A volunteer at a Trussell Trust food bank prepares food parcels from their stores of donated food, toiletries and other items. London, United Kingdom.

© 2017 Leon Neal/Getty Images
(London) – Government cuts to welfare over the past decade have resulted in tens of thousands of poor families in England left without enough food to eat, a clear breach of the government’s duty to ensure adequate food, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 115-page report, “Nothing Left in the Cupboards: Austerity, Welfare Cuts, and the Right to Food in the UK,” examines how deep, austerity-motivated cuts to the welfare system, exacerbated by the introduction of the Universal Credit system and other changes, have left many families with children in England going hungry and dependent on food aid from charities. Many of these families are single parent households led by women. Human Rights Watch found that the UK government is failing to meet its duty under human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food.

“The way the UK government has handled its reduction in welfare spending has left parents unable to feed their children in the fifth-largest economy in the world,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UK government should ensure everyone’s right to food rather than expecting charities to step in and fill the gap.”

Human Rights Watch focused on three areas in England with high deprivation levels in Hull, Cambridgeshire and Oxford. Human Rights Watch conducted 126 interviews, including with families affected by food poverty, volunteers, and staff in food banks and pantries, and community center and school staff; analyzed official data and statistics; and reviewed information from the UK government and local authorities.

“Often, I have nothing left at the end of the week,” said a 23-year-old mother from Hull with a 4-year-old daughter who was unable to find employment that fit with her daughter’s school schedule, and relied on a low-cost community pantry which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets. “When you’re a single mum there are very few jobs you can do that let you drop your child to school in the morning, then go to work and be back at 2.30 to pick them up. I skip meals, so my daughter can eat.”

Human Rights Watch found three factors that have driven the surge in hunger in England.

First, successive governments since 2010 have slashed welfare spending in the name of austerity, with support to families and children disproportionately hit. A Human Rights Watch analysis of public spending data shows that between 2010 and 2018 public welfare to assist children and families fell by 44 percent, far outstripping cuts in many other areas of government expenditure. Moreover, the government has capped benefits for families, introduced an arbitrary and discriminatory two-child limit, and for the past four years has frozen annual increases to welfare payments despite rising food prices and inflation.

Second, the government is rolling out a major change to the welfare system, known as Universal Credit, that has exacerbated the hunger crisis by delaying access to initial payments, leaving welfare recipients often waiting weeks without receiving funds. The program also has a punitive system of imposing “sanctions” – withholding payments from welfare recipients – who fail to meet strict targets to prove that they have or are seeking work that are often impossible for people, especially single parents, to meet.

Third, the UK government has largely ignored and failed to act on growing evidence of a stark deterioration in the standard of living for the country’s poorest residents, including skyrocketing food bank use, and multiple reports from school officials that many more children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate. In one group meeting with seven young mothers claiming benefits, four said they were afraid that if they admitted going hungry and openly asked for food aid they could be considered unable to support their children and might lose custody.

The government has recently taken some steps to cushion the blow of some of its hardest hitting policies. It has removed the two-child limit on welfare payments for children born before April 2017, although it remains in place for families with third children born since then. It has belatedly agreed to begin measuring food insecurity nationwide. And it is providing limited funding for breakfasts and school meals outside the school year in some deprived areas

But it has yet to fully acknowledge its own responsibility, and the direct impact of many of its policies, for the hunger crisis or to take adequate steps to address it. In particular, the UK government has done little to address the significant structural problems with welfare policy that leave families unable to put food on the table, Human Rights Watch found.

The UK government’s failure to adequately address the growing hunger problem affecting the poorest parts of the population is a result of concrete policy choices to scale back the welfare state, Human Rights Watch said. The UK government has a duty under international human rights law to ensure the right to adequate food. That means making sure people can afford food, and providing food via assistance programs or a safety net if people are unable to properly feed themselves. By failing to do this, the government is violating the rights of people in the UK who are going hungry.

Successive UK governments though have failed to treat the right to food as equivalent to other human rights, in particular giving people whose right to food has been violated an effective remedy against the government. The UK government should recognize the right to food in domestic law, Human Rights Watch said. It should fully repeal the two-child limit, end delays in accessing payments under Universal Credit, and ensure that benefit payments keep pace with inflation, including the rising cost of food. The UK government should also develop an anti-hunger strategy, including a legal requirement to measure food insecurity and to report the results to parliament.

“This rise in hunger has the UK government’s fingerprints all over it,” Raj said. “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable. The UK government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 20, 2019, 4:01 am

On August 30, 2017, Phayao Akhard wears the bloody nurses gown worn by her daughter, nurse Kamolkate “Kate” Akhard, when she was killed by Thai Special Forces soldiers while tending wounded persons at the front of Wat Pathum temple on May 19, 2010.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Thai authorities have failed to punish policymakers, military commanders, and soldiers responsible for the deadly crackdown on “Red Shirt” protests in May 2010, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 4, 2019, the military prosecutor decided not to indict eight soldiers accused of fatally shooting six civilians in Bangkok’s Wat Pathumwanaram temple on May 19, 2010.

“Despite overwhelming evidence, Thai authorities have failed to hold officials accountable for gunning down protesters, medics, and reporters during the bloody crackdown in 2010,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The military prosecutor’s decision to drop the case against eight soldiers is the latest insult to families of victims who want justice.”

The military prosecutor dismissed the case on the grounds that there was no evidence and no witnesses to the killing. This decision contradicted the Bangkok Criminal Court’s inquest in August 2013, which found that the residue of bullets inside the victims’ bodies was the same type of ammunition issued to soldiers operating in the area at the time of the shooting. Based on information from the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), witness accounts, and other evidence, the inquest concluded that soldiers from the Ranger Battalion, Special Force Group 2, Erawan Military Camp fired their assault rifles into the temple from their positions on the elevated train track in front of Wat Pathumwanaram temple.

From March to May 2010, political confrontations between the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” and the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, escalated into violence in Bangkok and several provinces. According to the DSI, at least 98 people died and more than 2,000 were injured. The DSI issued a finding in September 2012 indicating that the military was culpable for 36 deaths.

Human Rights Watch’s May 2011 report, “Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown,” documented excessive and unnecessary force used by the military that caused many deaths and injuries during the 2010 political confrontations. The high number of casualties—including unarmed protesters, volunteer medics, reporters, photographers, and bystanders—resulted in part from the government’s enforcement of “live fire zones” around the UDD protest sites in Bangkok, where sharpshooters and snipers were deployed. Human Rights Watch also documented that some elements of the UDD, including armed “Black Shirt” militants, committed deadly attacks on soldiers, police, and civilians. Some UDD leaders incited violence with inflammatory speeches to demonstrators, urging their supporters to carry out riots, arson attacks, and looting.

All those criminally responsible should be held to account whatever their political affiliation or official position. But over the past nine years, there have been a series of cover-ups that have ensured impunity for senior government officials and military personnel. Successive Thai governments charged UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses but ignored rights abuses by soldiers. Under pressure from the military, deliberately insufficient investigative efforts have been made to identify the soldiers and commanding officers responsible for the shootings. Criminal and disciplinary cases were dropped in 2016 against former prime minister Abhisit, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda regarding their failure to review the use of military force that resulted in the loss of lives and the destruction of property. Thai authorities have targeted for intimidation and prosecution witnesses and families of the victims who demand justice.

“It is outrageous that the military has been allowed to walk away scot-free from deadly crimes committed in downtown Bangkok,” Adams said. “The failure of the government and military to provide justice for the deaths in 2010 heightens concerns for future political violence in Thailand.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 19, 2019, 1:00 am

Women mourn at the graves of their relatives who died in 2009 during the last days of the war in Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka, May 18, 2015.

© 2015 AP Photo

(New York) – Ten years since the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, the government has failed to provide justice for the conflict’s many victims, Human Rights Watch said today. The conflict ended on May 18, 2009, with the total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Sri Lankan government pledged to provide justice for wartime abuses and to take other measures to promote respect for human rights in a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution adopted in October 2015. While there has been some progress to address these commitments, there has been none to provide justice and accountability.

“The end of Sri Lanka’s long civil war in May 2009 provided an opportunity not only to rebuild shattered lives and society, but also to restore respect for rights and the rule of law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Yet successive Sri Lankan administrations have frittered away this opportunity, failing to investigate atrocities by both sides, hold those responsible for the worst crimes accountable, or provide truth and reparations to the victims.”

Under Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka committed to 25 key undertakings across a range of human rights issues. A core pledge was to set up four transitional justice mechanisms to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights” in the country. These included an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense lawyers; a truth and reconciliation mechanism; an office on missing persons; and an office for reparations.

The Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations overcame delays and were established, but neither is fully functioning. There has been no progress on establishing a war crimes tribunal with international involvement. Instead, Sri Lankan political leaders have repeatedly opposed using foreign judges, who would be less vulnerable to threats, and said that “war heroes” will be protected from prosecution.

In March 2019, 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.”

Numerous UN experts and treaty bodies since 2015 have highlighted the marginalization and misrepresentation faced by minority communities, as well as a trust-deficit between these communities and the government that has been due in significant part to a culture of impunity.

The Sri Lankan government has also not fulfilled its 2015 commitment to repeal and replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows prolonged detention without trial. Those detained under the law have frequently been subjected to torture and sexual violence. A proposed replacement, the draft Counter Terrorism Act, is before parliament. While the bill is an improvement on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, several problematic provisions remain, and there are reports that amendments will be introduced to further undermine human rights protections. Meanwhile, the authorities continue to arrest and detain people under the existing law.

The torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, particularly in political cases, has remained a problem since the end of the conflict. The UN special rapporteur on torture found after a 2016 visit to Sri Lanka that “torture and ill-treatment, including of a sexual nature, still occur, in particular in the early stages of arrest and interrogation, often for the purpose of eliciting confessions.”

The government also promised in 2015 to return land to families that the military appropriated during the war and still occupied. The security forces have not only used this land for military purposes, but also for agriculture, tourism, and other commercial ventures. While the government has released land in a number of sites in the north and east, the process in returning other sites has been slow.

Instead of taking action against those implicated in past abuses, the government has often protected and promoted them. In January 2019, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, whose 58 Division was linked to numerous laws-of-war violations during the final months of the war, became army chief of staff. On May 11, the government reinstated Prabath Bulathwatte, a military intelligence official whose unit was accused of attacks on at least three journalists, including the 2009 murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

The appalling Easter Sunday bombings and the ensuing mob violence targeting Muslims underline existing tensions in Sri Lanka 10 years after the war’s end and the urgent need to uphold human rights protections. The government enacted emergency regulations after the attacks that provide sweeping powers for detention without trial and curtail freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. The police have been slow to respond to mob attacks on Muslim shops and businesses, in which at least one man has died.

The government needs to act promptly and adequately to protect marginalized groups from harassment and violence while upholding basic due process standards and respecting international law.

The UN and concerned governments should maintain engagement with and pressure on the Sri Lankan government to protect human rights and promote reform, reconciliation, and accountability.

“On the tenth anniversary of the end of the war and in the aftermath of the Easter bombings, the Sri Lankan government should recommit itself to defending the human rights of everyone in Sri Lanka,” Ganguly said. “For that to happen, the government needs to live up to its commitments to provide justice, compensate those harmed, and reform laws and practices to uphold human rights standards.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 18, 2019, 2:15 am

A Bangladeshi reads a news report that makes mention of Facebook along with other social networking services, on his mobile phone in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Thursday, December 20, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo
(New York) – Bangladesh authorities made a series of new arrests in their crackdown on the right to free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests were based on vague charges such as “hurting religious sentiment” or undermining “law and order.”

 

Those arrested include Abdul Kaium, a human rights activist; Henry Sawpon, a well-known poet; and Imtiaz Mahmood, a lawyer. All three were detained and charged under section 57 of the draconian Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act or its more abusive successor, the Digital Security Act 2018.

“Arresting activists, poets, and lawyers for exercising their right to free speech is straight out of the authoritarian playbook,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Bangladesh government should stop locking up its critics and review the law to ensure it upholds international standards on the right to peaceful expression.”

A group of writers, artists, and journalists staged a protest in Dhaka’s Shahbagh square on May 15, saying they would go on an indefinite strike beginning on May 17 if Sawpon and Mahmood were not released. Both Sawpon and Mahmood were granted bail on May 16; Kaium remains in detention.

