(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”


Video: Rare Story From Inside China's Secret Detention System

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.


Act 1 of the Hissène Habré Trial

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  


Hissène Habré Finally Facing Justice

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry released a video statement on July 12 alleging the eight Egyptians were sought for criminal offenses in Egypt. Video originally published on Kuwait’s Interior Ministry YouTube Page.

(Beirut) – Kuwaiti authorities on July 15, 2019 unlawfully returned eight Egyptian dissidents despite the serious risk of torture and persecution they face in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportation of the men appears to violate Kuwait’s obligations under international law.

On July 12, the Kuwaiti government announced that it had separately arrested the eight dissidents, claiming that the Egyptian authorities sought them for crimes they allegedly committed in Egypt as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Kuwaiti authorities should end further deportations to Egypt of anyone facing mistreatment and hold accountable those responsible for the recent deportations.

“Kuwaiti authorities have put at grave risk eight men who fled mass oppression in Egypt and thought they had found refuge in Kuwait,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s horrendous that Kuwait is acting at the behest of abusive Egyptian security agencies and returning dissidents to face torture and persecution.”

KUNA, Kuwait’s official news agency, said on July 15 that the government deported “wanted” Egyptians, identifying them as Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Ahmed, Abu-Bakr Atef al-Fayiomi, Abdel Rahman Ibrahim Abdel Moniem, Walid Suleiman, Najeh Awad, Faleh Hassan, and Mo’men Abu Al-Wafa. All had lived in Kuwait for several years. There is no record of any judicial review of the deportation orders or of the risks faced by these men on return to Egypt.

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that the eight men were members of a “terrorist cell” that was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they had been convicted by Egyptian courts. The ministry said that it had the deportees under surveillance before their arrest. It published a video showing their names with blurred faces and claimed that they “confessed to carrying out terrorist activities … in different parts in Egypt.”

The deputy foreign minister, Khaled Al-Jarallah, said that the deportations followed “cooperation” with the Egyptian authorities and that “this cooperation will continue.” He said that “the Kuwaiti-Egyptian security coordination is very strong and makes us feel assured.”

Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl’s daughter, Menna al-Adl, told Human Rights Watch that men in civilian clothes arrested her father on July 10 at the pharmacy where he worked. Al-Adl, 57, had been living legally in Kuwait since October 2013, his daughter said. Her family provided two videos from the pharmacy’s security cameras that show the moment al-Adl was arrested.

Menna al-Adl said her father had never been arrested before, in Egypt or Kuwait. Human Rights Watch reviewed court documents that show Egyptian courts had acquitted al-Adl in three cases of alleged protests and political violence between 2014 and 2016.  She said an Egyptian court sentenced him to five years in prison in 2016 for allegedly participating in a 2016 protest even though he had not been back to Egypt since he left, in October 2013.

She also said that Kuwaiti State Security officials confirmed they had detained al-Adl but refused to allow the family to visit him. “Every lawyer we approached said he couldn’t do anything,” she said. “They said because it’s a State Security case, they can’t intervene.” Al-Adl’s family said they do not know any of the other men deported.

As a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Kuwait has a treaty obligation not to return anyone to a territory where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. Under customary international law, Kuwait is also obligated to ensure that no one is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution. In addition, Kuwait violated due process rights by denying the men an opportunity to fairly contest their arrests and deportation, and by denying them access to lawyers and family members.

Egyptian authorities have not officially commented about the returned dissidents. In January and March, one Egyptian deported from Turkey and five deported from Malaysia were reported missing upon their forcible return to Egypt. The man deported from Turkey appeared weeks later in a court hearing with signs that he had been “badly tortured,” lawyers said.

Since July 2013, the Egyptian government has arbitrarily detained or prosecuted tens of thousands of dissidents on political grounds. Prosecutors have placed thousands in lengthy pretrial detention without a legal basis. Judges have also unlawfully held hundreds of detainees in pretrial detention beyond the two-year limit under Egyptian law. Many of those detained were rounded up solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and free expression, including membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government banned in 2013.

Egypt’s prisons are notorious for unlawful detention conditions including overcrowding and insufficient access to medical care. Torture in unofficial detention sites is rampant and unpunished. Security forces torture detainees during lengthy periods of forced disappearance to extract confessions.

“Torture in Egypt, because of its systematic, widespread nature and indications that it is state policy, may be crimes against humanity,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

© 2018 Private

(Beirut) – The amputation of a detainee’s arm in early 2019 following apparent torture in a Baghdad police station highlights mounting concerns around ill-treatment in Iraq’s prisons, Human Rights Watch said today.

The man’s brother said that a complaint by the victim during his trial has been ignored and that a complaint by his wife to the agency that supervises judicial conduct had received no response. The brother said he had requested an investigation, which led to the transfer of a police officer but no disciplinary action. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.

“A detainee who loses his arm because of torture in custody is one more sign that something is very wrong in Iraqi detention facilities,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should take detainees’ rights seriously and start to protect them by investigating abuses.”

Iraqi judges, despite the extensive credible reports of torture in detention, routinely fail to investigate torture allegations, Human Rights Watch has found. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous torture allegations in Iraq, in at least two cases leading to deaths in custody since January 2018.

A man who requested anonymity to protect himself and his family told Human Rights Watch that an acquaintance of his 40-year-old brother had named the brother as an accomplice in a car theft. Police arrested him in late March 2018. A week later, his brother visited him at Harthiya police station. The jailed brother told him that during an extended interrogation in which an interrogator was trying to extract a confession, he had “hung him from his hands for three days,” and showed his brother the bruises.

The jailed brother underwent a forensic medical exam in May 2018. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the report, which noted bruising and swelling to his left hand and arm all the way to his shoulder and recommended that he see a doctor who specialized in bones and fractures.

He did not receive medical treatment until July, when police transferred him to Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. The man said he was allowed to accompany his brother and heard a doctor tell the officer guarding his brother that the brother had been tortured, which the officer denied. Doctors performed surgery on his arm three times over the next 10 months in an unsuccessful attempt to repair arterial damage. In April 2019, the man said, officers took his brother to Ghazi al-Hariri Hospital in Baghdad, where doctors amputated his arm and then returned him to police custody.

A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

© 2018 Private

In December 2018, the brother who spoke to Human Rights Watch contacted Major General Hussein Ali Dana, the then head of Baghdad Inspection Directorate in the Interior Ministry to demand an investigation into the abuse his brother suffered. He said Dana sent a team to investigate and told the man later that he had ordered the transfer of the officer the jailed brother accused to another police station in Baghdad but did not discipline him further. Human Rights Watch contacted the directorate’s current head, who said that without the exact date of the December complaint, the office could not provide any information on the investigation.

In January 2019, the jailed brother’s wife lodged a complaint with the presidency of the Judicial Supervisory Authority, which monitors the conduct of judges and staff in all Iraqi courts, because her husband told her that in late 2018 a judge had forced him to sign a statement dropping his right to pursue charges against the officer who had tortured him. She told Human Rights Watch she had not heard anything since. On June 25, Chief Justice Jassim Alumairi, the Judicial Supervisory Council president, told Human Rights Watch that a team had investigated the allegation but had not found evidence to substantiate it, but could not share any of the documents related to the investigation with Human Rights Watch.

On April 14, a court found the jailed brother guilty of car theft and sentenced him and five other defendants to 15 years in prison. At the trial, his wife said, she heard him tell the judge that an interrogator tortured him leading to his arm being amputated but the judge ignored the claim. He is currently still being held at Harthiya police station.

Iraq’s High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises affairs of the federal judiciary, should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges torture, Human Rights Watch said. Judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment to protect them from retaliation. They should prosecute anyone against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in torture.

“Iraq’s judiciary, law enforcement, and prison authorities owe all Iraqis a commitment to investigate each and every credible allegation of cruel treatment,” Fakih said. “What happened to this detainee should never happen to anyone in the government’s custody.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC, June 19, 2019) – Governments in the Americas and Europe should impose targeted sanctions against top Nicaraguan authorities implicated in egregious abuses and explore avenues to press for accountability, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 98-page report, “Crackdown in Nicaragua: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Prosecutions of Protesters and Opponents,” documents what happened to many of the hundreds of people arrested by police or abducted by armed pro-government groups after the crackdown on protesters that began in April 2018. Many were subjected to abuse that in some cases amounted to torture. Some who were injured were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers, and doctors who provided care said they suffered retaliation. Detainees have been prosecuted in cases marred by serious due process violations.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The entrance to the Karkh branch of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court.

© 2019 Khalid Mohammed/AP Images

(Beirut) – Two French citizens tried in recent days in Iraq for affiliation with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) have alleged that they were tortured or coerced to confess, Human Rights Watch said today.

Seven French citizens were sentenced to death in the trials between May 26 and 29, 2019, and another’s verdict was postponed. At least one defendant said that Iraqi officers tortured him and another said that officers forced him to confess under duress and to sign a statement he could not read. Despite these allegations, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stated on May 29 that the defendants had “fair trials.”

“France and other countries should not be outsourcing management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined.”

The men are part of a group of foreign detainees, including at least 11 French nationals, whom the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) transferred from northeast Syria to Iraq in early 2019. In these cases, because of the risk of torture and absence of fair trials, the transfers are unlawful, Human Rights Watch said. These abuses highlight the urgent need for countries like France that can guarantee due process, to ensure that their nationals can return to their home country. There, any national suspected of war crimes, torture, or other international crimes should be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted in trials that meet internationally accepted fair-trial standards.

