Loan Torondel, 21, worked with L’Auberge des Migrants in Calais for two years, helping to provide legal information and support and humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in northern France.

© 2018 Loan Torondel
(Paris) – An appeals court’s confirmation of the defamation conviction of an aid worker on June 24, 2019 for an ironic tweet sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The case was a serious escalation in harassment and intimidation of aid workers in France

The Court of Appeal in Douai, northern France, found Loan Torondel, the aid worker, guilty of defamation for a tweet he published in early January 2018 and sentenced him to pay a 1,500 euro fine (about US$1,700), which it suspended, and ordered him to pay damages and court costs. It was the first defamation case against an aid worker in France for criticizing the French government’s actions against migrants. Torondel told Human Rights Watch that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation, France’s court of last resort.

“This decision against Loan Torondel is a worrying precedent and a blow to freedom of expression,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “It resonates as a pernicious intimidation against staff or volunteers for organizations that speak out against police abuses against migrants.”

In January 2018, while working for the Auberge des Migrants, which provides crucial assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, Torondel published a tweet criticizing abusive police practices toward migrants. This tweet, with a photo showing two police officers standing over a young man seated in a field, imagined that the young man was protesting against the confiscation of his sleeping bag in the middle of winter and that the officer replied: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir,” an allusion to a speech President Emmanuel Macron gave in late December 2017.

Torondel was prosecuted following a complaint by one of the police officers and was sentenced by the first instance by a court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on September 25.

Torondel worked with Human Rights Watch earlier in 2019, and the organization is about to resume the collaboration to research police practices during identity checks in France.

A volunteer operating in Calais, Tom Ciotkowski, was also prosecuted, for “insult and violence” after filming French police officers who were impeding a food distribution to migrants and asylum seekers by volunteers in Calais. But he was acquitted on June 20 by the Boulogne-sur-Mer court. 

Torondel's conviction and Ciotkowski’s prosecution expand on what aid workers have regularly described as harassment by the French police to hinder or prevent aid workers and volunteers supporting migrants and asylum seekers from carrying out their work in Calais.

The aid workers have reported repeated fines for minor infractions and parking violations, excessive use of identity checks, and temporary confiscations of mobile phones to look through or delete their content. In some cases, aid workers have reported being improperly sprayed with tear gas or pushed or insulted by police officers. 

Human Rights Watch, the French Defender of Rights, UN observers, and four associations in Calais reported abusive practices by the police in Calais, both against migrants and asylum seekers and against aid workers. Amnesty International recently published a detailed report on the criminalization and harassment of people defending refugee and migrant rights in northern France. 

Criminal defamation laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary restriction on free speech and create a “chilling effect” that effectively restricts legitimate as well as harmful speech. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), together with the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression, have called for the abolition of such laws.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has said that countries should take particular care to ensure that defamation laws – civil or criminal – “should never be used to prevent criticism of government” and “should reflect the principle that public figures are required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private citizens.”

“Obstructing assistance to migrants and bringing legal proceedings that criminalize the denunciation of abuses is a shameful tactic to deter solidarity,” Jeannerod said. “France should not go down this dangerous path, which reduces the working space of both aid workers and government critics.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Recent reports that the US monitored calls between members of President Trump’s campaign staff and Russian intelligence personnel have renewed controversy about the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), and how those bodies handle the information they collect. But anyone concerned about the scope or legality of the US government’s warrantless intelligence surveillance should also worry about the way these programs may affect the country’s border and immigrant communities.

A general view shows part of the Loma Blanca neighborhood as a section of the border fence marking the boundarie with El Paso, U.S. is seen on the background, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The US currently has two main “foreign” surveillance powers it can—in practice—use to obtain and sift through information on people within its borders without a warrant. (We do not yet know whether either of these was the legal basis for intercepting the conversations with Trump’s campaign staff). 

The first, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, setting the stage for an intense debate in Congress about reforming surveillance. Under Section 702, the NSA (with telecommunications companies’ help) automatically searches virtually all the Internet communications flowing over the fiber optic cables that connect the US to the rest of the world—a practice known as “upstream” scanning. 