The ICT Act was widely criticized for granting police wide-ranging powers to make arrests on broad and vaguely defined grounds for any electronically published content, effectively curbing lawful criticism and dissent.

Section 57 of the ICT Act authorized the police to arrest anyone without warrant for online content that could be interpreted as defamatory; could cause “deterioration in law and order;” prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “may cause hurt to religious belief.”

It has been used to arrest people for actions as trivial as “liking” a comment on Facebook. In September 2017, Muhammad Nazrul Islam Shamim, special public prosecutor of the Cyber Tribunal created under the ICT Act, acknowledged that some cases brought under section 57 had been “totally fabricated and … filed to harass people.”

Mahmood was arrested at his home in Dhaka on May 15, 2019, on charges that police had filed in July 2017 under the ICT Act over a Facebook post about violence in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts titled “Hill Bengali residents and law enforcers.”

There have been serious allegations of human rights violations by the military deployed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh, where much of the country’s indigenous population lives. But Shafiqul Islam, a trader, filed the case against Mahmood under the ICT Act accusing him of spreading rumors with an “ill motive to tarnish the country’s image,” hurting “religious sentiment,” and “deteriorating the law and order.”

The high court granted Mahmood conditional release (anticipatory bail), meaning he was granted bail without arrest, on July 25, 2017. But without explanation, the Khagrachari court, in the Chittagong area, had issued an arrest warrant against him under the 2017 case on January 21.

Mahmood’s arrest is of particular concern because the ICT Act was revoked in October 2018 and replaced with the Digital Security Act, which the government claimed would end arbitrary arrests. Instead, the new law tightened the government’s chokehold on free speech. Under the new law, “propaganda or campaign against the liberation war, the spirit of the liberation war, the father of the nation, national anthem, or national flag” is punishable with life in prison. The Bangladesh’s Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, has said that the law effectively prohibits investigative journalism.

Kaium, an activist with the prominent human rights organization Odhikar, and editor of news portal Mymensinghlive, was arrested on May 12 and denied bail on May 13. Idris Ali, an influential madrassah teacher, filed a case, accusing Kaium of extortion under the penal code and dissemination of “false or fear inducing information/data” (section 25) and defamation (section 29) under the Digital Security Act.

Odhikar had previously faced threats and intimidation from the government under the ICT Act. In September 2013, its founder, Adilur Rahman Khan, and director, A.S.M Nasiruddin Elan, were charged with “publishing false images and information” and “disrupting the law and order situation of the country.” In January 2017, the High Court of Bangladesh rejected a petition to quash the charges.

Sawpon was arrested at his home in Barisal on May 14 under the Digital Security Act. Sawpon is accused of “hurting religious values or sentiments” (section 28), defamation (section 29), and “causing deterioration of law and order” (section 31).

The case was filed with the police by a priest of a local Catholic church over Sawpon’s Facebook posts criticizing a church event the day after Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attack. In the offending post Sawpon wrote that it was “very unfortunate” that Bishop Lawrence Subrata Howlander had arranged a cultural program in the wake of the attack and that “Bishop Subrata was playing the flute when Rome was burning.”

Sawpon could face up to 15 years in prison. Two others, Alfred Sarkar, 52, and Jewel Sarkar, 40, were also accused in the case just for commenting on the Facebook post.

“This week’s arrests show how small the space has become for civil society in Bangladesh,” Adams said. “Sheikh Hasina’s government should revise the abusive elements of these laws before the space for peaceful expression disappears entirely.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 18, 2019, 2:00 am

Same-sex marriage supporters cheer outside the Legislative Yuan Friday, May 17, 2019, in Taipei, Taiwan after the legislature passed a law allowing same-sex marriage.

© 2019 AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying

Crowds waving rainbow flags broke into cheers – and tears of joy – as news spread that Taiwan’s lawmakers had passed a bill today allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Starting May 24, same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot with almost the same rights as different-sex couples. This is a first in Asia and a significant milestone on the road to equality in the region.

An early morning tweet from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, presaged the positive outcome of two long years of campaigning by marriage equality activists.

Good morning #Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.

Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins. pic.twitter.com/PCPZCTi87M

— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 17, 2019

The events in Taiwan over the past two years followed a path familiar to LGBT activists the world over – as same-sex couples struggled for rights in the face of social prejudice. In 2017, the Constitutional Court found Taiwan’s existing marriage act violated the Constitution on discrimination grounds by excluding same-sex couples.

The court gave Parliament two years to rectify this, but public opposition led to a referendum in 2018 to gauge public opinion on same-sex marriage. Too often around the world, LGBT people’s fundamental rights are debated in the court of public opinion, throwing the right to non-discrimination into question. The results of the referendum were clear – the majority rejected marriage equality.

In a last-ditch attempt to prevent marriage equality, two alternative bills were introduced in parliament that offered a separate, and unequal, form of partnership recognition that fell far short of marriage. But Taiwan’s lawmakers rejected these initiatives and voted in favor of the bill first proposed by the cabinet that provides a path to marriage for same-sex couples.

A cornerstone of democracy is the protection of minority rights from the whim of the majority. LGBT people require protection from discrimination, precisely because of social attitudes that lead to systemic discrimination.

Taiwan’s lawmakers voted to uphold minority rights in the face of discrimination, and in doing so set a positive example for the region. Today is indeed a day for celebration.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 17, 2019, 7:15 pm

Arsenal players celebrate winning their Europa League football match semifinal against Valencia at the Camp de Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Thursday, May 9, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
Two London clubs – Chelsea and Arsenal – will compete in the Europa League football final in Azerbaijan at the end of May. As players and thousands of fans prepare to descend on the capital, Baku, the country’s authoritarian leaders expect to win their own public relations game: to whitewash their image.

Besides high ticket prices and concerns over Azerbaijan’s handling of so many visiting fans, the British press is appropriately focusing on human rights. The Independent newspaper notes the government’s “appalling” rights record and points out that Azerbaijan is ranked 166th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, The paper says  Football Supporters Europe has flagged the “repressive atmosphere” for fans and the government’s “extremely poor record on LGBT rights.’’

Azerbaijan’s approach to human rights helps us understand why it wants to host the final. Its leaders love such mega-sporting events – it also hosts annual Formula One races, and held the European Games, a mini-Olympics, in 2015 – because they hope to polish their self-image as a prosperous oil-rich country and deflect international criticism over their repressive rule.

Azerbaijan craves the international spotlight. So why not turn it back onto the government itself? Let’s raise our expectations that Azerbaijan might actually live up to its commitments to the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Let’s demand that journalists from inside and outside the country can report freely without fearing jail. And let’s expect that people joining peaceful protests near the stadium or elsewhere won’t be attacked and rounded up by police.

Human Rights Watch has long urged the UK and other governments to look beyond Azerbaijan’s self-promotion and to use the question “are human rights improving for ordinary people?” as a key measure of progress.

Following your passion for sport is always tricky when the events take place in countries with bad human rights records. Sadly, there are plenty of Azerbaijani activists who won’t be able to watch the game in person because they are in jail or have fled the country.

But we can still hope it’s a good match, that the best team wins… and that Azerbaijan feels the glare of international attention and uses that to do some good for a change.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 17, 2019, 12:53 pm

Angolan activist Hitler “Samussuku” Tshikonde. @2018 Private

(Johannesburg, May 17, 2019) – Angolan authorities should investigate alleged police abuse against a political activist and drop the baseless case against him, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 10, 2019 in Luanda, six plainclothes police officers violently forced Hitler “Samussuku” Tshikonde into an unidentified car. The police jailed him unlawfully for 72 hours without charge or access to a lawyer. He was released on May 13 and informed that that he was under investigation for allegedly “insulting the president” in a video that he had posted on social media, and that he should cooperate with the authorities.

“The Angolan police mistreatment of ‘Samussuku’ Tshikonde was both unlawful and a signal that the government won’t tolerate peaceful dissent,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The police officers’ conduct should be investigated, and all those responsible should be held to account.”

Tshikonde is one of 17 members of a book club who were charged in March 2016 with planning a rebellion against the government of then-president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. They were convicted and sentenced to between two and eight years in prison, but were released in June 2016 after the Supreme Court overturned their convictions.

On May 8, Tshikonde posted a video on his YouTube account telling Angola’s current president, Joao Lourenco, that activists were ready to oppose him the same way they opposed Dos Santos if he continued to target peaceful activists. Tshikonde was reacting to the arrest and brief detention of fellow “Group of 17” activists Arante Kivuvu and Benedito Jeremias earlier in May following a peaceful protest against forced evictions in Luanda’s Viana region.

Tshikonde told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of May 10, his aunt accompanied him as he walked to a nearby medical clinic because he was not feeling well. Outside their house, neighbors warned them that police vehicles were driving around the house and neighborhood.

Close to the Chavala clinic, six men who did not identify themselves approached Tshikonde and his aunt and violently started pushing them into a vehicle. “I initially thought they were bandits, and I told them that we didn’t have money and they could take our cellphones,” Tshikonde said. “They told us not to argue and get in the car.”

Soon after, three other men who identified themselves as members of the State Security and Intelligence Service (SINSE) joined the group in the vehicle. They informed Tshikonde and his aunt that they were under arrest because of Tshikonde’s “online activities.” Tshikonde said the officers did not present an arrest warrant or give any details of their investigation and rejected Tshikonde’s request to release his aunt.

Officers at the Luanda Provincial Command of the Angola Police told Tshikonde that he had been arrested because his recent video on social media was “a threat to the president.” Tshikonde’s aunt was released at about 2 p.m., about five hours after their arrest. Tshikonde was released three days later.  

Under Angolan law, suspects must be charged with a recognizable crime within 48 hours of their arrest or released. The African Union Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa state that arrests are only to be carried out by clearly identified law enforcement officers, and only based on a warrant or to prevent a crime in progress.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on the right to freedom of expression, stated that the “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

“The Angolan police should stop treating peaceful activists as a threat to state security,” Sawyer said. “Respecting the right to freedom of expression is an important step toward building a strong democracy and rule of law.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 17, 2019, 5:00 am

The office of the Belarusian news website, Tut.by. The Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus has ordered the detention of some Tut.by staff, along with other media workers, alleging they had unauthorized access to information owned by government-owned news agency, BELTA. 

© 2019 Viktor Drachev\TASS via Getty Images

(Berlin) – Belarusian authorities have carried out concerted attacks on media freedom over the past two years that directly affect the climate in which news media will cover the country before, during, and after the upcoming European Games, Human Rights Watch said today. The European Olympic Committees (EOC) should ensure that all journalists, foreign and local, covering the 2019 European Games, from June 21-30, in Belarus, can operate free from harassment.

In the past two years, Belarusian authorities have filed a record number of criminal charges against journalists and bloggers, carried out groundless searches of the editorial offices of several news organizations, introduced tighter state control of the internet, and expanded grounds for prosecuting speech. On May 8, in response to concerns about press freedom raised by Human Rights Watch and other groups, the EOC told Human Rights Watch that it would appoint a representative to monitor media freedom during the games.

“It’s good news that the EOC has committed to dealing with interference with press freedoms, but it needs to follow up with effective action,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s disturbing that journalists covering the games will need protection from Belarusian authorities’ harassment.”

Andrei Bastunets, chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarus’ top media rights watchdog, has said that “2018 has become the darkest year for Belarusian journalism since 2011,” when there was a massive crackdown following elections in December of the previous year. Bastunets has said that the authorities are trying to strengthen their control of mass media ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of 2019 and 2020.

Legislation adopted in 2014 authorized the Information Ministry to compel internet providers to block access to websites without judicial review. Amendments to the Law on Mass Media in 2018 introduced a burdensome registration procedure for online media to be able to cover the government. And reporters are being prosecuted under the 2016 amendments to the country’s anti-extremism law.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists documented 26 police searches of journalists’ and bloggers’ homes and of media offices in 2018. In February 2018, a court sentenced three bloggers to five years in prison and suspended their sentences, after they had spent 14 months in pretrial custody, for posts that allegedly “questioned Belarus’s sovereignty” and “insulted the Belarusian nation.” In March 2019, police arrested two Russian journalists as they were giving a lecture about operating small online outlets. A blogger who covered environmental protests is facing dubious “criminal insult” charges.