The Karkh branch of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court sentenced seven French citizens to death for ISIS affiliation and postponed the verdict of an eight, who alleged in court that he was tortured, until June 2. Court sources said that the other French nationals the SDF transferred from Syria will be charged and sentenced by the court in the coming days, including three on June 3.

One French defendant who appeared in court on May 27 told the court that officers tortured him in detention, two trial observers told Human Rights Watch. The presiding judge had the defendant lift his shirt, saw marks on his back and shoulder, and ordered a forensic medical exam and for the defendant to reappear in court on June 2. The judge did not ask for details about where or when the torture occurred, who had tortured him, or in what way, one observer said.

The observers said that a French defendant who was sentenced to death told the judge that officers had forced him under duress to confess and to sign a statement in Arabic that he could not understand. The observers said they understood his reference to duress to mean that he might be implying he was tortured. The judge asked him to lift his shirt and seemingly because there were no obvious signs of torture, sentenced him to death without asking any questions regarding the allegation.

Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi interrogators using a range of torture techniques, including beating suspects on the soles of their feet, internationally known as “falaka,” and waterboarding, which would not leave lasting marks on the person’s body. Despite extensive, credible reports of torture in detention, Human Rights Watch has also documented the routine failure of the Iraqi justice system to credibly investigate torture allegations.

Over the last few years, Iraqi detainees charged with ISIS affiliation have been subjected to unfair trials that end with the death penalty. With the exception of one court, the trials Human Rights Watch has observed since 2016 have consisted of a judge briefly interviewing the defendant, usually relying solely on a confession, often coerced, with no effective legal representation. Authorities have also made no efforts to solicit victim participation in the trials, even as witnesses.

The United Nations Convention against Torture prohibits the transfer of detainees to a country where “there are substantial grounds for believing” they would be in danger of being tortured. Customary international law has a similar prohibition.

Several thousand Iraqi suspects and more than 2,000 non-Iraqi foreign ISIS suspects detained in northeast Syria by the SDF are at risk of transfer to Iraq for prosecution, with negotiations underway. In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented that the United States also transferred foreign ISIS suspects in northeast Syria to Iraq without apparent regard for the risk of torture and unfair trials in Iraq. A Reuters investigation documented at least 30 such transfers.

Neither the SDF nor any country should transfer detainees to Iraq for prosecution for terrorism or related crimes given the risk of torture and unfair trials, leading to the death penalty. In cases in which detainees have already been transferred to Iraq, those who transferred them are obligated under international law to monitor their cases to ensure that suspects are not mistreated and, if prosecuted, are tried fairly.

Countries with fair justice systems should take all possible measures to ensure that their nationals in custody in northeast Syria can return to their home country, where those suspected of war crimes and other international crimes should be investigated. These countries should ensure that trials of those charged with international crimes including rape, torture, killings, and other war crimes allow for victim and witness participation.

For detainees in Iraqi custody, judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances. In Iraq, where the trials of ISIS suspects fail to meet even the most basic markers of due process, its application is of particular concern.

“The serious flaws in the Iraqi prosecutions, including torture, have been well documented,” Fakih said. “If countries like France do not want their nationals to face the death penalty, as representatives have claimed to the media, then they should bring them home for investigation and prosecution.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Photos of Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali, whose death sentences were upheld by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on May 6, 2019. 

© Private

Your Majesty,

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to commute the death sentences of Ali Al-Arab and Ahmed Al-Malali, who have exhausted all legal remedies available to them after the Court of Cassation rejected their appeal on May 6, 2019. Our organizations oppose the death penalty in all cases, regardless of who is accused, the crime, their guilt or innocence, or the method of execution. The cases of Mr. Ali Al-Arab and Mr. Ahmed Al-Malali raise additional concerns, however, given the allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture and their right to a fair trial was violated.

According to the information available to our organizations, security forces arrested Al-Arab, 25, and Al-Malali, 24, separately, without a warrant, on 9 February 2017. Al-Arab’s family told Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy that during his interrogation, members of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) beat him, used electric shocks on him, and pulled out his toenails, after which they forced him to sign a “confession” while blindfolded.

During Al-Malali’s arrest, he was struck by at least two bullets, but UN human rights experts noted that the bullets were not removed until 23 days later. Al-Malali was held incommunicado for around two months at the CID and, according to the experts, was allegedly tortured into signing a “confession” without reading it beforehand.

Despite allegations that Al-Arab and Al-Malali were coerced into confessing, the court relied on these confessions to convict them. On January 31, 2018, both men were sentenced to death in a mass trial with 58 other defendants. To convict them, the court relied on the men’s “confessions,” which as noted above were obtained under torture, according to credible sources.

In a letter on 21 May 2019, five United Nations human rights experts appealed to the Government of Bahrain to “halt the imminent executions” of Mr. Al-Arab and Mr. Al-Malali, raising “serious concerns that they were coerced into making confessions through torture and did not receive a fair trial.”

The lives of these two young men are in your hands. We call on Your Majesty not to ratify the death sentences imposed on the two men and to ensure they are not executed. We urge you to order a retrial that fully complies with international fair trial standards and excludes evidence obtained under torture, and to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the men’s claims of torture. We acknowledge the authorities’ duty to prevent crime and bring those responsible to justice, but emphasize that this should always be done in accordance with Bahrain’s national and international human rights obligations.

Bahrain should join the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, with the aim of abolishing the death penalty. Therefore, we further urge you to: immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing capital punishment in Bahrain; commute all outstanding death sentences to terms of imprisonment, and conduct a comprehensive review of Bahrain’s death row, with a view to ensuring that victims of human rights abuses unlawfully sentenced to death receive redress.


  1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – France
  2. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – Germany
  3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  6. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  7. Fair Trials
  8. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  9. Human Rights Watch
  10. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  11. Redress
  12. Reprieve
  13. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 Protesting the electricity crisis, in the Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza, on January 12, 2017. One demonstrator holds a sign that reads, in Arabic, “We want electricity.” On that day, Hamas security forces detained scores who participated in the demonstrations in Jabalia. 

© 2017 Mahmoud Abu Salama

(Ramallah) – Both the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza are arbitrarily arresting peaceful critics and opponents, Human Rights Watch said today. From January 2018 through March 2019, the Palestinian Authority admitted detaining more than 1,600 people based on their peaceful expression, while Hamas authorities arrested more than 1,000 during the March 2019 protests against its rule alone.

“The Palestinian Authority and Hamas remain bitterly divided, but unified in a common approach to crushing dissent,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Leaders who have been in power for more than a decade without elections should at the very least listen to criticism, not punish it.”

More than six months after a Human Rights Watch report found a systematic practice by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of arbitrary arrest and torture, there have been no serious efforts to hold wrongdoers to account or any apparent change in policy or practice. From January 2018 until March 2019, courts in Gaza convicted no officers for arbitrary arrest, mistreatment, or torture, while courts in the West Bank convicted only one security officer for these offenses, sentencing him to 10 days in prison, according to figures provided by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-led Interior Ministries.

Human Rights Watch documented five cases representative of systematic practice from early 2019 – two in the West Bank and three in Gaza – in which security forces arrested journalists and activists because of their peaceful opposition or criticism of authorities. In addition, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas responded in detail to a request from Human Rights Watch for information concerning the period beginning in 2018, the period after the one covered in the previous Human Rights Watch report.

Days before forming a new government in April, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh vowed in a meeting with Palestinian journalists to safeguard free expression. Hamas authorities reiterated in their response to Human Rights Watch a commitment to human rights treaties ratified by the state of Palestine. But curbing systematic abuse will require translating these all-too-familiar statements into holding abusers accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

In its response, which reflects a positive degree of transparency, the Palestinian Authority said its security forces had detained 65,415 Palestinians in the West Bank in 2018 and the first three months of 2019. Hamas authorities said they had arrested 4,235 people in Gaza during this same period. The Palestinian Authority reporting holding 1,134 people in detention as of April 21, whereas Hamas held 1,885 as of April 23.

The Palestinian Authority said that its police and Preventative Security forces detained 1,609 people for insulting “higher authorities” and creating “sectarian strife” during this period. These two charges in effect criminalize peaceful dissent. It said its forces arrested 752 people during this same period for social media posts. It also said prosecutors in 2018 charged 815 people under the restrictive Electronic Crimes Law, including some based on social media posts. At least some of these arrests and charges were for peaceful criticism of, or opposition to, the Palestinian Authority or its officials. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of such arrests during 2016 and 2017.

In a case from January 2019, Palestinian Authority Preventative Security forces detained Yousef Faqeeh, a journalist from Hebron, and questioned him about his political affiliations and a Facebook post listing all the positions held by a senior official.

Hamas authorities said they had charged 24 people for insulting others based on social media posts, 15 for “harming revolutionary unity,” and 27 for “misuse of technology,” between January 2018 and March 2019. All three of these broadly worded offenses are used to punish peaceful dissent or opposition.  

These figures, though, significantly underrepresent the actual number of arbitrary arrests. Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of people detained for their peaceful expression, but not formally charged, including more than 1000 during “We Want to Live” demonstrations in March, according to the Palestinian statutory watchdog, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

ICHR also said that it received 455 complaints from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza of “torture and mistreatment” in 2018 and the first three months of 2019 – 242 by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and 213 by Hamas forces in Gaza.

