.

Его личность установили по этой видеозаписи, – Жуков попытался схватить одного из сотрудников ОМОНа за забрало шлема. pic.twitter.com/6aGDYi8lvX

— baza (@bazabazon) 31 July 2019

Pavel Ustinov

Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Pavel Ustinov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Pavel Ustinov (born 1995) is a young actor who relocated to Moscow from Krasnoyarsk. On September 16 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Ustonov guilty on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 2 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting medium gravity damage to health”) and sentenced him to three and a half years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on August 3, at around 3:30 p.m., Ustinov, supposedly an “active participant” in an unsanctioned protest, resisted arrest and dislocated the left shoulder of a Russian Guard officer. The alleged victim claimed that Ustinov “shouted slogans offensive to the authorities.” He also claimed that when Ustinov attempted to break free from being apprehended, he “felt that there is something wrong with [my] shoulder, that something clicked in my shoulder.” In court, Ustinov testified that he did not take part in the protest but was standing on the sidewalk on Tverskaya Street, next to the entrance to the Tverksya and Pushkinskaya metro stations, waiting for a friend he was supposed to meet. Video footage from several different sources, including TV Rain, shows Ustinov standing silently, looking at his phone when a group of Russian Guard officers suddenly jumped him, tackled him to the ground, and beat him with batons. On September 19, after a wave of public outrage and interventions by actors, pop stars, academics, and a broad range of professional communities, the prosecutor’s office requested Ustinov’s release from jail on his own recognizance pending his appeal hearing. On September 30, the Moscow City Court confirmed the guilty verdict against Ustinov but changed the original sentence to a one-year suspended sentence.

Evgeny Kovalenko

Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer (originally charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Anna Artemyeva / Novaya Gazeta

Evgeny Kovalenko

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Evgeny Kovalenko (born 1971) is a railroad station security guard from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years and five months in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, Kovalenko pushed a police officer and threw a metal trash bin at another. Both officers alleged that his actions caused them physical pain. In court, Kovalenko said that at around 6 p.m., on the corner of Rozhdestvenkaya Street and Theater Drive, he saw police officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters, including using batons to hit people already tackled to the ground. While not denying that he pushed one of the officers to prevent him from hitting a protester, Kovalenko did not admit to aiming at and hitting the other officer with the bin. Video footage available shows a man throwing a bin toward an officer. It also shows use of excessive force by police against protesters.

Ivan Podkopaev

Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Ivan Podkopaev

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Ivan Podkopaev (born 1993) lives in Moscow and works in a library as a technician. On September 3 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Podkopaev guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27 at around 2:30 p.m., Podkopaev sprayed pepper spray towards Russian Guard officers on Tversakaya Street. Podkopaev said he did this after he saw police allegedly using a metal police barricade to “squash people, including women and the elderly.” Video footage released to the media by Russian investigative authorities shows police and Russian Guard officers with metal police barricades advancing on the crowd and a man with his face covered up spraying a chemical substance. Podkopaev did not deny the allegations and expressed contrition.

Update: On appeal, on October 9, 2019, the Moscow City Court reduced the sentence to two years.

Konstantin Kotov

Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Konstantin Kotov

Sentenced for Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Of all the protest activists who were criminally charged in August, only 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a software engineer from Moscow, was accused not of specific actions at the protests but rather of "repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings" under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The charges against Kotov stemmed from the fact that during a six-month period, he took part in three protests in support of political and rights issues, called in a Facebook post in July for people to join a protest against the exclusion of opposition candidates from the Moscow legislature elections, and took part in an election-related protest in August. The investigation into Kotov's case was completed and the case was moved to trial in less than a week. Such swiftness is unprecedented compared to the regular timeframe of criminal investigations and trials in Russia. On September 5, the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow sentenced Kotov to four years in a medium-security corrections facility. Before Kotov’s sentencing, only one person in Russia had been convicted and served time serial involvement in unsanctioned protests. Prosecutions for such serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Update: On appeal, on October 14, 2019, the Moscow City Court upheld the sentence.