In April, a court convicted an independent media editor of criminal negligence on allegations that some of her staff had been accessing the website of BelTA, the state news agency, without paying a subscription fee. The charges were wholly inappropriate for the alleged offense, Human Rights Watch said. In connection with similar cases, police searched the offices of several independent media outlets, and held eight journalists in custody for three days. They, along with at least six others, were also prosecuted and fined.

Authorities have prosecuted bloggers who cover controversial issues on a range of dubious or trumped-up charges. They have also routinely detained and fined journalists covering unauthorized protests.

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka will mark his 25th anniversary in office in July. His presidency has been marked by entrenched authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch said. The government severely restricts independent media and independent organizations and refuses permission for most human rights groups to register and operate freely. It is the only country in Europe that continues to allow the death penalty.

In recent years, the government made some improvements in the human rights situation. It has downgraded “unregistered” involvement in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from a criminal offense to an administrative one and has released most high-profile political prisoners. The authorities have jailed fewer journalists than in the past, though they have greatly increased prosecutions that result in fines.

Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly urged the EOC to establish media freedom procedures for the Minsk Games. In a May 8 letter to Human Rights Watch, the EOC’s leadership wrote that it had appointed a “contact person to monitor” the rights of journalists during the games.

The EOC should ensure that the information about the contact person is made available to foreign and Belarusian journalists alike, and that the individual has the resources to respond effectively to any complaints. The EOC, an association of 50 National Olympic Committees, owns and regulates the European Games. The EOC and its members are part of the Olympic Movement and governed by the Olympic Charter, which has explicit guarantees for media freedom.

“The situation for press freedoms in Belarus is alarming,” Denber said. “The EOC needs to do whatever is required to ensure journalists can report safely during the games.”

For details about the new legislation and the cases brought against journalists and bloggers, please see below.

New Restrictive Legislation

Legislation adopted in 2014 authorized the Information Ministry to compel internet providers to block access to websites without judicial review.

In the last two years, access to two independent news platforms, Belarusian Partisan and Charter ’97, were blocked for “disseminating prohibited information,” including information about an “unauthorized assembly.” Both remain blocked, although one re-opened under a different domain.

Amendments to the Law on Mass Media in 2018 introduced a burdensome procedure for “voluntary” registration for online media outlets. Websites without this registration cannot file requests for accreditation with government institutions, effectively banning them from reporting on the work of the government.

Websites that want to be registered must have an officially registered company and office. The website’s editor-in-chief must be a citizen of Belarus with more than five years of media experience. The Belarusian Association of Journalists told Human Rights Watch that as of the beginning of 2019, only five websites were registered.

The amendments require both registered and unregistered online media outlets to keep public records of the names of people who submit comments online and disclose that information to authorities. The amendments also make owners of online media criminally liable for any content posted on their website and provide additional grounds for the Information Ministry to block websites without judicial oversight.

Amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, also adopted in 2018, introduced fines for disseminating “prohibited information,” up to 4,900 Belarusian rubles (about US$2,320) for registered media outlets, and 2,450 Belarusian rubles (about US$1,160) for unregistered outlets.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC), which oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found that many aspects of Belarus media regulation, including the 2018 legal amendments, “severely restrict freedom of opinion and expression.”

Misuse of “Anti-Extremism” Legislation to Restrict Legitimate Speech

Legislative amendments adopted in 2016 expanded the definition of “extremist activity” to include, among other things, “disseminating extremist materials.”

Two high-profile examples illustrate how Belarusian authorities have used criminal “extremism” charges to suppress provocative speech related to Russian-Belarusian relations. The Belarus authorities have tried to prevent information about the cases getting out, closing the trials to the public and requiring the accused and their lawyers to sign non-disclosure agreements.

In one of the cases, in an August 2016 closed hearing, a Minsk court found that nine articles published on 1863x.com, a news and analytical website often critical of the government, were “extremist,” alleging that some content contained pornography and incited ethnic hatred. In reaching its conclusion, the court relied exclusively on a state expert’s analysis.

The website’s administrator, Eduard Palchys, was arrested in May 2016, convicted in October on criminal extremism charges following a closed trial, sentenced to 21 months on parole, and released. Palchys and his lawyer had to sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting them from speaking publicly about the trial. Human Rights Watch understands that the speech was provocative and might be offensive to some, but it did not call for violence.

In the second case, in December 2016, authorities arrested Yuri Pavlovets, Dimitri Alimkin, and Sergei Shiptenko, bloggers with the Russian-language websites Regnum, Lenta.ru, and EADaily, on charges of inciting extremism and sowing social discord between Russia and Belarus, for posts authorities said “questioned Belarus’s sovereignty” and “insulted the Belarusian nation.” It appears that the articles that formed the basis for the charges were dismissive of the Belarusian language and speculated that Belarus faced a threat from Russia similar to the Russian intervention in Ukraine. In February 2018, the court convicted them and handed down five-year suspended prison sentences, upheld later on appeal. All three spent 14 months in pre-trial custody.

In December, Internal Affairs Minister Igor Shunevich presented a draft law to parliament that would create additional administrative and criminal liability for the “propaganda and rehabilitation of Nazism.” Parliament approved the bill on the first reading, but the bill would have to be approved in two more readings and be signed by the president to become law.

Around the same time, authorities started using existing articles of the administrative offenses code prohibiting “propaganda or public demonstration of Nazi symbols”(article 17.10) and “dissemination of information containing calls for extremist activity” (article 17.11) to penalize journalists and activists, in particular, those involved in the anarchist movement, for their social media posts.

In one example, in November, Aliaksandr Dzianisau, a freelance journalist, was fined 612.5 Belarusian rubles (about US$290) for reposting two videos of a 2017 rally against the “social parasites tax.” These videos were re-posted from a group that authorities had blacklisted in 2016 for featuring “extremist” content, making reposting of any of the group’s publications an offense.

In other cases, Aliaksandr Horbach and Mikalay Dziadok, freelance journalists, were fined for posts involving Nazi symbols. Horbach was fined for posts featuring anti-fascist graffiti, from 2013 to 2016. Dziadok was fined several times, including for posts that depicted a swastika and condemned famous Belarusian public figures for being photographed with a neo-Nazi group called Misanthropic Division.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that in mid-March 2019, police in Minsk detained two Russian journalists, Pavel Nikulin and Jan Potarsky, while they were giving a lecture about small-scale media outlets at the Belarusian Press Club. They were released after three hours without charge, but their presentation materials were confiscated. The police said later that they had filed an administrative case against Nikulin and Potarsky for disseminating “extremist” materials. Both are with moloko plus, a Russian noncommercial media project devoted to studying violence.

The BelTA Case

In August 2018, Belarusian authorities opened a criminal inquiry against several media outlets for allegedly using passwords to access a paid subscription to the state-owned news agency, BelTA, without authorization and without paying for a subscription.

Police searched the offices of BelaPAN, the only independent news agency in Belarus, and TUT.by, a leading news website that is one of the few registered, independent online outlets. TUT.by has the largest audience among independent Belarusian media, comparable with that of state television channels. Police also searched the editorial offices of several other media outlets, some of them state-owned, and the homes of several journalists. They confiscated computers and other data storage devices.

A lawyer with the Belarusian Association of Journalists told Human Rights Watch that at least 18 journalists and editors from various online outlets were interrogated as suspects or witnesses, eight of whom were detained for up to three days.

In September, Dzmitry Bobrik, editor of FINANCE.TUT.by, said in a social media post that the Investigative Committee, Belarus’s criminal investigative service, had forced him to cooperate by threatening his family and privacy. Investigative Committee officials denied his allegations.

In November, 14 suspects were charged with “unauthorized access to computer information for personal gain, causing significant damage” under part 2, article 349 of the Criminal Code. Violations are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Aliaksei Kazliuk, co-founder of Human Constanta, an independent human rights group, told Human Rights Watch that such charges are intended for cyber-crimes like hacking, and not for abusing a password to get free access to a commercial website. “These journalists are not hackers”, he said, “and such situations should be dealt with in the framework of civil proceedings.”

By the end of December, the criminal charges had been replaced with administrative charges. Each of the accused had to pay fines and damages ranging from 3,000 to 17,000 Belarusian rubles (US$1,420 – $8,050) to BelTA and another state-owned media company.

In March, a court found Maryna Zolatava, the editor of TUT.by, guilty of criminal negligence for allegedly being aware that her staff was using log-in data for BeITA's paid subscription. The court fined her 7,650 Belarusian rubles and ordered her to pay BeITA 6,000 Belarusian rubles (US$3,650 and $2,860, respectively) in legal costs.

The media photograph Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of news portal tut.by, as she attends her trial for alleged 'unauthorised access' to information from state-run BelTA news agency, in Minsk, March 4, 2019.

© 2019 SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images

During her trial, Zolatava admitted that she became aware that one employee was using a BelTA paid subscription password, and said she immediately ordered the person to stop. The defense underscored that all the news that appears on the BelTA paid subscription service is published, usually several minutes later, for open access.

The defense said that there were only two instances in which the investigation had been able to demonstrate that news originating from BelTA appeared on TUT.by’s website before being publicly released by BelTA. Nevertheless, the prosecution insisted that BelTA and its subscribers incurred damages that equaled the total cost of several paid subscription licenses for several months.

“The entire case appears to be an attempt by the law enforcement to intimidate and bring under control leading independent media, in particular TUT.by,” Andrei Aliaksandrau, a Belarusian media expert, told Human Rights Watch. “During hundreds of interrogations conducted for this case, journalists were asked detailed questions on how the work of their editorial offices is organized, which went far beyond what was necessary.... Law enforcement also obtained a large amount of data stored on seized computers, which potentially may be used to persecute journalists and their sources.”

In June 2018, two months before the BelTA case was opened, the authorities began investigating Ales Lipai, head of the BelaPAN news agency, on criminal tax evasion charges. A week before the case was opened, the tax authorities imposed an administrative fine on Lipai for late submission of his 2016-2017 tax returns. Lipai paid the fines in full by the day the criminal investigation was opened, but the authorities proceeded with it anyway, seized his property and putting him under house arrest. They dropped the case after Lipai died in August from cancer.

Harassment of Journalists Contributing to Foreign Media

Belarusian media legislation requires journalists working for media outlets registered outside Belarus to obtain accreditation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, even if they are Belarusian nationals. The same law also requires them to have an official labor contract with the accredited foreign media outlet, which makes it difficult for freelancers to become accredited. Authorities have often arbitrarily denied accreditation to journalists working for foreign media.

For years, law enforcement officials harassed journalists contributing to foreign media without accreditation, mostly by issuing warnings. In April 2014, the authorities started prosecuting them under part 2 of article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offences, for “illegal production and distribution of mass media products.”

According to Human Rights Center Viasna, an independent Belarusian group, in 2018 alone, the courts imposed 131 fines on 36 journalists and bloggers for this offense, ranging from 490 to 1,225 Belarusian rubles (US$230 to US$580). The total sum, more than 110,000 Belarusian rubles (about US$52,000), exceeded the amount of the fines imposed in the previous four years for this offense. In the first four months of 2019, authorities have brought at least 35 such cases against 15 journalists.

Freelance journalists contributing to the Belarusian-language TV channel Belsat are the main targets of these charges, as well as of other harassment. Belsat is registered in Poland but positions itself as the only independent Belarusian TV channel. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the total amount of fines imposed on Belsat journalists for this offense in 2018 had exceeded the equivalent of US$47,000.

Volha Chaichyts, a freelance journalist, was fined for her work with Belsat 14 times in 2018 for a total of 12,250 Belarusian rubles (about US$5,860). Although she and her husband, Belsat cameraman Andrei Koziel, who was himself fined seven times for a total of about US$4,220, had paid all the fines, in September they were barred from leaving Belarus for a planned trip abroad where they were supposed to speak about the situation concerning media freedom in Belarus.

The day before their trip, a court bailiff told them they could not travel because it was impossible to verify whether they had paid the entire amount, as “the database was not working.” Chaichyts told Human Rights Watch that the ban was lifted the following day, and by then Chaichyts had to travel to Vilnius to take another flight.

Other Persecution of Belsat Journalists

In March 2017, police searched the Minsk offices of Belsat, allegedly for unlawfully using its trademark, and seized the channel’s equipment, which was not returned.