Both authorities deny wrongoing and have failed to take meaningful action to address abuse, with impunity endemic. The Palestinian Authority said it received 346 complaints of arbitrary arrest and mistreatment, most of them attributed to the police, between January 2018 and March 2019, and opened investigations in each case. However, it found wrongdoing in only 48 cases, a mere 14 percent, of which 28 resulted in warnings or administrative sanction such as reductions in salary or promotion delays. The letter notes that most torture complaints to the Preventative Security agency aimed to “tarnish Palestine’s image in front of international civil society.” Twenty cases were referred for prosecution or trial. Many remain open, but only one officer was convicted: a Palestinian Authority intelligence officer who received a 10-day prison sentence for assaulting demonstrators.

Hamas authorities said they received 47 complaints of arbitrary arrest and torture during this period. They found wrongdoing in eight cases, opening investigations into each. Seven involving arbitrary arrest and mistreatment led to administrative sanctions, including transfer and detention without trial for up to a month. One case of torture was referred to military prosecution, but remains in the courts. There have been no convictions.

No Palestinian security officer was convicted for wrongful arrest or torture in 2016 or 2017.

Palestinian authorities should abide by the international human rights treaties they acceded to over the last five years, including by credibly investigating wrongdoing and holding wrongdoers accountable. The Interior Ministry had pledged in its letter that, during the government’s first 100 days, which ends on July 22, it would pass a law and set a budget to establish a “national preventative mechanism” to independently monitor detention centers including with surprise visits, as required under the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, which Palestine has ratified. It should follow through on this pledge. Israeli authorities should allow the United Nations Committee on Prevention of Torture into the West Bank and Gaza Strip so that it can monitor adherence to Optional Protocol.

Other countries should suspend assistance to Palestinian security agencies that routinely torture dissidents – including, for the Palestinian Authority, the Intelligence Services, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee, and, for Hamas, Internal Security – as long as systematic torture and other serious abuses continue.

“Continued promises to reform and warnings about the fragility of their instituitons fool no one when systematic abuse and impunity continue unabated,” Goldstein said. “Governments should not fall for these tired excuses but should cut ties to abusive Palestinian security forces.”

Government Responses

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Shtayyeh did not respond to a letter from Human Rights Watch asking what he intended to do to curtail arbitrary arrests and torture. In a November 2018 16-page reply to the Human Rights Watch report issued a month earlier, the Palestinian Authority largely recited procedures and systems to safeguard against abuse, without explaining why they have failed to halt abuse.

The Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry wrote in April that in preparing their reply, they did not interview any alleged victims of abuse. In the November reply, the Palestinian Authority justifies arrests as lawful without addressing the contention that they use overly broad laws to hold people for peaceful dissent. They assert, without elaboration, that systematic torture “never occurred.” They do not promise to change policy to curtail abuse.

Hamas authorities wrote to Human Rights Watch that it has “taken a number of measures on torture” since October without specifying the actions. They said they had held a number of workshops and issued guidance to security forces that arrests outside urgent cases should only take place with a warrant.

Palestinian Authority Cases

Yousef Faqeeh (Hebron, West Bank)
Preventative Security forces detained Yousef Faqeeh, a 34-year-old journalist, at his home in al-Burj village near Hebron in January and held him for two weeks.

Faqeeh said that officers questioned him about an August 2018 Facebook post, in which he listed six positions that he said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, was holding concurrently, which authorities apparently took to be a criticism of the Palestinian Authority’s concentration of power.

He said that they asked, “Why are you talking about Abu Rudeineh like this? Were you insulting him?” and handed him a printed list of the names of everyone who commented on the post, asking him about their political affiliations. They also asked him about his political views, probed his work with particular media outlets, read through his emails and messages on Facebook, and accused him of “working with Hamas,” Faqeeh said.

Faqeeh’s lawyer, Firas Karajeh, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors charged Faqeeh with “inciting sectarian strife” and that, despite his release, the charges remain outstanding. Security forces, as of May, still held Faqeeh’s personal cellphone and laptop, as well as two other phones belonging to his family members, which they had confiscated during his arrest.

Hazem Emad Nasser (Tulkarm, West Bank)
Intelligence Services arrested Hazem Emad Nasser, a 29-year-old cameraman, in Tulkarem in March and held him for 19 days at the Intelligence Services prison in Jericho. The arrest followed what he described as weeks of harassment by security forces.

Nasser said that Preventative Security forces detained him in January for 24 hours after he called, in a Facebook post, for the release of his uncle, whom security forces had detained. Prosecutors charged Nasser’s uncle with creating “sectarian strife” based on his comments at an event in which community members presented a local family with funds to rebuild their house, which Israeli forces had punitively destroyed after a relative shot and killed two Israeli settlers, the lawyer for both Nasser and his uncle said. Authorities later detained two of Nasser’s cousins, Haitham Nasser and Amin Khwaled, who commented on his post, “May God Avenge Them,” sentencing them to three months in jail sentences under the Electronic Crimes Law, but releasing them after a little more than a week.

After weeks of periodic calls from security services, Nasser agreed to appear for questioning by the Intelligence Services in Ramallah on February 24. Instead of questioning him, though, Nasser said, Intelligence officers offered him 2,000NIS (US$550) per month and protection to work undercover for them. When he refused, he said that an officer told him, “I promise you you will regret this; we’ll meet in Jericho,” a reference to its detention facility there with a reputation for being a location where abusive interrogations take place.

Intelligence officers detained Nasser a week later. While prosecutors charged him with “carrying and trading in weapons,” Nasser said that no evidence of this was presented in court. He also said that one officer told him to “forget about these allegations, we just put forward these claims so that we can keep you here lawfully.” Daily interrogations focused on his political views and ties to Hamas, though he denies having any. They also questioned him about a 2016 arrest by the Israeli army based on his work with TransMedia, a company that provides filming/production services for a television channel affiliated with Hamas. He also said that the same officer who threatened him in Ramallah appeared in Jericho one day and asked him, “Didn’t I promise you that you would regret this?”

Nasser testified in court, according to his lawyer and reports by the Palestinian media freedom organization Mada, that officers repeatedly subjected him to shabeh, torture based on being forced into a painful position. Officers on several occasions tied his arms behind his back and hung them from the bathroom door, including once for over an hour, he said. They also forced him to stand with his legs spread wide and hands up for minutes at a time, as they beat him with a plastic hose. He spent all but three days of his detention in solitary confinement. On May 16, prosecutors informed Nasser that they dropped his case due to lack of evidence, he said. Nasser said he filed a complaint about his treatment in custody with the Public Prosecution, but that he is not aware of any investigation having taken place.

Hamas Cases

Hamas authorities detained over 1,000 people, often using excesive force in the process, during “We Want to Live” demonstrations in March, according to the Palestinian statutory watchdog ICHR. The protests were spurred by the cost of living and taxes imposed by Hamas on goods like cigarettes and vegetables, against a background of Israel’s decade-plus-long closure of Gaza. Among those arrested were 23 journalists and five Palestinian human rights workers as they documented abuses, including staff of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Al Dameer Association for Human Rights in Gaza, as well as an Amnesty International employee.

In its letter to Human Rights Watch, though, the Hamas Interior Ministry said that, while it summoned “dozens” for questioning for damaging property and triggering riots, it released all but nine “main instigators” within 48 hours. It justified arrests as necessary to protect citizens and combat “sedition,” saying investigations indicated that Palestinian Authority Intelligence orchestrated the protests. It denied holding any registered journalists.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two registered journalists detained for covering the demonstrations and an activist known for his criticism of Hamas, whom Hamas officials told that they suspected him of organizing the protests.

Osama Al-Kahlout (Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip)
Hamas Internal Security forces detained Osama al-Kahlout, a 34-year-old freelance photojournalist, for three days in March  after he live-streamed on Facebook a ‘We Want to Live’ protest and dispersal by Hamas forces in front of his home in Deir al-Balah.

Al-Kahlout said that, shortly after dispersing the protest, 20 Internal Security officers appeared at his house, as he was meeting with two senior representatives of the ICHR, Jamil Sarhan and Bakr al-Turkmani. Officers struck him with a baton on his head and all over his body and dragged him out of his house and into a police jeep, while calling him “Abu Mazen’s collaborator,” he said (Abu Mazen is the nickname of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas). Security forces damaged some of his furniture while searching the house, he said. Officers also physically assaulted Sarhan and al-Turkmani, ICHR said. Sarhan had head wounds and both men had  contusions all over their bodies.

Security forces held al-Kahlout for three days at the Deir al-Balah police station, without charge and questioned him largely about the live stream and why Palestine TV, affiliated with the rival Fatah movement, carried his footage. He explained that they did not ask for his permission, that many others cite his work, and that he deleted the live stream shortly after he realized it received 30,000 views in 20 minutes, al-Kahlout said.

Ihab Fasfous (Khan Younis, Gaza Strip)
Hamas security forces arrested Ihad Fasfoos, a 46-year-old freelance journalist, at his home in Khan Younis on March 13, hours after he posted on Facebook video footage he took from a “We Want to Live” protest and shared a news report about it. They seized his computer and phone and transported him to an Internal Security facility, accusing him of organizing the protest and causing “sedition.”

