(Geneva) – The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has specialized expertise on the United Nations, particularly UN peacekeeping, and the Balkans. Hicks is responsible for coordinating Human Rights Watch's advocacy team and providing direction to advocacy worldwide. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2005, Hicks served as director of the Office for Returns and Communities in the UN mission in Kosovo. She has also worked for the International Human Rights Law Group (now Global Rights), the Deputy High Representative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the former Yugoslavia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as clinical professor of human rights and refugee law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Hicks is a graduate of Columbia Law School and the University of Michigan.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Yousef bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen (C), and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf (R) talk before a photo during a meeting of Islamic and Arab foreign ministers in Jeddah on May 30, 2019.

© 2019 BANDAR ALDANDANI/AFP/Getty Images

(New York) – More than a dozen member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) signed a statement supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang that ignored widespread repression of the region’s Muslims, Human Rights Watch said today. The Chinese government-promoted letter was in response to a joint statement by 22 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week expressing concern at massive rights violations in Xinjiang and urging unfettered access by international monitors.

The Chinese government has subjected 13 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang to mass arbitrary detention, forced political indoctrination, restrictions on movement, and religious oppression. Credible estimates indicate that over one million people are being held in “political education” camps. Chinese authorities have also placed Muslims in Xinjiang under pervasive surveillance and mobilized over a million officials to monitor Muslims, including through various intrusive programs.

“The Chinese government garnered the support of a dozen Muslim-majority countries to help whitewash its abysmal human rights record in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Instead of joining with the many governments denouncing abuses against Xinjiang’s Muslims, these countries have joined Beijing’s repugnant counter narrative.”

Despite the systematic abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang, the countries that joined China’s statement applauded China’s “counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang” that have led to a “stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment, and security.” The Muslim-majority countries that signed the letter include: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

China’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang has been a key test of whether OIC members will press an increasingly powerful China to end its systemic abuses against Muslims. The 57-country body has largely remained silent and at times applauded China’s efforts in recent months. When the OIC foreign ministers met in Abu Dhabi in March, they ignored the plight of Xinjiang’s Muslims, and instead praised China’s efforts “in providing care to its Muslim citizens” and “look[ed] forward to further cooperation” with China.

OIC delegates also took part in one of the Chinese government’s highly controlled, state-managed diplomatic visits to Xinjiang without any criticism of the government’s rights violations. By contrast and in line with its mandate to “safeguard the rights, dignity, and religious and cultural identity” of Muslim minorities, the OIC has been vocal in condemning abuses against and demanding accountability for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Several OIC members including Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey did not sign the China-backed letter. However, no Muslim-majority country has joined the unprecedented global call at the UN Human Rights Council to investigate abuses. OIC countries should urgently sign this joint statement before the July 26 deadline.

“China’s repressive Xinjiang campaign has put the OIC’s credibility on the line,” Richardson said. “If the OIC wants to be the global voice for the rights of oppressed Muslims everywhere, its members need to stop looking the other way and denounce China’s abusive policies in Xinjiang.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Volunteers tend to a man in a wheelchair and his partner, after they were rescued during flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

© 2019 AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The United Nations Human Rights Council made history on Friday when it adopted a resolution on climate change and the rights of people with disabilities. The resolution calls on governments to adopt a disability-inclusive approach when taking action to address climate change.

The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect people with disabilities. They are frequently in situations of social, economic, and political disadvantage and may not have access to adequate resources, information, and services necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change. For example, people with disabilities may feel the health impacts of climate change more severely, as some are more susceptible to invasive disease due to pre-existing health conditions. Additionally, many are at particular risk of neglect, abandonment, and even death during instances of migration or natural disasters, which are increasing in frequency and ferocity, due to physical, communication, and other barriers, as well as disrupted support networks.

This is the first time the Council has addressed the rights of people with disabilities as they relate to climate change. While women, indigenous peoples, and youth have successfully become part of discussions around climate action, persons with disabilities have largely been absent.

This resolution could be an important first step to remedy that gap, presenting an opportunity for persons with disabilities to engage in the conversation about climate resilience and for governments to ensure that happens. The resolution includes a mandate for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to conduct a comprehensive study–engaging governments, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental organizations, and disability rights groups–focused on ways to better protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change.

