More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Author: Human Rights Watch, 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, 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

Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch, speaking at the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights hearing on the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental, human rights organization that conducts research and advocacy in over 90 countries on a range of human rights issues, including on the rights of older people and the rights of people with disabilities.

Through extensive research on overmedication of older people living in nursing homes in the United States, we have documented how nursing facilities give antipsychotic drugs to residents with dementia to control their behavior out of convenience, despite rules against the misuse of drugs as chemical restraints. The use of antipsychotic drugs on older people with dementia is associated with a nearly doubled risk of death and other adverse reactions including stroke, falls and the inability to stake awake long enough to eat or spend time with loved ones.

Based on our experience documenting these harmful practices, we have written to this Committee to share our concerns regarding F2019L00511, the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2019, registered on April 2, 2019. We have urged this Committee to recommend the disallowance of this regulation.

This legislation, which aims to regulate the use of restraints in aged care facilities, is inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under several core human rights treaties that Australia has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,[1] the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,[2] and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[3]

The use of physical or chemical restraints for control, punishment, retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for nursing facility staff should be prohibited. This regulation does not prohibit such measures.

Medicines should only ever be used for therapeutic purposes and with the free and informed consent of the person receiving them.

Informed Consent

The regulation does not require informed consent for chemical restraint, although it is required for physical restraint.

In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Australia, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) expressed concern that “under Australian law a person can be subjected to medical intervention against his or her will, if the person is deemed to be incapable of making or communicating a decision about treatment.” The committee called on Australia to repeal all legislation that authorizes medical intervention without the free and informed consent of the persons with disabilities concerned.[4]

Similarly, the UN special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health has stated that informed consent “is a core element of the right to health, both as a freedom and an integral safeguard to its enjoyment.”[5]

For persons who may require support in making decisions and giving their informed consent for medical treatment, support should be provided and can take different forms. These can include:

  • accessibility measures and reasonable accommodation in understanding medical interventions, their consequences and side effects, as well as alternatives;
  • advance directives; and
  • the appointment of one or more support persons chosen by the person concerned.

The CRPD Committee has acknowledged that in some cases, even after serious and sustainable efforts have been made, it may not be possible to determine a person’s will and preferences, due to communication barriers or for other reasons. This may be the case with some people with dementia. In such situations, every effort should be made to make the best interpretation of an individual’s will and preferences. [6] Consideration should be given to all forms of verbal or nonverbal communication, as well as a person’s relevant previously manifested preferences, values, attitudes, and actions.

Prohibition on restraints in social care institutions

In a 2013 report, the UN special rapporteur on torture stated that “it is essential that an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, should apply in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions.”[7]

The CRPD Committee has stated in numerous concluding observations that laws that condone the practice of restraining persons with disabilities or using other coercive measures to control them should be repealed.[8] It criticized the use of restraints in its 2013 review of Australia, expressing  serious concern that persons with disabilities are “subjected to unregulated behaviour modification or restrictive practices such as chemical, mechanical and physical restraints and seclusion, in various environments, including schools, mental health facilities and hospitals.” The Committee called on Australia to take immediate steps to end such practices.

The Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee itself stated in a December 2018 report on the National Disability Insurance Scheme,[9] which sought to regulate restraint in National Disability Insurance Scheme-funded services, that “Australia's obligations in relation to the prohibition on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment are absolute and therefore cannot be limited.”[10]

And, “[t]o that extent, a nationally consistent approach which prohibits restrictive practices that could amount to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment would be desirable from a human rights perspective.”[11]

Australia should be working to end the use of all forms of restraints, including physical restraints, sedatives (chemical restraints), forced isolation, and forced psychiatric treatment as a means of managing or disciplining older people in aged care. They should develop support and interventions for persons experiencing crises and emotional distress, including in nursing homes, that do not involve restraints. Any new law should also ensure informed consent for all treatment or interventions and ensure independent monitoring and effective, accessible, independent complaints mechanisms, including for individuals in aged care and their families. 

In the United States, the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 42, Section 483.13 (a) states that, “The resident has the right to be free from any physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, and not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms.”[12]

In closing, Human Rights Watch urges you to recommend disallowance of this legislation that seeks to regulate practices that are incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations. This regulation should be repealed and replaced with a robust prohibition on such practices, and requirements for:

  • supportive interventions, including training for aged care facility staff;
  • informed consent for all interventions;
  • independent, immediate, external review of complaints;
  • rights of access for advocates and inspectors to investigate potential restraint to ensure drugs are being used for therapeutic purposes only;
  • meaningful, regular monitoring by health practitioners;
  • sanctions for health practitioners found to be engaging in restraint;
  • clear lines of enforcement from inspectors for facilities found to be in breach; and
  • increased scrutiny of affiliated facilities with repeated violations. 

Thank you for your consideration.


[1] Implicates Article 6, the right to life; Article 7, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 26, equality before the law and to the equal protection of the law.

[2] Implicates Article 12, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

[3] Implicates Article 12, Equal Recognition Before the Law; Article 14, Liberty and Security of Person; Article 15, Freedom from Torture, or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Article 16, Freedom from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse; Article 17, Protecting the Integrity of the Person; Article 25, Health.

[4] Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD Committee), Concluding observations on the initial report of Australia, adopted by the Committee at its tenth session (2-13 September 2013), 21 October 2013, CRPD/C/AUS/CO/1,, para. 33.

[5] Human Rights Council, Report of the special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Puras, A/HRC/35/21, March 28, 2017,, para. 63.