Yegor Zhukov

Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Yegor Zhukov

Under House Arrest Awaiting Trial on Charges of Making Extremist Calls Online

Yegor Zhukov, 21, studies political science at one of Russia’s leading universities, the Higher School of Economics. He is also a political vlogger, with more than 148,000 followers. Zhukov was arrested on August 2 on charges of mass rioting, which stemmed from allegations that during the July 27 unsanctioned protest he supposedly organized a large group of young people into ranks and led them to block police officers on the corner of Tverskaya Street and Kamergersky Lane. Moscow students organized a vigorous campaign for Zhukov’s release, which was also supported by some academics and high-profile journalists. When the authorities asked a court to put Zhukov in pre-trial custody, the investigation presented video footage from the site showing a young man whose face was not discernable organizing protesters. On August 30, Novaya Gazeta, a prominent Russian independent newspaper, published their video footage, in which the man’s face is clearly visible and bears no resemblance to Zhukov. On September 3, authorities dropped the mass-rioting charges against Zhukov, but charged him with making extremist calls online over several videos he recorded and published in his vlog in 2017. The investigation alleged that he “decided to engage an unlimited circle of people in his extremist activities, aimed at destabilizing the social-political situation in the Russian Federation.” Notably, the videos, which expressed Zhukov’s dissatisfaction with the current situation in Russia and its government, included no calls for violent actions. On the same day, a court released him from jail and transferred him to house arrest pending trial on the new charges. An active campaign in his support is ongoing.

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with participation in mass riots More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with Mass Rioting

Alexey Minyailo (born 1985) is a developer of educational games for children in orphanages and a pro-democracy activist who volunteered at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. Starting mid-July, Minyailo was involved in the election-related protest activity—both at street gatherings and on social media. On July 27, he spent the day at Khamovniki District Court in Moscow, where police had delivered Sobol in an apparent attempt to prevent her from taking part in the protest taking place that day. In the evening, Minyailo headed to Trubnaya Square, one of the venues for the unsanctioned protest, but detained him just as he was approaching the site. Minyailo spent two days in custody and was charged with participation in an unsanctioned gathering that interfered with traffic and the movement of pedestrians. On August 1, at around 4 a.m., law enforcement officers searched his house as part of an investigation into alleged mass rioting on July 27 and arrested him on charges of participation in mass rioting. On September 26, following a wave of public support—including support from 182 priests from the Russian Orthodox Church—a judge with the Basmanny District Court ordered his release because the evidence against him did not include any information about “organizing mass disorders accompanied by violence or destruction of property.”

Sergey Fomin

Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Sergey Fomin

Charged with Mass Rioting

Sergey Fomin (born 1983) was a volunteer at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. He took part in several unsanctioned protest gatherings—including one held on July 27—after opposition candidates were excluded from the ballot for city legislature elections. On July 31 at 4 a.m., police in Moscow searched the apartment where he lives with his parents. They then took him to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s chief criminal investigative agency, to interrogate as a witness into alleged mass rioting on July 27. Fomin refused to answer the investigator’s questions and was released pending further investigative activities. He left Moscow for a week. According to Fomin, when he returned to the city on August 8, he found out that as of August 5 he was wanted on charges of participation in mass rioting and that governmental-controlled media was portraying him as an organizer of mass riots. He turned himself in at the Zamoskvorechye District Police Department in Moscow on the same day. The next day, a court ruled to transfer him to a pre-trial detention facility. On September 3, another court ruled to transfer Fomin’s to house arrest.

The tables below provide detailed information on the status, charges, and any court rulings.

Persons Arrested on Charges of Mass-Rioting or Police Assault in Connection with the Moscow Protests