As is central to the disability rights movement, governments, UN agencies, and environmental groups should echo the principle “nothing about us, without us” in acting on this resolution. Governments need to reach out and listen to people with disabilities, who are among those who feel, or will feel, more acutely the adverse effects of environmental change, and will be important leaders in fighting it.

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

The 36th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. 

© 2017 Reuters

Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea. But the renewing the mandate shouldn’t have been up for discussion in the first place, given the unanimous support for it in 2018 and, more importantly, Eritrea’s dire and unchanged rights situation.

Yet despite all that, the traditional drafters of the Eritrea resolution, Somalia and Djibouti, declined to even present a resolution because of their improved political relations with Eritrea. Likewise, several member states blocked the European Union from presenting a text. Eventually a group of countries – Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands – stepped in to ensure this important international oversight mechanism wasn’t lost.

In recent months, the Eritrean government lobbied hard, misrepresenting its election to the HRC as international endorsement of its abusive rights record.

In the end, the message was loud and clear: neither a state’s membership on the HRC, nor improved geopolitical relations, will bring an end to much-needed international scrutiny, without concrete improvements on human rights.

Eritrea has an opportunity to turn the page – if it wishes to do so. The renewed mandate, under an agenda item which is not seen as condemnatory, and a benchmarks report produced by the Special Rapporteur which identifies clear reform priorities, offer Eritrea the chance to engage with UN special procedures in a positive manner and show the Council it is willing to meet its membership obligations.

The Eritrean government should start by proactively and constructively engaging with the Special Rapporteur and providing her and other mandate holders from the UN and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with access to Eritrea. Over the next year, it should move ahead with key reform priorities – starting with releasing political detainees, improving due process rights, and conducting a substantive reform of the country’s notorious indefinite national service system.

Only once Eritrea shows a true commitment to upholding its Council membership obligations and moves ahead with pressing reforms should it be rewarded with a shift in approach at the Council.

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

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested unfettered access to conduct an independent assessment of the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region.

While China has professed openness to this request, any such access would need to be genuinely unfettered and unrestricted - features noticeably absent from previous stage-managed diplomatic visits to Xinjiang. At a minimum this should entail that the High Commissioner and her representatives be able to visits sites of their choosing and speak with individuals confined to “political education” camps privately, confidentially, and without fear of reprisals.

In this regard we welcome the joint letter submitted this week by 22 delegations to the President of the Human Rights Council and to the High Commissioner, urging China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for the High Commissioner and other independent international observers. The joint statement appropriately requests the High Commissioner to keep the Council regularly informed on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This will enable the Council to decide what action is needed to ensure China upholds the “highest standards of human rights,” in accordance with its obligations as a member of this Council – and the consequences if it does not.

Most importantly, the joint letter sends a strong message that we are moving beyond the era of selectivity, and that no country, large or small, is exempt from the scrutiny of this Council. We understand that the joint letter remains open for additional signatures, and we encourage those delegations that have not yet signed to do so. We are particularly disappointed that OIC member states have not yet engaged meaningfully with the human rights situation affecting Muslims in Xinjiang, while they have spoken out on other situations. This risks fueling perceptions of double standards and politicization; supporting the constructive joint statement would be a useful step towards addressing such perceptions.

We welcome China’s acceptance of a UPR recommendation to respond positively to a country visit request by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, which should be facilitated as a matter of priority and without restriction.

We would suggest that China could benefit from technical assistance by also drawing on the expertise of other UN Special Rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights while countering terrorism. Given that China has advanced the need to counter terrorism as its rationale for mass programs directed at Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang, the Special Rapporteur could offer useful guidance on more rights-respecting ways to counter terrorism than mass surveillance, detaining over a million Muslims, and stripping an entire population of its rights to freedom of religion, privacy, culture and expression.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Families of victims of the "war on drugs" in the Philippines remove portraits of their slain relatives after the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution to investigate the killings. 

© 2019 Bullit Marquez/AP Photo
(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council’s adoption of a resolution on the Philippines is crucial for holding the government accountable for thousands of “drug war” killings and other abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The council’s 41st regular session runs from June 24 through July 12, 2019.