[6] CRPD Committee, General Comment 1, para. 21.

[7] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez A/HRC/22/53, para 63. February 2013.

[8] See, for example, CRPD New Zealand, Concluding Observations CRPD/C/NZL/CO/1, para. 32, “The Committee recommends that immediate steps be taken to eliminate the use of seclusion and restraints in medical facilities.”

[9] Restrictive Practice and Behaviour Support Rules 2018 [F2018L00632]

[10] Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Scrutiny Report 13 of 2018, 4 December 2018

[11] Ibid.

[12] United States, 42 CFR 483.13 - Resident behavior and facility practices. (accessed August 7, 2019).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Sydney) – Australia’s parliament should scrap a new rule that allows nursing homes to overmedicate and restrain older people, a group of organizations working for older people’s rights in Australia said today. On August 20, 2019 in Sydney, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold a hearing on human rights concerns relating to the new rule. Human Rights Watch, Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), and others will appear.

The group includes ADA Australia, Capacity Australia, Dementia Alliance International, and Human Rights Watch.

“The Australian government rule is trying to regulate abusive practices that harm older people rather than prohibit them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of a parliamentary inquiry into this matter is a critical opportunity to address the regulation’s serious shortcomings.”

In April, the Australian government introduced a new rule to regulate both physical restraints and overmedication, also known as chemical restraint, in aged care facilities. The use of physical or chemical restraints as punishment, control, retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff should be prohibited, in line with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

Authorities should instead make sure that any medical intervention takes place only with free and informed consent, and that medications are administered only for therapeutic purposes. The government should prioritize positive support and intervention for people with dementia, including in aged care facilities.

On May 23, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Australian parliament, urging its joint committee on human rights to move to disallow the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2010.

In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticized Australia for allowing practices that would subject people with disabilities, including older people with dementia, to “unregulated behaviour modification or restrictive practices such as chemical, mechanical and physical restraints and seclusion.” The committee called on Australia to end these practices.  

In addition to the physical, social, and emotional harm for older people restrained with antipsychotic drugs, the use of such drugs in older people with dementia is also associated with a nearly doubled risk of death. It also limits their ability to eat, communicate, think, and stay awake.

“Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” said Geoff Rowe, CEO at ADA Australia. “Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint.”

Human Rights Watch has documented the harm of overmedicating older people living in nursing homes in the United States.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Trump administration has proposed a rule that would allow insurers and health care providers to discriminate against transgender patients, making it even more difficult for transgender people to find accessible, inclusive healthcare in the United States.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should reject the proposed rule, which would narrow how the department defines sex discrimination.

During the Obama administration, HHS clarified that discrimination based on gender identity, sex stereotypes, pregnancy, and termination of pregnancy are forms of sex discrimination, and are prohibited under the Affordable Care Act. That meant insurers couldn’t refuse to insure someone, raise their rates, or deny them coverage for certain forms of health care simply because they’re transgender, and providers couldn’t turn away or mistreat transgender patients.

A federal judge in Texas put some of these protections on hold in 2016 in response to a court challenge, and the Trump administration has declined to defend them in court. It now plans to claw them back altogether – at the expense of LGBT and pregnant patients.

Human Rights Watch has documented the difficulties transgender people in the US face when seeking health care providers who offer the services they need without discriminating or making them feel unwelcome. People described struggling to obtain insurance for basic health care needs, traveling hours to find welcoming providers, and being mocked or humiliated by medical personnel or refused service outright. The proposed rule would make it even harder to change this harmful status quo.

Without federal protections, individuals have to look to states for protection – and the landscape is bleak. Only 14 states and the District of Columbia expressly prohibit private insurers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, while only 20 states and the District of Columbia ban them from offering plans that categorically deny coverage for transition-related care. The impact of the federal rollback will be swiftly felt in places such as Iowa, where lawmakers recently overrode a court decision prohibiting health care discrimination by expressly excluding transition-related care from the state’s Medicaid policy.

Eliminating existing protections would put transgender people and pregnant people at risk. The Trump administration should keep these vital safeguards in place, instead of bending over backwards to stop the federal government from fighting discrimination.

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


Lebanon: Burning Trash Poses Serious Health Risk

Lebanese municipalities are endangering the health of residents by openly burning waste despite the passage of a national solid waste management law banning the practice. 

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s ministerial committee tasked with solving Lebanon’s waste management emergency has yet to act despite a four-month trash crisis in the north, Human Rights Watch said today. The crisis has resulted in trash in the streets and harmful open burning of waste.

Absent action by the central government, the Environment Minister has proposed a short-term solution that has triggered a public outcry. The ministerial committee should urgently study the roadmap submitted by the Environment Ministry on June 3, 2019 aimed at implementing the new solid waste management law and submit a final draft to the cabinet that would protect everyone’s right to health.

“The government has had four months to find a solution to the north’s trash crisis, but it is still dragging its feet and relying on temporary half-measures,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Residents in the north are paying the price for the government’s continued failure to manage the country’s waste.”

The Aadoueh dumpsite, an unregulated open dump that had been used by the northern districts of Minieh-Dinnieh, Koura, Zgharta, and Bcharre for 17 years, was closed by the owner on April 5.

Local media have reported that some residents in the north are burning the waste that has piled up on the sidewalks and in some instances blocked streets, even though the practice is illegal, endangering the health of nearly 330,000 people. Media reported that an elderly woman fainted from smoke inhalation from waste burning in the town of Sir al-Dinnieh.