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Evgeny Kovalenko (1971) Sentenced to 3 years and five months in prison on Sept 4th Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer
(originally charged with participation in mass-rioting)
July 29th
Ivan Podkopaev (1993) Pleaded guilty on Aug 26th, sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence reduced to 2 years on appeal on Oct 9th Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Kirill Zhukov (1990) Sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 4th. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 9th Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Danil Beglets (1992) Sentenced to 2 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 7th Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm  (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 9th
Eduard Malyshevsky In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over breaking a window while inside a police van and allegedly injuring a police officer standing on the outside of the van Sept 2nd
Nikita Chirtsov In pretrial detention after being deported to Russia from Belarus Charged with police assault over pushing a police officer Sept 2nd
Pavel Ustinov (1995) Sentenced to 3.5 years in jail on Sept 16th. On Sept 19th, the prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for his release from jail on his own recognizance pending appeal hearing. On Sept 20th, Ustinov was released. On September 30, the appeals court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed to sentence to a one year suspended sentence. Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) Aug 3rd
Alexey Minyailo (1985) Released, charges dropped on September 26 Charged with participation in mass riots Aug 2nd
Vladislav Barabanov (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 3rd
Sergey Abanichev (1994) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegation on mass-rioting over throwing a single-serving soft drink can at a police officer Aug 3rd
Daniil Konon (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 3rd
Sergey Fomin (1983) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 9th
Dmitry Vasiliev Detained on Aug 9th, but hospitalized on Aug 10th because his health severely deteriorated in detention due to lack of access to insulin. On Aug 11th, the Basmanny District Court returned to the investigation their petition to place Vasiliev in pretrial custody, refusing to conduct a hearing in absentia. On Aug 12th, Vasiliev was released from hospital. So far, the authorities have not gone after him.  It’s not clear whether charges against him have been dropped Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 9th
Valery Kostenok (1999) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd despite confessing Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over throwing two empty plastic bottles at officers Aug 12th
Yegor Zhukov (1998) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) Aug 2nd
Samariddin Radjabov (1998) In pre-trial detention Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle in the direction of an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Aidar Gubaidulin (1993) Held in pre-trial detention until Sept 18th;
on Sept 18th, released from jail under own recognizance pending trial. On Oct 17th, Gubaidulin posted on social media that he fled Russia for fear of imprisonment
Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle at an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting, switched on Aug 31st) Aug 9th

Vladimir Yemelyanov, 27 y/o 

In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over forcibly holding an officer down Oct 14th
Andrey Barshay, 21 y/o In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over running up to an officer and pushing him from behind Oct 14th
Yegor Lesnykh, 34 y/o In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over pushing an officer down together with Martintsov and Mylnikov as well as kicking another officer Oct 14th
Maksim Martintsov, 27 y/o In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over pushing an officer down together with Lesnykh and Mylnikov Oct 14th
Aleksandr Mylnikov, 32 y/o Under house arrest since Oct 16th Charged with police assault over pushing an officer down together with Lesnykh and Martintsov

Oct 15th

Activist Convicted on Charges of Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Konstantin Kotov (1985) Sentenced to 4 years on Sept 5th. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 14th Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings Aug 12th

Person Convicted on Charges of Incitement of Hatred

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Vladislav Sinitsa Sentenced to 5 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 4th Convicted on charges of incitement to hatred over a tweet about possible online retaliation against children of police officers who worked during the protests on July 27th Aug 4th

Unregistered Candidates Who Served Consecutive and Arbitrary Administrative Arrest Sentences in Retaliation for Their Protest Activity

Name Allegation details Date of arrest
Ilya Yashin Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 40 Tweeting about the Aug 3rd protest Aug 28th
  “Encouraging participation in unsanctioned protests” Aug 18th
  Organizing the July 14th protest Aug 8th
  Organizing the July 14th protest July 30th
  Tweeting about the July 27th protest July 29th
Yulia Galyamina Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 35 Organizing an unsanctioned protest on Aug 3rd Aug 21st
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation Aug 6th
  Organizing an unsanctioned protest on July 27th July 27th
Konstantin Yankauskas Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 26 Calling on people to participate in the Aug 3rd protest on Twitter Aug 14th
  Tweeting about the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters Aug 5th
  Organizing the unsanctioned July 27th protest July 29th
Oleg Stepanov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 23 Participating in a protest Aug 1st
  Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest July 27th
Ivan Zhdanov Left the country right after his release from the first 15 days’ arrest without serving the second sentence   Organizing a protest without submitting a notice Aug 11th
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation July 29th
Dmitry Gudkov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrest: 36 Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest Aug 23rd
  Participating in the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters July 30th
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 16, 2019, 10:00 am

Abdalkarim Sama, a volunteer at Sufra Food Bank, sorts through tinned food in the storage section on site at Sufra Food Bank, in Brent, Northwest London, October 9, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch/Kartik Raj
(London) – If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a withdrawal agreement, it will seriously threaten people’s ability to access and receive adequate food, including families with children, Human Rights Watch said today. While intense negotiations between the UK and the rest of the EU are ongoing, if no agreement is reached or extension agreed upon by October 31, 2019, the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

Human Rights Watch interviews with front-line food aid providers across England show they may struggle to cope with the expected increase in demand for emergency food aid in the event of a “no-deal Brexit,” when food prices and supplies may suddenly fluctuate. The government has failed to take responsibility for the issue or to put in place adequate plans to mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable people in society.