On July 11, the council approved the resolution initiated by Iceland by a vote of 18 to 14, that requests the UN human rights office to present a comprehensive report on human rights in the Philippines to the council next June. The resolution also expresses concern about the range of rights violations in the country and calls on the government to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms and experts. The Philippine government earlier denounced the resolution as a “divisive motion” and sought to block it.

“The Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines is a modest but vital measure,” said Laila Matar, deputy Geneva director. “It signals the start of accountability for thousands of ‘drug war’-related killings and other abuses, and will provide hope to countless survivors and families of victims.”

Iceland and other countries presented the resolution to address flagrant violations of human rights in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The requested June 2020 report by the high commissioner for human rights and discussion by member states could form the basis for further action if the situation in the Philippines does not improve or those responsible for abuses go unpunished. Meanwhile, the council should monitor the Philippines closely and take urgent action as necessary.

Since Duterte took office in June 2016, Philippine police have said that they have killed more than 6,600 people during anti-drug operations. Other estimates by local nongovernmental organizations and the national Commission on Human Rights place the death toll of the “drug war” at more than 27,000.

The police have sought to justify the killings on the grounds that suspects “fought back.” Such claims are belied by reporting from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and domestic and international media that found police routinely plant evidence such as guns and drugs on victims’ bodies to justify killings.

The unlawful killing of drug suspects has affected the families of the mostly impoverished victims, particularly children. Many of these children have stopped going to school; are forced to work or live in the streets after the killing of the family breadwinner; and suffer deep, psychological trauma.

In Geneva, the Philippine government tried to deflect the issues raised in the resolution by waging an aggressive disinformation campaign against Iceland and those that supported the measure, including human rights groups and critics of the “drug war.” Previously, the Philippines, a member of the council, and Duterte himself sought to discredit the UN and the experts it appoints to investigate human rights issues. In early June, 11 of these experts launched a call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. The government also launched a campaign in the Philippines to vilify and harass human rights defenders, journalists, and clergy who criticized the “drug war” killings.

“Countries determined to address the human rights crisis in the Philippines prevailed in the face of Manila’s ultimately counterproductive efforts to shield itself from scrutiny,” Matar said. “The challenge now is to ensure that the process moves quickly to compel the Philippine government to stop the killings and prosecute those responsible.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Relatives of disappeared persons participate in a silent protest, demanding an investigation into the disappearances of people in Kashmir. 

© 2019 AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
(New York) – India and Pakistan should act on the recommendations of the United Nations human rights office to protect basic rights in the contested region of Kashmir, Human Rights Watch said today.

The 43-page report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The Indian government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.” Pakistan welcomed the report but requested that sections be removed or amended in which the information was “not specific to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir but were general human rights concerns affecting all of Pakistan.”

“India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Authorities in both countries should use the opportunity created by the UN report to change course and hold accountable those who’ve committed serious abuses.”

India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

The OHCHR said both India and Pakistan had failed to take any clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in its June 2018 report, the office’s first-ever on human rights in Kashmir. The latest report comes after a deadly attack in February by a Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, that targeted a security forces convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 Indian soldiers. Military escalation between India and Pakistan ensued, including cross-border shelling at the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto international border in disputed Kashmir.

The Srinagar-based Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society reported that conflict-related casualties were the highest in 2018 since 2008, with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups, 159 security forces personnel, and 160 civilians. The Indian government asserted that 238 militants, 86 security forces personnel, and 37 civilians were killed.

The OHCHR found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The report also decried the lack of justice for past abuses such as killing and forced displacement of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and alleged sexual violence by Indian security forces personnel. It expressed concern over excessive use of force during cordon and search operations, resulting in civilian deaths as well as new allegations of torture and deaths in custody.

The OHCHR noted that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “remains a key obstacle to accountability,” because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

The UN human rights office also said that India should amend its Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years. The law has often been used to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.

In July 2018, the Indian state government of Jammu and Kashmir amended section 10 of the Public Safety Act, removing the prohibition on detaining permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir outside the state. At least 40 people, mainly separatist political leaders, were transferred to prisons outside the state in 2018, the OHCHR said. It said that transferring detainees outside the state makes it harder for family members to visit and for legal counsel to meet with them. It also noted that prisons outside the state were considered hostile for Kashmiri Muslim detainees, especially separatist leaders.

The UN human rights office said that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir. It cited the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors money laundering and terrorist financing, which has called on Pakistan to address its “strategic deficiencies.” India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the militant groups. Attacks in Kashmir have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989.