In March 2017, law enforcement also brought six charges in a single day against Larysa Shchyrakova, a freelance journalist working with Belsat, for covering protests on Freedom Day on March 25. She told Human Rights Watch they also threatened, twice, to take away her 10-year-old son. Police accused her of cooperating with unregistered foreign media, failing to appear for questioning, failing to register her pet dog, and, for good measure, having a pile of sand outside her house. Since then, she has been repeatedly fined for other groundless media-related infractions.

Kanstantsin Zhukouski, another freelancer, told Human Rights Watch he had to leave the country in January 2019 due to continuous pressure on him that intensified after he published an exposé with Belsat on the security services’ work on illegal migration across the Belarusian border. In 2018 alone, he was fined 12 times for his cooperation with Belsat. He said that he and his family had received threats online, he had been beaten by police, and his home had been broken into. None of these incidents was investigated. In January, he was attacked by unidentified men who stopped his car, splashed some burning liquid in his face, knocked him down, and tore up his passport. Zhukouski and his family requested asylum in another European country.

In April 2019, police raided Belsat’s Minsk office in connection with libel charges. The case was prompted by a 2018 article on the channel’s website, which mistakenly alleged that the former deputy prosecutor general, Andrei Shved, had been arrested together with his brother, Aleh, on corruption charges. Belsat’s representatives publicly acknowledged the error, as the arrest and bribery charge involved Aleh Shved only, and published a correction. During the search, police seized all the data storage devices and computers in the office, returning them two days later.

Harassment of Journalists, Bloggers Covering Protests

Riot police detain a man during a rally in Minsk on March 25. 

© 2017 Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Journalists covering unauthorized public assemblies, in particular annual rallies on March 25, Freedom Day, and April 26, the anniversary of Chernobyl, are regularly detained, as law enforcement officers often do not distinguish journalists covering such rallies from participants. Media rights organizations say the number of detentions has started to decrease, and that the journalists are now for the most part fined instead for dubious reasons.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2017, the authorities arbitrarily detained at least 101 journalists, in most cases while they were reporting on street protests, and sentenced them to at least 10 and up to 15 days in detention on a variety of trumped-up charges. Also in 2017, the association said, police beat six journalists. In 2018, 31 journalists were detained, including 10 during Freedom Day rallies.

In December 2017, a court fined Anatol Bukas, chief editor of Naviny.by, an independent news website, 345 Belarusian rubles (roughly US$163) for writing that an unauthorized rally would take place in Minsk. This allegedly violated the law on mass gatherings, which bans giving the date and time of demonstrations if they are not authorized. The trial followed a warning issued to the outlet by the Information Ministry in November. Under Belarusian law, two warnings may lead to an outlet’s closure.

In July 2018, parliament amended the Law on Mass Events, introducing a requirement for journalists covering rallies to clearly identify themselves by providing their identity documents and documents confirming official accreditation and wearing a visible “press” sign. Belarusian rights defenders are concerned that law enforcement officials may use this provision to justify penalizing unaccredited freelancers and bloggers who cover protests. If they identify themselves to police as press, they may be fined for working without official accreditation, and if they do not, they may be detained and fined as participants of the unauthorized rally.

Harassment of Bloggers

In 2018, Siarhei Piatrukhin, a blogger whose posts are critical of the authorities and attract large numbers of viewers, was regularly detained and fined for the coverage of weekly protests against the construction of a battery plant near Brest over serious concerns about the plant’s environmental impact.

Piatrukhin told Human Right Watch that in May, the police came to his apartment, seizing his laptop, a tablet that belonged to a third party, mobile phone, and camera. In July, a court charged him with disobeying police when he would not allow police to enter his apartment. The police officer had come in relation to a complaint filed by a person who accused Piatrukhin of insulting them. The charges stem from a series of videos the blogger had uploaded to YouTube, which alleged that police in Brest beat a local resident in 2016. The alleged victim has repeatedly petitioned authorities to prosecute the abusive police, but no criminal proceedings followed.

A criminal slander and insult case was filed against Piatrukhin, and in August, police again searched his apartment, seizing equipment. Masked policemen broke the door and used force to take him to the police station for interrogation.

In April 2019, a court convicted Piatrukhin, fined him 9,180 Belarusian rubles (US$4,380), and ordered him to pay the equivalent of US$3,700 in moral damages to four police officers who were allegedly targeted in his YouTube videos. Piatrukhin plans to appeal.

In March 2019, police in the Homel region arrested Andrei Pavuk, a blogger who lives in the rural area around Homel. He created a local online community for independent news and has about 9 000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. The police also searched his apartment and seized his equipment.

The investigation claims that Pavuk emailed a fake bomb message to the regional department of the Emergencies Ministry, causing the agency to evacuate the staff. After questioning Pavuk on criminal charges of making a “knowingly false statement of danger,” the police released him. In mid-April, Pavuk was notified that the criminal charges against him had been lifted, but police have not returned his confiscated equipment.

Foreign Journalists Prevented from Working in Belarus

In the past two years, there have been fewer incidents of Belarusian authorities denying entry to or deporting foreign, especially Western, reporters than in the past. This is part of Belarus’s declared policy of openness to the West, which includes short-term visa-free entry for nationals of many Western countries. The few cases in 2018 and 2019 were prompted by cooperation between Belarusian and Russian border police services and decisions by Russian authorities to include journalists in blacklists that are now shared between both states.

In October 2018, police in Minsk detained Mykola Balaban, a Ukrainian national and publisher of The Village Ukraine magazine. He was in Belarus to attend an international Media Management and IT forum.

The police came to Balaban’s hotel room at 5 a.m., took him to a police station, and put him in a cell. Six hours later, they released him. It turned out police had mistaken him for another Ukrainian journalist with the same name and date of birth, apparently blacklisted in Russia, who works for Informnapalm.org website, which investigates Russia's military involvement in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Following the incident, Balaban cancelled his participation in the event and returned to Ukraine.

In January 2019, border guards detained Olga Vallee, FOJO Media Institute program coordinator and a Swedish national, at the Minsk airport. She arrived in Belarus at the invitation of the Belarusian Association of Journalists for a meeting with young journalists. Border guards told Vallee she could not enter Belarus, since her name appears on a Russian “blacklist.” As a result, she had to return to Riga.

FOJO Media Institute has cooperated with Belarusian journalists’ organizations for more than 15 years. Its representatives had faced no impediments to visiting Belarus. Vallee had received a business visa for a year in October 2018.

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

(Tunis) – Tunisia should revise its laws and practices to recognize and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, Human Rights Watch said today on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.

Human Rights Watch joined the Civil Coalition for Individual Freedoms in Tunisia today in issuing a statement that called on the government to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct, end forced anal examinations, recognize transgender people, and stop harassing LGBT organizations.

“Tunisia has taken rhetorical steps toward ending institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people, by agreeing to end forced anal exams and establishing a presidential commission that called for decriminalization of same-sex conduct,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But arrests and forced anal exams continue, while the state attempts to silence one of the groups vocally condemning these practices.”

The Tunisian government has taken steps to withdraw the legal registration of a leading Tunisian LGBT rights organization, Shams, claiming its work on behalf of sexual minorities contravenes “Tunisian society’s Islamic values” and laws that criminalize homosexual acts. A court of appeal is expected to issue a ruling in the case on May 20.

Article 230 of the penal code punishes consensual same-sex relations with up to three years in prison. Tunisian law also punishes any act the authorities perceive as contrary to “morality” and “decency.” The coalition noted that the police frequently arrest people solely on the basis of non-normative gender expression. 

While the Tunisian authorities in 2017 committed to ending anal tests as evidence in homosexuality prosecutions, the courts continue to order this practice, which has no scientific basis and has been condemned by international experts as torture.  

Crimes against people perceived to be homosexual or transgender continue in an atmosphere of impunity, the coalition said. Unchecked discrimination prevents LGBT people from enjoying their most basic rights to health, education, work, and to seek legal action against abusers.  

The coalition issued a series of recommendations to the Tunisian government. It called on parliament to adopt the draft Code of Individual Freedoms, which was put forward by a group of parliament members in October 2018. The code would provide for decriminalization of homosexual acts and a rights-respecting process by which trans people could change their sex marker on legal documents.

It also called on judges to bar the use of anal testing, and for doctors to refuse to conduct anal tests.

The signatory associations:

Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights

Tunisian Association of Democratic Women

Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties

Beity Association

Damj Association - for Justice and Equality

Tunisian Association for Positive Prevention

Shams Association

Mawjoudin Association

Chouf Association

Association for the promotion of the Right to Difference

Tunisian federation for a citizenship of both banks

CALAM Association

Legal Agenda Tunisia

Tunisian Association for Reproductive Health

Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group

Tahadi Association

Free Sight Association

Fanni Raghman Anni Association

Doustourna Association

Lawyers without Borders

International Federation for Human Rights

Euromed Rights Network

Human Rights Watch

World Organization Against Torture

Al Bawsala Association

Outcasts Collective

Alwani Association

Committee for Respect for Freedoms and Human Rights

Tunisie Terre des Hommes Association

Ahmed Tlili Foundation for Democratic Culture

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

Ronald Dela Rosa talks to President Rodrigo Duterte at the Malacanang presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines, January 19, 2017.

© 2017 Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Many pundits have interpreted the recently concluded midterm elections in the Philippines as an endorsement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Duterte’s favored candidates dominated the Senate, House, and local elections, prompting foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. to pronounce, “he [Duterte] and the war just won” and the “war goes on.”

However one views the election results, it won’t change the fact that victorious candidates implicated in “drug war” crimes shouldn’t receive a get-out-of-jail-free card. Newly elected Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa was Duterte’s police chief when the “drug war” began after Duterte took office in June 2016. Dela Rosa presided over a Philippine National Police that routinely shot and killed drug suspects, claiming without proof they resisted arrest. Investigations by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and the media found numerous instances in which the police planted weapons and drugs on victims to cover-up the killings.

The police say that over three years they killed about 5,300 drug suspects who fought back, an unverified claim that also ignores the role of police-backed vigilantes responsible for many more “drug war” killings. The governmental Commission on Human Rights estimates that more than 27,000 have died in the “drug war” – a number that grows daily as killings extend from Metro Manila to other urban areas.

Dela Rosa was as vociferous in carrying out and defending the “drug war” brutality as Duterte was in justifying it. “If many believe that the number of drug addicts has gone down,” he told reporters during his Senate campaign, “then somehow we are successful.”

Dela Rosa may still have a date with justice. The Duterte government has shown it won’t carry out necessary investigations, but the International Criminal Court (ICC) could. Although the Philippines has officially withdrawn from the ICC, the court, which is conducting a preliminary examination into killings during the anti-drug campaign, can still investigate alleged crimes against humanity that occurred while Dela Rosa was police chief, and any other crimes “occurring in the future in the context of the same situation.” Now that Dela Rosa is a policymaker, there is renewed urgency in bringing all those responsible for “drug war” crimes to justice.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 3:57 pm

This ACE Cash Express outlet on San Mateo Boulevard in Albuquerque, New Mexico sits on a block with several small loan storefronts. The lenders who advance people money on their paychecks charge exorbitant interest rates that often snare the most vulnerable customers in a cycle of debt.

© 2015 Vik Jolly/AP Photo

(Washington, DC) – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should not rescind any part of the national rule governing payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans, Human Rights Watch said yesterday in a letter to Kathy Kraninger, the agency’s director. In February 2019, the agency proposed to roll back parts of the rule governing short-term, high-interest loans finalized in 2017, particularly requirements on lenders to ensure that borrowers have the ability to repay loans before issuing them.

Payday and other types of short-term and small-dollar loans often carry exorbitant interest rates. This can make repayment difficult for borrowers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck. Borrowers who cannot afford to repay a loan in full may fall into a “debt trap,” needing to take out another loan with additional fees, creating a cycle of compounding costs and growing repayment periods.  People can lose their cars or other assets or sacrifice basic needs when this happens.

“Reasonable regulations that prevent predatory lending practices are essential to keep people out of crushing and inescapable debt,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau developed these regulations after rigorous, nationwide research and an in-depth consultation process and should put them into effect without delay to help protect the country’s most vulnerable people.”

In the letter, Human Rights Watch presented research on the negative impact of predatory payday loans on Native Americans living on reservations in South Dakota and New Mexico. In a survey of nearly 400 people, Human Rights Watch found that payday loans are difficult to repay for the majority of the borrowers who responded and cause problems for covering household expenses. About a third of the borrowers who responded reported serious consequences as a result of their payday loan, including threats of criminal charges by debt collectors, eviction, and loss of employment.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 11:00 am

The migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, carrying 47 migrants, comes into dock at the Sicilian port of Catania, southern Italy, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The Sea-Watch 3, operated by the German aid group Sea Watch, had been kept at sea for nearly two weeks while Italy pressed other European countries to agree to take them in. 