“No-deal Brexit could leave families going hungry and the charities that help them – particularly small, independent community organizations – pushed to the limit,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UK government knows full well that food prices will rise and food supplies could suffer. But instead of preparing to help families and let them know what’s on offer, it’s turning its back on them.”

On September 11, the UK government published a summary that parliament had demanded to reveal its working assumptions in case of no-deal Brexit. The document stated that disruption to the supply of fresh food and components of food processing – key ingredients, chemicals, and packaging – arising from a no-deal Brexit will affect the availability and choice of food in the UK and drive prices up, with a disproportionate effect on low-income groups.

Increasing numbers of people living on low incomes in the UK rely on emergency food aid. Human Rights Watch research shows that more and more families with children, in particular single-parent households led by women, depend on emergency food assistance. This follows significant cuts to government spending on social support for families and tightening welfare rules, particularly under the flagship Universal Credit program.

Staff and volunteers at independent food banks interviewed by Human Rights Watch in October expressed concern that rising food prices in the event of a no-deal Brexit could directly affect people who rely on their help. Those on low, fixed incomes, including welfare recipients, pensioners, and asylum seekers, would be badly affected because they will neither be able to cope with increased food prices nor stockpile in advance. “Food banks cannot pick up the pieces … of a no-deal Brexit,” said a representative of Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network.

Food banks that use cash donations or reserves to buy food to supplement their stock or to ensure that they provide additional food items of nutritional value beyond what they receive in donations (e.g. UHT milk, fruit juice, fresh fruit, and vegetables) said that they are preparing to spend extra money. They have concerns about increased demand arising from general supply disruption, but also fear that higher prices will lead to a decrease in food donations from the general public. Many food banks, particularly small, independent ones, operate on very tight budgets and rely heavily, and sometimes exclusively, on donations to feed people.

Fareshare, the surplus food redistribution charity, has warned publicly that a no-deal Brexit will affect charities feeding the poor. It estimates that if the approximately 9,000 groups nationwide that provide cooked food to vulnerable people had to buy food rather than receive redistributed surplus, it would cost about £5 million per month.

Domestic anti-poverty organizations, welfare policy research organizations, academics, and representatives of the regional government in Scotland have warned since the start of 2019 of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on poor people, and the need for active steps by government to mitigate it.

Professionals working in public sector catering have also warned of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their ability to deliver nutritionally sound food to schools, hospitals, and social care providers, notably because of tariff-related price rises and supply disruption. This could affect people’s right to health and an adequate standard of living.

Jen Coleman, Office Manager at the Black Country Food Bank points out the locations of their 23 distribution centers across the West Midlands region where demand for food has increased by 35% this year and stocks are running low. Brierley Hill, West Midlands, October 7, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch/Kartik Raj

Despite repeated warnings about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on hunger, and its duty under human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food, the UK government has failed to take responsibility for the issue.

On August 27, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) refused to disclose information sought by the parliamentarian Caroline Lucas MP under the Freedom of Information Act about food supplies and prices in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In July, a DEFRA minister, Zac Goldsmith MP, told Lucas that the food industry, not DEFRA, is responsible for supplying food to the population in an emergency, although it acknowledged that local authorities have duties to provide food to schools and in care settings.

The Department of Health and Social Care has issued technical notices to hospitals and social care providers requiring them to enact contingency plans to ensure food and catering supplies. The Department for Education (DfE) has issued similar technical notices to schools and school caterers.