As of 2015, 26 percent of people in the United States were first- or second-generation immigrants.  Upstream monitoring, as we currently understand it, means that whenever any of these tens of millions of people—or anyone else in the US—sends an email to a friend or family member in another country, the US government is likely searching those communications to see if they contain e-mail addresses or other “selectors” of interest. This kind of suspicionless, warrantless, disproportionate monitoring violates human rights.

In addition to Section 702, Executive Order 12333 allows the NSA and other US agencies to vacuum up the communications of US citizens and lawful permanent residents in the course of foreign surveillance. Leaked documents indicate that pursuant to EO 12333, the US has grabbed records of potentially all telephone calls in countries including Mexico and the Philippines. In other words, if you are in El Paso, Texas and have called your mother in Juárez, Mexico, US intelligence agencies probably have a record of your call. They can use this data to map social networks—and share it for law enforcement purposes.

The US’ vast warrantless surveillance powers are not only an issue for legal wonks or the technically savvy: they may be affecting people and communities throughout the United States and the world. Congress and the judiciary should regard them as direct threats to both US democracy and human rights.

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

(New York) – The latest revisions to China’s Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised law, which took effect November 1, 2015, does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

“The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9)), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.” The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or reposting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution.

In the past, the Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
     

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. But authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uighurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response.

“The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China,” Richardson said. “The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2020 AP Photo/Hussein Malla
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2011 REUTERS / Nikhil Monteiro

(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates authorities displayed a dangerous disregard for the rule of law in 2019 with arbitrary detentions, seriously flawed trials, and rampant abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020Despite declaring 2019 the “Year of Tolerance,” UAE rulers cemented their clampdown on all manners of peaceful dissent by continuing to hold activists who had completed their sentences without a clear legal basis 
 
Over the past year, there have also been increased concerns for the deteriorating health of two unjustly detained rights activists, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser bin Ghaith, who are being held in dismal prison conditions and denied access to health careBoth Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in prison solely for exercising his right to free expression, and bin Ghaithserving 10 years on charges stemming from criticizing UAE and Egyptian authoritiescarried out hunger strikes to protest their unjust convictions and deplorable treatment.  
 
Time and again during 2019as it garishly sang its own praises as a tolerant and rights-respecting state, the UAE proved just how little respect it really has for universal human rights,” said Michael Pagedeputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE’s fundamental disregard for the rule of law doesn’t just harm dissidents and critics of the regime, but anyone who may fall afoul of the authorities and the country’s flawed justice system. 
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
Especially in cases related to state security, people in the UAE experienced arbitrary and incommunicado detentiontorture and ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal assistance. Forced confessions were used as evidence in trial proceedings, and prisoners complained of dismal conditions and denial of adequate medical care, including lifesaving treatment for infectious diseases 
 
The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers visas to their employers. Those who leave their employers without permission faced punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. Many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. 
 
UAE laws continue to discriminate against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and fail to protect them from violence. And, in June, the UAE announced the withdrawal of most of its ground troops from the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, but UAE-backed Yemeni troops continued to commit abuses there.  
 
The UAE’s expensive efforts to paint itself as a respectable state on the world stage will continue to ring hollow as long as it does not back up its empty words and glossy gimmicks with real and genuine reform,” Page said. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2011 Reuters / Anis Mili

(Tunis) – Tunisia still faces numerous hurdles to protecting its human rights gains nine years after Tunisians ousted the authoritarian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020 
 
The authorities failed to scrap laws that are still being applied to punish Tunisians for peaceful criticism or for pursuing their private lives as they wish. The absence of a constitutional court, which the 2014 Constitution envisioned, deprives Tunisian citizens of the opportunity to challenge such laws.  
 
Tunisia’s progress on human rights will remain under threat until the authorities dismantle repressive laws and put in place key safeguards against abuses,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch.  
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
The Constitutional Court, as conceived by the constitution, could strike down existing and draft laws deemed unconstitutional, including those that would violate human rightsBut parliament has failed in its duty to kick off the process of selecting its share of judges, and until the court is staffed, it cannot begin operations.   
 