@ 2019 AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli
(Milan) –The Italian government should firmly reject a proposal to fine shipmasters up to €5,500 for every person they rescue and take to Italy, Human Rights Watch said today. Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has proposed this and other problematic anti-rescue measures in a decree to be examined by the government starting as early as today.

“Salvini’s latest salvo in his war on humanitarian rescue puts a price tag on the right to life,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The rest of the coalition government should reject this naked effort to discourage saving lives at sea, including by merchant vessels.”

Since becoming interior minister, Salvini has repeatedly sought to further restrict the already extremely tight Italian policies on rescues at sea and disembarkation of people rescued at sea. Italy has cut back on search-and-rescue operations, delayed or refused taking people rescued at sea to Italy, and supported efforts by Libyan coast guard forces to interdict asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and return them to abusive detention in Libya.

The first draft of the decree would impose fines of between €3,500 and €5,500 per foreigner rescued at sea and subsequently taken to Italy in the event the rescuing ship did not comply with “the operating instructions issued by the authorities responsible for the area in which the rescue operation takes place or by the respective authorities of the flag state” or the laws of the sea.

The flag state is the country that has licensed the ship. In cases involving ships flying the Italian flag, the decree allows for temporary suspension or revocation of the license of vessels whose instances of rescue and disembarkation in Italy are considered “grave or repeated.”

The proposed measure is based on a partial and deeply flawed reading of international law, Human Rights Watch said. The law of the sea governing rescue operations imposes obligations on shipmasters to respond to situations of distress at sea and to take the people rescued to safe places. This includes general guidance to cooperate with and follow instructions from coastal states that have assumed responsibilities to conduct and coordinate rescue operations in their declared search-and-rescue region.

These duties should be read in conjunction with the nonrefoulement obligation in international human rights and refugee law, which prohibit the return of refugees to persecution and the return of any person to the risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization stress that factors to be considered when designating a place of safety for rescued people to land should include “the need to avoid disembarkation in territories where the lives and freedoms of those alleging a well-founded fear of persecution would be threatened.”

As a matter of policy and practice, Libyan forces take people they rescue or intercept at sea to Libya, where they face arbitrary detention in abysmal conditions and a well-documented risk of serious abuse, including forced labor, torture, and sexual violence. The United Nations has repeatedly emphasized that Libya is not a safe place to take people rescued at sea. Concerns about the risks for those returned to Libya have been heightened as fighting rages in Tripoli among rival militia factions, putting detainees in detention centers at further risk.

As drafted, the decree could conceivably apply to Italian Coast Guard or Navy vessels and other European vessels that abide by the nonrefoulement obligation. It would also apply to private vessels, including commercial ships, that decline to take rescued people to Libya, given the risks there. It would include shipmasters following their flag states’ guidance to comply with nonrefoulment obligation and to avoid disembarkation in Libya due to the risk of human rights violations in that country.

The Italian measure also rests on a self-serving mischaracterization of the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard, under the EU-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, to perform fully its responsibilities in its vast, self-declared search-and-rescue region. Despite concerted efforts since 2016 by Italy and the European institutions to build the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity, Human Rights Watch research has found that this corps lacks the capacity, equipment, and training to perform safe rescues.

Since the beginning of an attack, on April 4, on Tripoli by forces loyal to General Khalifa Hiftar, who is allied with a rival government to the GNA that is based in eastern Libya, the Libyan Coast Guard has intercepted and returned to detention in Libya at least 871 refugees and migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. There are also indications that it has diverted assets for military use in the context of current hostilities.  

The decree includes a provision to transfer authority over passage in Italian territorial waters from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to the Interior Ministry. It also gives jurisdiction over all cases of alleged facilitation of unlawful entry into the country to district prosecutors’ offices with anti-organized crime powers. Finally, it provides a budget of €3 million over the next three years to enable agents of foreign police corps to conduct undercover investigations on Italian territory into unlawful entry.

Combined, these measures could lead to heightened criminal investigations and prosecutions in relation to rescue efforts. This would further discourage rescue at sea, including by commercial shipping, by raising the real and perceived costs of responding to migrants and refugees in distress.

Salvini is trying to push through these measures using a procedure that allows for legislation by government decree only in “extraordinary cases of need and urgency.” Such decrees have immediate force of law but must be enacted, including with amendments, by parliament within 60 days or expire. Given that only 1,091 people have been disembarked in Italy since the beginning of the year, it is not clear that the requirements of necessity and urgency are met, Human Rights Watch said.

“The real emergency is the risk of death at sea, and the horrifying detention conditions in Libya, including in centers on the front lines of warring militias,” Sunderland said. “Instead of criminalizing humanitarian rescue operations, the Italian government should work with other EU governments to ensure search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, coupled with a fair distribution of responsibility for people rescued, and to ensure safe ways for migrants and refugees to escape Libya.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 6:00 am

A billboard by the Israeli group Breaking the Silence showing Tel Aviv and part of Israel's separation barrier and inviting people to join their tours to the West Bank city of Hebron is seen on a main highway ahead of the Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 12, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

This week, Israel hosts the international song contest Eurovision in Tel Aviv, under the slogan of “Dare to Dream.” Many across Europe have come hundreds of miles to Israel for the festivities but, even though I live less than an hour’s drive away in the Gaza Strip, I’m not allowed to make the trip.

Israel, in coordination with Egypt, has turned Gaza into an open-air prison, caging in the two million of us Palestinians living in the small territory. For almost 12 years, Israeli authorities have largely limited travel to “exceptional humanitarian cases” – an unlawful generalized travel ban not based on any individualized assessment of security risk. The number of people travelling out of Gaza in 2018 via the Erez Crossing in was about 1 percent of what it was in September 2000, before the closure was imposed.

Despite our difficult reality, I dared to dream for years of traveling and seeing the world and nearby Jerusalem, also just a short drive away. Last year, the Israeli army permitted me to leave Gaza for the first time in my life, as a 31-year-old, to attend meetings for Human Rights Watch in New York. I later received another permit to visit Israel and the rest of Palestine for the first time, taking in every moment, knowing I may never have the opportunity again.

I am more fortunate than most people in Gaza, 80 percent of whom depend on humanitarian aid and more than half of whom are unemployed.

I wish those attending Eurovision could visit me in Gaza and experience our reality, such as rolling power cuts that last most of the day, and the psychological torment of feeling trapped and unable to travel through no wrongdoing of your own.

We Palestinians of Gaza may not be able to attend Eurovision, but we will never stop daring to dream.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 4:00 am

A citizen documenting a street protest with a smartphone in Morocco.

© 2017 Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP Photo
 
(New York) – Moroccan authorities are using a law designed to keep people from falsely claiming professional credentials to bring criminal charges against people trying to expose abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
In the latest case, Nezha Khalidi, who is affiliated with the activist group Equipe Media in El-Ayoun, Western Sahara, will go on trial on May 20, 2019, accused of not meeting the requirements to call herself a journalist. Police arrested her on December 4, 2018, as she was livestreaming on Facebook a street scene in Western Sahara and denouncing Moroccan “repression.” She faces two years in prison if convicted.
 
“People who speak out peacefully should never have to fear prison for ‘pretending’ to be journalists,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities shouldn’t be using a law designed to keep an unqualified person from claiming to be a doctor, for example, to punish people whose commentary displeases them.”
 
Article 381 of Morocco’s penal code forbids “claiming or using a title associated with a profession that is regulated by law … without meeting the necessary conditions to use it,” and subjects violators to a prison sentence of three months to two years.
 
Article 381, when it is used to restrict journalism, is incompatible with Morocco’s obligations under international human rights law to respect the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas, Human Rights Watch said.
 
Morocco’s Parliament should amend article 381 to exclude journalism, to ensure the rights of people to convey information and commentary freely.
 
The police released Khalidi after four hours on December 4, 2018, but confiscated the smartphone she had used to film a street scene, which ended with a policeman chasing her. On May 15, she told Human Rights Watch that she never got her smartphone back. The El-Ayoun Court of First Instance will judge her case.
 
In another case, in April 2019, Casablanca’s appeals court confirmed the conviction of at least two journalists for various charges, including usurping the title of journalist, after they published video reports about protests in the Rif region of northern Morocco, one of their lawyers, Bouchra Rouissi, told Human Rights Watch. The court sentenced Mohamed El Asrihi, the director of the news website Rif 24, to five years in prison, and Fouad Essaidi, the director of Facebook-based Awar TV, to three years.
 
El Asrihi and Essaidi did not have official journalism licenses – known in Morocco as “press cards” – and their platforms were not officially registered. According to a court document consulted by Human Rights Watch, El Asrihi was in the process of registering his website and requesting a press card when he was arrested. Rouissi said his arrest came soon after he filmed an attempt by the authorities to arrest protest leader Nasser Zefzafi in May 2017.
 
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Morocco, guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The Human Rights Committee, which interprets the treaty, has said clearly that “general State systems of registration or licensing of journalists” are incompatible with freedom of expression. In Morocco, press cards are delivered to national media journalists by a body, mostly made of journalists and publishers, established by a law passed in 2016. Registration of journalists imposed by law, no matter who operates the licensing process, is considered state registration, Human Rights Watch said.
 
Equipe Media is a collective of activists who openly embrace the cause of self-determination for Western Sahara, most of which has since the 1970s been under the de facto control of Morocco. The government considers it Moroccan territory and rejects demands for a vote on self-determination that would include independence as an option. The international community does not recognize Morocco’s de facto annexation of Western Sahara.
 
Authorities also arrested Khalidi in 2016, as she covered a women’s demonstration in El-Ayoun on behalf of Equipe Media. The authorities held her overnight and confiscated her camera and memory card, then released her without charge, she told Human Rights Watch.
 
“Providing information, images, and commentary without official accreditation should not be criminalized the way practicing medicine or driving a truck without a license should be,” Goldstein said. 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 4:00 am

A general view shows the plenary room of the European Parliament during a voting session in Strasbourg, France, May 20, 2015.

© 2015 REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
(Brussels) – Responses by European political groups to a questionnaire on rights reveals key differences ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23-26, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch sent the questionnaire covering 11 human rights issues, from rule of law to EU foreign policy, to all six main political groups participating in the election. Five groups responded. To complement the questionnaire, Human Rights Watch has released a series of videos in multiple languages filmed in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom. The videos aim to highlight the prominent role played by the European Parliament in protecting human rights and call on voters to take this into account when they go to the polls.

“It’s important for voters to know what the key European parties’ views are on the EU’s democratic founding values,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While there is much agreement on broad principle, the parties’ detailed policies on protecting human rights diverge significantly, and voters should examine them closely.”

Members of the European Parliament are co-legislators of EU law, together with the EU Council, and serve as a watchdog over the EU Commission’s action on key domestic issues and foreign policy. The European Parliament members play a decisive role in shaping the future of the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and fundamental values both inside and outside the EU’s borders.

The Human Rights Watch questionnaire was sent to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the European Green Party (EGP), the European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES), the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists (ACRE), and the European Left (EL). Human Rights Watch has received responses from ALDE, EGP, EPP, PES, and EL. The chart below summarizes those responses and includes links to the full text sent by each party that replied. 

Video

When You Think European Elections, Think Human Rights!

Human Rights Watch’s staff around the EU have a message: The representatives we all elect to the European Parliament will have an impact on the future of our rights and our communities. When you think elections, think human rights!

The objective of the questionnaire was to seek the views of the main contenders in the elections and allow voters to compare their views through a human rights lens. The questionnaire addressed a range of key human rights issues, including the protection of fundamental freedoms within the EU, discrimination and inequalities, human rights and migration, human rights in the context of counterterrorism, and the EU’s foreign policy.

Human rights principles are enshrined in the EU treaty as its key founding values. In recent years, however, some European leaders have not only shown open contempt for those principles but have pursued policies that seek to hollow out democratic institutions, including the courts, independent media, and civil society, and to undermine the rule of law. The rhetoric of populist extremists also puts in jeopardy the rights of specific groups, including women, LGBT people, religious and ethnic minorities, and refugees and migrants.