In March, the then-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd MP, alluded in Parliament to possible plans to set up a hardship fund to address food price increases arising from Brexit, but refused to provide further details. It is unclear whether this fund has been established. The Scottish government, meanwhile, has set up a £7 million “poverty mitigation fund” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Human Rights Watch wrote to three UK government departments to ask for clarification and received responses from two of them.

The UK government should urgently establish which government department has ultimate responsibility for ensuring continuity of food supply and ensure minimized disruption to food provision where it has a specific duty, for example for schools and social care. It should also set up a hardship fund to help people unable to afford and access adequate food, regardless of their immigration status, and work with local authorities to ensure the fund is available and accessible to all who need it. It should publish this information clearly to reduce uncertainty.

“It’s deeply reckless for the UK government to pursue policy decisions that it knows could leave vulnerable people without food, and then fail to take responsibility to prevent that hunger,” Raj said. “By the government’s own admission, a no-deal Brexit is likely to inflict the most damage on the people who are least able to withstand the economic shock.”

For additional details of the research, please see below.

Methodology

Human Rights Watch interviewed representatives of the UK’s two main national networks of food banks, the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network. Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth telephone interviews with six independent food banks, one each in Cumbria, Greater London, Merseyside, and Northamptonshire, and two in West Midlands, and followed up with site visits to three of these. Human Rights Watch also sought comment from three private companies which provide food or catering to the public sector (in schools, hospitals, and social care), two associations of public sector caterers, and three professional associations representing schoolteachers. Human Rights Watch contacted DEFRA, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and the DfE for comment and had received replies from DEFRA and DfE.

All interviews were conducted in October. Human Rights Watch informed interviewees of the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature, and they verbally consented to be interviewed for this publication. Where practicable, Human Rights Watch shared the text in draft form with interviewees cited prior to publication.

The Right to Food in Human Rights Law

The right to an adequate standard of living and the right to food are both enshrined in international human rights law treaties that UK governments have signed. They are contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the latter signed by the UK in 1968 and ratified in 1976. International human rights law also has specific additional protections for children, women and girls who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with disabilities, so that they can realize their right to food and nutrition either as part of their right to health or their right to an adequate standard of living. However, the rights to food and to an adequate standard of living – like most other socioeconomic rights – have not been incorporated into UK domestic law. This gives people who face violations of these basic rights as a result of government policy decisions few avenues for holding the government to account.

The UK parliament should incorporate the right to food in UK law so that the government is required to ensure that everyone has access to adequate food and that those whose rights are violated have an effective means to seek a remedy from the authorities.

Front-Line Evidence from Food Banks

Sumi Rabindrakumar is head of policy and research at Trussell Trust, the country’s main food bank network, which gave out 1.6 million emergency 3-day food parcels from 2018 to 2019. She said:

We know people are already struggling – the forecasts show any form of Brexit risks increasing the cost of food and essentials, and therefore increasing the need for food banks. The responsibility to prevent more people being pulled into poverty lies with our government. Food banks cannot and should not pick up the pieces of a no-deal Brexit. To prevent people from being pushed into poverty as Brexit unfolds, our government must ensure additional protections such as a dedicated hardship fund are in place and that our benefits system is able to protect people who need its help.

Jen Coleman, office manager of the Black Country Food Bank, a Christian faith-based regional network with 1 warehouse and 23 distribution centers across the West Midlands, said:

Last September we ran out of all food and all money for food. We had nothing left in the warehouse to send to centers. It was the worst we’ve seen. It was critical. The local communities we serve are at their lowest ebb here with the rollout of Universal Credit. Demand this year is already 35 percent more than it was last year.… It’s dire already anyway for people needing food banks. If no-deal Brexit does happen it will potentially become a national problem.

Martin Fuller, who is responsible for MICAH Liverpool’s storeroom, explains current low stock levels in the organization’s warehouse between a delivery to a food bank distribution and a collection of donations at another church, October 8, 2019. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch/Kartik Raj

Martin Fuller is a driver and storesperson at MICAH Liverpool, a charity supported jointly by the city’s Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, which runs two food banks distributions a week and a weekly community market selling highly discounted food. He said:

We have £300 per week to cover our costs including buying extra food to make sure the shelves are stocked and to pay for fuel for the van. We have weeks where the money we have hasn’t gone far enough. There are days when we have no stock left in the storeroom. If prices go up or donations run dry, we’re up a creek without a paddle, and we can’t give food to people in need. The worst-case scenario would be we have to turn people away and say we don’t have food. We’ve got permission from our board to spend a bit more each week for the coming weeks [£2,000 across four weeks] to stock up as much as possible on quantities of staple food to get through the month. We hope that will be enough to cater for the next weeks after October 31, to see us through to November.