A 2017 Human Rights Watch investigation found that burning waste was risking the health of nearby residents. Residents reported health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, throat irritation, skin conditions, and asthma. Air pollution from open waste burning has been linked to heart disease and emphysema, and can expose people to carcinogenic compounds.

In the absence of action by the central government, on August 6, the Environment Minister announced that trash would be removed from the streets and stored in a “parking” site until a location for a new sanitary landfill could be agreed upon.

The Environment Minister did not announce the proposed site, but Tony Frangieh, a parliament member form Zgharta, told local media that it was in the village of Terbol in the Minieh-Dinnieh district. Local residents objected to this plan, saying that it would be an “environmental catastrophe” and that “they will not accept the establishment of a landfill at the expense of the health of residents.”

An Environment Ministry official has described the roadmap as a step toward carrying out the nationwide strategy that the ministry was tasked with establishing under Law 80/2018 on integrated solid waste management, passed on September 24, 2018. Although the strategy should have been adopted in March, the ministry official said it is still being finalized in line with the comments from civic groups and other stakeholders and will be sent to the cabinet before the end of the month.

The roadmap recommends expanding the Borj Hammoud landfill in Beirut and includes a map of 24 other proposed sites for new sanitary landfills across the country, but not all of these have had the required Environmental Impact Assessment. In at least one case, an assessment was conducted more than a decade ago. Under Lebanese law, the assessment is valid for two years, after which the Environment Ministry must consider whether any changes on the ground call for a new assessment.

The cabinet should not agree to landfill expansions or new landfills without first ensuring that adequate environmental assessments have been carried out, Human Rights Watch said.

The roadmap also includes a draft law outlining the fees and taxes that the central government and municipalities can impose to cover their waste management costs. Without such a law, neither the ministry nor the municipalities will be able to fulfill their responsibilities under the law and the strategy, Human Rights Watch said.

Outside Beirut and Mount Lebanon, municipalities are responsible for collection, treatment, and disposal of their waste. Municipalities are supposed to receive part of their funding from an Independent Municipal Fund financed with taxes collected by the central government. However, disbursements have been irregular and several years behind schedule. The Aadoueh dumpsite’s owner told Human Rights Watch that the main reason for his decision to close the dumpsite was the municipalities’ failure to pay their dues.

Residents across Lebanon have told Human Rights Watch they have lost faith in the government’s ability to manage waste in a way that is not detrimental to their health and environment. Since the 2015 trash crisis, during which garbage built up on the streets of Beirut, the government has been relying on stopgap measures and temporary fixes that do not solve Lebanon’s underlying waste management problems. About 85 percent of Lebanon’s waste goes to open dumps or landfills. But American University of Beirut researchers have found that only 10 to 12 percent of the waste cannot be composted or recycled.

As Beirut’s landfills also rapidly reach capacity, the ministerial committee should urgently review the roadmap and the strategy and adopt an integrated approach to solid waste management that decreases Lebanon's reliance on landfills and gives municipalities the resources they need to fulfill their duties. Any plan presented to the cabinet should comply with environmental and public health best practices as well as Lebanese and international law. The plan should ensure that the authorities respect everyone’s right to health and to live in a healthy environment, and that everyone is fully informed of threats to their health in their area.

Once the ministerial committee submits the roadmap and strategy to the cabinet, the cabinet should urgently meet and take the necessary decisions. The cabinet has not met in over a month due to political deadlock resulting from clashes between two parties. The cabinet should not allow a political dispute to hijack its operation, endangering the health of millions of residents, Human Rights Watch said.

The Environment Ministry should also urgently begin monitoring compliance with the solid waste management law and ensure that violators are appropriately penalized and cases are referred to the relevant environmental public prosecutors.

“Lebanon’s residents have a right to a healthy environment, yet the Lebanese government has continuously failed to uphold its international obligations to protect that right,” Fakih said. “If Lebanon is to avoid another trash catastrophe in the next few weeks, the ministerial committee needs to act quickly.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on sex work around the world, including in Cambodia, China, Tanzania, the United States, and most recently, South Africa. The research, including extensive consultations with sex workers and organizations that work on the issue, has shaped the Human Rights Watch policy on sex work: Human Rights Watch supports the full decriminalization of consensual adult sex work.

Why is criminalization of sex work a human rights issue?

Criminalizing adult, voluntary, and consensual sex – including the commercial exchange of sexual services – is incompatible with the human right to personal autonomy and privacy. In short – a government should not be telling consenting adults who they can have sexual relations with and on what terms.

Criminalization exposes sex workers to abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials, such as police officers. Human Rights Watch has documented that, in criminalized environments, police officers harass sex workers, extort bribes, and physically and verbally abuse sex workers, or even rape or coerce sex from them.

Human Rights Watch has consistently found in research across various countries that criminalization makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence, including rape, assault, and murder, by attackers who see sex workers as easy targets because they are stigmatized and unlikely to receive help from the police. Criminalization may also force sex workers to work in unsafe locations to avoid the police.

Criminalization consistently undermines sex workers’ ability to seek justice for crimes against them. Sex workers in South Africa, for example, said they did not report armed robbery or rape to the police. They said that they are afraid of being arrested because their work is illegal and that their experience with police is of being harassed or profiled and arrested, or laughed at or not taken seriously. Even when they report crimes, sex workers may not be willing to testify in court against their assailants and rapists for fear of facing sanctions or further abuse because of their work and status.

