Click to expand Image A man walks past buildings on Bhasan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh on December 19, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Saleh Noman

(New York) – Bangladesh authorities beat refugees protesting their detention on Bhasan Char Island with sticks and tree branches, Human Rights Watch said today. Naval officers allegedly beat the refugees, including children, in retribution for their hunger strike beginning on September 21, 2020 to demand reunification with their families in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

The beatings occurred while the Bangladesh government reportedly formed a committee to begin relocation of 10,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, despite widespread concerns over the island’s habitability.

“In a darkly ironic attempt to portray Bhasan Char as a safe location, Bangladesh authorities beat Rohingya refugees, including children, who were protesting their detention and begging to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The real way to show Bhasan Char is secure and habitable would be to allow United Nations experts to conduct an independent assessment of the island and to ensure that any relocation there is voluntary.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight refugees who went on the hunger strike.

“Navy personnel used tree branches and black rubber sticks to beat us,” one refugee said. “They beat the protesting women and men, and even the children who were standing with their mothers.” Human Rights Watch examined photos that showed injuries sustained by refugees because of beatings, but was unable to find out whether they received medical care for their injuries.

In video accounts received and analyzed by Human Rights Watch, one Rohingya woman on hunger strike said: “We don’t want food, what we want is to go back to our families.… It’s better to die than to live here.”

The refugees went on hunger strike just days after the government organized a “go and see” visit in which 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, including community leaders and some family members of those being held on the island, were taken to Bhasan Char for 3 days. During the visit, refugees detained on the island pleaded to be allowed to return home with their relatives. Delegation members reported concerns over conditions on the island, including inadequate medical facilities, restrictions on freedom of movement, lack of opportunities for livelihoods, and fears about safety during monsoon season.

One refugee who joined the hunger strike said that the navy personnel told them that even if the refugees were returned to the camps in Cox’s Bazar, those who organized the hunger strike would be kept behind. After the authorities beat them, the refugees ended their hunger strike, but said they had not given up hope of returning to their families in the camps. 

Human Rights Watch has previously documented alleged torture and abuse by authorities on Bhasan Char. However, the Bangladesh government has for months refused to allow a promised UN protection visit to the island to provide urgent services to the over 300 refugees who have been detained there since they were brought ashore after months stranded at sea.

The government has also reneged on repeated promises to await clearance from UN agencies and independent technical experts on emergency preparedness, habitability, and safety of the island before relocating Rohingya there. Any decision to relocate Rohingya to Bhasan Char, after the completion of technical assessments, needs to be voluntary and fully informed, Human Rights Watch said.

A government committee formed in late September to manage the relocation of refugees to Bhasan Char appears to be the latest effort to push through a relocation process in contravention of basic rights protections and despite repeated concerns raised by the UN and humanitarian experts.

The arbitrary detention of hundreds of refugees on a possibly uninhabitable remote island without access to humanitarian assistance or basic services violates Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations to provide security, freedom of movement, access to medical care and education, and the right to a livelihood.

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was rightly celebrated for welcoming refugees from Myanmar, but her government is now holding desperate men, women, and children on Bhasan Char,” Adams said. “If UN experts find the island to be safe and habitable, and refugees’ rights are respected, then people may freely choose to relocate there. But beating people up for seeking to reunite with their families is completely unacceptable.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 1, 2020, 9:34 pm
Click to expand Image A cross marks graves near the Biaro refugee camp, an estimated 42 kilometers south of Kisangani, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, May 18, 1997. The discovery of a number of mass graves prompted investigations that led to the United Nations mapping report published on October 1, 2010. © 1997 John Moore/AP Photo

(Kinshasa) – The Congolese authorities and the United Nations have not done enough to hold human rights violators to account and deliver justice to victims a decade after the landmark UN Congo Mapping Exercise Report was published in October 2010, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

The mapping report documented more than 600 incidents of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo between March 1993 and June 2003.

“The failure to identify and put in place adequate mechanisms to provide justice and reparations has left thousands of victims and their families helpless,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa. “As a consequence, widespread impunity continues to reign in Congo and the wider region, contributing to the recurrence of killings and other serious crimes.”

President Felix Tshisekedi should make the fight against impunity a priority for his administration and take meaningful steps to hold those responsible for past and present human rights violations accountable, the organizations said.

The UN commissioned the Congo mapping project following the discovery of three mass graves in North Kivu province, eastern Congo, in 2005 and published its findings on October 1, 2010.

The Congo Mapping Exercise Report describes serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, concluding that a majority of the documented abuses qualified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

With reference to particular events between 1996 and 1997, the report raised the question of whether certain crimes committed by Rwandan troops and their Congolese ally, the Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaïre (Democratic Forces Alliance for the Liberation of Congo-Zaïre) rebel group, against Rwandan Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutu citizens could be classified as “crimes of genocide.” It specified that a competent court should make this determination.

All violations and abuses documented in the report were committed by a range of actors, including foreign armies, rebel groups, and Congolese government forces, in waves of violence that engulfed the country between 1993 and 2003.

In addition to exposing serious violations and abuses, the researchers assessed the capacity of Congo’s justice system to adequately address the documented crimes, and proposed reforms and alternative judicial mechanisms that could deliver justice and reparation. But none of the mapping report’s recommendations have been carried out, and most of the documented crimes remain unpunished.

Although efforts have been made to investigate and prosecute grave crimes over the last 10 years, mostly through military courts, they have confirmed serious shortcomings in the domestic justice system. While in 2004 the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened investigations over serious crimes committed in Congo after July 1, 2002, many of the events described in the mapping report occurred before that date.

The ICC has convicted three former rebel leaders for atrocities committed in Ituri in 2002-2003, but the Congo cases brought before the ICC have failed to address accountability by senior political and military officials.

“The UN Mapping Report remains a powerful reminder of the crimes committed in Congo, the shocking absence of justice, and the consequences of impunity,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ten years on, the Congolese authorities and international partners should take serious steps to strengthen the domestic justice system and establish an internationalized mechanism that will ensure credible and independent justice for past and present crimes.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 1, 2020, 8:30 am
Click to expand Image Child labor in an informal gold mine in Ghana, where health risks are significant. © UNICEF/UNI190047/Quarmyne ©

(Berlin) – A German law that would require companies to exercise due diligence throughout their supply chains could greatly benefit children’s rights, Human Rights Watch, Kindernothilfe, Plan International Germany, Save the Children, Terre des hommes, UNICEF Germany, and World Vision said today in a joint briefing paper. The organizations called upon the government to introduce a robust supply chains law during this legislative period.

Joint Briefing (German) Joint Briefing (German)

The organizations set out how around the world boys and girls experience a wide range of rights abuses in global supply chains, including child labor as well as environmental harm, lack of health and safety measures, and labor rights violations against their parents. Protecting the rights of all workers and communities, including adults, in supply chains is critical to protecting the rights of children.

“From pesticide poisoning in Brazil to child exploitation in Tanzania’s gold mines, children’s rights are violated at the bottom of global supply chains,” said Maike Röttger, national director of Plan International Germany. “Companies should be required to ensure that the rights of boys and girls are respected along the entire supply chain as well, from raw material through manufacturing and retail.”

The organizations emphasized that companies have a special responsibility to identify, address, and remedy children’s rights’ risks in supply chains. A German government survey assessing implementation of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights illustrates how voluntary company measures are insufficient. Over 80 percent of German businesses are not fulfilling their due diligence responsibilities, the survey found. The coalition agreement set out by the governing parties foresees the adoption of a supply chains law in response to companies’ failure to implement the National Action Plan sufficiently on a voluntary basis.

In July 2020, the minister of labor and social affairs, Hubertus Heil, and the minister of economic development cooperation, Gerd Müller, announced that they were putting forth a law to make the conduct of human rights due diligence throughout global supply chains mandatory. However, their initiative is faced with significant opposition. Negotiations are stalled and an agreement is yet to be reached.

“Voluntary company measures have failed,” said Juliane Kippenberg, child rights associate director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should not wait any longer to make respect for human rights a legal requirement for companies. Respect for children’s rights needs to be part of any company’s human rights due diligence.”

For a supply chains law to be effective, it should include liabilities for companies, ensure that abuse victims – including children – have access to remedies, and cover businesses with 250 or more employees and those from particularly risky sectors, the groups said.

The groups called upon the German government to fulfil its national and international duty to protect human rights and child rights, and to lead by example. Several well-known companies in Germany explicitly support a law requiring human rights and environmental due diligence along the whole supply chain.