Fasfous said that, during interrogations at an Internal Security facility in Khan Younis, officers accused him “receiving orders from Ramallah.” Interrogators produced a printout of Facebook posts and berated him for criticizing Hamas. He said the pointed to one that criticized Hamas’s motives during the Great March of Return, regular protests alongside fences with Israel against Israeli rights abuses, and accused him of being a “collaborator” and “working against the resistance.” Between questions, interrogators struck Fasfous in the face and all over his body and poured cold water on him, he said.

They charged him with “incitement via Facebook,” but released him after a day due to a health issue, on condition that he return the next day. He did not return, though, when he learned that authorities had decided to release all journalists. His case remains open, he said.

Amer Balousha (Beit Lahya, Gaza Strip)
Hamas Internal Security forces arrested Amer Balousha, a 27-year-old activist and freelance journalist, at his friend’s house two days after the first ‘We Want to Live’ protests on March 16 across Gaza. Security forces detained Balousa four times in 2017 and 2018 for his opposition or criticism of Hamas authorities, including once for 15 days for a Facebook post that asked of Hamas leaders, “Do your children sleep on the floor like ours do?”

Balousha said that officers accused him of organizing the protests, which he denies, and of receiving support from the Palestinian Authority. Military prosecutors charged Balousha with “opposing the revolution” and held him for nine days, including seven in solitary confinement, only releasing him ahead of a military escalation with Israel. After hostilities subsided, he went to the Internal Security facility in Gaza City, where officers asked to sign a commitment to “abide by the law,” and released him without mentioning anything about the charges, he said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Egypt: War Crimes in North Sinai

 Human Rights Watch’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians.

(Beirut) – Egyptian military and police forces in the Sinai Peninsula are committing serious and widespread abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Some of these abuses, part of an ongoing campaign against members of the local ISIS affiliate, the Sinai Province group, amount to war crimes.

The 134-page report, “‘If You Are Afraid for Your Lives, Leave Sinai!’: Egyptian Security Forces and ISIS-Affiliate Abuses in North Sinai,” provides a detailed look into an underreported conflict that has killed and wounded thousands of people – including civilians, militants, and members of the security forces – since fighting escalated in 2013. Human Rights Watch’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes, including kidnapping and torturing scores of residents, killing some, and extrajudicially executing detained security force members.

“Instead of protecting Sinai residents in their fight against militants, the Egyptian security forces have shown utter contempt to residents’ lives, turning their daily life into a nonstop nightmare of abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This horrific treatment of Sinai residents should be another wake-up call to countries like the US and France that heedlessly endorse Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 54 North Sinai residents between 2016 and 2018 for the report, as well as activists, journalists, and other witnesses, including two former army officers, a soldier, a former official who worked in North Sinai, and a former United States national security official who worked on Egypt issues. Human Rights Watch also reviewed scores of official statements, social media posts, media reports, and dozens of satellite images to identify home demolitions and secret military detention facilities. The military has effectively banned independent reporting from North Sinai and has prosecuted and imprisoned several journalists who covered events there.

Human Rights Watch found that hostilities in North Sinai, with sustained fighting between organized forces, have risen to the level of a non-international armed conflict, and that warring sides have violated international laws of war as well as local and international human rights laws.

The targeting and abuse of civilians, as well as the failure to distinguish civilians from combatants by both sides, has obliterated civilians’ basic rights and destroyed meaningful space for peaceful political mobilization or opposition. The abuses have also contributed to the escalating militarization of the conflict and the displacement of residents.

“Why all of this? Should we carry weapons and work with the militants or work with the army or live like victims? Everyone is preying on us,” a resident told Human Rights Watch, describing how the army punished him and destroyed his house after ISIS (also known as Islamic State) militants kidnapped and tortured him.

From January 2014 until June 2018, 3,076 alleged militants and 1,226 military and police personnel were killed in the fighting, according to government statements and media reports. Egyptian authorities have not released civilian casualty figures or publicly acknowledged wrongdoing. Human Rights Watch found that Egyptian authorities frequently counted civilians among the alleged militants killed and that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured.

Based on military statements and Egyptian media reports, Human Rights Watch concluded that military and police forces in North Sinai arrested more than 12,000 residents from July 2013 until December 2018. The military and the police have officially acknowledged over 7,300 arrests, but rarely released names or charges. Human Rights Watch found that many of those people were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared, and that some were extrajudicially killed. Thousands of people have probably left the governorate in recent years, either to escape the conflict or after being forcibly evicted by the military.

North Sinai is a sparsely populated governorate with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip. Armed groups have long existed in North Sinai, but attacks against government installations, military forces, and Israeli troops began to rise after the 2011 uprising that led to the resignation of the longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Violence escalated dramatically after July 2013, when the Egyptian military forced former President Mohamed Morsy out of office and arrested him. A local militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, pledged allegiance to ISIS in late 2014, changing its name to Wilayat Sina’ (Sinai Province). In response, the army has deployed over 40,000 troops, including naval, air, and infantry units. Egypt has coordinated these deployments with Israel and has apparently allowed Israel to conduct airstrikes inside Sinai on militants’ targets, media reports said.

In this report, Human Rights Watch documented at least 50 arbitrary arrests, including 39 people who were probably forcibly disappeared by the military or police. Fourteen of them remain disappeared more than three years later.

The army held detainees in isolation and in abysmal conditions, far removed from any judicial oversight. The military and police have detained children as young as 12 alongside adults but have usually detained women separately. At any given time in the past several years, Human Rights Watch found, the army may have been holding up to 1,000 detainees in secret in al-Galaa Military Base, one of three main military detention sites detailed in the report.


Map of North Sinai showing the three main Sinai detention centers: Al-Azoly military prison (inside Al-Galaa Military Base at Ismailia on the Suez Canal), Battalion 101 in al Arish, and al-Zohor camp in Sheikh Zuwayed. May copyright HRW 2019, road data OSM 2019. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Former detainees said conditions in military and police detention included lack of adequate food, water, and medical care, and small, overcrowded cells. Soldiers and officers tortured many detainees, including with beatings and electric shocks. Human Rights Watch documented three deaths in custody.

The military and police killed some of those secretly detained in the desert without trials, later claiming they had been killed in shootouts. Human Rights Watch documented 14 such cases and previously documented six others.

The Egyptian army has recruited North Sinai residents into militias that have played a substantial role in abuses, Human Rights Watch found. These unofficial irregular militias have helped the military – which lacked significant experience in North Sinai prior to the conflict – by providing intelligence and carrying out missions on the military’s behalf. Militia members use their de-facto powers to arbitrarily arrest residents and settle scores and personal disputes. They have also participated in torture and extrajudicial killings.

Sinai Province, the local ISIS affiliate, has taken root in a small northeastern corner of North Sinai on the Gaza-Israeli border and maintains a presence there, even after six years of sustained fighting. Its militants have committed horrific crimes, interviewees said, including kidnapping scores of residents and members of the military or police and extrajudicially killing some of them.

Sinai Province’s indiscriminate attacks, such as using improvised explosive devices in populated areas, have killed hundreds of civilians and led to the forced displacement of residents. The group has also deliberately attacked civilians. Sinai Province members were probably responsible for a November 2017 attack on the al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai that killed at least 311 people, including children, the deadliest known attack by a non-state armed group in Egypt’s modern history. In parts of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed, two towns in North Sinai, the group established its own Sharia (Islamic law) courts that oversaw unfair “trials,” set up checkpoints, and enforced certain Islamic rules.

The United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights should open independent commissions of inquiry into the abuses in Sinai, given the failure of Egyptian authorities to do so. Egypt’s international partners should immediately halt all security and military assistance until Egypt ends its abuses. War crimes, under international law, can be prosecuted without any time limit, and many states, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, allow individuals to be arrested and prosecuted in their countries for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

“North Sinai’s ISIS affiliate deserves the global condemnation it has received and full accountability for its heinous abuses, but the army’s campaign, marred with equally serious violations, including war crimes, should also be roundly criticized rather than praised,” Page said. “Egypt’s closest allies should halt their support for an abusive military campaign that has left thousands of civilian victims in its wake.”   

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut, May 28, 2019) – Egyptian military and police forces in the Sinai Peninsula are committing serious and widespread abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Some of these abuses, part of an ongoing campaign against members of the local ISIS affiliate, the Sinai Province group, amount to war crimes.

The 134-page report, “‘If You Are Afraid for Your Lives, Leave Sinai!’: Egyptian Security Forces and ISIS-Affiliate Abuses in North Sinai,” provides a detailed look into an underreported conflict that has killed and wounded thousands of people – including civilians, militants, and members of the security forces – since fighting escalated in 2013. Human Rights Watch’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes, including kidnapping and torturing scores of residents, killing some, and extrajudicially executing detained security force members.

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

Members of the Lebanese General Security Directorate oversee Syrian refugees boarding a bus to take them home to Syria, in the northern Beirut suburb of Burj Hammoud, Lebanon, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

(Beirut) – Lebanon summarily deported at least 16 Syrians, some of them registered refugees, on April 26, 2019 after they arrived at the Beirut airport, Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), Legal Agenda, Frontiers Rights, and the Access Center for Human Rights said today.