Tunisia made progress on transitional justice as the Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC), created under a 2013 transitional law to investigate human rights abuses from 1956 to 2013completed its mandate and delivered its final report on March 26, 2019The commission recommended judiciary and security force reforms to bar a return to systematic abuses, but the government has yet to act on its recommendations.  
 
The 13 specialized court chambers created by the transitional justice law to try those responsible for past human rights abuses face numerous obstacles. The obstacles include an inability to compel the accused and witnesses to appear, as the police refuse to fulfill their duty to enforce summonses against uncooperative defendants.  
 
Prosecutors in Tunisia have also charged bloggers, journalists, and social media activists under a number of penal code provisions. At least 14 were prosecuted under speech offenses in 2019, with six spending time in jail for criticizing state officials or revealing corruption by civil servants 
 
The authorities also prosecuted and imprisoned men suspected of being gay under Article 230 of the penal codewhich provides for up to three years in prison for “sodomy.” The government also subjected suspects to anal tests to prove homosexuality, despite making a commitment during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in May 2017 to end the discredited practice.   
 
Since the declaration of a state of emergency in November 2015, which remains in effect, hundreds of Tunisians have faced arbitrary limitations on their movement when traveling inside and out of the country. 
 
Parliament did not act on a draft law granting women equal rights in inheritance, which then-President Beji Caid Essebsi approved in 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2018 REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities carried out sweeping campaign of repression against independent dissidents and activists, including two waves of mass arrestsin 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020 
 
The arrests and harassment coincided with the most significant advancements for Saudi women in recent years, including removing travel restrictions for women 21 and over and granting women more control over civil status issues. 
 
Reforms for Saudi women do not whitewash the rampant harassment and detention of Saudi activists and intellectuals, including women’s rights activists, who simply expressed their views publicly or privately,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Saudi Arabia has any hope of rehabilitating its tattered image, the authorities should immediately release everyone they’ve locked away merely for their peaceful criticism.” 
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, faced no meaningful justice during 2019 for abuses by state security agents over the past few years, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and the alleged torture of women’s rights advocates. 
 
Dozens of Saudi dissidents and activists, including four prominent women’s rights defenders, remain in detention while they and others face unfair trials on charges tied solely to their public criticism of the government or peaceful human rights work. Mass arrests in April and November targeted over 20 Saudi intellectuals and writers. 
 
As the leader of the coalition that began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. On June 20, 2019, a United Kingdom appeals court ruled that the UK government’s refusal to consider Saudi Arabia’s laws-of-war violations in Yemen before licensing arms sales was unlawful, a ruling that resulted in the suspension of new UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the government makes a new lawful decision on arms licenses or obtains a new court order. 
 
In late July, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers promulgated landmark amendments to three laws that will begin to dismantle the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system, including allowing women 21 and over to travel abroad and to obtain a passport without the approval of a male guardian. The reforms also included important advances for women on civil status issues, allowing wometo register their children’s births with the civil status office, which was previously restricted to fathers or paternal relatives. Changes to the Labor Law introduced a new protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, disability, or age. 
 
“It’s a cruel irony that Saudi women are enjoying new freedoms while some of those who fought hardest for them remain behind bars or facing blatantly unfair trials,” Page said. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

(Beirut) – Mauritania’s first presidential transition in a decade has raised hope that the new head of state, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, will ensure human rights protections for all Mauritanians, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020Ould Ghazouani should prioritize repealing repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, ensure women’s rights, and instruct security forces to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully.  
 
Under the outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, authorities used laws on criminal defamation and the counterterrorism law to prosecute and jail human rights defenders, activists, social media activists, and political dissidents. Two bloggers, Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddouwere detained for three months for social media posts criticizing corruption in Mauritania before charges against them were dropped.  
 
Mauritania’s Ould Ghazouani should prioritize long-overdue reform of a harsh penal code that allows the death penalty in blasphemy cases and that is effectively used to muzzle speech,” said Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “The new president should also take decisive steps to ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have the support they need to move on with their lives.”  
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
The penal code stipulates the death penalty for blasphemy. On July 29, 2019 – four days before Ould Ghazouani’s inauguration  the authorities freed Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a blogger who had been imprisoned in a blasphemy case for five-and-a-half years; a court initially sentenced him to death. Although an appeals court reduced the sentence to two years in prison, authorities held him in solitary and arbitrary detention for an additional 21 months, ostensibly for his own protection. Upon his release, Ould Mkhaitir immediately sought asylum in France.  
 