“European Parliament leaders and parties should put their attachment to human dignity and the rule of law at the heart of their action,” Williamson said. “That means pushing for the highest human rights standards within the EU’s borders and in foreign policy, as well as acting when member states or EU policies put people’s rights at risk.”

Summary of Responses from European Political Groups

Defending the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights

1. According to your political group, what tools should the European Union (EU) use to ensure member states adhere to the founding principles of the EU, including respect for human dignity and human rights, democracy, equality, and the rule of law? Do you favour proposals to condition and restrict access to certain EU funding for member states that do not comply with EU standards on the rule of law and human rights?

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – (link to full responses)

European Green Party (EGP) – (link to full responses

European Left –  (link to full responses)

European People’s Party (EPP) – (link to full responses)

Party of European Socialists (PES) – (link to full responses)

 

  • “We want a Europe where human rights, the rule of law, and democracy apply equally to all.”
  • Member States should “regularly address rule of law as part of their meeting agendas” and the EU should “use the sanctions already available, such as Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, and deploy new sanctions such as the withholding of funds from the EU budget.”
  • Proposes a new mechanism to “monitor violations of fundamental rights, civil liberties and the rule of law” in member states on a regular basis.”
  • The Commission should “enforce sanctions in cases of violations and indeed create stronger conditionality between the rule of law and receipt of European funding.”

 

 

  • Supports the mechanism on democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights (DRF Pact) proposed by the European Parliament in October 2016, in which “the assessment is made by a panel of independent experts.”
  • “The Commission should be entitled to strictly monitor the use of Union funding, to ensure that EU spending is fully compliant with Union values.” Where applicable, “Union funding would be directly managed by the European Commission.”
  • Support “a link between the rule of law and fundamental rights, and the annual assessment of the situation in all Member States by a panel of independent experts.”

 

  • “Our goal is to guarantee the fundamental human rights of all people living in Europe, men and women, by universal access to these rights, through public services and social security systems, managed by the public.”
  • “The fundamental rights of citizens must not depend on the markets. They should not be left in the hands of private companies and financial markets.”
  • “The purpose of fundamental human rights is human emancipation, not profit.”
  • “In addition, these rights should be at the heart of public investment, state budgets, local authorities, and contributory systems.”

 

  • “We are unequivocally committed to defend the founding principles of the European Union.”
  • “Currently, the EU has to rely on the infringement proceedings, or Article 7 procedure, in case of a systemic threat to rule of law.”
  • “We need a new and better rule of law mechanism which allows us to act quicker when necessary. We envision a panel of independent experts continuously analyzing Member States’ adherence to the rule of law principle.”
  • ·We also envision that suspending allocation of some EU funds would be in the tool-box.”

 

  • Supports “a strong and comprehensive EU mechanism that will apply to all EU Member States.”
  • Supports the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (DRF Pact), which “foresees an annual DRF Report (…) accompanied by country-specific recommendations.”
  • In favour of a mechanism “to protect the financial interests of the EU and its values.” This should be accompanied by an additional “safety net” to “allow for the direct mobilisation of payments to the benefit of the final beneficiaries by the Commission. “The scope shall not be restricted only to "rule of law" (…) but shall encompass the respect of all Copenhagen Criteria and strong and common EU values.

2. Which steps should the EU take collectively to protect journalists against attacks for their work and media pluralism in EU countries?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

  • “A free press and well-informed citizens are essential for every democracy. However, the information warfare by third states and populist forces, the use of fake news and geopolitical propaganda poses a grave threat both to democracy and individual freedoms.”
  • “The EU needs to step up its efforts to fight back by exposing disinformation and supporting professional journalism and media literacy.”
  • “ALDE suggested the idea of having a European legislation protecting whistle-blowers and contributed to the objective of upholding democracy and the rule of law by guaranteeing EU citizens’ freedom of expression and information.”

 

 

  • “EU agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust, should play an active role in investigations of crime against journalists linked to their professional activities.”
  • The EU should “support financially and promote a free, independent and diverse communications environment, including media diversity”
  • There should be a clear regulatory framework for broadcasters which is overseen by a body protected against political and commercial interference or pressure.
  • There should be “strong, independent and adequately resourced public service media.”
  • “A ‘European Daphne Caruana Galizia prize for investigative journalism’, (…) has to be awarded annually for outstanding investigative journalism in Europe.”

 

  •  “Press freedom is a constitutive element of democratic society, (…), the basis of our opinion formation, social understanding and public control.
  •  “It has become clear in recent years that freedom of the press has to be established and defended in Europe with renewed emphasis.
  • “Wherever right-wing populists are in power, they dismantle the separation of powers and curtail freedom of expression and the press. Free speech and opinion are the greatest danger for autocrats.”

 

  • “Freedom of the press is fundamental for the functioning of our democracy. We are committed to defend the safety of journalists and freedom of the press.”
  • Member States should “dedicate sufficient police and judicial resources to defend journalists and ensure that those making threats, intimidating journalists, or committing violence against journalists are prosecuted and convicted.”
  • “We must step up cross-border law enforcement cooperation through Europol and Eurojust to support Member States’ police and judicial systems to defend journalists.”

 

  • “The PES continues to fight for media pluralism and media freedom in the EU.”
  • “The deaths of journalists (…) have brought into clear focus the real risks (…) and our need to protect them. Our political family was active in supporting where possible investigations into their murders.”
  • “Next mandate we want to see the scope of [the whistleblower legislation] expanded to ensure journalists acting as whistleblowers are covered and to include social rights.”
  • The PES “will continue to fight dangerous elements like fake news and hate speech” and “defend a media landscape that is pluralistic, credible and non-partisan.
  • “The EU should be equipped to monitor the situation in Member States, and to take action when there is a concentration of power [of media ownership] in the hands of one company or individual.”

3. Which steps should the EU take to protect civil society from legislations that can unduly restrict

their rights, activities and access to funding?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

ALDE merged its responses to questions 1 and 3.

  • ”See our response to question 1.”
  • Supports the “Rights and Values Programme” that should include a “new "Union values strand" referring to democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law that will fund corresponding actions at local, regional, national and transnational levels.”
  •  In the long term,” additional funding could be earmarked for the civil society organisations from the specific Member States where the Union values are under threat.”

 

  • “Public services and institutions guarantee and expand the rights and freedoms of citizens and form the backbone of democracy.”
  • “Recovering sovereignty of the people in these domains and promoting real cooperation and solidarity amongst the different countries are crucial steps to promote a new social order, fairer and sustainable for the people.”
  • “The EU must protect civil society to ensure that we have vibrant democracies in the EU.”
  •  “The Commission must challenge national legislation when it undermines civil society.”
  • “We can help civil society through funding. Therefore, we strongly support establishing a European Values Instrument as part of the next EU budget to provide sustained funding to civil society.”
  • “It is essential to actively support civil society from legislation that restricts any of these values.”
  • “We want a European fund to support civil society organisations that are protecting the fundamental rights of minority groups and vulnerable people within Member States.”
  • “In the next mandate of the European Parliament, we (…)  defend the idea to create programmes that are clearly related to European values such as the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme, the Europe for Citizens Programme and the Justice Programme.”

TACKLING DISCRIMINATION AND PROMOTING EQUALITY

4. What are your group’s plans to address discrimination against women, promote gender equality

in EU countries and protect women and girls from gender‐based violence

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

 

  • “Gender equality is a top priority for us. (…) We support the proposal that each country should propose both a woman and a man for European Commissioner candidates.”
  • “Combatting violence against women is a priority for us and we call for all EU Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention.”
  • “Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights, and the Member States of the EU needs to provide all women with accessible, affordable, good-quality sexual and reproductive health care and services.”

 

 

  • The EU Commission should “ensure that gender equality sits high in the political agenda.”
  • “Unblock the gender equality directives” and “demand a new Gender Equality Strategy that sets high and binding gender equality objectives.”
  • Advocate for “an Equal Pay Directive with binding measures“ and “sanctions to eliminate the pension gap.”
  • Press for “mandatory gender-balanced representation” and for “parity in the main EU decision-making bodies.”
  • “Greens/EFA will also call for a legislative act to combat and eliminate gender-based violence,” will “push the EU not only to sign but also to ratify the Istanbul Convention.”

 

  •  “Across Europe, current efforts to prevent violence against women are not effective, while the legal framework addressing Istanbul Convention from 2014 varies from country to country.”
  • The Party of the European Left demand, that all women affected by violence and their children must have a legal right to immediate protection and assistance (…) regardless of income, residence permit, place of origin, health restrictions or disabilities (…) and does not contain any proof duties which additionally burden the women concerned or endanger their safety.”
     

 

  • “As the EPP, we are committed to fighting all forms of discrimination and we believe in equality of opportunities.”
  • “We believe that our anti-discrimination legislation is strong but that we need to step up the implementation and enforcement of existing legislation at the national level.”
  • “Binding legal measures (…) to overcome the gender pay and pension gap;”
  • “Reversal of the burden of proof [on workplace gender discrimination]; gender equality plans and gender audits in the private sector;”
  • Gender audits of fiscal policies in order to eliminate tax-related gender bias;”
  • “Eliminate the so-called ‘‘care and tampon tax’’ by applying a 0% VAT rate to these essential goods.”
  • “Binding legislation to reach gender balance on boards of companies.”
  • “Ratify the Istanbul Convention;”
  • “Legislative act, identifying violence against women and girls as an area of crime.”
  • “Include age-appropriate sexual and relational education, voluntary family planning, access to affordable contraception, and to safe and legal abortion, in the next EU Public Health Strategy.”
     

 

5. What are your group’s plans to address racial discrimination, antisemitism, islamophobia,

attacks and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, hate

speech, racially motivated crimes and attacks, and promote tolerance in the EU?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

 

  • “Liberals strongly oppose all forms of racism, division of societies and hatred against human beings.”
  • “Any form of violence against people on these grounds must be prosecuted.”
  • “Backed legislation to eliminate discrimination whether on grounds of gender, ethnicity, religious persuasion, disability or sexual orientation, and to improve integration”
  • “Calls on Council to unblock the Anti-discrimination directive, which would end legal discrimination in access to services on all remaining grounds.”

 

 

  • The Council should “move forward with the 2008 proposal for the new Equality Directive prohibiting discrimination (…) beyond employment.”
  • The Commission should “propose a revision of the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia to cover hate speech and hate crime related to one's religion/belief, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
  • The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies should become a proper EU strategy for the Roma inclusion and fighting anti-Gypsyism,
  • The Commission should propose a renewed ambitious LGBTI List of Actions, covering, the recognition and protection of same-sex unions, prohibition of sex 'normalising' surgery and discriminatory requirements for legal gender recognition.

 

  • “Economic empowerment of women through the promotion of policies to encourage a better work/life balance, and of public plans for education and re-education in equality between men and women.”
  • “Expansion of public employment policies is essential, as is the promotion and development of social policies. Compliance with the sense of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (…) and its modification to include the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity.”

 

  • “We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination, hate speech, and violence.”
  • “Member States [should] enforce existing anti-discrimination legislation and we must challenge demagogues and populist spreading hate, lies, and conspiracies.”
  • “We are a party based on values and we will always speak up and defend freedom, respect for human dignity, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minority groups.”

 

  • “Many of our MEP candidates have already signed pledges from civil society organisations fighting against discriminations (ILGA-Europe, Disability forum, Roma Platform, #MeToo EP campaign...).”
  • Defend “the quick and swift adoption of the blocked horizontal anti-discrimination directive outside of work. Some EU texts in this field (…) may need some updates in order to include new grounds of discrimination.”
  • Working to tackle discrimination within the European Parliament and “pushed for stronger sanctions and a better definition of hate speech in the revised European Parliament rules of procedure.”

 

6. What are your political group’s propositions to advance the rights of persons with disabilities?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

 

  • ·“We have been the driving force on the proposal for a European Accessibility Act” and pushed for “the implementation of the European Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)”

 

Supports:

-    “a common definition of disability in line with the UNCRPD,”

-   “European funding promotes deinstitutionalisation and the right to independent living,”

-   “active participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in the development and implementation of legislation and policies,”

-   “reasonable accommodation denial as a ground for discrimination under the Employment Equality Directive.”