“Many companies support effective human rights due diligence legislation to ensure that human rights and child rights are protected in their supply chains,” said Sebastian Sedlmayr, head of advocacy and program at UNICEF Germany. “Such a law would create legal certainty and would no longer disadvantage champions of sustainability and responsible business conduct. ”

Additional Information on the Joint NGO Briefing Paper

The briefing paper includes five case studies on child rights violations in global supply chains connected to the German market:

In Brazil, children have suffered acute poisoning when pesticides sprayed on large plantations have drifted into classrooms and residential areas. About half of the pesticides are supplied by foreign companies, including German businesses. In Bangladesh’s garment factories, about 30 percent of workers say their wages are insufficient to pay for educational and health services for their children. Several German clothing brands produce in Bangladesh. Bauxite mining companies in Guinea have expropriated farmlands without adequate compensation, making it harder for many families to feed their children. The mining has also caused water scarcity in nearby communities. German car companies source some of their bauxite from Guinea. About 40 percent of the cocoa produced worldwide comes from Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa plantations, where hazardous child labor – including the handling of chemicals by children – is common. Children have died and been injured during their work in small gold mines in Ghana, the Philippines, and other countries. Yet, gold refineries supplying the global gold market have sometimes sourced the mineral without adequate human rights due diligence measures in place.
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 1, 2020, 8:00 am

(Beirut) – Egyptian police and National Security Agency officers arbitrarily arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and detain them in inhuman conditions, systematically subject them to ill-treatment including torture, and often incite fellow inmates to abuse them, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces routinely pick people off the streets based solely on their gender expression, entrap them through social networking sites and dating applications, and unlawfully search their phones. Prosecutors use this content to justify prolonged detentions as they rubber-stamp police reports and bring unjustified prosecutions against them.

Human Rights Watch documented cases of torture, including severe and repeated beatings and sexual violence, in police custody, often under the guise of forced anal exams or “virginity tests.” Police and prosecutors also inflicted verbal abuse, extracted forced confessions, and denied detainees access to legal counsel and medical care. These detailed accounts, including from a 17-year-old girl, unavailable elsewhere, were provided against the backdrop of increased prosecutions for alleged same-sex conduct during the anti-LGBT crackdown that started after a 2017 Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo.

Sarah Hegazy, who was detained in 2017 after she raised a rainbow flag at the concert, said police tortured her and incited fellow detainees to beat and sexually harass her. She took her own life in June 2020, in exile in Canada. The cases documented in this report, as recent as August 2020, demonstrate that her mistreatment is part of a larger and systematic pattern of abuse against LGBT people in Egypt.

“Egyptian authorities seem to be competing for the worst record on rights violations against LGBT people in the region, while the international silence is appalling,” said Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Sarah Hegazy’s tragic death may have ignited waves of shock and solidarity worldwide, but Egypt has unabashedly continued to target and abuse LGBT people simply for who they are.”

In late August, Egyptian security forces, likely from the National Security Agency, arrested two men who witnessed a high-profile gang rape in Cairo’s Fairmont Nile City Hotel in 2014 and were to give evidence about the case. Officers unlawfully searched the men’s phones while holding them incommunicado at al-Tagamoa First Police Station, east of Cairo, for several days, and used photos they found to allege that they had engaged in same-sex conduct, to keep them in custody. Judges renewed their detention several times, and prosecutors subjected them to forced anal examinations, a practice which Egyptian authorities routinely carry out to seek “proof” of same-sex conduct, despite it being denounced as abusive and in violation of international law. The two men could face charges under Egypt’s “debauchery” laws.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, authorities have long waged a campaign of arrests and prosecutions against those whose perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity does not conform to heteronormative values and the gender binary. Human rights groups have documented wide-scale abuses in the wake of a September 2017 concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay and which performs songs that support sexual and gender diversity. At the concert, activists, including Hegazy and Ahmed Alaa, raised a rainbow flag, a symbol of LGBT pride. Several LGBT Egyptians said that after the August arrests in the Fairmont case, they feared the crackdown would only intensify, and several had fled the country.

Human Rights Watch, assisted by a Cairo-based LGBT rights organization whose name is withheld for security reasons, interviewed 15 people, including LGBT people prosecuted between 2017 and 2020 under vague and discriminatory “debauchery” and “prostitution” laws, as well as two lawyers who represented the victims in these cases and two LGBT rights activists. The victims include a 17-year-old girl.

All of those interviewed said police verbally harassed and subjected them to physical abuse ranging from slapping to being water-hosed and tied up for days, and nine said police officers incited other detainees to abuse them. Eight were victims of sexual violence, and four said they were denied medical care. Eight said that police forced them to sign confessions. All victims were held in pretrial detention for prolonged periods, in one case up to four months, often without access to legal counsel.

One man said that upon his arrest in Ramses, Cairo in 2019, police officers beat him senseless, then made him stand for three days in a dark and unventilated room with his hands and feet tied with a rope: “They didn’t let me go to the bathroom. I had to wet my clothes and even shit in them. I still had no idea why I was arrested.”

A woman said that after being arbitrarily detained at a protest in Cairo in 2018, police officers subjected her to three “virginity” tests at different times in detention: “A woman officer grabbed and squeezed my breasts, grabbed my vagina and looked inside it, opened my anus and inserted her hand inside so deep that I felt she pulled something out of me. I bled for three days and could not walk for weeks. I couldn’t go to the bathroom, and I developed medical conditions that I still suffer from today.”

Police forced three men, a transgender girl, and a transgender woman to undergo anal examinations. In one case, after a man presented his disability card to the police, officers inserted the card up his anus.

One activist remarked on the impunity with which security forces perpetuate abuses against LGBT people: “Police are individuals. Each of them has an idea of torture that he carries out with impunity. The only difference in torture and assault techniques are due to their personal preferences.”

Malak el-Kashif, 20, a transgender woman and human rights activist, was arbitrarily detained for four months, sexually harassed, and abused in a male prison in 2019. An administrative court in May 2020 dismissed the appeal her lawyer filed requesting the Interior Ministry to provide separate detention facilities for transgender detainees in accordance with their gender identity.

The conditions of detention for transgender people can be detrimental to their physical and mental health. Human Rights Watch has previously documented that trans women detainees are likely to face sexual assault and other forms of ill-treatment when placed in men’s cells.

Egypt has repeatedly rejected recommendations by several countries to end arrests and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Most recently, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, Egypt refused to recognize the existence of LGBT people, flouting its obligation to protect the rights of all within its jurisdiction without discrimination.

Egyptian security forces should end arrests and prosecutions for adult, consensual sexual relations, including same-sex conduct, or based on gender expression, and immediately release LGBT people who remain arbitrarily detained, Human Rights Watch said. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should order his government to put an end to security forces’ practices of torture and other ill-treatment, including by banning the use of “virginity tests” and forced anal exams.

Egypt should extend an open invitation to UN human rights experts to scrutinize its protections against torture and other forms of abuse, and fully cooperate with their missions.

Wherever transgender people are detained, authorities should ensure that they can choose to be housed in a facility in accordance with their gender identity or in a segregated housing unit reserved exclusively for transgender people. Under no circumstances should transgender people be held in solitary confinement for lack of alternatives, Human Rights Watch said.

“Morality and public order are hijacked, not preserved, when security forces arbitrarily arrest people and subject them to life-altering abuse in detention,” Younes said. “Egypt’s partners should halt support to its abusive security forces until the country takes effective steps to end this cycle of abuse, so that LGBT people can live freely in their country.”

Abuse, Torture, Sexual Violence in Police Custody

The nature of the arrests and prosecutions documented by Human Rights Watch, and Egypt’s official statements denying LGBT rights, suggest a coordinated policy – at the very least acquiesced to, if not directed by senior government officials – to persecute LGBT people. As a police officer told a man arrested in early 2019, his arrest was part of an operation to “clean the streets of faggots.” These accounts of torture and abuse present further evidence of the deeply rooted, pervasive use of torture by the Interior Ministry and the level of impunity afforded to its officers. In a 2017 report, Human Rights Watch found that widespread and systematic torture crimes in Egypt probably amount to crimes against humanity.

In reviewing judicial files for 13 cases of people prosecuted under “debauchery” and “prostitution” laws between 2017 and 2020, Human Rights Watch found that Egyptian authorities had arbitrarily arrested seven men by entrapping them on dating apps (Grindr) and social media (Facebook and WhatsApp). Police randomly picked up five men because of what the authorities described as “feminine and gay gestures” and one transgender woman due to her “abnormal appearance.”