UNAIDS, public health experts, sex worker organizations, and other human rights organizations have found that criminalization of sex work also has a negative effect on sex workers’ right to health. In one example, Human Rights Watch found in a 2012 report, “Sex Workers at Risk: Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities,” that police and prosecutors used a sex worker’s possession of condoms as evidence to support prostitution charges. The practice left sex workers reluctant to carry condoms for fear of arrest, forcing them to engage in sex without protection and putting them at heightened risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Criminalization also has a negative effect on other human rights. In countries that ban sex work, sex workers are less likely to be able to organize as workers, advocate for their rights, or to work together to support and protect themselves.

How does decriminalizing sex work help protect sex workers?

Decriminalizing sex work maximizes sex workers’ legal protection and their ability to exercise other key rights, including to justice and health care. Legal recognition of sex workers and their occupation maximizes their protection, dignity, and equality. This is an important step toward destigmatizing sex work.

Does decriminalizing sex work encourage other human rights violations such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children?

Sex work is the consensual exchange of sex between adults. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are separate issues. They are both serious human rights abuses and crimes and should always be investigated and prosecuted.

Laws that clearly distinguish between sex work and crimes like human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children help protect both sex workers and crime victims. Sex workers may be in a position to have important information about crimes such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, but unless the work they themselves do is not treated as criminal, they are unlikely to feel safe reporting this information to the police.

What should governments do?

Governments should fully decriminalize sex work and ensure that sex workers do not face discrimination in law or practice. They should also strengthen services for sex workers and ensure that they have safe working conditions and access to public benefits and social safety nets.

Moreover, any regulations and controls on sex workers and their activities need to be nondiscriminatory and otherwise comply with international human rights law. For example, restrictions that would prevent those engaged in sex work from organizing collectively, or working in a safe environment, are not legitimate restrictions.

Why does Human Rights Watch support full decriminalization rather than the “Nordic model?”

The “Nordic model,” first introduced in Sweden, makes buying sex illegal, but does not prosecute the seller, the sex worker. Proponents of the Nordic model see “prostitution” as inherently harmful and coerced; they aim to end sex work by killing the demand for transactional sex. Disagreement between organizations seeking full decriminalization of sex work and groups supporting the Nordic model has been a contentious issue within the women’s rights community in many countries and globally.

Human Rights Watch supports full decriminalization rather than the Nordic model because research shows that full decriminalization is a more effective approach to protecting sex workers’ rights. Sex workers themselves also usually want full decriminalization.

The Nordic model appeals to some politicians as a compromise that allows them to condemn buyers of sex but not people they see as having been forced to sell sex. But the Nordic model actually has a devastating impact on people who sell sex to earn a living. Because its goal is to end sex work, it makes it harder for sex workers to find safe places to work, unionize, work together and support and protect one another, advocate for their rights, or even open a bank account for their business. It stigmatizes and marginalizes sex workers and leaves them vulnerable to violence and abuse by police as their work and their clients are still criminalized.

Isn’t sex work a form of sexual violence?

No. When an adult makes a decision of her, his, or their own free will to exchange sex for money, that is not sexual violence.

When a sex worker is the victim of a crime, including sexual violence, the police should promptly investigate and refer suspects for prosecution. When a person exchanges sex for money as a result of coercion – for example by a pimp – or experiences violence from a pimp or a customer, or is a victim of trafficking, these are serious crimes. The police should promptly
investigate and refer the case for prosecution.

Sex workers are often exposed to high levels of violence and other abuse or harm, but this is usually because they are working in a criminalized environment. Research by Human Rights Watch and others indicates that decriminalization can help reduce crime, including sexual violence, against sex workers.

Aside from decriminalizing sex work, what other policies does Human Rights Watch support with regard to sex workers’ rights?

People engaged in voluntary sex work may come from backgrounds of poverty or marginalization and face discrimination and inequality, including in their access to the job market. With this in mind, Human Rights Watch supports measures to improve the human rights situation for sex workers, including research and access to education, financial support, job training and placement, social services, and information. Human Rights Watch also encourages efforts to address discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, or immigration status affecting sex workers.

Human Rights Watch research documenting abuse against sex workers:

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A child health nurse holds up a vial and box for the HPV vaccine, brand name Gardasil 

© AP Photo/Daily Free Press, Charles Buchanan

The UK is taking a step toward ending preventable forms of cervical cancers, and some other cancers, by offer free HPV vaccines to boys ages 11 and 12. HPV causes nearly all cervical cancers and most throat and mouth cancers, often in men.

The program, which was announced on July 9, will be in place at the start of this academic year - September 2019.

The UK’s National Health Service has offered the vaccination to girls for free since 2008 and has given out about 10 million doses. The program is estimated to have contributed to an 86% drop in strains of HPV that commonly cause cancer. Including boys is a step towards eliminating new cases of HPV-related cancer.

Other countries, such as the US, should consider following suit. HPV is the most common STI in the US and the CDC estimates that it affects almost every person not vaccinated and who is sexually active at some point in their life. Increasing vaccine access for people of all genders could prevent many of the 4,200 cervical-cancer-related deaths that occur each year in the US.

While the number of adolescents in the US who are up-to-date on HPV vaccination increased five percentage points from 2016 to 2017, it still means only half of them received all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine in 2017. Of particular concern is that the rate of Black girls up-to-date in their HPV vaccinations fell in both Mississippi and Georgia over the same period.

A recent Human Rights Watch report discusses the crucial role the HPV vaccine also plays in closing racial disparities in health in Alabama. The US can raise vaccination rates by increasing awareness and accessibility. Legislators should support policies that ensure more information and access to the vaccine, and state health agencies should provide age-appropriate and accurate training for physicians on how to talk to parents and patients about the HPV vaccine.