The OHCHR also found that human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It noted threats against journalists for doing their work. The UN human rights office also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir, noting that victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances.

“The Indian government’s rejection of the latest UN report on human rights in Kashmir shows that it’s unwilling to confront its own human rights failures,” Ganguly said. “Both India and Pakistan should accept the findings of the report and invite an independent investigation to help end serious abuses in Kashmir.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Chamber of the United Nations Human Rights Council, July 10, 2019.

© 2019 Tamara Taraciuk Broner/Human Rights Watch

The first oral report on Nicaragua by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva today brings important attention to the need for accountability for the victims of the government’s brutal crackdown.

It should spur UN member states to act on the egregious abuses committed with impunity by Nicaraguan security forces.

In April 2018, Nicaraguans who took to the streets to protest the government of President Daniel Ortega were met with violence. A brutal crackdown by the National Police and heavily armed pro-government groups against protesters left more than 300 people dead and more than 2,000 injured. In the following months, hundreds were detained.

Our report, “Crackdown in Nicaragua,” documented that many detainees had been subject to serious abuses, in some cases amounting to torture – including electric shocks, severe beatings, asphyxiation, rape, and fingernail removal. Some were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers. Detainees were also subject to deeply flawed prosecutions.

Since the March 2019 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, the Ortega government has made no progress toward ensuring victims’ access to justice. Not a single police officer is known to be under investigation. The president, the police’s “supreme chief” under Nicaraguan law, promoted top officials who bear responsibility for the abuses, rather than holding them to account. A broad amnesty law for crimes committed in the context of anti-government protests came into force in June; the law could be used to allow those responsible to evade justice.

As of June 10, 392 people jailed in the connection with anti-government protests had been released. But two-thirds of these individuals were conditionally released with charges still pending.

UN member states should redouble pressure on the Ortega government, including through heightened scrutiny. States should suspend all support for Nicaragua’s National Police and condition the reinstatement of police funding on, among other steps, concrete actions to hold perpetrators accountable. Parties to the UN Convention against Torture should exercise criminal jurisdiction, to the extent permitted under domestic law, over any Nicaraguan officials responsible for torture. In its upcoming written report on Nicaragua, scheduled for September, the high commissioner for human rights should recommend that the council create a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Nicaragua since April 2018.

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

China's Xinjiang region's Vice-Governor Erkin Tuniyaz attends the Human Rights Council meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2019.

© 2019 Marina Depetris/Reuters
 

(Geneva) – Twenty-two countries at the United Nations’ top human rights body issued a joint statement this week, urging China to end its mass arbitrary detentions and related violations against Muslims in the Xinjiang region, Human Rights Watch said today. In their unprecedented move, the countries also called on China to cooperate with the UN high commissioner for human rights and UN experts to allow meaningful access to the region.

“Twenty-two states have called China to task for its horrific treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “The joint statement is important not only for Xinjiang’s population, but for people around the world who depend on the UN’s leading rights body to hold even the most powerful countries to account.”

The countries expressed concern about reports of large-scale arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance, and other violations against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang. They urged China “to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang” for UN and independent international observers, and asked the high commissioner to keep the Human Rights Council (HRC) regularly informed on the situation.

In recent years, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and the media have reported on “political education” camps in Xinjiang, in which approximately 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are detained without any legal process, and subjected to political indoctrination, ill-treatment, and sometimes torture. Chinese authorities have deployed extraordinary surveillance technologies to track – and treat as criminal – a wide variety of lawful behavior. The government has either denied that the abuses are taking place or tried to justify its conduct as part of a national counterterrorism strategy.

In March, at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a regular review of the rights record of every UN member state, China sought to suppress critical scrutiny of its rights abuses. China tried to manipulate the review, provided blatantly false answers on critical issues such as freedom of expression and the rule of law, and threatened delegations “in the interest of our bilateral relations” not to attend a panel on human rights in Xinjiang.

The fact that many countries are now willing to call for an independent international assessment reflects skepticism about China’s pronouncements about the situation in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said.

The previous joint statement on China at the HRC was led by the United States in March 2016 with 12 signatories. That nearly double the number of countries have joined the current effort reflects growing international concern over the situation in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said. The signatories so far are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Additional states are considering signing on. 