Authorities held 11 men in pretrial detention pending investigation, in some cases for months, then sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three months to six years. Appellate courts dismissed charges against eight of the men and reversed their convictions and upheld the convictions of two men but reduced their sentences. In one case, a man spent a year in prison, having been convicted of “debauchery” because he was unable to afford legal counsel to appeal his conviction.

One woman was subjected to three “virginity tests” during her detention and the authorities forced three men, a transgender girl, and a transgender woman to undergo anal examinations. “Virginity” and anal tests constitute cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture and sexual assault under international human rights law. They violate medical ethics, are internationally discredited, and lack scientific validity to “prove” same-sex conduct or “virginity.” The Egyptian Medical Syndicate has taken no steps to prevent doctors from conducting these degrading and abusive exams.

In the following accounts, some of the victims are identified with pseudonyms for their protection, indicated by use of quotation marks around the name in the case headings.

“Yasser,” 27

In September 2019, Yasser said, he met another man in Giza Center City after chatting with him on Grindr, a same-sex dating application. Police officers approached them, accused them of “selling alcohol,” and arrested them:

They took me to the “morality ward” and kept me until 4 a.m. in a tiny room with no food or water. They took my phone and belongings. When they came back with a police report, I was surprised to see the guy I met on Grindr is one of the officers. They beat me and cursed me until I signed papers that said I was “practicing debauchery” and publicly announcing it to fulfill my “unnatural sexual desires.”

The next day, Yasser said, police officers took him to the prosecutor’s office in Dokki, a district in Giza City. The prosecutor told him, “You’re the cheap faggot they caught, son of a disgusting whore, do you fuck or get fucked?” He then renewed Yasser’s detention for four days:

They took me to Dokki Police Station, beat me so hard I lost consciousness, then threw me in a cell with other prisoners. They told them: “He’s a faggot” and told me “Careful not to get pregnant.” I stayed one week in that cell, and between the beatings by officers and assaults by other detainees, I thought I would not survive.

After a week, Yasser said, police officers took him to Giza Central Prison, inside the Giza Central Security Forces Camp:

They announced my charges as soon as I walked in, took turns beating me, and yelled heinous profanities at me. They put me in solitary confinement. I asked why, the officer said: “Because you’re a bastard faggot, I will leave you here so these men can fuck you all they want.” I had to bribe soldiers so they would stop torturing and humiliating me.

On September 30, Yasser had his first court hearing at Dokki Misdemeanor Court in Giza. The judge acquitted him:

When I went back to get the paperwork from the station, I was surprised that the prosecution had appealed the decision. I eventually found a lawyer and he appealed my case, and the verdict was again “innocent.” My family stopped talking to me, my brother threatened to kill me, I was too afraid to walk on the street. I lost everything. I didn’t even have money to leave the country.

“Salim,” 25

Salim was arbitrarily detained twice. In early 2019, Salim said, he was meeting a friend at night in Ramses, Cairo, when police officers approached him and demanded to see his ID. Police told Salim they were “cleaning the streets of faggots,” and proceeded to beat him “with all their might,” then handcuffed him and threw him in a police vehicle, he said. They took him to Azbakeya Police Station, and confiscated his phone, money, and personal belongings:

A dozen officers started beating me from every direction, so much that I couldn’t tell which ones were beating me and which ones were cursing me. They took me to a tiny room, made me stand in the dark with my hands and feet tied with a rope. They made me stand this way for three days. They didn’t let me go to the bathroom. I had to wet my clothes and even shit in them. I still had no idea why I was arrested. At that moment, I wished they would go back to beating me instead of tying me up like this.

After the third day, Salim said, a police officer took him to another room and made him sign a piece of paper without reading it. When he asked what he was signing, the officer threatened him with rape and said: “If you want to leave, sign the papers.” After he signed, Salim said officers threw him in a crowded cell. The next day, the same officers took him to the Azbakeya prosecutor’s office. They said, “If you say anything about what happened, you will never see the sun again.”

Salim said:

I told the prosecutor I didn’t know my charges or why I was there. They took me back to the station and threw me in a cage for three hours and beat me there too. Then they ordered me to leave the station. I asked for my phone and money, but they beat me and kicked me out.

A month later, Salim was randomly arrested again on the street, searched, and detained overnight.

In December 2019, a judge of the Abbasiya Court acquitted him of charges of “debauchery,” which had been brought against him when he was arrested for the second time.

Malak el-Kashif, 20

On March 6, 2019, security forces arrested Malak el-Kashif, a political activist and transgender woman, six days after she participated in a protest in Cairo. She said police arrested her at her home in Cairo at 2 a.m., dragged her by her clothes on the street, and beat her. They took her to al-Haram Police Station:

They put me in a cage-like cell, pending investigation. I was singing to calm myself down. During the police investigation, they asked me about my private life, my sex-reassignment surgery, my trans identity, and my relationship with [LGBT activists] Sarah Hegazy, Ahmed Alaa, and Mashrou’ Leila! They made me sign a police report without allowing me to read what they had written.

State Security prosecutors ordered el-Kashif detained for 15 days pending an investigation on accusations of “misusing social media,” a charge used widely in Egypt against peaceful dissidents:

I was detained for 15 days in al-Haram Police Station, in a cell the size of a freezer. I suffered the worst verbal abuse I have ever encountered by police officers and they forbade me from going to the bathroom for two days. They subjected me to a forced anal exam. They sexually assaulted me.

She was then placed in solitary confinement in the Mazr’a Tora men’s prison for 135 days:

When I found out I was going to a men’s prison I felt like the world was ending. I had to strip in front of men three different times. For 120 days, I did not see the sun and was not allowed any visitors except my parents, whom I had left seven years prior and did not want to see. I failed my university exams because I was not allowed access until the last minute. Solitary confinement was the worst thing that ever happened to me, it was really affecting my mental health. I still have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social phobia, I’m not the person I was.

The police denied her lawyers’ requests to continue her hormone treatment and undergo further gender-affirming surgeries. She said that she had a metal rod in her left arm from a previous surgery, and that while detained, it got infected: “I was in excruciating pain, but they refused to provide medical treatment.” El-Kashif concluded:

Despite all this, I don’t want to leave Egypt. Sarah Hegazy’s sudden death shook our community in Egypt. She was a rare person. Very few people have been able to change their lives and the entire region like she did. She put queer rights on the leftist movement’s agenda. Her experience reminds me that my voice is needed in my society, I have a role to play and I won’t stop fighting.

Hossam Ahmed, 27

Hossam Ahmed, a transgender man, was arrested in a café in Cairo on February 28, 2019 and detained in an undisclosed location for four days before being presented to prosecutors on March 4. He was charged with “joining a terrorist group and misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.” Although a court ordered Ahmed released on September 15, 2020, he remained in pretrial detention for an additional week before he was eventually released on September 22.

Despite undergoing gender-affirming medical interventions, and his self-identification as a transgender man, Ahmed’s ID card says “female.” While he was detained in a women’s prison in Abdeen, Cairo, he said, he was subjected to physical examinations and prohibited from continuing his hormonal treatment and gender-affirming surgery.

Human Rights Watch obtained a statement he wrote from prison February 21, 2020, through a France-based LGBT rights organization:

Every day feels like a year. Everyone who enters here is scared of my [trans identity] and harasses me physically and emotionally. The police officers enjoy harassing me. They call me by the name on my ID. The women detained alongside me here tell the officers, “His name is Hossam.” The officers beat and torture these women to make them say that I did things that never happened. We sleep on a rotten and smelly mattress with no covers. The government only sends us bread. But all the food comes from visitors. If I don’t get visitors for three days, I don’t eat for three days.

All I’m asking for is to be treated as a human being and be called Hossam. I’m so tired of being regularly brought to the hospital so they can check my genitals. My bones hurt, my knees are ruined, I have weird spots on my body, fleas and bugs and lice everywhere, and bite marks. I feel like I’ve been here for 100 years.

“Aya,” 28

Aya, a queer activist, was arrested by security forces in May 2018 while she was protesting price inflation. She said:

I had just arrived at the protest, and before I even held up my banner, a group of state security officers started beating me with batons, kicking and punching me. Even after I fell to the ground, they beat me until they ripped off my clothes.

Aya said she was taken to six police stations for interrogation and placed for a whole day in a metal mobile warehouse under scorching heat. “I could have died from suffocation,” she said.

She was then detained in al-Qanater Women’s Prison in Cairo. Police officers questioned her for 12 hours and repeatedly asked her if she was a virgin, she said. Authorities charged her with “joining a terrorist group aimed at interfering with the constitution” and detained her in a 3 by 2-meter cell with 45 other women. “The women had to beat and threaten each other to have space to sleep,” she said.

