Protesters holding banners march in Sydney to urge the Australian government to end the refugee crisis on Manus Island on November 4, 2017.

© 2017 PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
(Sydney) –Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been arbitrarily detaining rejected asylum seekers virtually incommunicado in the Bomana Immigration Centre, raising serious concerns about their health and safety, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The men should be freed.

In August 2019, the PNG government transferred more than 50 rejected asylum seekers from Port Moresby housing to the Australian-funded Bomana Immigration Centre on the outskirts of Port Moresby. There are now understood to be 46 men remaining in Bomana.

“The men in Bomana Immigration Centre are being treated like criminals, but they’ve committed no crime,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Restrictions imposed on the men in Bomana Immigration Centre are worse than prison – at least in prison you can be in contact with your loved ones and your lawyer, but these men have no contact with the outside world.”

“The abuses these vulnerable men have undoubtedly suffered over the past two months can’t continue and they must be urgently released,” Amnesty International Australia Refugee Advisor Dr. Graham Thom said.

Refugee advocates reported that detainees at the Bomana Immigration Centre have no access to phones or the internet, unless they have agreed to assisted voluntary return. In those cases, they are allowed a maximum of 15 minutes to call their families in their home countries or to arrange travel documents with home country authorities.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and refugee in Port Moresby who has seen some of the detainees, told Human Rights Watch that some of the men detained in Bomana have lost significant amounts of weight, “their bodies are weak, the faces are just like bones, they seem physically and mentally damaged.”

Nearly all are from Iran, which does not accept forcible returns of rejected asylum seekers. Authorities forced the men to surrender mobile phones and medication when they entered Bomana. They are unable to communicate with their families, friends, lawyers, or doctors and psychologists who were previously assisting them. Many have mental health conditions or a physical illness, yet as reliable sources have confirmed, PNG authorities have told them they will not be released unless they “volunteer” to return home.

Background

There are currently 262 current and former asylum seekers who had been sent to Manus Island under Australia’s offshore processing regime. The majority now have refugee status and most were transferred to accommodation in Port Moresby, where they fear for their safety.

The PNG government has rejected the refugee claims of the men detained at Bomana, yet PNG’s refugee status determination process falls far short of international standards.

Several of the men now detained in Bomana withdrew their asylum applications for various reasons, including after the 2014 riots at the Manus detention center in which Iranian Reza Berati was beaten to death and dozens more wounded. Their cases were then administratively closed without a refugee status determination on the merits.

PNG, as a party to the Convention against Torture, is obligated not to return someone to a country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that [they] would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Under international law, all detainees, including irregular migrants, have the right to challenge their detention, along with the right to legal assistance, and to be informed of that right. Rejected asylum seekers in Bomana are detained in the absence of any individualized assessment of the need for detention, and with no consideration whether their removal – mostly to Iran – can be effected within a reasonable and foreseeable time frame. Further, it would appear there is no framework in PNG law for their detention. There are no clear means to seek review of the lawfulness of their detention or for monitoring and evaluating the conditions of detention, including access to communication with family or lawyers. The result is arbitrary detention prohibited by customary international law and treaties to which both Australia and PNG are party.

UNHCR has appealed for all refugees and asylum seekers to be immediately brought from PNG and Nauru – the other county to which Australia has transferred those arriving by boat seeking asylum – to safety. In the interim, the PNG government should allow all detainees at Bomana access to visitors and external communications and provide adequate access to food and medical care.

“Australia shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the suffering of people warehoused offshore,” Thom said. “PNG needs to act immediately to end the men’s arbitrary detention and ensure they can access the medical treatment they desperately need.”

“It’s hard not to conclude that the cruel conditions at Bomana are a deliberate ploy to make people miserable so they accept to ‘voluntarily’ return to their home countries,”  Pearson said. “If the PNG government is unable to deport these men, it should release them.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 14, 2019, 12:30 am

Royal Netherlands Air Force F- 16 military fighter jets participating in NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission operates in Lithuanian airspace during a Ramstein Alloy air force exercise, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

Recent news reports have exposed Dutch involvement in an airstrike in Iraq in June 2015 that killed at least 70 civilians, with the Minister of Defense finally admitting on November 5, 2019 that the ministry had known about the deaths after years of denial.

Two Dutch news outlets, NRC and NOS, reported on October 18 that a Dutch F-16 pilot staged the attack on the town of Hawija, 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, which ISIS had captured in June 2014. At the time, the Netherlands were part of a coalition conducting operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.

The target was a factory in which ISIS was reportedly manufacturing improvised explosive devices. The airstrike triggered multiple secondary explosions in the factory, devastating the surrounding area and killing dozens.

New reports also linked the Dutch military to another attack, this one on Mosul in September 2015, that killed four family members of Bassim Razzo. The Razzo case featured in a major New York Times investigation in 2017, which in turn led to a shakeup of how the US Pentagon assessed civilian harm, but at that time the Dutch connection was not known. The Dutch government has admitted to conducting an airstrike on that day in Mosul but has yet to admit that it killed four civilians.

When the coalition against ISIS was created in 2014, it was decided to leave it up to individual coalition members when and how to handle incidents of possible laws of war abuses, and to report on any civilian casualties. Unfortunately, that allowed many coalition members to simply remain silent. In April 2017, the US military decided to go on the record about non-US coalition members having killed at least 80 civilians since August 2014, but did not identify the Netherlands as responsible for the June 2015 attack. 

For the past four years, the Dutch have justified their lack of transparency through claims of “operational security.” But the Dutch F-16 mission ended in December 2018 and since then, Razzo and the families of the 70 dead in Hawija have been owed answers on who targeted their families and why. Now that this information is out, the Dutch government needs to provide prompt and equitable condolence payments. They should also provide a full explanation and assessment of whether the attack was lawful under the laws of war, including whether the Netherlands took all feasible precautions to protect civilian life in the attack.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 11:30 pm

Union Jack flags fluttering outside Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, October 1, 2019.

© 2019 Steve Taylor/SOPA Images/Sipa via AP Images

On December 12, the United Kingdom heads for its third general election since 2015.