Mauritania should revoke criminal defamation and blasphemy laws and work towards abolishing the death penalty in all cases, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. 
 
In October 2019, police violently dispersed student demonstrations taking place in Nouakchott against a rule that prevented students who had reached the age of 25 from enrolling for the first time in public universities. In November, the government suspended this discriminatory rule.   
 
Under current legislation, all sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalized and there is no law against gender-based violence, despite a high prevalence of such violence in Mauritania. Women and girls face many barriers to accessing justice. For example, those who report rape risk prosecution for sexual relations outside of marriage (also known as zina) if they cannot prove that the sex was noconsensual 
 
The government should cease prosecutions and detentions in so-called zina cases, decriminalize the offense, and adopt a law on gender-based violence in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should also establish specialized prosecutorial units to assist victims of gender-based violence, ensure greater access to medical care, and provide direct support services to survivors. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters march on a street during a rally against the extradition law proposal on June 9, 2019 in Hong Kong. 

© 2019 Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
(New York) – The Chinese government’s heightened repression faced unprecedented resistance from Hong Kong people and growing criticisms from concerned governments, as the Chinese Communist Party marked the 70th anniversary of its rule, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

This backlash was evident in months of demonstrations opposing Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms and public statements by countries critical of the oppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. 

“President Xi Jinping’s policies have been challenged by massive protests in Hong Kong and joint statements at the United Nations,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments and international institutions should stand with those defending human rights in China and push back against Beijing’s repressive policies.”

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

The Chinese government continued to subject Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region to severe repression. An estimated one million Muslims are being indefinitely held in “political education” camps, where they are forced to disavow their identity and swear loyalty to the Communist Party. Authorities also forcibly separated some of the children whose parents are detained or in exile from their families, and are holding them in state-run “child welfare” institutions and boarding schools. They are also imposing mass surveillance systems – equipped with latest technologies – on the region’s residents, scrutinizing them and restricting their movement.

In Hong Kong in April, a court sentenced Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, scholars who led the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement,” to 16-month prison terms on public nuisance charges. In June, anger over proposed revisions to laws that would allow extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China prompted a million people to protest. The Hong Kong government’s initial refusal to withdraw the bill and the police’s excessive use of force led to escalating protests. Hong Kong authorities repeatedly rejected calls for an independent investigation of allegations of police abuse. Since June, authorities have arrested nearly 7,000 people and denied at least 17 applications for protests.

In Tibet, authorities continue to severely restrict freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion. From May to July 2019, thousands of monks and nuns were reportedly expelled from a monastery in Sichuan and their dwellings demolished. In November, Yonten, a former Buddhist monk, became the 156th Tibetan to die of self-immolation since March 2009.

In 2019, authorities continued to crack down on human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers. In July, two months after being released from prison, activist Ji Sizun died from unidentified illnesses, continuing a pattern in recent years in which prominent human rights defenders died in custody or soon after release. Courts in Hubei and Sichuan sentenced activists Liu Feiyue and Huang Qi to 5 and 12 years in prison respectively. Authorities across the country also detained activists and netizens for supporting the Hong Kong protests, including journalist Huang Xueqin.

Authorities deepened their assault on freedom of expression. Police nationwide detained or summoned hundreds of Twitter users, forcing them to delete tweets criticizing the government or to close their accounts. The government launched a disinformation campaign that framed Hong Kong’s protesters as violent and extreme, prompting Twitter and Facebook to suspend hundreds of accounts originating in China suspected of being part of the campaign.

Beijing continued to muzzle criticism abroad by monitoring Chinese students on university campuses, harassing critics’ family members based in China, censoring Chinese social media platforms which are popular among the diaspora, and leveraging China’s economic clout. In October, after a National Basketball Association (NBA) team manager tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protests, Chinese authorities canceled the broadcasts of NBA games in China and demanded the manager’s firing. The NBA did not fire him.