Aya said she was subjected to three “virginity” tests:

A male officer made me strip in front of all the other officers, I was sobbing, but he made me spread my legs and he looked into my vagina, and then he looked into my anus. He made me shower in front of him. A woman officer made me strip, grabbed and squeezed my breasts, grabbed my vagina, opened my anus and inserted her hand inside so deep that I felt she pulled something out of me. I bled for three days and could not walk for weeks. I couldn’t go to the bathroom, and I developed medical conditions that I still suffer from today. She also threw my food in the bathroom.

After two months, a court ordered Aya released subject to two years’ probation, during which she had to report to state security offices three days a week. At the offices during her court mandated check-ins, she was beaten, repeatedly sexually assaulted, humiliated, and harassed, she said:

I’m still being watched. Once you have a case against you in Egypt, it never goes away. They try us in Criminal Court because we “threaten society.” I saw what they did to transgender women in there, detaining them in a warehouse without ventilation, beating them, and sexually harassing them.

“Adham,” 22

In August 2018, Adham said he was waiting for his friend in Cairo when two men dressed in civilian clothing surrounded him:

They said they were investigative police, then grabbed my arms, took my ID, and searched my phone for same-sex dating apps. They beat and cursed me, then pressured me to show them my personal photos.

Police officers found a screenshot of a conversation between Adham and a friend and recorded it in their notebook as what they called an “inappropriate sexual conversation.” When he tried to explain, an officer grabbed him in a chokehold while the other officer severely beat him and addressed him with the “most horrific profanities,” he said. They then dragged him and threw him into a bus:

They took me to Abdeen Police Station, said they would let me go once they checked my ID, but then kept me for two hours in an inhumane room. They beat me so violently that I fell to the ground and [they] humiliated me. A police officer saw that I was wearing a cross, ordered me to remove it, and took a photo of me carrying a sheet with my full name and the word “debauchery” written underneath.

Adham said police officers tried to force him to sign a statement he had not written that included admission of “immorality and incitement to debauchery,” “sex trade,” and “attempting to satisfy forbidden sexual desires with men in exchange for money.” When he refused, several officers attacked him from behind and started punching, slapping, and stomping their boots all over his body. He said:

They dragged me by my clothes to a cell with other detainees, and said “I will make them fuck you, you faggot scum.” The other detainees verbally and sexually assaulted me.

The next day, police officers took Adham to the prosecutor’s office in Qasr El-Nil in downtown Cairo, where he was ordered released. However, the police did not comply, and took him back to Abdeen Police Station:

When I went back to the cell, an officer sexually assaulted me, and when I pushed him away, he threatened to put fake photos on my phone to indict me.

On September 23, 2018 a court in Cairo sentenced Adham to six months in prison and six months’ probation for “debauchery.” On appeal, a court dismissed the charges against him, though they remained on his criminal record until April 2019, preventing him from traveling or securing employment.

“Alaa,” 37

In April 2018, Alaa said he and his friend were approached by police when they were waiting at a bank in Cairo. Alaa presented his ID, and police officers ran a search and found that he had been arrested in 2007. Alaa said that the earlier arrest seemed random because police found no evidence against him, but that even so, a judge sentenced him to three years in prison on “debauchery” charges, which he ended up serving at the hospital in Wadi al-Natroun Prison 440, northwest of Cairo, after he told the prosecutor he was HIV-positive.

While detained in 2007, Alaa said, he received no HIV treatment until the last six months, when his case gained public attention and, even then, he was given expired medications. He said he still has to use a crutch because of injuries from being brutally beaten and serially raped by other detainees at the hospital.

In 2018, when police arrested Alaa again, he said, they did not say why, and at Bulaq Abu al-Ala Police Station, they beat him senseless and mocked his disability. He took out his disability card to show the officer, who told him to “shove it up his ass.” “I thought he was joking,” Alaa said, “but then he actually ordered another officer to insert the card in my ass, which he did. I was praying to God to take me away. I wanted to die. I wanted the ground to swallow me alive.”

Alaa said the prosecutor refused to listen to his testimony and proceeded to verbally harass and threaten him with forced anal examinations. The prosecutor questioned him based on the police report, which Alaa said he signed under pressure. It stated that Alaa and his male friend, who was also arrested, “have sex with each other and were arguing in public over money related to their engagement in sex work.”

The prosecution ordered Alaa and his friend to undergo a forced anal exam: “The forensic doctor forcibly inserted his fingers and another object into my anus. I was humiliated beyond words.”

Alaa described being beaten, humiliated, and sexually assaulted by officers and detainees at the Bulaq Abu al-Ala Detention Center. He said: “The officer was imposing his authority as though he was a God punishing his servants.”

The men were detained for 26 days, pending trial. In court, Alaa said, the judge told him: “You are ruining Egypt. Find someone else to raise your children, I swear I will keep you in prison until you’re 36 years old and ruin your life.” The judge sentenced Alaa and his friend to six years in prison and six additional years of probation.

The appeals judge reduced the sentences to six months in prison and six additional months of probation. The 2 men spent a total of 6 months and 26 days in prison:

To this day, I still don’t know the basis of my detention. I lost everything. I tried to submit a complaint with the police, then I realized that we are cockroaches to them, not humans. I knew I had to leave Egypt. All I want is to wake up and feel safe.

“Hamed,” 25

Hamed was arbitrarily detained three times in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

In 2017, he was on the street with a friend in Cairo when officers demanded their IDs and their phones, he said. When police found out about the previous “debauchery” and “prostitution” charges against them, Hamed said, they beat them to force them to unlock their phones:

At the police station, the officer told me, “I will throw you to the soldiers and they will gang rape you.” I had a chain around my neck and the officer grabbed it and choked me with it until it came loose. He handcuffed me and made me kneel on the ground. Then he beat me with the back end of his rifle, pointed a knife at me and a small bag filled with drugs. He said, “I will plant this on you.” I opened the phone, and the officer downloaded several same-sex dating applications and then he uploaded random pornographic pictures that he took from the internet, then forced me to sign a police report.

The next day, Hamed met with the prosecutor, who ordered a forensic doctor to subject him to a forced anal exam: “I was stripped. The forensic doctor inserted an object into my anus. It hurt so much that I couldn’t stop screaming.” Hamed said he lied and said he had AIDS so the officers would not touch him.

Hamed was held in pretrial detention in a prison in Nasr City, east of Cairo, for three months. He said police officers beat him every day, sexually assaulted, and constantly insulted him. At the trial, the court sentenced Hamed to six years in prison. An appeals court reduced his sentence to six months in prison, after which he was released, subject to six more months’ probation:

I still face security problems because police officers leaked my case to the press and posted it online. I can’t find a job, even though the charges against me were dropped. I do not have any freedom in my country. My dream is to leave Egypt, but I can’t before I remove the cases against me, and I don’t have money for bribes.

Ahmed Alaa, 24

Alaa was arrested a few days after the Mashrou’ Laila concert, on October 1, 2017, his 21st birthday, in the northern city of Damietta. Ten police officers dressed in civilian clothing attacked him on the street, beat him, and took his phone while he was waiting for a friend in a car. They did not identify themselves. “I thought it was a prank,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what they were after.”

After the beating, some of the police forcibly took him to Damietta Prison, he said. In the police car, officers slapped him. They did not inform him of the reason for his arrest, and during the first interrogation by National Security officers at the prison, which lasted seven hours, he had no lawyer.

Alaa said they placed him in a “cage-like cell” overnight. He slept on a wooden plank, handcuffed, was not given food or water, and was escorted to the bathroom and not allowed to close the door.

He said during the police interrogation, the officer asked him: “Are you a faggot?” “Why did you do this to yourself?” “Have you read the Quran?” “Have you ever practiced anal sex?”

They also asked if he had raised a rainbow flag at the concert, to which he said yes, and stated that he supports everyone’s rights to express themselves. The officer responded: “Democracy is a sin” and “You will be in prison for a very long time.”

He was transferred to al-Qanater Men’s Prison in Cairo where he was further interrogated by other police:

I was interrogated by three officers at this prison, who insulted and cursed me. They said I was a faggot and drug addict. They threatened me with inciting prisoners to rape me if I didn’t confess to having had sex with men, but I didn’t. I just wanted to go to the prison cell and cry.