Robin Burgess is chief executive of the HOPE Centre in Northampton, an anti-poverty and homelessness charity that runs a day centre providing cooked food, catering, and cookery training and a “social supermarket” scheme offering highly discounted food to 250 members each week. He said:

Any increase in food prices will affect our service users in two ways. Firstly, despite the high volume and quality of food that we supply, there is a continuing need for some of our customers to buy additional food in normal shops; in particular they often need to buy protein which isn’t something we always have available, and this could cost them more. Secondly if there are shortages or unavailability of items in the shops, our donors will be affected, and so we’re really concerned that the level of donations needed for us to keep going will decrease. We’re particularly worried that if prices go up in November, then Christmas donations [one of two main cyclical donation periods, along with “Harvest” in the autumn] will be directly affected by a no-deal Brexit.

Rajesh Makwana is director of Sufra, a community organization in Brent (northwest London) which runs a twice-weekly food bank among other food, welfare, community cohesion, and refugee support services. He said:

Guests visiting Sufra’s food bank are experiencing severe crisis. Seventy percent of our guests only come twice a year or less when their situation deteriorates and they’re living on the breadline. Our monthly spending on essential food and basic toiletries has increased dramatically in recent years because we just don’t receive the level of donations we need to meet weekly demand. If a no-deal Brexit has even a fraction of the impact on food prices the government’s own assessment says it might, it will have a significant impact on food banks.

Last year, we distributed food aid to the equivalent of 9,542 recipients. We currently process 25 to 35 vouchers per food bank session [each guest is referred to Sufra with a single voucher that covers all members of their family]. Even if we had just three to five more vouchers per session as a lowest estimate, once you multiply this across our sessions it will be extremely difficult to meet the increased level of need. We’ve concluded that demand for the food bank will go up even if the impact of no-deal Brexit is modest.

Impact on Food for Schools, Social Care, and Hospitals

In addition to food banks, many people across the UK, some of whom are vulnerable, depend on catered meals provided by the public sector. They include school children, including children from low-income families who receive free school meals, people receiving social care, and people in hospitals. Human Rights Watch has previously documented serious human rights concerns about the access to social care for older people in England.

Shelves running low on supplies at the Black Country Food Bank warehouse, Brierley Hill, West Midlands. The warehouse stores food for 23 distribution centers in the region, October 7, 2019. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch/Kartik Raj

Individual directors of public sector catering companies have spoken publicly to raise concerns about food price increases and the impact of supply disruption on their ability to provide services. They have also flagged a DfE no-deal “technical notice,” which seemed to suggest that schools could be “flexible” with nutritional standards in the event of shortages, although the education secretary has since confirmed that school food standards will not change. The DfE has written to Human Rights Watch to say that school food standards will not change after the UK leaves the EU, and disputes any suggestion that schools will no longer have to adhere to nutrition standards. Most of the companies or professional associations Human Rights Watch contacted declined to comment.

Andy Jones, chair of the public sector catering group PSC100, comprised of caterers supplying schools, hospitals, social care providers, prisons, and universities, said:

“Whatever happens we expect prices to go up. How much will depend on the tariffs. We expect price increases for our raw materials. We may well have shortages because the British growing season has ended and we rely on European imported food now. We’ll have to change our menus accordingly unless government makes up the shortfall that we incur from the price rises.

We may have to change the nutritional standards, and this will have an effect on people in social care, people in hospitals, and school children. Public sector caterers provide about a million meals a day. We know some school children rely on a hot meal at school as their main meal of the day. So, no-deal could be impacting on the most vulnerable. I should be clear, we’re confident we’ll be able to give them a meal, but it won’t be nutritionally balanced if we have problems with supply and prices, particularly of fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 16, 2019, 4:01 am