At least 5 of the 16 had registered with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), and at least 13 expressed their fears of torture or persecution if returned to Syria. Despite this, the Syrians were not given a meaningful chance to seek asylum or challenge their removal, and were forced to sign “voluntary repatriation” forms. Nongovernmental organizations working with refugees in Lebanon estimate that 30 Syrians have been deported from Hariri International Airport in Beirut this year by the General Security Directorate, the agency that oversees the entry and exit of foreigners.

“Lebanese authorities shouldn’t deport anyone to Syria without first allowing them a fair opportunity to argue their case for protection and ensuring that they don’t face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other serious harm,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite heated rhetoric calling for Syrians to return home, and coerced ‘voluntary’ returns, there continues to be significant risk of harm for refugees who do return to Syria.”

Lebanese authorities have in the past affirmed their commitment not to forcibly return any Syrian to Syria but, increasingly, officials are calling on Syrians in Lebanon to return home.

As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone if there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Lebanon is also bound by the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement not to return refugees to places where they would be persecuted or to expose anyone to a real risk of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or threat to their life. Human Rights Watch has for years documented widespread patterns of arbitrary detentiontorture, and deaths in Syrian government custody.

One of the people deported, “Khaled” (a pseudonym), told Human Rights Watch he had been living in Lebanon for six years, but left the country on April 21 to seek asylum in Cyprus through Turkey. As he was departing from Beirut airport, General Security officers permanently banned him from re-entering Lebanon for failure to pay a fine of 1,200,000 Lebanese liras (US$790) resulting from failing to renew his legal residency.

Lebanon’s residency policy makes it difficult for Syrians to maintain legal status, heightening risks of exploitation and abuse and restricting refugees’ access to work, education, and health care. Seventy-four percent of Syrians in Lebanon now lack legal residency and risk detention for unlawful presence in the country. 

Once he arrived in Northern Cyprus via Turkey, he said, Turkish authorities at the airport in Erkan did not let him and the 12 other Syrian men also attempting to enter Cyprus board the plane and instead returned them to Lebanon. The men were not allowed to return to Turkey under Turkey’s 2016 policy change that ended visa-free travel for Syrians entering the country by air or sea.

When the men arrived at Beirut Airport, Khaled said, General Security officers pressured him and the other Syrians to sign documents stating that they were “voluntarily” returning to Syria. One of the other men in the group told Frontiers Rights that he was also coerced into signing a voluntary return document even though he had paid the fine for his illegal entry and was not notified that he was banned from entering Lebanon.

Khaled told Human Rights Watch that after he unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the General Security officers, explaining his fears of conscription and arrest in Syria, he felt he had no choice but to sign the paper. One of the other Syrian men in the group gave Frontiers Rights a similar account and said that even though he expressed his fear of torture in Syria, he was forced to sign the paper indicating his “voluntary” return.

That evening, General Security officers put the men on a bus, along with three Syrian women who had arrived at the airport and took them to the Lebanon-Syria Masnaa border crossing, where they were told they were not allowed to come back to Lebanon. Khaled said that UNHCR was not notified of the deportation until after the group had already left the airport. Once the Syrians arrived at the border, he said, UNHCR attempted to negotiate with General Security on their behalf, but that they were unsuccessful in stopping the deportation.

Lebanon has hosted more than an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees since 2011. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for other countries to increase their assistance to Lebanon and to resettle greater numbers of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.

Since 2017, leading politicians in Lebanon have increasingly called for the return of refugees to Syria, and the authorities have put pressure on UNHCR to organize returns despite the ongoing conflict in Syria. UNHCR has said that it cannot promote or facilitate returns of refugees before it has determined that conditions in Syria are safe. General Security has been facilitating returns for refugees since May 2018.

General Security estimates that over 170,000 Syrian refugees returned to their country from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019. Nongovernmental organizations working in Lebanon estimate that the number of refugees returning to Syria is much lower. Refugees have said they are returning because of harsh policies and deteriorating conditions in Lebanon, not because they think Syria is safe.

“My biggest fears returning to Syria are that I would be conscripted and have to fight, or that I would be arrested because the regime has me on a wanted list or because of a case of mistaken identity,” Khaled told Human Rights Watch. “If I wasn’t scared of arrest, I wouldn’t have left Syria in the first place.”

Lebanon should give anyone at risk of deportation to Syria the opportunity to obtain legal representation and to meet with a UNHCR representative. The government should provide a publicly accessible, regular statistical accounting of deportations, including reasons for removal.

“The Lebanese authorities should abide by their legal obligations,” said Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer with Legal Agenda and Frontiers Rights. “Other states should also abide by the principle of responsibility sharing and step up their resettlement programs, given that Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code (2013) went into effect on April 3, 2019.[1] The new code poses grave threats to fundamental human rights and discriminates against the country’s most vulnerable groups, including children, women, and religious and sexual minorities.

Many of the code’s provisions violate Brunei’s obligations under international human rights conventions to which Brunei is a party and customary international law. Brunei is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).[2] Brunei has signed, but not yet ratified, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[3] As a member state of the United Nations, Brunei has pledged to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose provisions are considered reflective of customary international law.

In light of the fundamental rights implicated by the penal code, discussed below, and Brunei’s international human rights obligations, we therefore strongly urge the Brunei government to:

  • Immediately repeal the Syariah Penal Code (2013);
  • Ensure all penal law provisions are consistent with international human rights law; and 
  • Take necessary steps to ratify the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and other core UN human rights treaties. 

This document highlights the penal code’s most egregious violations of international human rights law.


Right to Life

The Brunei penal code imposes the death penalty (by stoning) for the so-called crimes of zina, or sex between unmarried couples (articles 68 and 69), and liwat, or anal sex (article 82). Zina is prohibited between Muslims or couples in which one partner is a Muslim, while the criminalization and the punishment of liwat applies to all persons regardless of their religious beliefs.

The right to life is enshrined in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arbitrary deprivation of life is absolutely prohibited under international law.[4] In interpreting the right to life, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 36, states that “under no circumstances can the death penalty ever be applied as a sanction against conduct whose very criminalization violates the Covenant” – including adultery and homosexuality.[5] Under international law, retaining the death penalty for such “offenses” is considered a form of arbitrary deprivation of life.

In apparent response to the huge global outcry against the new penal code, on May 5, 2019, the sultan of Brunei said that Brunei had adopted a “a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases” and this would also apply to the cases under its 2013 Brunei Sharia Penal Code, including anal intercourse and sex between unmarried couples, among others.[6] Beyond not addressing the broader human rights concerns of the penal code, discussed below, the de facto moratorium on capital punishment would still allow for the sultan to restore the death penalty at any time.

During Brunei’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council on May 10, 2019, the Foreign Minister of Brunei asserted that the prohibition on consensual same-sex conduct “is to ensure such acts are refrained and are limited to the private space.”[7] This is a patently false claim, because the letter of the law clearly criminalizes same-sex sexual acts in private. The text of the penal code does not make any distinction between consensual same-sex acts in private and in public – the claim made by the Foreign Minister is inconsistent with the provisions of the penal code.

By retaining the abusive provisions in the law, Brunei is bluntly violating its international legal obligations, under human rights treaties and customary international law, to respect the right to life.


The Rights of the Child

The new penal code imposes criminal liability and corresponding punishment – including stoning, whipping, and imprisonment – upon children who have obtained puberty, referred to as “baligh.” Children who are over the age of 15 and are considered to be of sound mind (referred to as “mulkallaf”) are subject to death by stoning for adultery or rape. Children deemed old enough to know the difference between right or wrong, referred to as “mumaiyiz” and traditionally interpreted under Sharia to be around age 7, may be punished with whipping.

Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to “recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth.” Further, article 37 explicitly prohibits imposing any form of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment on children, and article 19 obligates states to “protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence.” In particular, the CRC absolutely prohibits imposing the death penalty for actions committed by anyone under age 18.[8] The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which provides authoritative guidance on the CRC, has also concluded that any form of corporal punishment violate the principles of juvenile justice set out in article 40 of the convention and the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence. [9]

These penal code’s provisions that retain the death penalty for acts committed under age 18 are prohibited under the CRC and customary international law. Also prohibited are provisions permitting stoning, whipping, or flogging of children, as well as adults.


Prohibition of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

Under the penal code, sex outside marriage and engaging in anal sex are both punishable by stoning to death (articles 69 and 82). The penal code also stipulates that robbery (“hirabah”) is subject to multiple amputations, including the right hand and the left foot (articles 62-63) and theft (“sariqah”) is subject to amputation of the right hand for first offense and the left foot for second offense (articles 52 and 55). These punishments amount to torture under international law.

Other provisions include forms of corporal punishment that violate the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, and may amount to torture. Relevant provisions include:

  • sex outside marriage – 100 strokes by whipping, in addition to possible death by stoning (articles 68 and 69)
  • alcohol consumption – 40 strokes by whipping (only applicable to Muslims) (article 74)
  • rape – 100 strokes by whipping, in addition to possible death by stoning (articles 75 and 76)
  • lesbian sex – 40 strokes by whipping (article 92)
  • false accusation – 80 strokes by whipping (articles 95 and 98)

The prohibition under international law of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute. Enshrined in article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and multiple international and regional human rights treaties, the prohibition of torture reflects customary international law and is considered a jus cogen norm, meaning no treaty can supersede the prohibition. The use of stoning or amputation as a punishment constitutes a form of torture and amounts to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.[10]


Freedom of Expression

In the Brunei penal code, several provisions impose criminal punishment for acts that violate the right to freedom of expression. The code imposes the death penalty for insulting or defaming the Prophet Mohammad (articles 63, 76 and 220) by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The law also punishes and imposes criminal liability for “indecent” dressing and cross-dressing (articles 197 and 198), which arbitrarily restricts freedom of expression and freedom of association, as well as privacy rights, and constitutes a form of discrimination on the basis of gender expression.