Four officers then watched him take his clothes off while directing homophobic slurs at him, he said. They placed him in solitary confinement, claiming that it was for his protection:

The cell was underground, no windows, no light, no bed, no ventilation, a dirty blanket, two bottles of water, and a loaf of bread. I was not allowed to leave the cell for 10 days. I cried myself to sleep, sang to calm myself down, and didn’t want to wake up the next day.

On the fifth day of his solitary confinement, the officers took him for another interrogation, this time with Hegazy, who was also detained for raising a rainbow flag at the same Mashrou’ Leila concert, and facing the same charge – allegedly “joining a banned group aimed at interfering with the constitution” and “inciting debauchery:”

I felt comforted by her presence, she smiled and told me to stay strong. We sang Mashrou’ Leila songs together. Sarah was talking to the Islamists, asking them questions and listening attentively. She treated everyone with humanity.

After the interrogation, Alaa said, an officer pinned him down while another one shaved his head. As he was taken back to the cell, prisoners told him, “If they let you outside, I will find you and rape you,” and “I haven’t touched anyone in five years and you will suck my long dick,” he said. Alaa said one of the officers forced him to touch his genitals.

He was then transferred to the morality ward in another prison and placed in a cell with seven inmates. “We took turns sleeping. Four at a time would sleep, and three would stand, so we could fit,” he said.

After three months of pretrial detention, on January 1, 2018, a judge ordered Alaa and Hegazy released on bail. Despite the order to release him, Alaa said, National Security agents detained him for an additional 10 days in an undisclosed location, without a legal basis, to “terrorize” him:

I was told that if I wanted to be released, I should “act dead” and get very sick. I went on a hunger strike for the last two days. I wanted to faint so they would release me. I was prepared to end my life if they prolonged my detention. If I had died there, no one would have been held accountable.

“Murad,” 28

In 2017, while Murad was walking to his university in Alexandria at 10 a.m., a police officer, scrutinizing his appearance, said: “Do you want to give me your phone or come with me to the station?” Murad said that the officer then “searched my phone and found private photos of me dressed as a woman. He said: ‘You’re a faggot. Your parents didn’t know how to discipline you, so I will show you what discipline looks like.’”

Murad said that police officers beat him, verbally abused him, and coerced him to confess that he had had sex with a man. They accused him of “imitating women” and addressed him with female pronouns derogatorily.

Murad was detained at Burj al-Arab Prison near Alexandria, in an overcrowded and unsanitary cell. “It was impossible to find space to sleep,” he said. Prison guards beat him and threatened to kill him, and detainees gang raped him in his cell while security guards did nothing to protect him, he said.

A court sentenced Murad to one year in prison for “inciting debauchery”:

I still cannot find a job. I cannot travel. My only wish is to be like my siblings, free and living without a criminal record.

“Hanan,” 20

In September 2017, when Hanan, a trans woman, was a 17-year-old girl, Egyptian security forces entrapped her through social media and arbitrarily arrested her in a Cairo restaurant, she said:

I had been talking to a man on Facebook and he asked to see me. We met at a restaurant three days before the Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. I had a ticket to the concert in my backpack. I arrived to find four men dressed in civilian clothing waiting for me. I knew I was being arrested.

Hanan said police officers searched her phone, logged into Grindr through her Facebook account, and created a fake chat to upload pictures of her as a woman. She was not told of any charges against her. She said she was made to strip in front of officers at the police station, who examined her body and asked her private questions, such as: “Do you shave?” “How did you get breasts?” “Why do you have long hair?” “Why do you have a ticket to a Mashrou’ Leila concert?”

After hours of verbal abuse, Hanan said, she stopped responding to questions. Then, officers began beating her:

They slapped me, kicked me with their boots, dragged me by my clothes until they ripped apart. I was sobbing and couldn’t talk. The officers would slap me and stab me with their pens to force me to speak. They threatened to make me undergo a forced anal exam. I told them to go ahead, I had nothing to hide. They then ordered a forensic doctor to subject me to the anal exam.

At the prosecutor’s office, Hanan was asked about the pictures on her phone. She denied that it was her, but the prosecutor said: “Even the pictures of you dressed as a man incriminate you. You either confess now or you will never leave,” she said. “He was cursing me and screaming at me, but I refused to confess,” she said. The prosecutor then said: “I will keep you detained for three days so you can think about it.”

Hanan said:

I was detained in a cage under a stairway [at the prosecutor’s office], it wasn’t even a prison cell, [but merely] a 3 by 2-meters tiny room, with 25 gay and transgender people. They refused to let me call anyone or hire a lawyer. I couldn’t sleep, I was delirious, in shock, I felt like I had to be alert or they would kill me. I cut my own hair with scissors so I could look normal when I was interrogated again.

After three days, Hanan said, she was transferred to a cell with men:

I was harassed, sexually assaulted, verbally abused, mocked. They touched me in my sleep. I stopped sleeping. The officers beat me and said, “We will teach you how to be a man.” They water-hosed me when I resisted their abuse.

“[Prosecutors] kept postponing my trial, first 15 days, then 2 months. I felt like I would never leave,” Hanan said. Hanan was held in pretrial detention for a total of 2 months and 15 days.

A court sentenced her to another month in prison for “inciting debauchery.” Despite being released for time served, the charge stayed on Hanan’s record for three years:

When I was being released, the officer asked me, “are you a top or a bottom?” I did not understand what he meant, so he kept me in detention for another night even though I was ordered released. The next day, he asked me again. I said “top.” He responded, “good boy.”

Egypt’s Legal Obligations

The abuses by Egyptian authorities against LGBT people documented here violate multiple fundamental rights, including their rights to privacy, bodily integrity and protection against inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, free movement, free expression, assembly and association, as well as their right to nondiscrimination and protection under the law.

The abuses violate not only Egypt’s obligations under international treaties to which it is a party, but the rights guaranteed in Egypt’s own constitution.

Egypt’s constitution sets out a number of fundamental due process rights. It prohibits warrantless arrests unless the person is caught in the act of a crime, requires a lawyer to be present during interrogations, and guarantees suspects the rights to remain silent, to be informed in writing of the reason for their arrest within 12 hours, to be brought before a prosecutor within 24 hours, and to contact a lawyer and family member.

The constitution prohibits torture, intimidation, coercion, and “physical or moral harming” of detainees and specifies that there is no statute of limitations on the crime of torture. It provides that a court should disregard any statement made under torture or threat of torture.

Egypt is a party to several international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. All these treaties strictly and absolutely prohibit torture, which includes a prohibition on the use of evidence obtained under torture. The ICCPR and the African Charter also set out fundamental due process rights for any person detained or facing criminal charges, similar to those in the constitution.

Under international human rights law, Egyptian authorities are required to protect women against all forms of violence, and have specific treaty obligations in this regard as a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Egypt’s constitution also requires protecting women from violence.

The Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity include the obligation that all states:

take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to prevent and provide protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, perpetrated for reasons relating to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim, as well as the incitement of such acts.

Prosecutions for consensual sex in private between adults violate the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination guaranteed under international law, including in the ICCPR. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has made clear that it is prohibited to discriminate based on sexual orientation in upholding any of the rights protected by the treaty. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that arrests for same-sex conduct between consenting adults are, by definition, arbitrary. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights explicitly calls on member states, including Egypt, to protect sexual and gender minorities in accordance with the African Charter.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 1, 2020, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image A police officer interrogating a youth, using techniques that ultimately pressured the youth to confess to a crime he did not commit.  ​ ©

(Sacramento) – A new California law will protect children in police custody, Human Rights Watch said today. The measure, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30, 2020, will make sure youth talk with an attorney while deciding whether to waive their rights and submit to police interrogation.

Long-established law requires that when police take a person into custody, they advise that person of their right to remain silent and that their responses to police questioning can be used against them in court (“Miranda warnings”). Children, whose brains are still developing, are less able than adults to understand complex legal ideas and the ramifications of submitting to questioning by police.

“Everyone has heard TV cops rattle off Miranda warnings, but in real life, most youth do not understand what those warnings mean or what can happen to them once they give up those rights,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Youth are particularly vulnerable to police tactics aimed at eliciting confessions. This new law will make sure that no child is left to figure out their options alone when facing the prospect of interrogation.”

Prior to recent changes in law, a child was allowed to give up important constitutional rights without understanding what those rights meant or the consequences of waiving them. In 2018, California began to bar police questioning for children in custody who are under the age of 16 until they have had an opportunity to understand their rights with the help of an attorney. The new law, Senate Bill 203 (Bradford), bans police custodial interrogation of any youth under age 18 until the young person has consulted with an attorney about their rights. The bill passed with bipartisan support, and two-thirds of policymakers in both the Senate and Assembly voted in favor.