A number of governments increasingly called out China’s repression, particularly through interventions regarding Xinjiang at the United Nations. In response, China organized a coalition of notorious rights-violating states to rebut the allegations. The United States government sanctioned 28 Chinese entities over Xinjiang abuses. Few other governments moved beyond rhetorical condemnations of Beijing’s egregious human rights violations to take concrete actions.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters hold placards during a protest in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, April 14, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf
(Bangkok) – Malaysia’s promised human rights reforms stalled in 2019 as the government either backed away from or delayed action on its campaign commitments, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

“Malaysia’s reform process is failing because the ruling coalition’s leaders have lacked the political will to stand up for principles in the face of political opposition,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to make a renewed effort to follow through on its promises for human rights reforms.”

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

The government has undertaken some positive reform steps, such as repealing the Anti-Fake News law, advancing a draft law to establish an Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission, and strengthening parliamentary independence to consider rights issues. However, it has failed to achieve reforms in key areas such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Malaysia withdrew from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in April, barely a month after becoming a formal party to the treaty. The government also retreated from a commitment to completely abolish the death penalty. It recently asserted that it will instead introduce legislation to end the mandatory application of capital punishment for various crimes.

The government has also failed to carry out commitments to abolish or reform a range of abusive laws, including the much-abused Sedition Act. The law continues to be used, particularly against those criticizing Malaysia’s royalty.

Despite promising to repeal “draconian provisions” of the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), the government continues to use the law, which allows 28 days of preventive detention with no judicial review for a range of “security offenses” and sets special procedures for trial of such cases, which violate the right to a fair trial. Twelve people, including two Democratic Action Party lawmakers, were detained under the act in October on allegations of supporting a defunct Sri Lankan rebel group.

Police abuse remains a serious problem in Malaysia, as does a lack of accountability for such abuses. In July, the government submitted a bill to create a long-sought independent police misconduct commission. However, some of the bill’s provisions raise concerns about the independence and authority of the proposed commission.

Discrimination against LGBT people in Malaysia is pervasive. Federal law punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to 20 years in prison, while numerous state Sharia laws prohibit both same-sex relations and non-normative gender expression, resulting in frequent arrests of transgender people. In November, five men were sentenced to prison terms and six strokes of the cane for “attempted intercourse against the order of nature.” Four were caned on November 19.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and other government officials have made statements expressing a lack of support for the LGBT community. In June, Mahathir said that the discussion of LGBT rights was being promoted by “Western countries” and was “unsuitable” for Malaysia.

“The Malaysian government’s human rights record will be judged on its accomplishments, not its promises,” Robertson said. “The government can still turn its record around by standing up and acting on behalf of the country’s marginalized communities.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Veiled protesters, mostly relatives of victims of alleged extra-judicial killings, display placards during a protest outside the Philippine military and police camps in Quezon City, Philippines on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
(Manila) – The Philippine government’s murderous “war on drugs” remained the Philippines’ gravest human rights concern in 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2020. Security forces were also implicated in often deadly attacks on activists.

“President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign remains as brutal as when it started, with drug suspects being killed regularly across the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Four years into the ‘drug war,’ the need for international mechanisms to provide accountability is as great as ever.”

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

Duterte’s appointment in November of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Drugs (ICAD) raised hopes that drug campaign violence would be tempered. But Duterte fired Robredo, an opponent of the anti-drug campaign, just days later.

In July, the Philippine National Police reported that its forces had killed more than 5,500 people during drug raids. Local rights groups as well as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights contend that the number could be more than 27,000. Except for three police officers involved in a highly publicized killing in August 2017, no one has been convicted in any “drug war” killings. Duterte continued to defend the drug war and promised to protect law enforcement officers who killed drug suspects in these raids.

In December 2019, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that its forces had killed 5,552 people during drug raids from July 1, 2016 to November 30, 2019. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had yet to conclude its preliminary examination into “drug war” killings, which it began in February 2018. A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on the Philippines adopted in July 2019 directs the UN human rights office to issue a report in June 2020.