It comes at the end of years of political chaos in the country: Parliament suspended by the government only to be reopened after a ruling by the Supreme Court; a rebel alliance of parliamentarians from the ruling and opposition parties banding together to force the government to seek an extension to the UK’s EU membership; the government losing its working majority, and then expelling more than 20 of its own representatives; deep divisions within political parties; and polarisation in the country. All linked to the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Whoever wins the election has the chance to shape the UK’s course on Brexit, with some describing it as the most important vote “in a generation.”

But while the election will shape Brexit in ways that affects people’s rights, there are many other domestic human rights challenges facing the UK too. In addition, with so many conflicts and challenges in the wider world at present, the need for principled UK leadership on human rights issues overseas is greater than ever.

While manifestos are still being finalized, Human Rights Watch has written to political parties asking them eight questions about their views on key human rights issues.

These cover some of the key challenges, risks, and opportunities facing the UK: the Human Rights Act (the domestic law that protects people’s rights); the human rights implications of Brexit; climate change and the right to protestfood banks and the right to food; UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere; standing up for human rights defenders around the world; human rights and trade policy; and ensuring justice for war crimes and torture, including when British forces are implicated.

Given its huge implications for politics, the economy, society, and human rights, it is appropriate that Brexit is a central part of the election. But Brexit is neither the cause of nor the solution to every issue facing the UK. Voters in the UK deserve to hear politicians describe how they will tackle the human rights challenges of the future.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 12:05 pm

“Sofia,” a 17-year-old tobacco worker, in a tobacco field in North Carolina. She started working at 13, and she said her mother was the only one who taught her how to protect herself in the fields: “None of my bosses or contractors or crew leaders have ever told us anything about pesticides and how we can protect ourselves from them….When I worked with my mom, she would take care of me, and she would like always make sure I was okay.…Our bosses don’t give us anything except for our checks. That’s it.”

© 2015 Benedict Evans for Human Rights Watch

New research published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reinforces just how dangerous agricultural work is for children in the United States – and how unprepared most are for what they face in the fields.

More US child workers die in agriculture than in any other industry. Every day, 33 children are injured while working on US farms. And they receive frighteningly little safety training, making their work in demanding environments even more dangerous.

Video

Teens of the Tobacco Fields

The United States government and tobacco companies are failing to protect teenage children from hazardous work in tobacco farming.

Researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine interviewed 30 child farmworkers, ages 10 to 17, and published their findings in two articles that describe how children are pressured to work quickly, with little control over their hours or the nature of their work.

The children interviewed feared having their pay docked or being fired if they couldn’t keep up.

They received little – if any – safety training. One 14-year-old worker said: “When you’re chopping with the machete, they say, ‘Oh, be careful, like, to not hurt yourself,’ but that’s basically it.”

Children I’ve interviewed for Human Rights Watch investigations of child labor in US tobacco farming had similar experiences, working long hours in extreme heat with virtually no safety training.

One 15-year-old child worker told me his mom – also a farmworker – was hospitalized after being sprayed with pesticides, but even then, his employer never told him how protect himself: “He just said, ‘Be careful.’ That’s all.”

Telling a 14-year-old to be careful with a machete, or a 15-year-old to be careful around pesticides, is hardly adequate safety training. Safety training is essential for all workers, but children shouldn’t be allowed to do such dangerous work in the first place.

Loopholes in US labor law make it legal for children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours on farms of any size with parental permission, as long as they don’t miss school. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms or family farms.

The new research shows the dire consequences of allowing children to work in such a dangerous sector. But a bill currently in the US House of Representatives would give child farmworkers the same protections as children working in other sectors, limiting their hours and raising the minimum age to begin work.

Members of Congress should enact this bill and ensure child farmworkers in the US are finally protected.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 11:01 am

A general view of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in Tunis, Tunisia, May 2016.

© 2016 Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters
 
(Tunis) – Tunisia’s parliament should carry out a reform agenda to address ongoing human rights problems in the country, Human Rights Watch said today as the new People’s Assembly is inaugurated. 
 
The new parliament, elected October 6, 2019, should strengthen rights protections by electing its allotted quota of Constitutional Court members, revising laws to eliminate gender discrimination in inheritance, and eliminating penal code articles that criminally sanction peaceful speech and homosexuality. Parliament should also develop a plan to carry out the recommendations of a national truth commission to make the security services more accountable and the judiciary more independent. 
 
“Tunisian lawmakers should finally set up the Constitutional Court to provide a long-overdue safeguard against repressive legislation, old and new,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch. “Tunisia’s democratic gains will remain fragile until it puts into place the checks and balances that the 2014 constitution provides.” 
 
The legislative elections yielded a fragmented parliament, with no party capturing more than 25 percent of the seats. The Islamist Ennahda party came in first, with 52 out of 217 seats, closely followed by Qalb Tounes party, newly created by the media tycoon Nabil Karoui. 
 
While making progress on detainees’ and women’s rights, the previous parliament failed to complete its part in establishing the Constitutional Court or to eliminate even one of the many laws that are still being enforced to imprison Tunisians for speech offenses. Security services torture detainees in their custody with virtually no penalties. Women face discrimination, including in inheritance, and sexual minorities are imprisoned under a penal code provision criminalizing homosexuality.
 
The constitution provided for the creation of a Constitutional Court, with powers unmatched among similar bodies elsewhere in the Arab world, to strike down laws deemed unconstitutional. The constitution provided that the parliament would designate 4 of the court’s 12 members, after which the president and the Supreme Judicial Council, an independent body overseeing the appointment and promotion of judges, would each choose 4 of the remaining 8 members.  
 
The previous parliament, which served from 2014 to 2019, held 7 sessions to select members but succeeded in designating only 1 who had the required 145 votes out of 217, stalling the process.  
 
Parliament should also eliminate the articles in the penal code and other laws that authorities have used repeatedly to investigate, charge, and in some cases detain journalists and social media activists merely for peacefully criticizing public officials. Human Rights Watch documented the cases of at least 35 people prosecuted since 2011 for comments on social media platforms or declarations criticizing high public officials, accusing them of corruption or allegedly insulting them.
 