By working through law and community strategies, the US can eradicate preventable cancers.

The UK has set an example that the US and other countries can follow.

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

A staff member works in the infirmary, a series of tents, at a US government immigration holding center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, July 9, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Eric Gay

Last week, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) chief Brian Hastings told a United States congressional committee that CBP officers will separate migrant children from their parents at the border based on HIV status alone. Under questioning, Hastings went further, saying CBP maintains the HIV-related separation policy “because [HIV is] a communicable disease under [public health] guidance.”

But HIV was removed from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance that could bar entry to the US in 2010. It has been well documented that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact. And for people who maintain an undetectable viral load, there is zero risk of transmission.  Hastings’ comments suggest CBP officers could be ignoring this policy change and the underlying science.  

Following outcry from public health advocates, Hastings walked back his statements, claiming HIV-related family separation occurs on a “case by case basis” rather than as a general rule. There is no federal law or regulation that requires family separation unless the parent poses a threat to the child, and HIV does not impact parental fitness in any way. Suggesting one’s HIV status could justify family separation only serves to further dehumanize and stigmatize immigrants living with HIV.

On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending his administration’s dehumanizing “zero-tolerance” family separation policy. But as Human Rights Watch has documented, forcible family separation continues and appears to be routine practice. Hastings’ comments before Congress align with a recent report that three Honduran children – ages 11, 12, and 14 – were permanently separated from their father when they came to the US seeking asylum because of his HIV status. 

By singling immigrants out based on HIV status, the Trump administration is using outdated science to justify a policy that traumatizes children and has devastating and long-lasting consequences for an already vulnerable population. Congress should act immediately to prohibit the separation of families at the border, including those that have members living with HIV.

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

Aratiri, a 9-year-old boy, lives in an indigenous community in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Residents of the community told Human Rights Watch of numerous cases of acute poisoning by pesticides in recent years from both aerial and ground spraying.

© 2018 Marizilda Cruppé/Human Rights Watch
Brazil is accelerating approval of new agricultural pesticides. In 2018, the government approved 450 new pesticides—more than in any other year of the past decade. Another 262 new pesticides or new brands of existing products have been approved so far this year. Of those approved this year, the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) classifies at least 82 of them as “extremely toxic.” Some of them are banned or restricted in the United States and Europe.

The introduction of new pesticides is taking place while the government is already failing to respond to pesticide poisoning. Last year, when my organization investigated the issue, we documented cases of acute poisoning from pesticide drift at sites across Brazil, that is, when pesticide spray drifts off target during application, or when pesticides vaporize and drift to adjacent areas in the days after spraying.

People described symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. In many communities, people said they feared reprisals from powerful farmers if they advocated for protection. Chronic pesticide exposure is also associated with cancer, infertility, impaired fetal development, and other serious effects.

Thirty years ago, Brazil enacted Law 7802—the Pesticide Law. This was, at the time, one of the world’s toughest pesticide laws. But an explosion of large-scale, mono-crop farming has made Brazil one of the world’s biggest consumers of pesticides, and enforcement has not kept up.

A national prohibition on aerial spraying of highly hazardous pesticides within 500 meters of inhabited sites is often ignored. Rules for ground spraying—the most common method of pesticide application—are usually left to states, and only 8 of the 27 have established buffer zones. In those, too, enforcement is inconsistent. After release of our report last year, the agriculture minister committed to establishing buffer zones for ground spraying across the country. But he left office before getting it done. Rural Brazilians remain exposed to highly hazardous pesticides, and the new minister, in office since January 2019, should follow through on the promise.

Agriculture Ministry officials tell reporters who ask about the rapid-fire pesticide approvals that they are streamlining the assessment process by reducing bureaucracy. While they hasten approvals, Congress is considering a bill to shrink the roles of the health and environment ministries in those approvals—and to weaken rules for the use of pesticides.

Congress should vote down the bill. The proliferation of highly hazardous pesticides requires stronger, not weaker, oversight and protections.

Authorities should undertake an urgent, thorough analysis of the impact of pesticides on the health of rural communities. While doing so, they should impose a moratorium on aerial spraying, and on ground spraying near homes, schools, and other sensitive sites.

Pesticide use requires constant, rigorous scrutiny. Government failings to ensure this happens can lead to serious human rights violations: for example, exposure can cause serious harm to health, poison drinking water, and damage the environment. The country’s consolidation of its position as a farming powerhouse and its global advantage as one of China’s biggest food suppliers, should not come at the expense of Brazilians’ human rights.

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

Drone view of a quilombo (Afro-Brazilian) community in Minas Gerais State, southeast Brazil. Some of the houses are around 20 meters from the adjacent sugarcane plantation.

© 2018 Marizilda Cruppé for Human Rights Watch
This week, in a puzzling move, the Brazilian regulatory agency on public health, ANVISA, approved a new set of rules establishing risk of death as the only criterion for classifying a pesticide as “extremely toxic.”

Until now, ANVISA considered not only the risk of death but also reactions including eye and skin irritations when classifying pesticides as extremely toxic. Even if not lethal, these reactions can lead to long-term health impacts. These classifications help guide the use of pesticides in practice. However, the agency has yet to satisfactorily explain how its new rules provide adequate protection for public health.

Last year, Human Rights Watch documented how pesticide spraying in Brazil puts people’s health at risk. People suffer nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness. In addition, chronic exposure can lead to infertility, damage fetal development, and cause cancer.