Children have been allowed to give up their rights without understanding them, Human Rights Watch said. In one California case, a 10-year-old questioned by police said that he thought that the right to remain silent meant the “right to remain calm.”

The bill may also help prevent children from falsely confessing to crimes they did not commit, Human Rights Watch said. Children are much more likely than adults to make such confessions. A study of exonerations found that 42 percent of exonerated juveniles had falsely confessed, compared with 13 percent of adults. Many police departments use questioning techniques designed to elicit confessions.

Human Rights Watch, along with other children’s rights advocates and experts, had urged California’s legislature to pass this bill. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizes that children’s brain development, specifically the area related to reasoning, continues to mature well into early adulthood. Children and adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions, and the academy has advised that an attorney should be present with anyone under 18 during any police questioning.

“This new law means fewer false confessions and fewer wrongful convictions,” Calvin said. “We know there are police who get away with abusive interrogation techniques behind the closed door of an interrogation room. This law will make it a lot harder for them to harm children with those tactics.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: October 1, 2020, 12:00 am
Click to expand Image Amnesty International India headquarters in Bangalore, India. © 2019 AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi

(New York) – Amnesty International India announced that it is halting its work in the country after the Indian government froze its bank accounts in an act of reprisal for the organization’s human rights work. Fifteen international human rights organizations condemned the Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India and pledged to continue support for local human rights defenders and organizations against the recent crackdown.

The Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India are part of increasingly repressive tactics to shut down critical voices and groups working to promote, protect, and uphold fundamental rights, said the Association for Progressive Communications, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FORUM-ASIA, Foundation the London Story, Hindus for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group, Odhikar, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has accused Amnesty India of violating laws on foreign funding, a charge the group says is politically motivated and constitutes evidence “that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights defenders and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses.”

The BJP government has increasingly cracked down on civil society, harassing and bringing politically motivated cases against human rights defenders, academics, student activists, journalists, and others critical of the government under sedition, terrorism, and other repressive laws.

These actions increasingly mimic that of authoritarian regimes, which do not tolerate any criticism and shamelessly target those who dare to speak out. With growing criticism of the government’s discriminatory policies and attacks on the rule of law, the authorities seem more interested in shooting the messenger than addressing the grievances. Women’s rights activists and indigenous and minority human rights defenders have been especially vulnerable. The recent action against Amnesty India highlights the stepped-up pressure and violence felt by local defenders on the ground, regardless of their profile.

The authorities have repeatedly used foreign funding regulations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law broadly condemned for violating international human rights law and standards, to target outspoken groups. United Nations experts on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, and on freedom of association have urged the government to repeal the law, saying it is “being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

Yet, the Indian parliament amended the FCRA this month, adding further onerous governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements that would adversely affect civil society groups and effectively restrict access to foreign funding for small nongovernmental organizations.

A robust, independent, and vocal civil society is indispensable in any democracy to ensure a check on government and to hold it accountable, pushing it to do better. Instead of treating human rights groups as its enemies, the government should work with them to protect the rights of all people and ensure accountability at all levels of government.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 30, 2020, 6:36 pm

New York City police planned the assault and mass arrests of peaceful protesters in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx on June 4, 2020, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The crackdown, led by the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, was among the most aggressive police responses to protests across the United States following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and could cost New York City taxpayers several million dollars in misconduct complaints and lawsuits.

Human Rights Watch and the visual investigations firm SITU Research also released a video using three-dimensional modeling, witness interviews, and footage recorded at the protest.

September 30, 2020 “Kettling” Protesters in the Bronx

The 99-page report, “‘Kettling’ Protesters in the Bronx: Systemic Police Brutality and Its Costs in the United States,” provides a detailed account of the police response to the June 4 peaceful protest in Mott Haven, a low-income, majority Black and brown community that has long experienced high levels of police brutality and systemic racism. It describes the city’s ineffectual accountability systems that protect abusive police officers, shows the shortcomings of incremental reforms, and makes the case for structural change.

About 10 minutes before an 8 p.m. curfew – imposed after looting elsewhere in the city – scores of police officers surrounded and trapped the protesters – a tactic known as “kettling” – as they marched peacefully through Mott Haven. Just after 8 p.m., the police, unprovoked and without warning, moved in on the protesters, wielding batons, beating people from car tops, shoving them to the ground, and firing pepper spray into their faces before rounding up more than 250 people for arrest

“The New York City police blocked people from leaving before the curfew and then used the curfew as an excuse to beat, abuse, and arrest people who were protesting peacefully,” said Ida Sawyer, acting crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It was a planned operation with no justification that could cost New York taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed or reviewed written accounts from 81 people who participated in the protest and 19 other community members, lawyers, activists, and city officials, and analyzed 155 videos recorded during the protest. The New York Police Department (NYPD) replied in part to Human Rights Watch’s questions about the protest but did not respond to a request to interview senior police officials.

Witness: Police ‘Kettle,’ Beat Protesters in New York City

As Chantel Johnson made her way through her South Bronx neighborhood to meet up with protesters, one thought kept nagging her: Why the heavy police presence?


One protester described how an officer punched him in the face while another twisted his finger and broke it. “Then another cop sprayed me in the face with mace,” he said. “Then they dragged me on the ground and beat me with batons. Somewhere in the process of being cuffed, I had a knee on my neck.”

Human Rights Watch documented at least 61 cases of protesters, legal observers, and bystanders who sustained injuries during the crackdown, including lacerations, a broken nose, lost tooth, sprained shoulder, broken finger, black eyes, and potential nerve damage due to overly tight zip ties. 

Most of those injured did not receive any immediate medical care, as police arrested or obstructed volunteer medics in medical scrubs with red cross insignia. Dozens of people spent hours in detention with untreated wounds and their hands bound behind their backs.

At least 13 legal observers – who wear clearly identifiable hats and badges – were also detained, in some cases violently, before being released. Video footage captures an official from the NYPD’s Legal Bureau instructing other officers: “Legal Observers can be arrested.… They are good to go!”

The NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, was present during the action, along with at least 24 other uniformed supervisory officers – chiefs, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors in white shirts.

Police arrested and took to jail at least 263 people, more than at any other protest in New York since Floyd’s killing. Some were released later that night; others the next afternoon. One was held for a week. Most were charged with Class B misdemeanors for curfew violations or unlawful assembly. They were given summonses or desk appearance tickets with court dates in early October. On September 3, the Bronx District Attorney filed to dismiss the summonses, and on September 25 the Bronx District Attorney’s office informed Human Rights Watch that the desk appearance tickets will also be dismissed.

New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea confirmed the premeditated nature of the operation, stating at a news conference the next day: “We had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly in the Bronx.” Shea described the protest as an attempt by “outside agitators” to “cause mayhem,” “tear down society,” and “injure cops.” Human Rights Watch found that the protest, organized by activists from the Bronx, was peaceful until the police responded with violence.

Click to expand Image New York City police officers trapped, assaulted, and arrested over 250 people during a peaceful protest in Mott Haven on June 4, 2020. © 2020 C.S. Muncy

In the police department’s response to Human Rights Watch’s questions, the department said that, “upon 8 p.m.,” the demonstration “was unlawful under the Mayor’s Executive Order establishing the curfew,” and that the detention of nonessential workers “was lawful.” The department also said that “legal observers did not enjoy an exemption as essential workers,” even though the Mayor’s office had clarified that legal observers were exempt from the curfew. The NYPD did not respond to questions about the violence it inflicted on protesters and observers or address why officers trapped the protesters before the curfew, blocking all paths to disperse.

The police conduct during the Mott Haven protest amounts to serious violations of international human rights law, and it also appears to violate civil rights protections of the US Constitution and the police department’s Patrol Guide.

About 100 protesters and observers have filed notice of their intent to sue the city. The city paid out $36 million for civil rights violations and related legal fees after police kettled and mass-arrested protesters in a similar manner in 2004. Current Chief of Department Terence Monahan was also a key player during those operations.

New York state and city officials should make structural changes to reduce the police role in addressing societal problems, including through significant decreases to the police force size and budget, Human Rights Watch said. The government should instead invest in real community needs, including through support to services that directly address underlying issues such as homelessness and poverty and that improve access to quality education and health care. They should also empower independent accountability systems to provide a genuine check on police misconduct.