The penal code also criminalizes apostasy (referred to as “irtidad”) – including acts such as declaring oneself to be god or a prophet; showing contempt towards the prophet; deriding (through mocks, mimicking, ridicules, and insults) the Quran, the hadith (narrative record of the sayings and customs of Muhammad), and obligatory matters in relations to ijma (usually referring to consensus and agreement in relation to Islamic laws); and renouncing Islam (articles 108, 109, 110, 111 and 112). The penal code criminalizes the act of issuing any publications contrary to hukum syara (laws of any sect that the court considers valid) (article 213); punishes any acts of “delivering or giving publications relating to religion other than Islam” – even if a person only requests it, that person is subject to a penalty (article 214); and punishes the use of words reserved for Islam to express any “fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, [or] matter” related to other religions (article 217).

Under international law, the right to freedom of expression guarantees everyone’s right to “hold opinions without interference to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier.” This fundamental human rights norm, reflective of customary international law, finds its expression in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other human rights instruments.

International law prohibits any law from discriminating against certain religions or beliefs, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers.[11] It is also impermissible for prohibitions in domestic laws to be used to “prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”[12]

The above provisions in the penal code constitute arbitrary interference with the right to freedom of expression and discrimination against non-Muslims in violation of Brunei’s international legal obligations.


Freedom of Religion

The Brunei penal code now imposes criminal punishment upon acts of propagating any religion other than Islam to Muslims or persons with no religion (article 209), exposing Muslim children to other religions (article 212), persuading Muslims to change religion (article 210), persuading a non-believer to follow a religion other than Islam or to dislike Islam (article 211), and neglecting or opposing Islamic religious authorities (article 230), among others. The penal code also punishes any attempts to, or assistance offered, to the conduct mentioned above. All these provisions place non-Muslim religious believers and non-believers in general in a disfavored status, and severely limits their freedom of religion in violation of international human rights law.

International human rights law obligates governments to afford the right to freedom of religion to all. This right, enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief and to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. This right also includes the right to be a religious believer or non-believer.

In 2010, during Brunei’s appearance at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council, the government pledged to fully respect the freedom of religion and that “the importation of religious materials or scriptures regardless of any faiths is not banned in the country.”[13]

The UN Human Rights Committee has stated in a general comment that “all forms of opinion are protected under the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, including opinions of a ‘political, scientific, historic, moral, or religious nature.’”[14] Therefore, in addition to infringing upon freedom of religion, these restrictive provisions also violate the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.


Women’s Rights

The new penal code has a wide range of provisions that discriminate against women and girls. It punishes extramarital sex and imposes death by stoning as punishment (articles 61-81). The CEDAW Committee has noted its concern that women in Brunei “are disproportionately affected by punishment for ‘crimes’ involving sex, and are at a higher risk of being convicted of adultery and extramarital relations, owing to discriminatory investigative policies and provisions on the weighing of evidence.”[15] Furthermore, the narrow evidentiary standards required to prove rape may dissuade rape survivors from approaching authorities since they could risk being accused of zina.[16] Hence, in addition to violating the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, imposing death by stoning for extramarital sexual relations also violates Brunei’s legal obligations to ensure equality before the law under CEDAW and customary international law.

The penal code further criminalizes having an abortion or intentional miscarriage, or performing or “abetting” an abortion or intentional miscarriage, punishable by fines and prison time of up to 10 years (articles 158-163). Committing “close proximity” (referred to as “khalwat”) – cohabiting or living together in an extramarital context – is also criminalized and punishable by prison terms (article 196).

Many other provisions in the penal code infringe on women’s rights. Relevant provisions include:

  • instigating a Muslim man or woman to divorce or to neglect marital duties (article 199)
  • preventing a legally married Muslim couple from cohabiting (article 200)
  • enticing a Muslim woman to leave the matrimonial home (article 201)
  • enticing a Muslim woman to leave her parents or guardian (article 202)
  • enticing an unmarried Muslim woman to leave custody of her parents or guardian (article 203)

The Attorney General’s December 2018 notice currently excluded from implementation article 94, which punishes pregnancy or giving birth out of wedlock with a prison term.

These provisions discriminate against women and violate a wide range of their rights under international human rights law. As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Brunei has an international legal obligation to take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and to take “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”[17] CEDAW mandates governments to take all necessary measures to eliminate “prejudices and customary and all other practices” that contravene equality between men and women.[18] Furthermore, CEDAW obligates governments to guarantee equality between men and women before the law and in the context of marriage and family life.[19]


Rights of Sexual and Gender Minorities

The Brunei penal code discriminates against and poses grave threats to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Any form of anal intercourse is punishable by stoning to death (articles 82, 85 and 86). This provision is applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Any form of sexual conduct between women (lesbianism, referred to as “musahaqah”) is punishable with up to 40 strokes with whips and prison terms up to 10 years (article 92). The article applies to lesbian acts between Muslims or between a non-Muslim and her Muslim partner.

These provisions violate the rights to privacy and equality before the law, and the punishments violate the rights to life, and to be protected from torture and other ill-treatment.[20]

The penal code also criminalizes nonconforming gender expression, punishing “any man who dresses and poses as a woman or any woman who dresses and poses as a man in any public place” (article 198) with prison time and a fine. “Indecent behaviour” in public, which includes any act that could “bring bad influence” (article 197), is also prohibited. Both articles are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims. These provisions, in addition to infringing on freedoms of expressions and association, threaten the rights to privacy of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

At a time when many countries are decriminalizing consensual same-sex conduct, Brunei has joined seven countries that punish consensual homosexual acts with the death penalty. These provisions not only violate the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but also violate the fundamental rights of sexual and gender minorities.


Application of the Penal Code to Non-Muslims and Non-Brunei Nationals, and Extraterritorial Application

In some legal systems derived from the Quran, Sharia law applies only to Muslims. In contrast, most of the articles in Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

For example, articles 82 and 84, punishing anal sex between two men or a woman and a man, applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Punishments for extramarital sex (article 69), and sexual relations between women (article 92), apply in instances in which the accused persons are two Muslims or a Muslim and a non-Muslim. Non-Muslims who commit “khalwat – living together, cohabiting, or being in close proximity to another in private –is punished with imprisonment and a fine (article 196). Anyone, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not, who publicly consumes food, drink, or tobacco before sundown during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan faces imprisonment and a fine (article 195).

These criminal offenses also apply to foreign nationals in Brunei, subjecting them to the death penalty, torture, and other ill-treatment, as well as discrimination on the basis of their age, gender, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Article 184 of the penal code also sets out that offenses committed abroad by a citizen or permanent resident of Brunei may be prosecuted in Brunei.


[1] See the full text of the Brunei Penal Code, available at: http://www.agc.gov.bn/AGC%20Images/LAWS/Gazette_PDF/2013/EN/S069.pdf.

[2] See UN Treaties Depository Records on CRC, available at: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-11&ch... see UN Treaties Depository Records on CEDAW, available at: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&....

[3] Brunei became a signatory to the Convention against Torture on September 22, 2015, but it has yet to take any steps to ratify the treaty. See UN Treaties Depository Records available at: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-9&cha.... Under article 18 to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a signatory state is “obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty.”

[4] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, October 30, 2018, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36, at para. 2. See also Communication No. R 11/45, Suarez de Guerrero v. Colombia, Views adopted on 31 March 1982, at para. 13.1; Communication No. 146/1983, Baboeram Adhin v. Suriname, Views adopted on 4 April 1985, at para. 14.3.

[5] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, at para. 36.

[7] The recording of the said UPR session is available at: http://webtv.un.org/watch/brunei-darussalam-review-33rd-session-of-unive...

[8] Article 37(a) of the CRC provides, in relevant part, “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”

[9] See UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 10: Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/10 (2007), paras. 71, 89; see also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 8: The Right of the Child to Protection from Corporal Punishment and Other Cruel or Degrading Forms of Punishment, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/8 (2007), para. 32 (noting that the CRC requires repeal of provisions that allow children to be sentenced to corporal punishment using canes or whips). As the committee has observed: “There is no ambiguity: ‘all forms of physical or mental violence’ does not leave room for any level of legalized violence against children.” Ibid., para. 18.

[10] UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 9 August 2012, U.N. Doc. A/67/279, paras. 31, 77; UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 30 August 2005, U.N. Doc. A/60/316; see also Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture – Yemen, 5 February 2004, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/CR/31/4; see also UN Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2003/67: The Question of the Death Penalty, 24 April 2003, E/CN.4/RES/2003/67, para. 4(i); UN Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights Resolutions 2004/67: Question of the Death Penalty, 21 April 2004, E/CN.4/RES/2004/67, para. 4(i); and UN Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Resolution 2005/59: The Question of the Death Penalty, 20 April 2005, E/CN.4/RES/2005/59, para. 7(i).

[11] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34 on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, 12 September 2011, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34, para. 48.

[12] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34 on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, 12 September 2011, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34, para. 48.

[13] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review - Brunei Darussalam - Addendum - Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, 18 March 2010, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/13/14/Add.1.