Brazil is an agricultural powerhouse, so the problem is far from trivial. The country’s industrial farming of soy, sugarcane, and cotton deploys dangerous pesticides. Across rural areas, people get sick from pesticide drift, both from ground and aerial spraying. Buffer zones – required distances from homes and schools – are non-existent, inadequate, or unenforced.

Brazil’s government keeps no reliable data on how many people suffer from pesticide poisoning. It seems clear that official data grossly understate the problem, and the Ministry of Health acknowledges that under-reporting is a concern. Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to review Brazil’s pesticide policies. This should include analysis of the major health effects of acute and chronic exposure to pesticides among people in rural areas, including children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable persons. In the absence of such a review, it is alarming to see ANVISA tinkering with the rules.

ANVISA’s rule change comes at a time when the government is approving new pesticides – and new brands of old formulas – at a gallop. Congress is considering a bill to shrink the role of the health and environment ministries in pesticide approvals and to loosen rules for pesticide use.

Congress should reject the bill that weakens pesticide oversight, and Brazil’s regulatory agencies should not retreat from rigorous enforcement. Pesticide use requires constant scrutiny. Government failures to ensure this happens can lead to serious human rights violations – exposure can cause serious harm to health, poison drinking water, and damage the environment. Brazil needs to get tougher and not let up on protecting rights.

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

Corridor in a care facility for older people. 

© Flickr

Last week, the government regulator for nursing facilities in the United States, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), effectively replaced a 2016 rule protecting residents’ right to access courts in the event of abuse or mistreatment in a nursing home, with a rule allowing for arbitration as the only option. Under the new rule that will take effect in September, nursing homes can add clauses to their contracts for new residents to forgo the option of filing a case in court, which will make problems in the system harder to address.

Residents who accept these new conditions will only have access to an arbitration proceeding, despite serious concerns about whether arbitration offers a fair and impartial hearing and a realistic chance at a remedy.

Without access to the courts, the potential for harm for hundreds of thousands of older people across the US is clear. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report found that nursing homes across the US routinely give antipsychotic drugs to residents with dementia to control their behavior, despite rules against the misuse of drugs as “chemical restraints.”

The 2016 rule banned the use of pre-dispute arbitration clauses, with CMS describing them as “fundamentally unfair” and having a “deleterious impact on the quality of care for Medicare and Medicaid patients” in nursing facilities, due to the bargaining power differential between residents and the facilities. CMS concluded that “residents should have a right to access the court system if a dispute with a facility arises.”

In summarizing its about-face last week, CMS disingenuously claimed this change will protect older people, saying, “This final rule supports residents' rights to make informed choices about important aspects of their health care.”

In fact by allowing this limitation on the right of nursing home residents to an effective remedy for alleged abuses and introducing the possibility that they can be barred from bringing lawsuits for such abuse, systemic problems or repeated offenses will go undetected. There is a reason that international human rights law protects an individual’s right to access courts for a remedy. A resident signing away their right to sue not only hurts individuals, it also forecloses the efficiency of the courts to improve the system for everyone.

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

Drone footage taken by the Norwegian Refugee Council in Basra city in October 2018.

© 2018 Norwegian Refugee Council

Basra holds more of Iraq’s oil reserves than any other governorate. By last  December, Iraq was exporting 3.726 million barrels of oil a day, generating US$6.1 billion a month in state revenue. And yet this wealth has not bought Basrawis access to even their most basic right- sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water. 

For almost 30 years Iraqi authorities have failed to provide many Iraqis with safe drinking water. This failure led to an acute water crisis in Basra last year that sent at least 118,000 people to the hospital and contributed to protests throughout the city last summer and again this summer. 

This situation is a result of complex factors that almost guarantee future crises if they are not addressed, including reduced water flow, sea water intrusion, pollution, and mismanagement of waterways. But local and federal authorities have done little to address these serious problems, with some citing high levels of rainfall this spring as an excuse to wait another year.

One of the most shocking aspects of last year’s crisis in Basra has been the lack of any official explanation about why people got sick or what the issues with the water were. The former Prime Minister’s office, Nahrain University, and the World Health Organization all sent teams to Basra to test water samples, but their reports have remained confidential. So we went to Basra in January to investigate.

We interviewed water sector and UN officials, but all they seemed to be able to tell us was that the water had been “contaminated.” But when I probed further—what exactly had been in the water that caused vomiting, diarrhea, acute stomach pain—no one could identify the pollutant. 

So we at least tried to identify the possible causes. Our team looked at the ways that government mismanagement has contributed to the contamination, and at its impact on people’s lives in Basra. We found evidence that residents, industries, and farms, in Basra, and further north, are dumping untreated waste right into the rivers and the government has not put in place robust measures to stop it.

By reviewing satellite imagery we also found evidence of at least two major oil spills in 2018 that ran into the Shatt al-Arab in central Basra city that were never publicly reported. The Shatt al-Arab , where the Euphrates and Tigris join, is the main water source for the city and its water treatment plants. This might explain why some Basrawis said their tap water had smelled like gasoline, and that they could light it on fire. The satellite imagery also showed evidence of a likely harmful algae bloom right in the center of Basra city during the crisis, something that authorities unfortunately never tested for in the water, they said.

There were also other factors, like less rainfall, most likely due to climate change, and damming upstream, including in Turkey and Iran. These factors were diminishing the rivers leading to the Shatt al-Arab, allowing more salt water to enter upstream from the Persian Gulf in the summer months. During the crisis, all that most public water treatment plants in Basra did was add some chlorine to the river water, which is not effective for getting rid of contaminants in saline water. 