“Governments are increasingly recognizing the suffering of millions of people in Xinjiang, with families torn apart and living in fear, and a Chinese state that believes it can commit mass violations uncontested,” Fisher said. “The joint statement demonstrates that Beijing is wrong to think it can escape international scrutiny for its abuses in Xinjiang, and the pressure will only increase until these appalling abuses end.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Amid turbulent change in Sudan, the country’s human rights record remains dire. Since December 2018, government security forces have killed hundreds of protesters on the streets, attacked hospitals, arbitrarily arrested and detained, beaten and raped. 

The ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 did not end the violence. The transitional military council, whose deputy commands the abusive Rapid Support Forces, continued to allow security forces to use excessive force against protesters, killing well over 100 people and injuring hundreds more on June 3 alone.  The military council is also blocking the internet, restricting reporting on incidents and coordination among aid agencies.

The situation remains dire in the conflict zones of Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile as government forces continue to carry out attacks on civilians. The failure of government and armed opposition forces to agree on aid delivery to hundreds of thousands of civilians living in rebel-controlled areas continues to deprive them of food, medicine and other essentials.

Sudan’s leaders have not ended the full range of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law nor investigated or prosecuted the vast majority of new and old cases documented. The power-sharing deal signed on 5 July includes a pledge to investigate violence, but the language appears to limit the scope to the period following 11 April. Any credible investigation should include all abuses against protesters since December and the investigators should be fully independent from the Transitional Military Council and other actors possibly implicated in violations.

The UN Human Rights Council remained shamefully silent after the killings started in December, as it has remained silent after the horrific events of 3 June and to this day. It should urgently step up to ensure an independent international investigation into the full scale of killings, rapes, beatings, and other serious violations since the government started attacking protesters in December 2018, identify those responsible, and recommend ways to hold them accountable. It should also ensure that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is given a strong mandate to ensure the necessary monitoring and reporting during the transitional period.

Sudan’s leaders should show they are serious about justice by supporting and cooperating with an independent Council-mandated investigation.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We share the view expressed in the High Commissioner’s annual report to the Council last session that “settlements affect all aspects of Palestinians' daily lives, including significant negative impact on freedom of movement, and access to work, education and healthcare.” A report by the Israeli group Peace Now found that Israeli authorities in the last decade built nearly 20,000 settlement units, while the population of settlements grew by some 120,000, not including East Jerusalem.

One of the most important global initiatives to counteract these policies is the OHCHR’s database of businesses facilitating Israeli settlements, mandated by this Council in a resolution adopted without opposition. The release of the database will underscore to businesses the systematic, serious violations of Palestinian rights inherent in settlement activities. We are concerned by delays in that release, which only embolden those seeking to further entrench settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law, and the two-tiered discriminatory system that stems from them.

We are aware that some states have argued the mandate can be fulfilled by issuing a report while suppressing the names of the companies engaged in listed activities. But the resolution creating the mandate is clear: it calls on the High Commissioner to produce a database of “all business enterprises involved in the [listed] activities” and to transmit “the data therein” in the form of a report to the Human Rights Council. There is no meaningful report without the database itself.

We note that the High Commissioner indicated in March that the database would be transmitted to the Council “in coming months.” The High Commissioner should fulfill the mandated entrusted to her by the Human Rights Council more than three years ago by releasing the data well before the September Council session. States should speak out collectively this session to support prompt release of the database and to reaffirm the international consensus on the illegality of settlements, as well as to defend the independence and credibility of the High Commissioner’s Office as it faces censorship pressure.

We regret that a number of Western states have declined to address these important issues because of their concerns about agenda item 7. At the last session though, when the lead sponsors tabled the accountability resolution under item 2, it received even less support from Western states than when presented under item 7, suggesting that their concerns may be less about the particular agenda item than about shielding Israel from accountability.  Procedural concerns should not impede discussion of important human rights issues on their merits.

 

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

It was a spectacle unlike anything else seen here in Geneva while I was attending the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Philippine delegation, led by Undersecretary Severo Catura, walked out during an informal session on June 25 to discuss the Iceland-initiated resolution on the Philippines. Catura had just delivered a long, blistering attack against the resolution, in which he accused Iceland and others of bullying the Philippines.