 

 

 

  • “See our reply to question 5.”
  • The new European Disability Strategy beyond 2020 should include compulsory requirements regarding accessibility in public spaces, a minimum percentage for employment of persons with disabilities, guarantees of inclusive education, including access to Erasmus +, and particular attention to women and children with disabilities.
  • All persons with disabilities must be empowered to enjoy full rights (…) and participate in society on equal basis to others.
  • “The European Commission and Member States should [fill] gaps in the implementation of the UNCRPD.”
  • “At global level, the EU should ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are implemented in a way that is inclusive for persons with disabilities.”

 

  • “A paradigm shift is necessary - we advocate anchoring self-determination as the dominant principle in disability policy and supports the self-representation claim.”
  • “Equality of opportunity is to be established and barriers (…) dismantled. The principle of barrier-free accessibility promotes solidary cohesion.”
  • “Good work and income to live on, including for people with disabilities.”

 

  • “We are convinced that we must do more together to strengthen the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • We must roll out the EU Disability Card throughout the European Union to strengthen access to services to people with disabilities.
  • We also demand that the European institutions show leadership in making their websites fully accessible to people with disabilities and that accessibility is always considered when legislation is being prepared, especially with regards to the built environment, public transport, public services, and household appliances.”

 

  • Fight to get Member States to improve the accessibility of built environments for services and the accessibility of transport.”
  • “Prioritise full accessibility of programmes such as Erasmus+, Solidarity Corps and the Youth Employment Initiative for people with disabilities.”
  • The revision of the Regulation on social security coordination should ensure “the portability of rights for persons with long-term care needs.”
  • “We want to ensure people with disabilities can enjoy their rights fully, including the right to an inclusive education, and their right to vote.

 

 

RESPECTING MIGRANTS’ AND REFUGEES’ RIGHTS

7. What migration policy does your political group support that would ensure all migrants and

asylum seekers who reach EU territory are treated humanely and that respects their right to

asylum? Does your political group support a policy to secure responsibility sharing among EU

member states to alleviate the pressure on first countries of arrival? If your party’s migration

policy does not address any of these goals can you explain why and what your political group

supports?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

  • “Europe’s policies should ensure that refugees and asylum seekers do not take unnecessary risks with their lives.”
  • “The EU should make migration agreements with safe countries in the Middle East and Africa” that include:
  1. “Financial support for safe countries in hosting refugees;”
  2. “Resettlement of refugees in a safe, humane, and legal way.”
  3. “Return to these safe countries of those migrants for whom, as quick as possible, an effective return decision following due judicial process has entered into force.”
  • “There should be a humane and effective Common European Asylum System with decent reception, responsibility sharing, and efficient procedures in line with EU fundamental rights standards.”
  • Specific attention to “the dealing of LGBTI asylum claims” and for “safeguards for LGBTI asylum seekers, including guidelines related to healthcare.” 
  • “Opposes any re-introduction of permanent internal border controls between Schengen member states.”

 

  •  “Development and implementation of human rights-based EU migration and asylum policies.”

Supports:

  • “guidelines clarifying that humanitarian assistance shall never be criminalised.”
  • an urgent European solution to the current lack of Search and Rescue actors in the Mediterranean;
  • a “reform of the Dublin Regulation in order to ensure solidarity in the EU and appropriate responsibility sharing.”
  • “increased of resettlement and setting up humanitarian visas.”
  • A “reform of the EU legal migration acquis,” for a “comprehensive and coherent immigration code” “providing for visa opportunities for families to be reunited and for work at all skills levels, in order to incentivise migrants to come to the European Union in full respect of visa conditions and avoiding exploitation, abuse and perilous journeys.”

 

  • “Create an economic basis through investment and trade so that, for example, African economies are integrated into the global value chain.”
  • Regrets that “the EU is linking financial aid to the closure of refugee routes and is prepared to make agreements with inhumane regimes such as in Eritrea, Chad and Libya” and the “direction that the FRONTEX border regime has been following.”
  • “Preserving the right to asylum; creating legal opportunities for actually exercising this right; and systematically combating the military, economic, environmental and social causes” of migration.
     
  • “Believes that we must take a collective responsibility over border security and immigration.”
  • Member States should “show solidarity with each other to responsibly address immigration.”
  • “Committed to providing shelter to those who escape persecution, and as we are committed to the rule of law, we must ensure that asylum processes and the rights of asylum seekers are respected.”
  • “With better border protection we want to put an end to the cynical business of human traffickers and ensure border security for the whole of European Union. We must agree on the same rules for asylum, ensure that our system is not abused, and that rejected asylum seekers are returned.”
  • Calls for “greater harmonisation of asylum procedures and (…) genuine solidarity and a fair-sharing of responsibility between Member States.”
  • In favour of “safe and legal migration routes and humanitarian visas.”
  • Supports a “sustainable, unified and effective Common European Asylum System” with a “centralised system for fair allocation of responsibility for all those arriving in the EU who are seeking international protection. This would ensure we treat each asylum seeker as someone seeking asylum in the EU rather than in an individual Member State” and would “alleviate the burden on Member States of first arrival.”
  •  “Need for greater search and rescue capacities for people in distress at sea and on land.”
  • “All attempts to work with third countries (…) must go hand in hand with improving human rights conditions within these countries.”

8. What should the European Parliament do to ensure that EU external migration policy protects

the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, including the right to seek asylum, and does not

expose them to abuse?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

ALDE merged its response to questions 7 and 8. See above.

  •  Europe must prioritize tackling the drivers of forced migration instead of attempting to stop migration flows. The EU must do much more to tackle violent conflicts.”
  • “The EU must stop making development cooperation conditional upon [migration] cooperation,” and stop “cooperating with dictators (…) on fighting irregular migration.”
  •  “Supports the implementation of the [UN] Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”
  • “Shifting the responsibility for refugees unilaterally to countries outside of the EU such as Turkey and Libya is the wrong response to people in need of protection.”

 

  • “Defend migrants’ and refugees’ rights and put an end to the fortress Europe, establishing safe European corridors both for legal migration and receiving asylum seekers.”
  • “Create a real partnership with African countries to help them develop their economies.”
  • “Negotiate similar agreements, as we have with Turkey, on providing assistance to refugees and asylum seekers as close to their homes as possible.”
  • “Continue being among the global leading providers of humanitarian assistance.”
  • “Need for a European approach to resettlement,” “establishment of humanitarian visas at European level in case of a significant stream of refugees.”
  • “Increase safe and legal pathways” and “ensuring that the reform of asylum directives improves access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.”
  • “The list of safe countries of origin should be subject to permanent monitoring.”
  • “In the context of the readmission agreements with third countries, the European Parliament should continue insisting on strong respect of human rights with appropriate safeguards.”
  • “Financial and political support to UN agencies and NGOs and support to the UN Global compacts for migration and refugees.”

RESPECTING RIGHTS WHILE COUNTERING TERRORISM

 

9. What concrete steps should the European Parliament take to ensure that human rights,

including the right to privacy, are protected in the context of the EU directives and other EU

policies to counter and prevent terrorism? What should the Parliament do to ensure that

Directives are subject to oversight and, if necessary, revision if they violate rights when

implemented, especially if poorly transposed into domestic law?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses)

PES (link to full responses)

 

 

  • “We would prefer to fight crime and terrorism by having adequately funded, well-staffed and best trained police and law enforcement services, rather than automatic surveillance or symbolic policies such as changing privacy laws for the worse.”
  • “Privacy (or any other basic human right) should not be sacrificed or suspended in order to fulfil a temporary and questionable goal.” EU decision—makers should “use the principles of necessity and subsidiarity in making rules that affect our privacy.”

 

 

  • “Police action and mass surveillance (…) did not bring more security to Europeans but damaged their rights.”
  • “argue for ‘targeted surveillance’ which presupposes serious grounds for suspicion, by enhancing human capacities to treat, analyse and react to the intelligence gathered.”
  • support a dedicated EU Commissioner for privacy and data protection in the next European Commission and the use of “infringement procedures.”
  • “The European Parliament should request opinions from the Court of Justice of the EU” on legislation and international agreements. 
  •  “Privacy becomes a commodity on the web. The Party of the European Left counter this with a free and self-determined handling of data.”
  • “Calls for a swift and citizen-friendly implementation of the EU data protection regulation [GDPR], (…) directed towards the protection of privacy rather than its capitalist valuation through the collection and interpretation of personal data.”
  • “We believe that we must strike the right balance between security and privacy (…) with each piece of legislation.”
  • “We must ensure that we do not hamper our efforts to combat terrorism by unduly limiting our law enforcement’s authority to use data or share it cross-border to keep us safe.
  • “At the same time, privacy is a fundamental right and we must defend it.”

 

  • “Our political family has pushed and will keep on pushing for the protection of all fundamental rights, including the protection of privacy and personal data, the presumption of innocence, and the protection of procedural rights in security legislation.”
  • “Would like to see a comprehensive evaluation of current policies to identify (…) whether this has led to any negative consequences for fundamental rights.”

 

ENSURING RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE EU’S FOREIGN POLICY
 

10. What should the European Parliament do to ensure that respect for and promotion of human

rights are at the centre the EU’s bilateral and multilateral relations with third countries,

including trade policy?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses)

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

  • “Supports the efforts of the European Commission to negotiate more trade deals, and call on the negotiators to preserve human dignity and human working conditions, sustainability and anti-corruption in future agreements.”
  •  “Global trade from a European perspective must also be fair and sustainable.”

 

 

  • “We will continue to reject bilateral agreements with repressive regimes and EU policies, which fail to consider adequately their impact on human rights.”
  • “Fighting back against the global backlash against human rights, shoring up human rights defenders and democratic voices and defending multilateralism should be a priority for the EU’s global action.”
  • The EU should “adapt its human rights policy to today’s emerging and pressing challenges, notably in relation to climate change, surveillance capitalism, as well as corporate accountability.”
  • call ‘for a Human Rights Impact Assessment” for EU’s trade deals.

 

  • “The collaboration for example with (…) Libyan Coast Guard forces to dodge even more dangerous routes, and the dismantling of national sea rescue operation and harassment of private sea rescue lead to more deaths.”
  • Those who do not die at sea often end up in Libyan torture camps, where they are mistreated or forced to work. This policy of inhumanity must finally be ended.”
  • “Instead of forcing the transit countries in North Africa to more and more foreclosure measures, the EU must open up legal and safe escape routes for people in need.”

 

  • “We are committed to using our economic strength to make a positive change in the world and promote human rights, high product standards, environmental protection, and social rights.”
  • “Our trade policy must continue to not only focus on opening markets to our excellent companies but also on promoting our values, including high social and environmental standards, and respect for human rights.”
  • “We want to have a special focus to target ending child labour through trade agreements.”

 

  • Supports a strengthening of the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
  • The PES pledges to focus on the “eradication of child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, corruption and unethical working conditions, and on the promotion of gender equality, non-discrimination and the freedom of association.”
  • Supports “an EU-wide mandatory due diligence system (…) placing human rights and democracy at the centre of its relations with third countries, therefore including human rights conditionality clauses in international trade policy and agreements.”
  • Calls Member States to “strictly observe the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports” and “they should halt all transfers (…) that could be used by governments to crack down on human rights and attack civilians.”

11. Do you support a Global EU Human Rights Sanction Regime against individuals or groups of

individuals responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights

law, including torture, rape, enforced disappearances, and extra‐judiciary killings? How should

the European Parliament further help advance justice and accountability for abuses?

ALDE (link to full responses)

EGP (link to full responses

EL (link to full responses)

EPP (link to full responses

PES (link to full responses)

 

  • “ALDE MEPs led the negotiation of a joint text (…) in which the EP calls on the Council to swiftly establish an autonomous, flexible and reactive EU-wide sanctions regime that would allow the targeting of any individual, state and non-state actors, and other entities responsible for or involved in grave human rights violations.”
  • “Believes the regime should symbolically carry Sergei Magnitsky's name.”

 

  • “Has been leading efforts in the European Parliament in support of a global EU human rights sanctions regime.”
  •  “Strong supporters of the International Criminal Court and of all efforts at domestic and international level to prosecute perpetrators of gross human rights violations, wherever such crimes have been committed.”
  • “The EU should step up its efforts to fight impunity and to support civil society actors engaged in this field.”

 

  • “Yes, we support this proposal. The European Parliament has to become a strong voice against any form of violence, of racism and the right-wing shift in Europe.”