Why did the authorities keep sending the contaminated water from the Shatt al-Arab to Basrawis’ homes? Because there is not enough fresh water coming to Basra from the government-built canals. One reason is that the authorities had been letting businessmen and farmers tap right into those canals and steal the water for years, before cracking down.

While  the causes of the water contamination in Basra, and even the acute crisis in 2018 are complex, the impact is painfully clear. Basra residents, long ago stopped using tap water for drinking and cooking, buying water from desalinization plants brought in by trucks. Lower income people have struggled to pay for this drinking water. 

But now Basra residents apparently risk illness from just using the water to wash their food or themselves, and the authorities have not enforced standards even for water for these purposes. 

The lack of sufficient fresh water has also cost Basra its title as the country’s biggest producer of dates. Farmers have been irrigating their farmland with the saline water from the Shatt al-Arab for many years now, killing off most of their crops and livestock as a result.

Iraqis should be asking the federal government and Basra officials why the water made them sick. They have a right to know and authorities should release the results of their investigations during the crisis. They should take steps to remedy the underlying causes of the crisis and inform the public about what steps they have taken to ensure that this does not happen again.

The government also needs to create a national public health advisory system, to warn residents if a specific contaminant is in their water or environment and advise them on how to stay safe. Iraqis should call on authorities to take their rights to water, to health, and to sanitation seriously, to fix their water supply, and to alert them when problems arise. 

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

Video: Water Crisis in Basra

Iraqi authorities have failed to ensure for almost 30 years that Basra residents have sufficient safe drinking water, resulting in on-going health concerns, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The situation culminated in an acute water crisis that sent at least 118,000 people to hospital in 2018 and led to violent protests. 


(Baghdad) – Iraqi authorities have failed to ensure for almost 30 years that Basra residents have sufficient safe drinking water, resulting in on-going health concerns, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The situation culminated in an acute water crisis that sent at least 118,000 people to hospital in 2018 and led to violent protests. 

The 128-page report, “Basra is Thirsty: Iraq’s Failure to Manage the Water Crisis,” found that the crisis is a result of complex factors that if left unaddressed will most likely result in future water-borne disease outbreaks and continued economic hardship. The authorities at the local and federal level have done little to address the underlying conditions causing the situation.

“Shortsighted politicians are citing increased rainfall as the reason they do not need to urgently deal with Basra’s persistent crisis,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But Basra will continue to face acute water shortages and pollution crises in the coming years, with serious consequences, if the government doesn’t invest now in targeted, long-term, and badly needed improvements.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 58 Basra residents, workers at private and public water facilities, and healthcare professionals, and reviewed water sample tests from the Shatt al-Arab river, treatment plants, and taps in homes. Human Rights Watch also interviewed representatives from Basra’s provincial council, governor’s office, and the Ministries of Water Resources, Municipalities and Public Works’ water and sewage departments, Health and Environment, and Agriculture, and analyzed academic and public health data and over 20 years of scientific and commercial satellite imagery of the region to substantiate many of the findings.

Basra’s primary water sources are the Shatt al-Arab river and its freshwater canals. Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi authorities have failed to properly manage and regulate Iraq’s water resources, depriving people in southern Iraq’s Basra governorate – four million people – of their right to safe drinking water for decades, including during the period of occupation by the US- and UK-led Coalition Provisional Authority. But multiple government failures since the 1980s, including poor management of upstream water sources, inadequate regulation of pollution and sewage, and chronic neglect and mismanagement of water infrastructure, have caused the quality of these waterways to deteriorate.

To cope with water pollution and shortages, Basra residents have had to rely on purchasing water. The high cost, especially during the crisis, falls hardest on poorer residents, and makes them particularly vulnerable to exposure to unsafe tap water.

Jaafar Sabah, a farmer from Abu al-Khasib, a poor town to the southeast of Basra, told Human Rights Watch:

Each year I was getting 50 percent of the yield of the year before, and then in 2018, almost nothing survived. In 2018, the salinity level in the water was so high that I could grab the salt from the water with my own hands. I am dying of thirst and so are my children. There were four cases of poisoning in my family. I have no money and I cannot take them to the hospital. Where do I get the money from?

The crisis has been worsened by reduced freshwater flow rates in the rivers due to upstream damming linked to sugar plantations and other agricultural development, particularly in Iran, and lower rainfall in recent decades. As a result of higher temperatures due to climate change, water scarcity is projected to increase in the region. Yet there are no adequate policies to lessen harmful impacts. This has been exacerbated by unsustainable water use in agriculture and for domestic purposes. The lack of sufficient water has led to seawater intrusion into the Shatt al-Arab, making the water unsuitable for human consumption and irrigation of many crops. 

Human Rights Watch has found evidence of a likely large harmful algal bloom along the Shatt al-Arab in the middle of the city of Basra that may have contributed to the health crisis in the summer of 2018. Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights also shows that an accumulation of garbage along canals throughout Basra that feed into the Shatt al-Arab in central Basra city, from March 2018 to February 2019.  Satellite image date October 28, 2018. 

© 2019 DigitalGlobe-Maxar Technologies; Source: European Space Imaging.

Basra’s public water plants are not equipped with the technology to make sea water potable. This makes chlorine, a chemical commonly used to treat water, less effective. Moreover, experts say that water authorities have struggled to obtain and use adequate quantities of chlorine due to strict controls aimed at preventing the chemical from falling into the hands of groups that have used it as a weapon.