[14] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34 on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, 12 September 2011, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34, para. 9.

[15] See UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the combined initial and second periodic reports of Brunei Darussalam, 14 November 2014, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/BRN/CO/1-2.

[16] See UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the combined initial and second periodic reports of Brunei Darussalam, 14 November 2014, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/BRN/CO/1-2.

[17] United Nations General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 18 December 1979, United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13, articles 2 and 3.

[18] Ibid., article 5.

[19] Ibid., articles 15 and 16.

[20] See UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee – Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 6 November 1998, U.N. Doc. CCPT/C/79/Add.101; see also Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture – Yemen, 5 February 2004, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/CR/31/4; see also UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 30 August 2005, U.N. Doc. A/60/316; see also Winston Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Series C, No. 123, judgment of 11 March 2005.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah listens during the first executive session of the CHOGM summit at Lancaster House in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Brunei should immediately repeal its newly enacted penal code, which violates a range of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the sultan of Brunei and a report, “Brunei’s Pernicious New Penal Code.”
Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code (2013), which went into effect on April 3, 2019, imposes death by stoning for extramarital sex and anal sex; amputation of limbs for stealing; and 40 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex. The code imposes a wide range of restrictions that discriminate against women and sexual and gender minorities, and violates freedom of expression and religion.
“The Sultan holds absolute power in Brunei, so responsibility for this abhorrent penal code falls squarely on his shoulders,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Brunei’s repeated commitments to respect human rights amount to little so long as the Syariah Penal Code is in force.”
Human Rights Watch highlighted numerous provisions that infringe upon the rights to life, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, freedom of expression, privacy, freedom from discrimination, and freedom of religion. The penal code imposes punishment on conduct that discriminates against women and sexual and gender minorities. The penal code also subjects children to criminal liability and corresponding punishment, including stoning, whipping, and imprisonment.
The Brunei government’s repeated public statements expressing a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are demonstrably meaningless under this law, Human Rights Watch said. The sultan should ensure that all of Brunei’s laws comply with the country’s international human rights obligations.
In May, the sultan responded to the increasing international outcry against the new law by describing a “de facto moratorium on capital punishment” in Brunei. However, this moratorium is subject to political whim and could be lifted at any time, while leaving in place dozens of other rights-offending provisions.
During Brunei’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on May 10, the foreign minister claimed that the prohibition on consensual same-sex conduct “is to ensure such acts are refrained and are limited to the private space.” Yet the language of the of the law specifically criminalizes same-sex sexual acts in private, Human Rights Watch said.
“Brunei’s new penal code is a multifaceted assault on fundamental human rights,” Robertson said. “The sultan should revoke this law and fulfill his promise to respect human rights.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A checkpoint in the Syrian city of Daraa.

© 2018 Friedemann Kohler/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
(Beirut) – Syrian intelligence branches are arbitrarily detaining, disappearing, and harassing people in areas retaken from anti-government groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The abuse is taking place even when the government has entered into reconciliation agreements with the people involved.

Human Rights Watch has documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in Daraa, Eastern Ghouta, and southern Damascus. The government retook these areas from anti-government groups between February and August 2018. In all cases, the people targeted – former armed and political opposition leaders, media activists, aid workers, defectors, and family members of activists and former anti-government fighters – had signed reconciliation agreements with the government. Local organizations, including Syrians for Truth and Justice and the Office of Daraa Martyrs, have documented at least 500 arrests in these areas since August.

“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests, and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform, and reconciliation.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 former residents of Daraa and Quneitra governorates, Eastern Ghouta, and towns in southern Damascus. They said that Syrian intelligence branches have detained and harassed people related to anti-government activists or former fighters, along with defectors, members of anti-government groups, or activists. Humanitarian workers, community leaders, and media activists who remained in government-held areas were also detained and harassed. People have been arrested in their homes and offices, at checkpoints and in the streets, relatives and witnesses said.

The locations include Da’el, Ibtta’, Naua, al-Yadudeh, and Etaman in Daraa governorate; a town in Quneitra governorate whose name is withheld due to concerns about reprisals; Douma in Eastern Ghouta; and Babila in southern Damascus. Residents said, based on checkpoints and personnel conducting raids, that Da’el and Ibtta’ are under the control of Air Force Intelligence, while al-Yadudeh and Etaman are under the control of Military Intelligence.

In southern Damascus, the Military Intelligence Patrols Branch arrested people and transferred them to the Palestine Branch, also operating under Military Intelligence. Human Rights Watch could not ascertain which intelligence branch was responsible for detentions in Ghouta.

Most of those detained were apparently never charged. In three cases, intelligence branches apparently arrested people because someone filed a complaint against them. In the majority of cases, people were held incommunicado either throughout or for part of their detention and denied access to a lawyer. The authorities did not inform their families of their whereabouts or take them promptly before a judge, as far as their relatives and colleagues could tell. In one case, a detainee told friends that military intelligence beat them before taking them to military court, even though they were arrested in a civil suit.

In at least one case, authorities transferred the person to Sadnaya prison, which is known for torture and extrajudicial executions. In three cases, relatives were detained and/or harassed by intelligence branch members to gain information about their wanted family member or to force that family member to return.

Relatives and friends of detained people said they were released only after their families paid a bribe and, in some of the cases, asked high level members of the reconciliation committees or Russian military police to intervene. One person interviewed said he got a relative released after reaching out to the Russian military police. Two others said they brokered the release of relatives through the Fifth Corps, an affiliated militia. In at least two other cases, relatives said they tried to reach the Russian military police or the local reconciliation committees but failed.

Interviewees said the Russian government’s ability to help depended on the area where the person was arrested and whether the person asking was an important community leader or had connections. In two other cases, former residents said, protests in the town where the detained person lived led to their release.

The Syrian government should immediately release all arbitrarily held detainees, or if there are valid grounds for holding them, make those clear. The authorities should present detainees to a judge within 48 hours of their arrest, provide them with access to a lawyer, and inform their families of their whereabouts.

Russia should use its influence with its ally Syria to stop arbitrary detention and harassment, Human Rights Watch said. Russia should expand its ad hoc intervention to release arbitrarily held detainees and information regarding those disappeared. Russia should also support the work of impartial international organizations to gather information on the whereabouts of disappeared people, monitor detention sites, and facilitate communications with families. Russia should press the Syrian government to cooperate fully with these organizations to ensure they have full access to formal and informal detention centers.

Local reconciliation committees should continue to monitor and address arbitrary detention, harassment, and disappearance and raise individual cases with the Russian military police, the Syrian government. Impartial international organizations working on these issues should provide support to the local committees.

Despite the ongoing threats of persecution in areas held by the Syrian government, countries hosting refugees, including Lebanon, Denmark, and Germany, are under domestic political pressure to encourage returns. In some cases, countries have actively organized returns, created incentives for refugees to return, made conditions in host countries increasingly inhospitable, and even deported refugees back to Syria.

“Those who tell you there is stability or security in the south are lying,” a humanitarian worker from Daraa told Human Rights Watch. “There are still assassinations and arbitrary detentions, and the residents continue to suffer persecution.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on all governments not to forcibly return anyone to Syria.

“Nowhere is the effect of an absence of protection guarantees starker than in areas re-taken by the government,” Fakih said. “The harassment and abuse by intelligence branches is a major deterrent for people considering return and has forced out people who wish to remain. If Russia is serious about encouraging refugee returns, it should pressure the government to end detention abuses and create conditions conducive to a safe and dignified return.”

Applicable International Law

Under international law, detention is arbitrary when the detaining authority violates basic rights of due process, including for a prompt hearing before a judge. Principle 11 of the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that a detainee must be “given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority,” and that a judicial or other authority should be empowered to review the decision to continue detention.

Extended detention without charge or trial or without an appearance before a judge is arbitrary and violates international human rights standards. Detention is also arbitrary if it lacks a clear basis in domestic law or if the person is detained for exercising a basic right such as free assembly.

Collective punishment is also prohibited under international law. It comprises any form of punitive sanctions and harassment, including but not limited to judicial penalties, imposed on families or other targeted groups for actions that they did not personally commit. It is contrary to basic principles of international human rights and humanitarian law, which provide that no person may be punished for an offense they have not personally committed. This covers “sanctions or harassment of any sort, administrative, by police action, or otherwise.”

Under international law, governments are in principle prohibited from using military courts to try civilians when civilian courts can still function. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees everyone the right to timely trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body authorized to monitor compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that civilians should be tried by military courts only under exceptional circumstances and only under conditions that genuinely afford full due process.

Under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, enforced disappearance is defined as:

The arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

Government Takeovers in 2018

Eastern Ghouta, Daraa, and Quneitra were identified as de-escalation zones as part of the Astana process, a negotiations track guaranteed by Turkey, Russia, and Syria. However, between February and August 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance opened an offensive on each of these areas, and within a few months managed to regain control of them. Southern Damascus was not included in the de-escalation zones, as it was controlled by Islamic State militants, but was also subject to an offensive that ended in May.

In the follow up to each of these take-overs, residents were given the option of being evacuated to areas under the control of anti-government armed groups in northwest Syria or remaining in these areas under government control. For many, remaining under the threat of arrest and abuse by the Syrian government was not an option, and they decided to leave. Others chose to remain.