There was an upsurge in 2019 in often deadly attacks against left-wing activists, including peasant leaders, environmentalists, tribal leaders, and religious figures who were deemed to be linked to the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Violence was particularly high on the island of Negros, where alleged state security forces killed peasants, their leaders, environmentalists, religious leaders, and their community supporters.

Left-wing, politically active groups faced police raids that resulted in arbitrary arrests and detention. Groups alleged that police planted weapons and other “evidence” to justify the raids and arrests. The government and military frequently labeled these groups and individuals as communist rebels or sympathizers, a practice commonly known as “red tagging.” Some journalists also faced similar political attacks.

As with the anti-drug campaign, the Duterte administration has done little to investigate and prosecute those responsible for politically motivated attacks against activists. Duterte has instead seemingly encouraged such attacks, for instance, in August calling on the military to “implement a more severe measure” against the insurgency.

“There are sadly no signs that President Duterte is going to end ‘drug war’ killings or act to stop attacks on activists,” Robertson said. “That makes it all the more important for international institutions like the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council to do what they can to hold Duterte and other senior officials to account for their abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees watch ICJ proceedings at a restaurant in a refugee camp on December 12, 2019 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

© 2019 Allison Joyce/Getty Images
(Bangkok) – The Myanmar government faced increasing pressure during 2019 for international justice for its human rights violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. Respect for free expression and assembly also declined sharply during the year as the authorities escalated their use of repressive criminal laws.

“Myanmar’s failure to hold its military accountable for atrocities against the Rohingya is finally turning the wheels of international justice,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Two international courts are now examining whether Myanmar committed genocide and who should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.”

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

Myanmar appeared before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on December 10-12 to respond to a complaint filed by Gambia for alleged violations of the Genocide Convention. Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi rejected the genocide allegations, claiming that there was no orchestrated campaign of persecution despite considerable evidence of military atrocities against the Rohingya.

In November, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the ICC prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, other inhumane acts, and persecution against Rohingya in Myanmar since October 2016. The court had already confirmed its jurisdiction over the crime of deportation and other related crimes, which it ruled was completed in Bangladesh, an ICC state party.

Almost one million Rohingya are living in camps in Bangladesh after fleeing the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign that began in August 2017. The estimated 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar live in dire conditions, subjected to government persecution, violence, extreme restrictions on movement, and deprivation of food and health care.

Armed conflict between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups intensified in 2019 in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States. In Rakhine State, the government ordered an internet blackout, which began on June 21 and included four townships affected by intensified fighting between the military and the ethnic Rakhine armed group, the Arakan Army. Civilians in embattled areas were increasingly endangered by severe aid blockages, indiscriminate artillery attacks, and forced displacement.

The United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission ended its work in September, handing over evidence of serious crimes by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, and Karen ethnic minorities to the newly operational Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), to continue collecting evidence.

Freedom of expression and the media remained under dire threat in Myanmar in 2019. In May, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were released from prison on a presidential amnesty after serving over 700 days in pretrial detention and prison. However, more than 250 people faced criminal lawsuits in 2019 under various laws restricting freedom of expression. Protesters were often targeted under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires prior approval for an event.

Farmers across the country also faced difficulties with rights-repressing laws. In March, the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law came into effect, requiring anyone occupying land classified as “vacant, fallow, or virgin” to apply for permits, with prison terms for failure to comply.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy government promised to overturn repressive laws enacted during military rule,” Robertson said. “Instead they are using those laws to attack their critics and have even introduced new repressive legislation.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Vietnam Political Prisoners 

© 2020 Private
(New York) – At least 30 activists and dissidents were sentenced to prison in Vietnam in 2019 simply for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2020.

The one-party state severely limited all basic civil and political rights and banned any activities that the ruling Communist Party deemed a threat to its monopoly of power. Activists and bloggers, in particular, suffered surveillance, travel bans, physical assaults, interrogation, and arrest, and courts convicted and sentenced them to long prison terms.

“2019 was a brutal year for basic freedoms in Vietnam,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Vietnamese government claims that its citizens enjoy freedom of expression, but this ‘freedom’ disappears when it is used to call for democracy or to criticize the ruling Communist Party.”