 

  • “Strongly supports a new EU Human Rights Sanction Regime and naming it after Sergei Magnitsky” and believes “that we should move from unanimity decisions to qualified majority voting on imposing sanctions.”

 

  • “Would like to see an autonomous, flexible and reactive EU-wide sanctions regime that would allow us to target any individual, state or non-state actor, or other entity, responsible for or involved in grave human rights violations.”
  • “Member States should ensure (…) full compliance with the Council decisions on restrictive measures against individuals and entities.” The PES is concerned at recent reports of violations of these decisions and calls for “the systematic inclusion of clear and specific benchmarks and a methodology for the lifting of sanctions and for de-listing.”
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 16, 2019, 4:00 am

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey delivers the annual State of the State address at the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, January 9, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Update: On May 15, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act


 

Late last night, the Alabama Senate passed a draconian abortion law criminalizing abortion and attempted abortion. Last minute attempts to carve out an exception for victims of sexual violence were rejected. It is unclear whether Alabama Governor Kay Ivey will sign the bill into law without this exception, but many worry that she ultimately will.

For now, abortion remains legal in Alabama because access to abortion is constitutionally protected under Supreme Court jurisprudence stemming from the landmark case Roe v. Wade. The Alabama bill is in direct conflict with Roe, and its author has been clear from the beginning that her goal is to use its passage as an opportunity to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.

Should that happen, women in Alabama could face jail for having – or even trying to have – an abortion. And other states would surely follow Alabama’s lead – some already have similar laws on the books or being considered. It is a dark day for women in Alabama and sends a chilling message to others across the US.

I know what it looks like when abortion is criminalized. My colleagues and I have documented restrictive abortion laws and their impacts in many countries. I’ve spoken to doctors in Ecuador, for example, who feared criminal prosecution and treated patients like potential suspects if they came in with a miscarriage, because they fear the woman may have induced it herself. They don’t want to be implicated in a crime so don’t ask questions important to treating the patient, and they ignore signs that a woman or girl might be a victim of abuse.

In countries with the most extreme abortion laws, doctors will even withhold lifesaving care to pregnant patients, such as chemotherapy, for fear they might break the law. A teenager in the Dominican Republic died precisely because doctors refused to treat her for leukemia while she was pregnant. 

Years’ worth of research and reliable data show that abortion restrictions don’t reduce abortions, but instead just drive them underground and often make them unsafe, fueling maternal death and injury. It’s shameful that this bill, and a similar law in neighboring Georgia, was passed within days of the US releasing shocking data on the country’s high rates of preventable maternal mortality.

Alabama is already a state where women’s health outcomes are determined by race, economic class, and geography – this cynical bill doesn’t even pretend to address the real health needs of Alabamian women. Instead, it seeks to control women and girls’ bodies against their will. What a shocking abdication of responsibility by Alabama law makers.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 15, 2019, 5:45 pm

Maria Gabriela Silva Alves (“Gabi”), age 2, with her mother, Maria Carolina Silva Flor (“Carol”), at their home in Esperança, Paraíba state, Brazil in 2018. Gabi was one of thousands of children born with disabilities caused by exposure to the Zika virus in utero during the 2015-2016 outbreak.

© 2018 Joselito Alves dos Santos
 

This dispatch is part of a series focusing on children with zika syndrome and their families. To read more, please visit the blog: Zika: Brazil's Forgotten Families.

Families raising children with Zika syndrome face yet another delay in their struggle to secure the help they need after Brazil’s supreme court withdrew a significant case from its agenda.

The case, which was filed in 2016, could expand access to public benefits for families raising children with disabilities linked to the 2015-2016 outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in northeastern Brazil.

The court was scheduled to decide the case on May 22, but late last week, advocates learned the court removed the case from its agenda without setting a new date to issue its ruling.

My colleagues and I have interviewed dozens of families raising children with Zika syndrome in recent years. They’ve told us how they struggle to care for their children without enough support from the government. As children with Zika syndrome grow older – many of them turning 3 or even 4 this year – their needs evolve to include nutritional supplements, surgeries, expensive medicines, early stimulation to increase learning development, wheelchairs, and braces, among other things.

Many parents of children with Zika syndrome find it impossible to balance caregiving with work outside the home, and barely manage to make ends meet living off the modest monthly stipend of 998 reais (about US$250) they receive from the federal government for having a child with a disability.

These families have been fighting for their children’s rights for years, petitioning authorities to guarantee access to the services their children desperately need. They shouldn’t have to fight so hard. The court’s decision to remove the Zika case from its agenda is yet another letdown, a sign that they have to keep waiting and keep fighting.

I’m deeply disappointed for these families, but their stories need to be told and we’ll keep posting stories in the coming weeks.

Brazil’s supreme court should set a new date for its ruling without delay. Brazilian authorities at all levels of government should expand services for children with Zika syndrome and simplify bureaucratic processes that are delaying their access to care.

The Zika outbreak made headlines around the world, but now the families and children affected by the disease seem invisible. Neither we, nor Brazilian authorities, should forget about them. They need us.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 15, 2019, 1:00 pm

(Paris) – Seventeen humanitarian and human rights organizations denounced threats to press freedom after three French journalists were summoned by French intelligence services for investigating the presence of French weapons in the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today.

The General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) will hear cases against Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal of the French investigative media outlet Disclose, and Benoît Collombat of Radio France’s investigation unit, as part of the preliminary investigation for “compromising national defence secrecy” opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office after France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces lodged a complaint.

On April 15, 2019 Disclose and its partners published classified documents by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) confirming what Human Rights Watch, ACAT, Amnesty InternationalFIDH, the Observatoire des Armements, and other organizations have been highlighting for months. The organizations have reported that French military equipment purchased by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is involved in the war in Yemen, including in illegal attacks against civilian populations.

The documents revealed by Disclose also show that French authorities have no certainty about the use of French weapons in the war in Yemen, contrary to assurances given even in recent days by President Emmanuel Macron, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, and the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, who were recipients of the DRM documents.

Since April 15, Disclose has continued to investigate the use of French weapons in Yemen in reporting on the arrival in Le Havre of a Saudi cargo ship scheduled to load French military equipment. Following heightened pressure from parliamentarians and other organizations, the ship finally left France last Friday without the planned cargo.

The undersigned nonprofits consider the information unveiled by Disclose and its partners to be of essential public interest. It confirms the major risk of French-made weapons being used in war crimes in Yemen, in breach of France’s international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, of which France is also one of the main defenders, and the European Union’s Common Position.

In this context, the threat of prosecution against the three journalists, reaffirmed last week by Parly, constitutes an unacceptable threat to press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources.

Collombat, Destal, and Livolsi have been threatened just for having done their job, without revealing ongoing French military operations or putting any French personnel in danger.

The undersigned organizations express full solidarity with the three journalists summoned this week. They call on the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs to stop intimidation against the press and to guarantee the confidentiality of sources.

Signatories:

  1. ACAT
  2. Action Contre la Faim
  3. AIDL, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés
  4. Amnesty International
  5. CARE France
  6. Collectif Solidarité Yémen / Yemen Solidarity Coalition
  7. Fédération Internationale des Ligues Droits de l’Homme (FIDH)
  8. Handicap International (HI)
  9. Human Right Watch
  10. Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH)
  11. Médecins du monde
  12. Observatoire des Armements
  13. Oxfam France
  14. Salam for Yemen
  15. STAND France, Mouvement étudiant de lutte contre les génocides et crimes de masse
  16. Sherpa
  17. SumOfUs
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 15, 2019, 8:47 am

Gabriel Amisi, a commander of the Rwandan-backed rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, at the airport in Kindu, Democratic Republic of Congo, September 2002.

© 2002 AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi

In May 2002, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma), a rebel movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, carried out countless atrocities in the northern city of Kisangani. To quash a mutiny, top RCD-Goma commanders coordinated a brutal campaign of repression, indiscriminately killing civilians, summarily executing captured combatants, and committing numerous rapes, beatings, and widespread looting. More than 160 people were killed within just a few days.

Gen. Gabriel Amisi, also known as “Tango Four,” then the assistant chief of staff for logistics of the RCD-Goma army, was directly implicated in these abuses, Human Rights Watch research found. He was seen at Tshopo Bridge, shortly before RCD-Goma fighters summarily executed police and soldiers. For days afterwards, fishermen saw bodies in the river. A resident who crossed the bridge on foot reported “unbearable” odors.

Amisi is also accused of commanding troops that, in September 2002, massacred at least 56 civilians and likely abducted scores of others during an offensive against Mai-Mai militia allied to the Congolese government.

Instead of being prosecuted by the government, Amisi later joined the Congolese army and rose through the ranks. He continued to command troops responsible for serious abuses, and now serves as deputy army chief of staff in charge of operations and intelligence.

The impunity Amisi was afforded as an officer in Congo’s army appears to have emboldened him. He stands accused of overseeing a network distributing ammunition for poachers and armed groups, and of commanding troops who between 2015 and 2018 violently repressed political demonstrations against then-president Joseph Kabila. He is also implicated in the deployment of former M23 rebel fighters in the capital, Kinshasa, to crack down on protesters in December 2016.

Congo’s current president, Felix Tshisekedi, said holding abusive officials accountable for past crimes would be a priority for his administration. Seventeen years after RCD-Goma’s terrible crimes rocked Kisangani, he should keep his promise, remove Amisi from his post, and help victims and their families finally get justice.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 15, 2019, 6:57 am

Keyvan Samimi, Neda Naji, Hassan Saeedi Atefeh Rangriz, Marzieh Amiri, and Nahid Khodajoo.

© Private

(Beirut) - Iranian authorities are holding at least eight activists and journalists arrested during a Labor Day protest on May 1, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly.

Radio Farda, the United States-funded news agency, reported on May 1 that the authorities had arrested more than 35 people in a demonstration in front of Iran’s parliament that was organized by 20 independent local labor rights organizations. While the authorities released several of those detained, including Reza Shahabi, a prominent labor activist, security forces continue to detain others in Evin prison. They include the activists Neda Naji, Atefeh Rangriz, Nahid Khodajoo, Nasrin Javadi, and Farhad Sheikhi,Hassan Saeedi, and two journalists arrested at the protest, Marizeh Amiri and Keyvan Samimi.

“Instead of commemorating May Day by allowing labor activists to peacefully raise their demands to parliament, Iranian authorities arrested them and put them in jail,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While Iranian authorities regularly highlight the potentially negative impact of US sanctions on Iranian civilians, they brook almost zero domestic criticism of their own economic policies by labor activists.”

Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to create labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council. Since 2005, authorities have repeatedly harassed, summoned, arrested, convicted, and sentenced workers affiliated with independent trade unions.

On May 14, one of the protesters arrested during the demonstration on May 1 told Human Rights Watch that security forces attacked the protesters 10 minutes after they gathered in front of the parliament and arrested about 50 men and women while beating some of them. Authorities subsequently transferred all the detainees to Arg seventh base police station. Judicial authorities charged all the detainees with “disrupting public order” and “participating in an illegal demonstration,” while bringing the additional charge of “acting against national security” against some of the detainees, the source added. The authorities issued a temporary detention order for Amiri, Rangriz, and Naji, while announcing a 5,000,000,000 Rial (US$33,000) bond for Khodajoo, a source who preferred to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch on May 13. Authorities also issued a 1,000,000,000 Rial ($6,600) bond for Javadi but have refused to release her after the family has provided the bond. Naji and Rangriz have not been allowed to make phone calls to their families, the source said.

On May 12, the authorities took Samimi, the chief editor of Iran Farda monthly magazine, to the magazine’s office, where they searched documents and seized computer hard drives and laptops, Taghi Rahmani, a well-known activist, tweeted. Authorities have arrested Samimi, a veteran journalist, several times both before and after the Iranian revolution. He spent six years in prison in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

Over the past year, Iran has arrested several labor activists. In January 20, authorities arrested Ismael Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, two activists who had alleged that authorities had tortured them during their detention in November 2018. Amir Aligholi, Sanaz Allahyari, and Amir Hossein Mohammadifar, members of the editorial board of the online publication Gam, have also been detained since January. Several members of Iran’s teachers’ union, including Ismael Abdi, Mohammad Habibi, and Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, who were arrested in the past two years, remain in prison for their peaceful activism.

Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protect the right to form and join labor unions. Iran is a party to both of these treaties. Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), but has refused to sign the treaty’s convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize and 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: May 15, 2019, 6:00 am