The charges frequently include accusing public officials of crimes related to their jobs without furnishing proof of their guilt, under article 128 of the penal code which provides for up to two years in prison, article 86 of the telecommunications code which provides for one to two years in prison for anyone who “willfully or knowingly harms others or disturbs them via public telecommunications networks,” or article 67 of the penal code which punishes anyone “guilty of insulting the head of state” with up to three years in prison. Articles 245 through 247 define defamation and “calumny” as criminal offenses punishable by six months and one year in prison, respectively.
 
Parliament should create a special parliamentary committee, mandated by the country’s 2013 transitional justice law, to oversee the implementation of the recommendations made by Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (Instance Vérité et Dignité, IVD).
 
The commission on March 26 released its final report analyzing and exposing the institutional networks that enabled successive Tunisian governments to perpetrate human rights abuses over five decades. The report, the result of five years of investigations by the commission, recommended judiciary and security force reforms to bar a return to systematic abuses.
 
Among other recommendations, the commission highlighted the need for Parliament to increase security force accountability and to ensure that all abuse allegations are investigated promptly, effectively, and independently. It recommended creating a parliamentary committee with strong prerogatives and the authority to oversee security service operations.
 
It also recommended amending the law to restrict the mandate of military justice to military crimes committed by military personnel. Military courts still exercise jurisdiction over civilians, and several bloggers have been tried for “defaming the army” under article 91 of the Code of Military Justice.
 
Parliament should take the landmark step of granting women equal rights in inheritance. The late President Beji Caid Essebsi submitted a draft law to Parliament on November 28, 2018 that would amend the 1956 Code of Personal Status which provides that men would normally inherit twice the share that women inherit, based on an interpretation of Islamic sharia law. The proposed amendment would insert a section on inheritance in the Personal Status Code that would make gender equality in inheritance the default, except when the person whose inheritance is involved formally opts out during their lifetime and chooses instead to have their wealth distributed according to the previous legal framework.
 
Tunisia is obligated under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which it is a state party, to remove discrimination against women in law. On May 23, Parliament approved the ratification of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which imposes similar requirements.
 
Parliament should also work to protect the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Tunisia. It should eliminate article 230 of the penal code criminalizing sodomy, which is used extensively by police and prosecutors to arrest and charge men and trans women under the suspicion of same-sex relations. The arrests are usually accompanied by many violations of their rights, including forced anal examinations to attempt to determine the sexual orientation of the men, an antiquated practice that has no scientific value and can amount to torture. Parliament should ban the use of anal examinations in all cases to “test” for homosexual conduct. 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 8:00 am

Congolese National Police clash with protesters on December 28, 2018 in Majengo neighborhood in Goma, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

© 2018 Patrick Meinhardt/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union will soon have to decide whether to renew targeted sanctions against 14 senior officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo responsible for violent repression and other serious human rights abuses. The EU should do so.

The EU sanctions – imposed in 2016 and 2017 – together with sanctions from the United States and the United Nations helped pressure Joseph Kabila to commit to stepping down as president and allow elections to take place after a delay of two years and much bloodshed. However, political repression continued in the run-up to the vote and in its aftermath.

Despite concerns about the fairness of the 2018 election, in which Felix Tshisekedi was declared president, the new administration has taken some steps that signaled it could have a more constructive approach to human rights issues. But these early steps have fallen far short of changes needed to end Congo’s cycles of violence and impunity.

Many of the individuals whom the EU sanctioned no longer hold the same positions as when the sanctions were first applied. Some have been promoted to more senior positions, while others were moved into different, similarly powerful positions. Some may continue to play a role in abuses, but in a less official capacity.

None of the 14 sanctioned individuals have been investigated or held legally responsible for their alleged rights violations, and there is no indication that they will act differently under a new administration.

Lifting sanctions now would be a slap in the face to Congo’s victims of human rights abuses. It would send the message that impunity can continue, and it could embolden other senior officials to commit grave abuses in the future. Renewing the sanctions would show that the EU stands up for justice and acts to respect the rights of all of Congo’s people.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 8:00 am

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots conducts a visual stunt in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany in March 2018. 

© 2018 Clare Conboy
(Geneva) – Almost three in every four people responding to a new poll in 10 European countries want their governments to work for an international treaty prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems, Human Rights Watch said today. At the conclusion of a diplomatic meeting scheduled for November 13-15, 2019, states will determine the next steps for addressing the threats posed by such weapons, which, once activated, would select and attack targets without human intervention.

“Banning killer robots is both politically savvy and morally necessary,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “European states should take the lead and open ban treaty negotiations if they are serious about protecting the world from this horrific development.”

Countries attending the annual meeting of states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations in Geneva will decide on November 15 whether to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or fully autonomous weapons.

Since 2014, these states have held eight meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems under the auspices of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), a major disarmament treaty. Over the course of those meetings, states have built a shared understanding of concern, but they have struggled to reach agreement on credible recommendations for multilateral action due to the objections of a handful of military powers, most notably Russia and the United States. These nations, along with China, Israel, and South Korea, are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, driving fears of widespread proliferation and arms races leading to global and regional instability.

Past failures by CCW states parties to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. Those treaties were the result of partnerships between like-minded countries, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and dedicated coalitions of nongovernmental organizations. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

“We clearly need to begin charting a new path forward in a new forum, by 2021 at the latest, as the current talks seem destined for failure,” Wareham said. “Commitments to discuss vague ‘normative frameworks’ and additional ‘guiding principles’ are simply a form of diplomatic treading water.”

Human Rights Watch co-founded and coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which commissioned the survey by the global public opinion and data company YouGov. The survey was conducted in October in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. The governments of these countries all agree that it is important to retain human control over the use of force, but none are currently working for new international law on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The poll asked: “Do you think [COUNTRY] should work towards an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems?” The YouGov survey used random respondent pools of 500 – 1,000 people in each country, except Germany, which used a random respondent pool of 2,047 people.

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents said they favor their country working for an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Thirteen percent did not, while 14 percent said they were not sure or preferred not to answer.