Three days later, inside the same room for another round of informal discussions on the resolution, Rosario Manalo, a former top Philippine diplomat to the Asean, accused Iceland and other countries that support the resolution of hypocrisy and interfering in the affairs of the Philippines. She lambasted Philippine human rights groups, calling them treacherous and accusing them of being paid to do their human rights work.

The resolution is modest. It asks the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the human rights situation in the Philippines and urges the Philippine government to cooperate by allowing UN experts to visit the country.

Yet the behavior of top Philippine officials and government supporters before the world’s preeminent human rights body was not only shocking and irresponsible—it showed the Duterte administration’s desperation to deflect the issues raised in the resolution. These officials have been waging a deceitful disinformation campaign to block the passage of the resolution, which the Human Rights Council will likely vote on before the session ends on July 12.

The government claims that the Philippine National Police is investigating the thousands of killings in the country’s “drug war” and cites all sorts of figures. But the fact is that since President Duterte began his antidrug campaign in June 2016, only one case—out of the official death toll of more than 6,600 and other estimates of 27,000—has resulted in the criminal conviction of police officers.

The Department of Justice has fewer than 100 cases in various stages of investigation and prosecution. The government and police fail to mention that most of the cases against police officers they say are being investigated are merely administrative—not criminal—cases, and that the strictest punishment is reassignment to another post or removal from service. In fact, police officials involved in the “drug war” are more likely to be promoted than disciplined.

The government also extols the country’s human rights legislation and internal rights systems. Yes, the Philippines has a number of good human rights laws—on paper. And there is not just a national human rights commission, but also human rights offices in both the police and the military. But the issue has always been political will and enforcement. The Philippines has had a poor human rights record even before Mr. Duterte became president, because the government institutions needed to protect and promote human rights have failed in their responsibilities.

Duterte’s actions have been particularly egregious. He has instigated the police killings and incited the public’s response in urging the “drug war” killings, and assured law enforcement officers that those implicated in abuses will have his protection. He even promised to pardon police officers who are convicted.

Finally, the government asserts that it has made inroads in protecting the rights of women and children and that it has reduced crime and poverty, among others. These may well be the case, but it cites these gains as if improvements in one area justify abuses in others. They don’t.

Governments responsible for grave abuses almost invariably try to put a spin on their records before international bodies. But the mountain of evidence gathered by domestic and international human rights groups, the media and even by government bodies such as the Commission on Human Rights would make contesting those findings an impossible undertaking. That, more than anything, explains why the Philippine government is resorting to harassment and vilification. One hopes the UN member countries will recognize that as well.

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

The Cambodian government accepted 173 UPR recommendations but rejected key recommendations on civil and political rights. This is not surprising, as the Hun Sen government is in the midst of its biggest attack in a generation on the media, NGOs, opposition politicians, and critical voices. As an excuse for these violations, the government  claims that the executive “does not interfere in the works of judges and prosecutors.”

The Cambodian people were deprived of free and fair national elections in 2018. After the government-controlled courts dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the ruling Cambodian People’s Party took all the seats in the National Assembly, effectively turning Cambodia into a one-party state. Longtime opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in exile after politically motivated convictions, while the CNRP president, Kem Sokha, remains under house arrest after a year in jail on trumped-up treason charges.

We are appalled to read the government’s false claim that there are currently no political prisoners in Cambodia; in fact there are more than 35.  Since the beginning of 2019, local authorities and prosecutors have summoned over 145 former local opposition officials and activists. Activists and journalists continue to risk harassment and imprisonment for their work and bravely speaking out. Criticism of the government on Facebook has resulted in arrests.

During its previous UPR in 2014, the government committed to revise existing laws to meet international standards, but instead it has since adopted new repressive legislation and amended other laws to further restrict  freedom of expression, assembly and association. This includes the NGO law, the Trade Union Law, the Telecommunications Law, a lese majeste clause in the penal code, amendments to the Constitution and a national decree allowing the authorities to remove and block content online on the basis of undefined and broad grounds. We are also concerned about the announcement of a “fake news” and cybersecurity bill, which could mean the end of online freedom in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government should reverse course and accept all UPR recommendations related to civil and political rights, including dropping all politically motivated criminal charges, releasing political prisoners, and amending or repealing repressive laws that restrict basic rights. This Council should hold them to account if they fail to do so. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am