The Syrian government’s takeover of Daraa and Quneitra in Syria was faster and resulted in fewer civilian casualties and less destruction than in other areas, including Aleppo and Ghouta. In these areas, there was a proliferation of Russian-mediated reconciliation agreements, and guaranteed deals between anti-government commanders and the Syrian government. These deals allowed the majority of fighters to remain with their light arms, provided a vetting process to clear people of charges by the intelligence branches, and provided a six-month break before conscription for those still required to serve in the military. In return, people who chose to remain had to sign a document indicating they would not be involved in anti-government activities.

Former residents and experts said that the result of these deals was that Daraa and Quneitra governorates were divided up by various security forces, including the armed forces and the National Defense Forces, various intelligence branches, and a newly created Fifth Corps. The Fifth Corps consists of former members of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group for anti-government forces. Former members told Human Rights Watch that it is led by Ahmed al-Odeh, a former anti-government group, supported by Russia, and controls certain towns in Daraa governorate.

In Ghouta and south Damascus, anti-government armed groups have not maintained any power even if they signed reconciliation agreements, and intelligence branches have regained full control of the area. The offensives to re-take these areas included unlawful tactics such as indiscriminate strikes and the use of prohibited weapons.


All but 1 of the 16 Human Rights Watch interviews were conducted remotely with people who had managed to leave the areas in question after the government retook the area or with people who were in close and regular contact with their relatives in government-held areas.

Of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed, six had left the area because security forces had harassed them or because authorities issued warrants against them or arrested their relatives. In several cases, the humanitarian situation and government restrictions on their ability to move freely also contributed to their decision to leave.

Human Rights Watch only included those cases in which the person interviewed was a close relation or had witnessed or experienced the harassment. Given the restrictions on access and associated security concerns, it is likely that the total number of people arrested and harassed in these areas is much larger than the cases identified.

Arrests, Harassment of Aid Workers, Activists, Community Leaders

In 6 of the 11 cases documented, security forces harassed, arbitrarily detained, disappeared, or placed on wanted lists aid workers, activists, and community leaders, seemingly as a result of their legitimate work.

“Yaser” and “Tareq”

“Yaser” and “Tareq,” Palestinians born in Syria and who worked for a Palestinian relief organization, were arrested by the Patrols branch of Military Intelligence in Babila, a town south of Damascus, in the first week of April, 2019, three of their colleagues said. The government retook the town the first week in May 2018.

They were among 15 Palestinians taken in a wave of arrests from Babila, Qudsieh, and Yalda, all towns retaken by the government in May 2018 and whose residents were primarily Palestinian. Their colleagues said that both Yaser and Tareq had signed reconciliation agreements and neither was required for military service or had participated in any anti-government armed action.

The colleagues said the Patrols branch had summoned both men from the organization’s headquarters. It is unclear why they were detained. Their colleagues had been able to visit Yaser once while he was in Patrols branch, the day after his arrest. Since the men’s transfer to the Palestine branch of Military Intelligence, neither their colleagues nor family members had heard from them, and their whereabouts have not been revealed.

“Wael” and “Farid”

“Haitham,” a media worker with anti-government groups, said that almost immediately after the reconciliation in Daraa in August, two of his friends in Da’el were arrested: “Wael” and “Farid,” brothers who were closely affiliated with the opposition. Their sister said that Military Intelligence raided their house at 1 a.m., looting and causing damage, and roughing up the women. Their sister called Haitham right after the arrests and said the men were taken without being told why or where they were being taken.

When the sister followed up by visiting the local security branches, she was told that there was a suit filed against them, but the family was not told where they were or given access to them.

They were released in mid-November and told Haitham that they had been handed over to Air Force Intelligence in Sweida and then transferred to Damascus. They said they had been denied access to a lawyer or contact with their families. They were not promptly brought before a judge, and when they were taken to court, it was before a military tribunal despite their civilian status.

The brothers told Haitham that members of the Air Force Intelligence branch beat them fiercely but that they had not confessed to anything. Four or five months into their confinement they were taken before the military judge who ordered their release.


“Samir” worked for prominent humanitarian organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Swiss Department for Foreign Affairs, in al-Yadudeh, in Daraa governorate. He left Daraa in January 2019 after he found out that he was wanted by the Criminal Intelligence branch for working with aid groups and receiving funding from foreign entities for his work in contravention of the Counterterrorism Law of 2012.

He said that after he signed the reconciliation agreement, both the Political Intelligence Directorate and Military Intelligence asked him about others who had signed the agreement. A few days later, a contact he had inside the Military Intelligence branch told him they would be coming for him. He immediately left. His family told him that an official summons from the authorities arrived a few days later.


“Jamil,” a media activist from Da’el and a former detainee who left Syria for Jordan in October 2017, told Human Rights Watch that Military Intelligence arrested “Sahar,” a community leader, in mid-November at the ‘Manket al-Hattab checkpoint. While Daraa was under the control of anti-government armed groups, Sahar had been a member of the local council and the head of the Women’s Affairs Bureau. Her husband had died in protests in 2012 and her son had died in the conflict. She signed the reconciliation agreement in the hopes that she would be able to remain in Daraa, but was detained nonetheless. Jamil said that he and one of her brothers used several personal connections to get her released.

Relatives Detained, Harassed

In three of the cases documented, intelligence branches either arrested or repeatedly harassed relatives of media activists, former fighters, and people who fled Syria in an attempt to gain information about their wanted family member or to force him to return.


“Jamil,” the media activist, said that Military Intelligence arrested his sister, “Manal,” on November 16 at the same checkpoint as Sahar. She was on her way from Da’el to Damascus to visit her husband, who had had heart surgery. He said a friend who was with her alerted him at the time. Jamil said that he reached out to one of the reconciliation committee members in Daraa, who then reached out to the Russian military police who helped release her after a few days. He indicated that they also had to pay 300,000 SYP (US$582) to the military intelligence officials for her release.

Jamil said that his sister told him that during the interrogation, she was asked about him and one of her other brothers who fought with the anti-government armed groups in Daraa before the government retook it. When she chose to remain in Da’el, she had signed a reconciliation agreement, but had been arrested nonetheless. As Jamil put it: “Reconciliation or no reconciliation – it is the same.”

“Iyad’s” family

“Iyad,” a media activist, left Syria where he was living in Etaman, Daraa in February because he needed medical treatment that he could not reliably obtain in Damascus due to concerns about being arrested at the checkpoints on the way there.

He said that after he left, Military Intelligence went to his house and detained his father, mother, and wife. Intelligence officials held the family for a day and interrogated them regarding Iyad’s whereabouts. The family members said they didn’t know. He said that based on the questioning, he was unsure if the authorities were detaining his relatives because of his work as a media activist or because he was wanted for military service.

He said that after the arrests, his neighbor had immediately called him, telling him to come back. Iyad then reached out to his uncle, who was close to Military Intelligence officers in the region. The uncle intervened and managed to secure their release in a couple of days but had to pay 700,000 SYP (US$1,359) to the officers.

He said that Military Intelligence had visited his family four more times after their release, most recently on April 12, only a week before he spoke to Human Rights Watch, and they threatened to re-arrest his wife, mother, and father unless they paid them 50,000 SYP (US$97). Now his parents rarely leave the house, Iyad said.


“Hashim” was a media activist in al-Yadudeh, in Daraa governorate in Syria, but left in December when he found out that Air Force and Military Intelligence wanted him for his media work. He said he discovered he was wanted when Military Intelligence called in a relative with a government job and asked about Hashim and his whereabouts.

After that, members of the Air Force Intelligence branch visited his house three times to ask about him. “I wasn’t there, but can you imagine if I had been?” he said. “It would have been over. The next day I prepared to leave. Since I left, they’ve visited the house twice more.”

Detaining and Disappearing Defectors

Human Rights Watch documented the detention or disappearance of three defectors by Military Intelligence and other security forces even though the men had signed reconciliation agreements with the government.


A man who left Quneitra in August in the evacuations after the government retook the area, said that Military Intelligence took away his son in February. “Laith,” who defected from the army in 2012, chose to remain in Quneitra following the government takeover and signed a reconciliation agreement in August, his father said. In February, Military Intelligence asked Laith to report back to their station and detained him. His father does not know his whereabouts.


“Iyad” said that 20 days after the Syrian government retook Etaman in Daraa governorate, between August 10 and 15, he and a group of three other men attempted to re-enter the area to check on their houses. Military Intelligence members at the checkpoint at the town entrance stopped them and requested their identification and settlement cards, which they checked against the computer. Iyad and one of the others were wanted for military service but were told they could wait until the six-month grace period ended. But “Khaled,” a defector, was detained even though he had signed a reconciliation agreement.

Iyad said he was afraid to ask the Military Intelligence officers questions for fear of being arrested but did raise Khaled’s case with the Etaman reconciliation committee, who promised he would be released. But as of April 14, Khaled’s whereabouts had not been revealed, Iyad said.


Security services arrested “Omar,” a 27- or 28-year-old defector who had lost both his legs in a landmine accident, in February or March in Naua, in Daraa governorate, his cousin said. Omar’s wife said even though he had signed a reconciliation agreement, he was arrested after someone had submitted a complaint about him.

His cousin said that Omar’s wife was able to track him to Sadnaya prison, where she was able to visit him. The wife told Omar’s cousin that Omar’s situation was very difficult, and that he looked like he had been beaten and tortured.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am