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

The Vietnamese authorities ban religious activities that they arbitrarily deem to be contrary to “national interest,” “public order,” or “national unity.” Followers of unapproved religious groups are criticized, forced to renounce their faith, detained, interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned. In August, a court in Gia Lai province sentenced Rah Lan Hip to seven years in prison for his affiliation with Dega Protestantism.

In November, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced an Australian political campaigner, Chau Van Kham, and his Vietnamese fellow activists Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen to 12, 11, and 10 years in prison, respectively, for affiliation with an overseas political party.

Activists and bloggers frequently are assaulted by officials or thugs who appear to work in coordination with authorities and enjoy impunity. In July, a group of rights activists was attacked in Nghe An province while traveling to a local prison to show support for political prisoners there on hunger strike protesting mistreatment.

Police routinely place activists under house arrest or briefly detain them to prevent them from participating in meetings and protests or attending the trials of fellow activists. In September, security agents prevented lawyer Dang Dinh Manh from leaving his house to attend a meeting with a German delegation.

Police frequently prevented rights campaigners from traveling abroad, sometimes citing vague national security reasons. In November, the police prohibited Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc from traveling to Tokyo. In December, officials refused to issue a passport to former political prisoner Le Cong Dinh.

Vietnam’s problematic cybersecurity law went into effect in January. The overly broad and vague law gives authorities wide discretion to censor free expression and requires service providers to take down content that authorities consider offensive within 24 hours of receiving the request. At least 25 people were convicted for expressing critical opinions on the internet.

In November, police arrested an independent journalist, Pham Chi Dung, for urging the European Union to require Vietnam to improve its rights record as a condition of entering the European-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement.

In June, Vietnam ratified International Labor Convention (ILO) 98 on collective bargaining and the right to organize and in November, the National Assembly passed a revised labor code, which will be effective in January 2021. However, the new law does not mention independent labor unions.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

ABC's editorial director Craig McMurtrie speaks to the media as Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster in Sydney on June 5, 2019. 

© Peter Parks / AFP
(Sydney) – Australia’s sweeping national security laws and police actions against journalists and whistleblowers are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

Refugee rights, indigenous rights, and aged care are, among other issues, raising concerns. Australia has demonstrated some progress in its performance at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

“Australia’s national security laws shouldn’t be used to intimidate the media or those holding the government to account,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems intent on sending a message to officials not to share information with journalists.”

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

In 2019, police raided the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a News Corp journalist over reports about war crimes in Afghanistan and surveillance in Australia respectively. Closed court proceedings continued against a whistleblower, “Witness K,” and his lawyer for secrecy breaches regarding exposures of alleged wrongdoing by the Australian government concerning trade negotiations with Timor-Leste.

About 600 refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Australia’s offshore processing system remain in legal limbo there after six years. In 2019, the government transferred about 170 refugees to Australia under a medical evacuation (medevac) law that enabled refugees and asylum seekers in ill-health who cannot get appropriate care in Papua New Guinea or Nauru to come to Australia. But in December, the government repealed the law, baselessly claiming it was necessary for border security.

“Repealing the medevac law was a cruel political maneuver that makes it more difficult for refugees and asylum seekers with serious illnesses – victims of offshore processing operations – to get the care they need,” Pearson said.

Indigenous Australians remain significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and people with disabilities are particularly at risk of neglect and abuse. In February, in Perth’s Hakea prison, prisoners beat to death an Aboriginal man with a mental health condition. At least two Aboriginal men with mental health conditions committed suicide in Western Australia prisons in 2019.

A royal commission into abuse and neglect of people with disabilities began hearings. Another royal commission found Australia’s aged care system to be “a shocking tale of neglect,” and recommended immediate action on the rampant practice of chemical restraint: using drugs to control people’s behavior in aged care facilities. A government regulation that went into force in July purported to minimize the use of physical and chemical restraints, but may in fact simply normalize the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

At the UN Human Rights Council, Australia took the lead on a joint statement bringing attention to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia and ensuring the council renewed the mandate of the UN expert on human rights in Eritrea.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am