The strongest support was in Ireland (81 percent), the Netherlands (80 percent), Hungary (78 percent), and Spain (77 percent) followed by Italy (75 percent), Norway (72 percent), Switzerland (72 percent), Belgium (71 percent), and Germany (69 percent). In Finland, 60 percent of respondents favored their government working for an international treaty to ban killer robots, but more than a quarter (28 percent) said they did not know.

Support for creating a killer robots treaty was strong among both women (74 percent) and men (71 percent). However, more men (17 percent) opposed the idea of their country working to ban killer robots compared to women (10 percent), who were more likely to be undecided (16 percent) than men (12 percent).

All age groups polled expressed support for a treaty (from 67 percent to 78 percent). Those most in favor were age 55 or above.

Since 2013, 30 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, including Jordan and Namibia in 2019. Austria, Brazil, and Chile have formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a rapidly growing coalition of 130 nongovernmental organizations in 60 countries that is working to ban fully autonomous weapons and retain meaningful human control over the use of force. Human Rights Watch arms director Steve Goose and senior arms researcher Bonnie Docherty will address a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing for CCW delegates on November 13 at the UN in Geneva.

“As the public learns more about the serious threat that fully autonomous weapons pose to humanity, they will expect legislative action,” Wareham said. “Governments need to provide more than just empty rhetoric affirming the importance of retaining human control over increasingly autonomous weapons systems.”

 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 5:01 am

Cambodia National Rescue Party's President Kem Sokha greets media at his house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Heng Sinith
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian authorities should immediately and unconditionally dismiss all charges against the political opposition leader Kem Sokha and let him resume his political activities, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should allow exiled opposition leaders and supporters to return to Cambodia, after blocking their return on November 9, 2019.

On November 10, a Phnom Penh court announced the partial lifting of judicial supervision on Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). While Sokha is no longer confined to his own home, where he has been under effective house arrest since September 2018, he remains banned from engaging in any political activity or leaving Cambodia.

“Cambodia’s release of Kem Sokha from house arrest without dropping all charges or allowing any political activities is just rebooting his mistreatment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The European Union and other foreign governments should not be fooled but should ramp-up pressure on the government to immediately and unconditionally release Sokha and other prisoners held for exercising their basic rights.”

On September 3, 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit and about 100 police officers arrested Sokha at his home in Phnom Penh. He was charged with “colluding with foreigners,” which carries a maximum 30-year prison term. He was immediately stripped of his parliamentary immunity on the grounds that he was caught in the act of committing a crime, even though the evidence was a highly edited video of a 2013 speech he gave in Australia.

Foreign governments and the United Nations special rapporteur on Cambodia, Rhona Smith, have repeatedly called for dropping charges against Sokha and releasing him. After he spent a year in what the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had declared to be “arbitrary pre-trial detention” in a prison facility along the Vietnamese border, he was released into restrictive house arrest due to deteriorating health conditions. The investigating judge has not indicated when the investigation will be closed.

In November 2017, the government-controlled Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 party members from political activity for five years; 107 of them are still banned.

The acting CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy, announced from exile on August 16 that he and other exiled party leaders and supporters would return to Cambodia on November 9, Independence Day. In response, Cambodian authorities rolled out a series of repressive measures including military threats and an uptick of harassment and arrests of people affiliated with the party or supporting their return.

Between mid-August and November 8, Cambodian authorities charged 105 CNRP members with various fabricated charges, including plotting against the state, incitement to commit a felony, and discrediting judicial decisions, and detained 57 of them.

The Cambodian government prevented Rainsy and other party leaders from returning on November 9 by warning airlines they would face sanctions if they carried banned people to Phnom Penh, and enlisting the support of neighboring governments of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos to prevent any crossings at land borders. On September 17, Hun Sen stated that the government had sent ASEAN countries arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy to prevent him from transiting through them to reach Cambodia.

Radio Free Asia reported on November 1 that the Cambodian Civil Aviation Authority had issued a directive instructing 47 commercial airlines not to allow Rainsy to board their aircraft. Cambodia’s state secretary of civil aviation clarified that this ban also extended to seven other CNRP officials as well as Rainsy’s wife, Tioulong Saumura.

On November 8, Thai Airways did not allow Rainsy to board a flight from Paris to Bangkok. He instead traveled to Kuala Lumpur. The exiled CNRP deputy leader, Mu Sochua, also traveled to Malaysia after the Cambodian ambassador to Indonesia interrupted her news conference in Indonesia.

On November 9, local human rights groups reported armored military vehicles at the Phnom Penh International Airport and in Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand, with a heavy military presence at Thai-Cambodian border checkpoints. People crossing the border reported being checked by Thai and Cambodian officials against wanted posters of exiled opposition members. In a number of instances near the Thai town of Aranyaprathet, Thai police detained Cambodians holding foreign passports and questioned them. Cambodian journalists also reported facing hostile questioning by military police while covering events at border crossings.

Cambodia’s Justice Ministry asserted that the government’s recent “measures are not political restrictions of rights and freedom.” Yet as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cambodia is obligated under article 12 to ensure that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country,” and under article 25, to allow every citizen to “take part in the conduct of public affairs.”

In 2018, the European Union began a review procedure for suspension of the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences granted to Cambodia, based on the government’s non-compliance with international human rights treaties and core International Labor Organization conventions. The action puts Cambodia’s tariff-free access to the EU market for certain exported goods, such as garments, at risk. The EU’s decision should be final by February 2020. On November 12, the EU will declare in a preliminary decision on whether it will suspend Cambodia’s EBA agreement.

“Cambodia’s release of Kem Sokha from house arrest is a blatant attempt to appease EU demands for substantial rights improvements, which is condition of the EBA trade agreement,” Adams said. “The EU should recognize that during the past three months, Cambodia has unjustly charged 100 more CNRP members and imprisoned nearly 60. All those cases should be dismissed and those detained immediately and unconditionally released.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 2:09 am

 

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min briefs the media at a government complex in downtown Seoul, South Korea on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. South Korea says it has deported 2 North Koreans after finding they had killed 16 fellow fishermen onboard and fled to South Korea.