“Instead of cracking down on peaceful protesters and stifling their calls for change, policymakers in New York City and across the country should listen to their demands,” Sawyer said. “Local governments should finally do what it takes to end the structural racism and systemic police abuse that people in Mott Haven and communities like it have long experienced.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 30, 2020, 3:00 pm
Click to expand Image The acting secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, raises his right hand to swear in during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. © Greg Nash/Pool via AP

(Washington, DC) – United States senators should vote no on the nomination of Chad Wolf for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary and instead investigate his alleged involvement in abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. Senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are set to vote on the nomination on September 30, 2020.

Wolf was instrumental in developing the policy of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border and as acting secretary, oversaw a range of abusive practices and policies at DHS. Wolf is also the subject of a whistleblower complaint alleging that he and other senior officials sought to modify DHS intelligence reports on critical issues affecting human rights in the US, including elections.

“During his time in DHS leadership roles, Chad Wolf has overseen several abusive policies and actions, both along the border and in the US interior,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, US program executive director at Human Rights Watch. “Senators should be investigating the policies and actions Wolf has overseen and pursuing accountability for abuses, not rewarding him with a powerful position in federal law enforcement.”

Wolf has served as DHS acting secretary for nearly a year. A federal judge recently ruled that his acting appointment to that position was most likely unlawful.

Wolf initially told members of Congress that he was not involved in creating the Trump administration’s family separation policy, where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents forcibly took children from their parents at the border as early as 2017. However, NBC obtained emails that showed that Wolf included “separate family units” as one of several “policy options” presented to then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “to respond to border surge of illegal immigration,” and that he participated in planning meetings.

As a result of the policy, hundreds of families remain separated, which constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that is prohibited under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other treaties to which the US is a party.

Under Wolf’s current leadership, DHS is on the verge of implementing yet another policy that will result in family separation as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will force parents to choose between indefinite detention with their children or handing their children over to US authorities.

Wolf’s nomination vote comes just weeks after a whistleblower filed a complaint that alleged Wolf and other senior officials at DHS withheld or modified intelligence reports on Russian election interference and white supremacy in the US, and sought to modify reports on "ANTIFA and 'anarchist' groups" to "match[] up" with President Trump's public statements.  

Wolf has also overseen DHS, including ICE, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

ICE unnecessarily detains large numbers of people in conditions ripe for the spread of disease, even in detention centers where staff and/or other detainees have already tested positive for Covid-19. Continued detention endangers detainees and staff and affects the health of the local communities where detention centers are located.

Customs and Border Protection, another DHS agency, has been rapidly expelling children and adults at the US-Mexico border during the pandemic, without legally required screenings for asylum and other protections. Under Wolf’s guidance, ICE has carried out involuntary transfers and deportations of migrants, spreading Covid-19 both within the US and around the world.

A recent whistleblower complaint alleges that the agency has failed to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and denied medical care at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia. The complaint and subsequent media reports also allege that unnecessary surgeries, possibly without informed consent, were performed on women detained at the center in 2018 and 2019.

Since July, Wolf has overseen the deployment of CBP and ICE agents to protests across the US. This deployment raised human rights concerns due to the risk their agents would lack training in crowd control and the agencies’ history of human rights violations and lack of accountability, and sent a message of disregard for protesters’ legal protections and well-being.

The US Senate is charged with scrupulously examining the administration’s nominee for secretary of DHS. Given his record, confirming Wolf risks doing further damage to US respect for the right to seek asylum, the rights of immigrants in US detention, and the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

“Senators have had the opportunity over the past year to see what sort of leader Wolf will be if confirmed,” Austin-Hillery said. “We strongly urge them to oppose his confirmation, which would seriously risk the rights and well-being of US residents and border crossers alike.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 30, 2020, 1:00 pm
Click to expand Image View of Stepanakert/Khankendi, Nagorno-Karabakh administrative center. © 2016 Thomas Koerbel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

(Berlin) – All armed forces fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh must at all times distinguish between combatants and civilians under international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said today. All sides should respect the absolute ban against targeting civilians or carrying out attacks that indiscriminately harm civilians.

Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh dramatically escalated early September 27, 2020. Armenia and the de-facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh characterized the escalation as a “wholescale attack” by Azerbaijani forces. Officials in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, initially said Azerbaijan was responding to Armenian attack, but provided no further details. They later said that “the fighting for the liberation of territories from occupation continues.” Armenian and Azerbaijani media are reporting continued military operations in districts around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

“All sides should remember that attacks targeting civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is true even if they are carried out in reprisal for indiscriminate attacks by the adversary.”

There are numerous reports of military and civilian casualties, but these reports could not be independently verified. Azerbaijan reports 10 civilian deaths and 30 civilians injured, but has not released information about military casualties. Nagorno-Karabakh de-facto defense officials report at least 80 military personnel and 5 civilians dead, and about 30 civilians injured.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have declared martial law and partial or full mobilization. Azerbaijan introduced a 9 p.m. curfew and limited internet access on September 27 and 28, including to social media and messaging apps. Both countries have laws restricting reporting about the conflict that is not officially sourced.

All parties should abide by the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, which requires armed forces to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objects and civilian objects, at all times. It is also forbidden to carry out indiscriminate attacks or attacks that cause damage disproportionate to the anticipated concrete military advantage.

The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan started in the final years of the Soviet era, when Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian majority enclave in Azerbaijan, sought unification with Armenia. Clashes eventually turned into a full-scale war between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops, which ended in 1994 with ethnic Armenian forces taking control of seven Azerbaijani districts around the enclave, creating a security buffer zone around Nagorno-Karabakh and a land connection to Armenia.

Tens of thousands of people have died in fighting and more than a million people have been forced to flee their homes. Azeris fled Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the adjacent territories, and Armenians fled Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch documented international human rights and humanitarian law violations by all sides.

Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in 1991, but it has not been recognized by any United Nations member state or by multilateral organizations. The enclave’s de facto authorities rely heavily on Armenia’s political, economic, and security support.

Since 1994, the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact has separated Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, but no peacekeepers are observing the truce. There have been several smaller flare-ups in the conflict and frequent exchanges of fire, resulting in dozens of casualties every year. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group has been mediating conflict resolution since 1992, chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, but without any tangible results.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 30, 2020, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image Signage at the University of Toronto. © Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto

The University of Toronto’s law school allegedly rescinded a job offer for director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program in response to external pressure about the candidate’s scholarship and work on Israeli government violations of international law. If true, not only does this do serious harm to the academic freedom, integrity, and reputation of the university’s human rights program, it creates a dangerous chilling effect on other scholars’ rights to research and advocacy.

The candidate, Dr. Valentina Azarova, was the university hiring panel’s unanimous top choice.

After the university reversed their decision, the chair of the program’s law faculty advisory committee resigned from the committee. Another member of the hiring panel quit his job with the program and the rest of the faculty advisory committee resigned.

Human Rights Watch has been in contact with both Dr. Azarova and the university. The position of the university is that “ no offer of employment was made,” but that “exploratory discussions occurred with one candidate.” News reports have published internal faculty emails that explicitly refer to an “offer.” The university claims it could not wait to obtain a work permit for Dr. Azarova, a non-citizen, but yet was pursuing a temporary contract for her as a workaround. The statement also denied that outside influence was a factor in their decision not to proceed with an offer of employment.

International legal academics, including Israeli and Jewish scholars, have written individually in support of Dr. Azarova’s scholarship. Other letters of support have well over 1,300 signatories, including former and current United Nations Special Rapporteurs. The program’s alumni association, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Amnesty International, and others have called for external investigations.  

For full disclosure, the spouse of Dr. Azarova is my colleague at Human Rights Watch. But this controversy is about more than the individuals involved; it speaks to the core of what academic freedom means and the principle that no country should be off limits for critique of its rights record. We have extensively documented and sought to address threats that undermine these principles. Human Rights Watch believes that our academic partnership with the law school, which has been a tremendously fruitful one over the past five years, also needs to be based on these values for it to continue.

The University of Toronto should urgently conduct an independent external review, make its findings public immediately, and swiftly address any improprieties. No one should pay such a price simply for exposing human rights violations by any country, including Israel.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2020, 4:32 pm
Click to expand Image The Kuwait city skyline is seen through haze in Kuwait City. © 2016 AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari, File

This month, after years of activism, Kuwaiti women’s rights activists won a new law establishing protections against domestic violence. The need for this law was underscored on September 9 when Fatima al-Ajmi, aged 35 and pregnant, was shot repeatedly and killed, reportedly by a family member for marrying a man outside of her family’s community. Her killer had reportedly threatened her before.