Even where chlorine is added, high levels of turbidity or salt in water can make chlorination less effective for killing bacteria. In addition, Basra’s piping network is cracked, and fecally contaminated groundwater enters into the network so that the amount of chlorine added at the treatment plan will likely not effectively treat the new contaminants entering the system.

Moreover, authorities turn a blind eye to activities that pollute Basra’s water resources. By reviewing satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch discovered two likely oil spills affecting the Shatt al-Arab in central Basra during 2018, as well as two pipelines periodically releasing what appears to be large volumes of waste into the water.

In the summer of 2018, at least 118,000 people were hospitalized due to symptoms doctors identified as related to water quality. Authorities still have not published any official investigations into the cause of the health crisis.

Possible causes of the 2018 illnesses include viruses (such as norovirus), parasites (giardia or cryptosporidium), bacteria (e. coli), and toxic metals from sewage and agricultural and industrial pollution. The high salinity of the water may also have contributed to the outbreak, according to experts involved in water sample testing during the crisis.

Human Rights Watch also found evidence of a likely large algal bloom in the Shatt al-Arab during the disease outbreak. Waste in water and higher temperatures associated with climate change can contribute to this situation, but the government apparently did not look into it. Laboratories that tested water samples at the time never tested for harmful algae.

Iraq has no public health advisory system to inform residents when a community’s drinking water is, or could be, contaminated, and what steps should be taken to mitigate harm. 

Satellite imagery shows what appears to be a likely oil spill into the Shatt al-Arab near the Nahr Bin Umar oil and gas field, a site run by the Basra Oil Company (BOC), a governmental oil company, about 25 kilometers upstream from Basra city. The spill apparently lasted for at least 10 days. Satellite image date July 15, 2018.

© Planet Labs 2019.

Government engineering projects to improve water quality have failed to materialize due to mismanagement and corruption. For years, farmers and businesses were tapping into the freshwater canals, leaving insufficient water for Basra’s public treatment plants for drinking water.

These combined failures violate Basra residents’ rights to water, sanitation, health, information, and property (land and crops) guaranteed under international and national law.

Agriculture is the main source of income for rural communities in Basra governate. However, irrigation with saline water that damages soil and kills plants and upstream developments have reduced crop production substantially.

To achieve the right to water, governments are obliged to work toward universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. But over 300,000 Basra governorate residents are not connected to the water and sewage network, leading some to illegally tap into the water supply, causing contamination, decreased water pressure, and wastage.

On July 22, renowned Basrawi comedian Ahmed Waheed published a video in partnership with Human Rights Watch calling on Iraqis to demand safe, clean drinking water from the government. He asked Iraqis to post selfies holding a glass of water on social media, using the hashtag #CleanWaterForBasra in solidarity with the people of Basra.

Authorities in Iraq should immediately put in place a public health advisory system that will allow authorities to inform residents when a community's drinking water is, or could be, contaminated, what steps should be taken to mitigate harm, and to establish protocols for government officials to respond to advisories and lift them.

Local and federal authorities should form an inter-jurisdictional independent water and environment task force to monitor the situation, coordinate action by various authorities, and consult with affected populations. It should make public the findings of reports commissioned during the 2018 health crisis and long-term plans to prevent future water crises and to respond to potential crises. It should ensure compensation for those whose livelihoods are affected.

“Access to safe drinking water is not only essential to our survival, but it is a fundamental right for everyone,” Fakih said. “While solving Basra’s water crisis will take serious planning, time, and money, it is possible to address so long as authorities take their responsibilities seriously. The alternative is deadly.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An older man with a disability sits on an old luggage cart preparing to cross the Stanitsa Luhanska border point in Eastern Ukraine. With wheelchairs rarely available, older people and others with mobility disabilities may resort to crossing by carts or sleds pushed by strangers, for a fee. April 6, 2018.

© 2018 John Wendle for Human Rights Watch

(Kyiv) – Ukraine’s new government should intensify efforts to protect the rights of older Ukrainians living in nongovernment-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was released today. Ukraine should end discriminatory policies and practices that affect the way older people living in those areas can access and collect their pensions.

“The challenge of disbursing social benefits to Ukrainians living in areas under the control of Russia’s proxies is a serious one for Ukraine’s government,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The existing policies regulating property rights of Ukrainians living in those areas are, simply put, discriminatory and they need to change.”

Ukrainian law requires pension-eligible Ukrainians living in the affected parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to register as internally displaced persons in government-controlled areas, to maintain residential addresses there, and to physically cross into those areas at least once every 60 days. People who fail to do so risk losing their pension.

Human Rights Watch summarized its research in eastern Ukraine on the experiences of older people, most of whom endure dangerous and unnecessarily frequent journeys across the line of contact. Human Rights Watch documented persistent but preventable conditions that make these crossings difficult for older people, particularly in the Luhansk region, which lacks a crossing point for motor vehicles. Many of the people seeking to collect their pensions have physical disabilities that impede their ability to walk. The letter further details stories of pensioners who have been unjustly denied pension payments.

Human Rights Watch made detailed recommendations to President Zelenskiy, urging him to support legal measures to stop linking pension eligibility to people’s displaced person status. The president should consider alternatives that would allow pensioners to minimize travel across the line of contact and improve conditions at the crossing points.  

“Current practices have an enormous, negative impact on older people, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Denber said. “The government can and should remove its bureaucratic hurdles to pension collection.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am