© 2019 Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP
(Seoul) – The South Korean government deported two North Korean fishermen on November 7, 2019 to face murder charges in North Korea, where they face likely torture, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 2, the South Korean navy intercepted a North Korean fishing vessel after a two-day pursuit, and brought the two North Koreans piloting the boat ashore. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that the government conducted an inter-departmental investigation and determined that the two men, in their 20s, had killed 16 other crew members while squid fishing in the East Sea. After contacting North Korean authorities on November 5, South Korean authorities deported the two men to North Korea on November 7.

“Returning these two men to North Korea was illegal under international law because of the likelihood they’ll be tortured under North Korea’s extremely brutal legal system,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “South Korean authorities should have thoroughly investigated the allegations against the two men and ensured they had a full opportunity to contest their being returned to North Korea.”

A Unification Ministry spokesman, Lee Sang-min, said the South Korean government decided to expel the two fishermen because they were “non-political, serious criminals who did not receive protection under the Act on the Protection and Settlement Assistance for Residents Escaping from North Korea (Settlement Act), [and] could pose a threat to the lives and safety of our people if accepted into our society, and as brutal criminals could not be recognized as refugees under international laws.”

The South Korean government has not released detailed information about how it reached these determinations, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should explain its investigation of the case, the evidence it collected, and whether the suspects had access to legal representation who had the time and opportunity to present their case before an impartial authority. The government should also explain its basis for concluding that the two would not face torture or other ill-treatment if returned to North Korea.

South Korean authorities could have prosecuted the two men for their alleged criminal acts, since under article 3 of the country’s constitution, domestic law extends to the entire Korean peninsula.

While international refugee law excludes from refugee status individuals who committed serious non-political crimes outside the receiving country, human rights law prohibits returning anyone to a country where they would be at substantial risk of being tortured, whether they are a refugee or not.

South Korea is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 3 provides that, “No State Party shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which South Korea has also ratified, stated in a general comment that governments “must not expose individuals to the danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment upon return to another country by way of their extradition, expulsion or refoulement.”

South Korea’s constitution in article 6 makes international agreements binding law and provides non-citizens with rights under international law. In addition, South Korea’s Refugee Act in article 3 prohibits refoulement of “refugee status applicants,” and article 2(3) provides that a person unrecognized as a refugee may still obtain permission to stay in South Korea on humanitarian grounds if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that his/her life or personal liberty may be egregiously violated by torture or other inhuman treatment or punishment or other circumstances.”

The South Korean government should investigate this incident and hold accountable officials who violated the basic human rights of the two fishermen, Human Rights Watch said. It should take corrective action to ensure that the right not to be returned to torture and other ill-treatment is scrupulously respected in the future.

A 2014 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry found that the North Korean government has committed crimes against humanity against people who were forcibly repatriated, with inhumane acts like torture, murder, imprisonment, deliberate starvation, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances. It also found lack of due process in its criminal justice system, in which judges lack independence and impartiality, and there is an effective presumption of guilt, not innocence.

“The South Korean government has violated international law meant to protect everyone from torture worldwide, and put these men at grave risk in North Korea,” Robertson said. “South Korean authorities need to take immediate action to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 13, 2019, 1:50 am

Anti-government protesters against the reelection of President Evo Morales gather just meters away from the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Juan Karita
(New York) – The Organization of American States (OAS) members meeting about the situation in Bolivia on November 12, 2019 should send a strong message to Bolivian authorities to ensure full respect for people’s basic human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned on November 10, 2019 in response to a request from the national military chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman, after massive protests and an OAS report detailing a “clear manipulation” of the voting system during the October 20, 2019 presidential election. On October 25, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) indicated that Morales won the presidency. On November 10, Morales said Bolivia would hold new elections and replace all TSE members, after the OAS released its report. The following day, he traveled to Mexico, after the government granted him asylum.

“In light of the ongoing political and social crisis in Bolivia, the OAS should continue playing a leadership role,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Its member states should take all necessary steps to help find a negotiated solution that will reestablish the rule of law and protect fundamental rights, including to protest peacefully and to vote in transparent, competitive, and fair elections.”

Morales resigned after weeks of civil unrest and violent clashes. Since his resignation, there has been more violence, including looting, arson, and violent attacks.

Since the elections, at least three people have died, with hundreds more injured and hundreds arrested. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern about allegations of excessive use of force, stating that the police charged the protesters and used teargas “in a way that could violate the basic principles of the use of force.” Several news outlets were attacked or threatened and at least four had to temporarily cease broadcasting.
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 3:36 pm
Video

Giving Girls a Future: Allow Pregnant Girls, Young Mothers to Attend School

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria has adopted a policy to ban the expulsion of girls from schools during and after pregnancy, an important step in ending the longstanding discriminatory practice.

Although Nigeria’s Child Rights Act protects the rights of girls to education during and after pregnancy, many continue to face expulsion because there is a lack of awareness and no policies in place to ensure their continuation in school.

Most of Nigeria’s staggering 10.5 million out-of-school children are girls. Girls face unique challenges in getting an education, including economic barriers and sociocultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in school.

Pregnancy is a barrier to girls continuing their education and governments have a duty to break this barrier by ensuring there are positive policies and regulations that help school-age pregnant girls and young mothers stay in or return to school. This is especially important given the high adolescent pregnancy rates in Nigeria, with girls between the ages of 15 and 19 accounting for 145 out of every 1,000 births.  

Ekiti State has shown leadership by adopting the “Operation Keep Girls in School” policy but needs to do more to ensure its effectiveness. This should include efforts to create awareness among school management officials, teachers, communities, and girls themselves, and to monitor all schools to ensure they are enforcing this important policy.

The federal government and other states should take necessary steps to respect the Child Rights Act and adopt policies and strategies that ensure girls stay in school, where they belong, during and after pregnancy.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 3:14 pm

Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo, center, poses with supporters at Manila's Rizal Park, December 30, 2018 in Manila, Philippines.

© 2018 AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

No one was surprised when Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said recently that the country’s “war on drugs,” in which police have admitted to killing more than 5,500 people, was “not working.” She has spoken out frequently against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal and bloody campaign whose actual death toll may exceed 27,000 victims, according to human rights groups. What came as a surprise was Duterte’s reaction: he dared her to run the campaign against drugs herself. “Let’s see if you can handle it,” Duterte said on October 28.

Two days later, Duterte formalized his challenge by appointing Robredo as co-chair of the Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), a body that reports directly to Duterte’s office. A week later, Robredo accepted the offer.

The offer seemed farcical given the contentious relationship between Duterte and Robredo, who belong to rival political parties. Duterte has disparaged her as “weak” and his administration has filed sedition charges against Robredo and others. She has never relented in her criticism of Duterte and his “drug war.”

Some suggest that Robredo fell into a Duterte trap. She will not actually lead the “drug war” because she will co-chair the ICAD with Aaron Aquino, head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which works with the Philippine National Police on the drug raids. It seems unlikely that the drug enforcement agency and the police, the drug war enforcers Duterte has promised to protect, would cede any sort of operational control to the vice president.

Duterte administration officials and allies have already predicted her failure, while many of those who warned her about this “poisoned chalice” are now offering her advice. One senator even told her to “watch your back.”

But Robredo may be able to make it work. That would mean ending the murderous police drug operations that have become rampant throughout the country. At the same time, she should be leading efforts to develop voluntary, community-based drug dependence treatment services that comport with international best practice standards and human rights principles. The Philippines needs to rethink its drug policies and just maybe Robredo is the one who can kick-start that process.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 2:39 pm

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

© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

Can you imagine living in a refugee camp and having to crawl to the latrine because it’s not accessible for you? Sadly, this is the reality for many people with disabilities and older people in countries experiencing conflict or natural disasters around the world.

But today’s launch of the United Nations Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action marks an important step toward changing that.

These guidelines, developed by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), will assist humanitarian agencies, governments, and affected communities in making sure people with disabilities are included in all phases of humanitarian action – from planning to coordination to monitoring.

There are at least one billion people worldwide with a disability, many of whom live in conflict zones or in areas affected by natural disasters – both of which are more likely to increase in frequency due, in part, to climate change.

Human Rights Watch has documented the heightened risks faced by people with disabilities and older people in conflict areas such as the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Yemen.

We have found that war, natural disasters, and other situations of risk have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on people with disabilities and older people. They have been abandoned, attacked, displaced, and even faced neglect in humanitarian responses. But their plight has been largely invisible, including to humanitarian actors.

People with disabilities who manage to reach sites for internally displaced people or refugees often face difficulties accessing food, sanitation, and medical assistance.

“Félix,” a man with a mobility disability who fled violence in his home village in the South-West region of Cameroon, described his struggles to Human Rights Watch: “The biggest challenge is the toilet. It’s outside and is used by many people, so it is often disgusting. I am afraid I will soon get some disease since I must creep to the toilet with my hands.”

The IASC guidelines are the result of an inclusive consultation process that involved more than 600 participants from both the humanitarian and disability sectors, as well as many organizations of persons with disabilities around the world.

These guidelines are a crucial step in making “No one left behind” a reality and ensuring that Félix and other people with disabilities can live in dignity and access services during humanitarian crises.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 11:00 am

(From L to R) Former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Uganda's Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa pose for a photograph as they meet at State House in Entebbe, Uganda, July 7, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Stephen Wandera, File

Leaders and stakeholders of war-torn South Sudan have agreed to an additional 100 days to form a transitional government. Originally, the leaders of the peace process had a deadline of November 12.  

The delay buys them time to reach agreement on key outstanding issues like transitional security arrangements and deciding the number of states the country will have, and their boundaries.

Critical to the success of the pre-transitional period is whether leaders use the time to engage public debate around these issues and others including human rights concerns at both the national and state level. However, this cannot happen unless authorities respect a free press and free speech in general – something South Sudan constantly attacks.

Lack of civic and political space and a failure to master the capacity to resolve political differences via political discourse are among the root causes of South Sudan’s conflict. Since war broke out in December 2013, South Sudanese officials have intensified arbitrary arrests and political repression, including torture of detainees.

As a result, journalists, activists, political opposition members, and some of the public self-censor, staying silent on topics deemed controversial.

In August, Military Intelligence (MI) unlawfully detained at least four youth activists from Lakes state for reportedly criticizing the current MI director, the former governor of the state. One was in military detention for over three months without charge.

In early November, members of the Gogrial state intellectuals’ union were arrested and detained by the National Security Service in Juba, at the behest of Gogrial authorities for being critical of their state government.

On October 31, authorities revoked press credentials and expelled freelance journalist for the Associated Press, Sam Mednick, in response to an article she wrote. A French journalist, Bastein Renouill, on assignment with France24 was arrested and deported on November 4.

South Sudanese have a lot to reflect and discuss regarding the future they want. They have a right to know, to demand answers from, and criticize their leaders. A free and vigorous press is essential to keeping the public informed and holding politicians and the powerful to account.

Authorities should take advantage of their extra 100 days to engage in genuine, open public dialog on outstanding critical issues, such as legal and institutional reforms of the security sector and ensuring truth and justice for atrocities committed. They should also lift restrictions on media freedoms, and ensure those arrested for criticizing the government are freed and those responsible for abuses are held to account.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 5:00 am
Video

UAE: Political Detainees Languish Behind Bars

World Tolerance Summit in Dubai Cannot Whitewash Abuses

 

(Beirut) – The United Arab Emirates is hosting its second World Tolerance Summit as several activists are serving lengthy prison sentences following unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said today. The two-day conference on November 13 and 14, 2019 in Dubai under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister and the Dubai ruler, is part of UAE efforts to present itself as the “global capital of tolerance.”

UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. They have employed vaguely worded and loosely interpreted provisions in the country’s penal code and other laws to imprison peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists. They include Ahmed Mansoor, an award winning human rights activist and member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee; Mohammed al Roken, a university professor and human rights lawyer; and Nasser bin Ghaith, a prominent academic.

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To truly prove itself tolerant, the UAE should start by releasing all those unjustly imprisoned for not toeing the official line.” 

The UAE detained Mansoor in 2017 on speech-related charges that included using social media to “publish false information that harms national unity.” The authorities held him in a secret location for more than a year with no access to a lawyer, then sentenced him in May 2018 to 10 years in prison. On December 31, 2018, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court upheld Mansoor’s sentence. In March 2019, Mansoor began a month-long hunger strike to protest his unjust conviction and awful prison conditions. 

Bin-Ghaith is serving 10 years on charges stemming from criticism of the UAE and of Egyptian authorities. Following his arrest in August 2015, UAE security forces held him incommunicado for nine months. Bin-Ghaith, who is in poor health and has been denied adequate medical care in al-Razeen prison, initiated a months-long hunger strike in November 2018, his third reported hunger strike since April 2017.

Al-Roken is the former president of the United Arab Emirates Jurists’ Association. The authorities arrested him in July 2012 as he was driving to a Dubai police station to inquire about the arrests of his son and son-in-law. In July 2013, the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi convicted him alongside 68 other people in the grossly unfair “UAE 94” trial for attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Al-Roken was one of at least 64 detainees held at undisclosed locations for periods of up to one year before the trial and was denied legal assistance until a few weeks before the trial began in March 2013. He is in a high security prison in Abu Dhabi.

Prior to their convictions, the government repeatedly harassed and arrested all three men for their work and their criticism of the UAE’s human rights record.

“The UAE cannot credibly promote itself as a tolerant state while men like Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin-Ghaith, and Mohammed al-Roken, who risked their freedom to make the UAE a better and more just place, languish behind bars,” Whitson said. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 5:00 am

Sri Lanka's elections chief Mahinda Deshapriya displays ballot boxes that will be used in the upcoming presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Thursday, October 31, 2019. The voting is scheduled to be held on November 16. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
(New York) – The winner of Sri Lanka’s presidential election on November 16, 2019 will face enormous challenges to deliver justice for past crimes and prevent future abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. Since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, there has been progress on the right to free expression, but no accountability for war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides.

Sri Lanka’s next president needs to make real progress on the 25 human rights commitments, including accountability for war crimes, made in a 2015 consensus resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In March, Sri Lanka again joined a unanimous council resolution renewing its 2015 commitments. The resolution encourages the government of Sri Lanka to develop a “time-bound implementation strategy” for delivering on its commitments in full.

“Sri Lanka’s presidential election is certain to have important implications for human rights in the country, including justice for wartime violations,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Whoever is elected president will be under domestic and international scrutiny to ensure that Sri Lanka meets its human rights obligations.”

The Sri Lankan government has had a mixed record in carrying out the council resolution. Both an Office on Missing Persons and an Office for Reparations have been established, although neither is fully functioning. While serious concerns persist, there has been some progress on returning land occupied by the military during the conflict to its owners,.

However, the government has not kept its pledge to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has long been linked to indefinite arbitrary detention and torture. New concerns have arisen over freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in predominantly Tamil areas in the north, as the UN special rapporteur Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé documented earlier this year. Following the terrible Easter Sunday bombings in April, violent mob attacks erupted against members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority and migrants. As with similar episodes in recent years, the authorities failed to protect minority group members from attacks or act against those responsible.

Most crucially, the government has made no progress in its commitment to create a transitional justice mechanism to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights” in the country. Opposition by politicians to prosecuting “war heroes” ignores the demands of citizens who have spent a decade holding vigils, seeking the whereabouts of missing loved ones, and calling for those responsible for abuses to be brought to justice.

In March, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the Human Rights Council that in Sri Lanka: “there has been minimal progress on accountability. Continuing impunity risks fuelling communal or interethnic violence, and instability. Resolving these cases, and bringing the perpetrators of past crimes to justice, is necessary to restore the confidence of victims from all communities.”

“Sri Lanka’s next government will have its work cut out to meet the country’s human rights obligations,” Ganguly said. “No Sri Lankan should again have to live in fear of torture, enforced disappearance, or extrajudicial killings.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 12, 2019, 4:15 am

Screenshot of Papua New Guinean police officers violently beating three men on a street in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea shared on social media on November 4, 2019. 

© 2019 YouTube
(Sydney) – Papua New Guinean authorities should promptly investigate the vicious beating by police officers of three men in Port Moresby that was captured on video and shared on social media on November 4, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation should not merely identify the officers responsible but be capable of securing their successful prosecution and punishment.

“This video shows a shocking case of abuse on the streets in Port Moresby,” said Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch. “Sadly, these are not isolated cases. The only difference is this case was caught on camera. The Papua New Guinea police have a long track record of violence with impunity.”

The graphic 18-minute video shows armed police officers repeatedly kicking the men in the head and beating them with the butts of their guns while the men lie motionless on the ground. Two of the men sit up at the end of the video, but Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm the men’s location or current condition.

The Central Police Acting Assistant Commissioner, Anthony Wagambie Jr., condemned the violence he saw in the video and said that “no one should be subjected to such beatings by police. It is against the law. If someone has committed an offense, the role of police is to arrest, charge, and detain and allow the court to deal with the accused.”

Acting Police Commissioner David Manning also responded to the video, saying that what it showed was a case of excessive use of force and that “whatever their alleged crimes, police had no right to assault the three persons like that.” Police Minister Bryan Kramer said that the officers have been identified, suspended, and charged.

Police brutality is a regular occurrence in Papua New Guinea. This incident should be independently investigated, and the police officers involved should be prosecuted and punished appropriately for their actions, Human Rights Watch said.

In August 2018, two police officers were captured on video beating a 15-year-old naked boy in Kimbe, West New Britain, while he pleaded with them to stop. The video garnered significant attention, and it was reported that the police officers had been arrested and charged. Human Rights Watch has been unable to verify whether the two police officers were ever prosecuted and held to account for their actions. Kramer confirmed that this case, and many others involving police brutality, will be reopened. An earlier video, which was released in March 2014, showed police officers setting three dogs on a man outside Port Moresby.

“Instead of merely responding as each video of police brutality emerges, the Papua New Guinea government needs to put an end to police violence immediately,” Pearson said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 11, 2019, 9:00 pm

A Thai court has approved arrest warrants for Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn and three other forestry officials in connection with the abduction and murder of the prominent ethnic Karen human rights defender Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, known widely as “Billy,” in April 2014.

Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a prominent ethnic Karen activist, was last seen in government custody at Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province in April 2014.

© 2014 Human Rights Watch / Private

After more than five years of government cover ups and delays, there is a real hope that those implicated in Billy’s death will be prosecuted.

In September 2019, officials found Billy’s remains in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, where he had gone missing. The Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation concluded, based on the condition of Billy’s body, he was killed and then his body was burned in an oil barrel before being dumped in a reservoir to conceal the crime.

The state investigators believe the rights defender’s murder was related to his role helping ethnic Karen villagers take legal action against Chaiwat, who directed forestry officials to destroy houses and property of more than 20 Karen families who were living in the park.

Despite the spark of hope for justice in this case, the overall situation facing human rights defenders in Thailand is bleak.

The Thai government has repeatedly ignored its obligations to ensure human rights defenders and their organizations can carry out their work in a safe environment. The government has yet to develop a credible policy to better protect such defenders from harassment, threats, and enforced disappearance. Thai authorities have also not seriously investigated attacks against rights defenders and instead often told activists to give up their political activity in exchange for possible state protection.

The Thai government should make use of the political momentum generated by Billy’s case to resolve other cases of enforced disappearance and killings of human rights defenders – including that of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit.

Thailand’s culture of impunity for these terrible crimes needs to be brought to an end. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 11, 2019, 8:39 pm

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping following a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

© 2019 Nicolas Asfouri/Pool Photo via AP

French President Emmanuel Macron’s various public statements during his visit to China last week were remarkable, for what went unsaid more than their substance.

Given the enormity of human rights abuses in China, the French president had an important opportunity to publicly press his Chinese hosts on a slew of issues. But Macron made no public mention of the Chinese government’s mass repression campaign against Muslims in Xinjiang, including the arbitrary detention of about one million people. Not a word about Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur economist recently awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize, who is languishing in prison. And nothing about China crushing peaceful activism throughout the country.

Warned by the Chinese government before the visit not to interfere in the country’s “internal affairs,” Macron seems to have chosen silence over any public criticism of serious violations under Chinese President Xi Jinping. At his closing press conference, Macron said he had stressed to Xi the need for dialogue and restraint in Hong Kong, but fell short of calling on Xi to respect China’s commitments to Hong Kong people’s rights.

In a letter, Human Rights Watch urged Macron to use his visit to publicly call on the Chinese government to close the “political education” camps in Xinjiang, free unjustly detained critics of the government, and commit to respecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.

Despite overwhelming evidence of China’s systematic human rights violations, many world leaders still claim to pursue only “quiet diplomacy” with China. But quiet persuasion has not generated sufficient pressure for Xi to incur a cost for his brutal repression. Keeping publicly silent in the face of such abuses as Macron did only encourages Xi to continue down the same road.

Macron was happier talking about business: US$15 billion in contracts were reportedly signed with French companies during Macron’s visit. The French president also inaugurated the new Pompidou Museum in Shanghai and lobbied for the filming of the new adventures of the Gallic comic strip hero Asterix to take place in China.

But the Uyghurs, detained activists, and other people persecuted under Xi’s brutal tenure cannot count on any public criticism from Macron. Xi can continue to repress apparently without having to worry about any consequences in its bilateral relationship with France.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 11, 2019, 4:44 pm

Rohingya refugees gather in an open field at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State on August 25, 2019. 

© 2019 K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images

(The Hague) – The Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violating the Genocide Convention, filed on November 11, 2019, will bring the first judicial scrutiny of Myanmar’s campaign of murder, rape, arson, and other atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, 10 nongovernmental organizations said.

States that are party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide agreed that genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” and, by extension, have an obligation not to commit it. The convention permits member states to bring a dispute before the ICJ alleging another state’s breach of the convention, and states can seek provisional measures to stop continuing violations. Myanmar became a party to the Genocide Convention in 1956.

“The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.  “The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”

The nongovernmental organizations supporting the initiative are No Peace Without Justice, the Association pour la Lutte Contre l’Impunité et pour la Justice Transitionnelle, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Global Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

In its first Genocide Convention case, the ICJ imposed provisional measures against Serbia in 1993 and eventually found that Serbia had violated its duty to prevent and punish genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Canada, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey, and France have asserted that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has encouraged its 57 members to bring Myanmar before the court. Malaysia’s prime minister has also alleged that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya and called for efforts to bring Myanmar before the court.

“As a country recently emerging from decades of brutal dictatorship, The Gambia’s leadership on the Rohingya genocide is especially striking and welcome,” said Alison Smith, international justice director at No Peace Without Justice. “Other members of the Genocide Convention should follow The Gambia’s lead and lend their clear and unwavering support.”

In September 2019, the United Nations-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.” The fact-finding mission highlighted “the enormity and nature of the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls” during Myanmar’s military campaign as one of seven indicators of the state’s intent to destroy the Rohingya people.

“The Gambia’s proceedings before the ICJ offer countless survivors of sexual violence and other victims some hope that Myanmar could legally be held to account for its ruthless campaign against the Rohingya,” said Melinda Reed, executive director at Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

Legal actions addressing individual criminal responsibility are also underway at the international level. The fact-finding mission has called for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar’s military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Rakhine State in Myanmar, the state where most Rohingya lived.

The UN Human Rights Council has established an Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and prepare files for criminal prosecution. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has sought to open an investigation for the crime against humanity of deportation and possibly other offenses, but a broader investigation would need a referral by the UN Security Council.

The Myanmar government has failed to prosecute or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses. The current domestic commission of enquiry established by the government follows eight failed commissions and lacks credibility, and its chair has stated that it will not hold those responsible for abuses to account

“The Gambia’s case before the ICJ could pressure Myanmar to reverse its course of violence and live up to its obligation under the Genocide Convention to punish those responsible,” said Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director at the International Federation for Human Rights.

On November 11, the 10 organizations convened a meeting in The Hague with Abubacarr Tambadou, The Gambia’s attorney general and justice minister, and members of his legal team; several representatives of the Rohingya community; and others who have supported this initiative. The meeting provided an update on the initiative, addressed the implications of state responsibility under the Genocide Convention for deterring further crimes and providing redress the victims, and discussed the role that civil society groups and other stakeholders could play in such an inter-state dispute.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 11, 2019, 10:21 am