In 2019, I spoke to nine women in Kuwait who described facing abuse from family members and husbands. They said they were either scared to go to the police or were turned away when they did. One hundred and fifty-five countries have legal protections against domestic violence, but until now, Kuwait had no explicit law setting out protection measures against domestic violence, or even shelters they could go to. Some laws, like article 153 in Kuwait’s Penal Code, even provide men with reduced sentences for killings of women found in the act of adultery.

On September 20, Kuwait began catching up to the global norm and issued a new Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, after the National Assembly passed it on August 19. The law creates a national committee – with representatives from different ministries and civil society – to draw up policies to combat and protect women from domestic violence. The committee will also submit recommendations to amend or repeal laws that contradict the new domestic violence law. The new legislation also establishes shelters and a hotline to receive domestic violence complaints, provides counseling and legal assistance for victims, and allows for emergency protection orders (restraining orders) to prevent abusers from contacting their victim.

However, the new law has serious gaps. While it provides penalties for violating protection orders, it does not set out penalties for domestic violence as a crime on its own. It also does not include former partners or people engaged in relationships outside of wedlock, including those engaged to be married or in unofficial marriages. 

As the tragic killing of Fatima al-Ajmi has shown, these long-awaited protections are crucial. Kuwait’s real test will be ensuring implementation of its new law, filling remaining protection gaps, and emphasizing prevention, including by repealing discriminatory laws that leave women exposed to deadly violence.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2020, 8:00 am
Click to expand Image Cyprus coast guard carrying migrants from a boat from Lebanon interdicted on January 14, 2020. © 2020 Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

(Athens) – Cypriot coast guard forces summarily pushed back, abandoned, expelled, or returned more than 200 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers coming from Lebanon during the first week of September 2020 without giving them the opportunity to lodge asylum claims, Human Rights Watch said today.

People reported being threatened by Greek and Turkish Cypriot coast guards. They said that Greek Cypriot coast guard vessels circled them at high speeds, swamping their boats, and in at least one case abandoning them at sea without fuel and food. They said that their asylum claims were ignored and that in some cases Greek Cypriot marine police officers beat them.

“That Lebanese nationals are now joining Syrian refugees on boats to flee Lebanon and seek asylum in the European Union is a mark of the severity of the crisis facing that country,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Cyprus should consider their claims for protection fully and fairly and treat them safely and with dignity instead of disregarding the obligations to rescue boats in distress and not to engage in collective expulsions.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 15 Lebanese and Syrian nationals who embarked from Tripoli, Lebanon and entered or attempted to enter Cyprus or its territorial waters on one of seven boats between August 29 and September 7, along with a survivor from another boat that left Lebanon on September 7 that did not encounter Cypriot authorities. United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon rescued them on September 14, after at least 13 people on that boat had died or been lost at sea.

Reuters cited Cypriot authorities as saying they returned 230 people to Lebanon between September 6 and 8. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), people left Lebanon irregularly on 18 boats between August 29 and September 14, with five of them intercepted by the Lebanese naval forces while in Lebanese territorial waters.

A tally of boat pushbacks and arrivals compiled by a local Cypriot nongovernmental organization, KISA, based on Cypriot police statistics, indicates that in the first eight and a half months of 2020, Cypriot authorities encountered 779 people on boats seeking to enter Cyprus irregularly, with 431 people on six boats coming during the first six months, and 348 people on 11 boats coming from late August through the first two weeks of September.

KISA reported that 375 people were taken directly to a camp after landing or being interdicted by Greek Cypriot authorities, that 221 landed in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and then crossed into Greek Cyprus, and that 185 were summarily pushed back at sea.

Every migrant interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had encounters with Cypriot authorities said that they pleaded not to be returned to Lebanon – and some explicitly requested asylum – but in no case were any allowed to lodge asylum claims.

Human Rights Watch inquiries about its findings to the governments of Cyprus and Lebanon were not answered. The Cyprus Mail quoted Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris saying: “We are unequivocally declaring that we can no longer afford to receive additional numbers of economic migrants simply because the reception facilities are literally no longer sufficient and the country’s capabilities are exhausted.”

Migrants told Human Rights Watch that Greek Cypriot coast guard vessels tried to prevent them from landing by shouting and brandishing weapons at them, and circling at high speeds to create waves to swamp or capsize their boats. In one case, on September 3, a metal coast guard vessel rammed into a wooden boat full of people, injuring children and a woman. In some cases, while still at sea, Cypriot coast guard forces transferred people onto civilian passenger vessels guarded by the marine police and took them directly back to Lebanon.

Others who had managed to land or whom Cypriot authorities had interdicted and brought ashore were taken to Pournara camp in Kokkinotrimithia, Cyprus, a dirty, insect-infested, open-air camp that held about 600 people in mid-September. Some of those who were returned to Lebanon said that camp authorities called families and individuals by name and told them they were going for second coronavirus tests, but instead put them on buses and took them to a port where police forced them onto passenger ships. The passenger boats picked up additional people from other ports or from other boats at sea, taking about 80 people at a time back to Lebanon.

In one case, Cypriot coast guard forces encountered an inflatable boat in distress and then abandoned it to drift without fuel. A Lebanese fishing boat found that boat, and Lebanese naval forces rescued them after six days at sea.

Witnesses and victims on two boats returned to Lebanon said that Cyprus marine police handcuffed and beat individuals who resisted being returned. Bassem, 47, a Lebanese national whose full name, as with others quoted, is withheld for his protection, said that he started yelling for the boat to stop when he saw a husband and wife jump overboard after they discovered the boat was heading back to Lebanon on September 6.

“I shouted for them to rescue the man and woman who jumped into the sea, but they started beating me, handcuffed me, and hit me with sticks that are used for shocks,” he said. “I still have pain and trouble moving my fingers. I lost consciousness and had a seizure with white foam coming out of my mouth. They had a doctor who yelled at the police to take off the handcuffs so she could treat me.”

The Cypriot authorities should rescue vessels in distress and order their security forces to stop endangering lives by using maneuvers such as high-speed circling of boats and to end the brutal treatment of people on the vessels.

Cypriot judicial authorities should conduct a transparent, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations that Cypriot coast guard personnel are involved in acts that put the lives and safety of migrants and asylum seekers at risk. Any officer engaged in illegal acts, as well as their commanding officers, should be subject to disciplinary sanctions and, if applicable, criminal prosecution. The European Commission should press the government of Cyprus to respect the right to seek asylum and the principle of nonrefoulement – not returning people to a place where they could face threats to life and freedom and other serious harms – in line with EU and international law.

“People who risk their lives and their children’s lives by fleeing Lebanon by boat do so when they are truly desperate,” Frelick said. “They have a right to have their claims for international protection considered. Their pleas should not be muzzled nor their cries for help ignored.”

Why People Are Leaving Lebanon Now

Lebanese nationals told Human Rights Watch that they felt compelled to leave Lebanon because of the dire economic situation they face in Tripoli and northern Lebanon. Most said they had no income and were running out of ways to feed their children and provide for their basic needs. Some spoke of a general breakdown of order and increasing lawlessness. A 27-year-old woman with three children from the Mena area of Tripoli said she left because “it is not safe to have my kids on the street anymore.”

“We got so tired of what is going on – emotionally, physically,” said a 34-year-old Lebanese man from Tripoli who is married to a Syrian woman. He spoke of the economic situation and said: “There is no government in Tripoli. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Syrian refugees who recently tried leaving Lebanon expressed similar hopelessness about their economic problems, but usually also spoke of problems grounded in social discrimination and political divisions. Mustafa, a Syrian refugee man with a physical disability who was beaten on the return trip to Lebanon, said:

Earlier, UNHCR gave us food assistance, but for the past two years we have gotten nothing from them. I have no work, I can’t feed my kids; they sell flowers on the street. My ID card was damaged and the government authorities would not renew it. I have many problems with authorities here; the political parties give me problems, even beat me, because I don’t support them. I fled Syria because of the political parties, I didn’t want anything to do with them here.

Another Syrian refugee who recently left Lebanon by boat said that he had been a high-ranking officer in the Syrian army and had spent three years in prison there for refusing to fire upon Syrians who opposed the government. He said the Syrian government had put a bounty on him and that unidentified men – who he thought were acting at the behest of the Syrian government – had attempted to kidnap him in Lebanon, and that he had to change where he was living four times. He said that he unsuccessfully sought resettlement through legal channels, and that a friend of his who has connections with an intelligence agency “told me I have to leave now.”

Cypriot Efforts to Deflect Boats

People interviewed consistently said that Greek Cypriot boats warned them not to enter, sometimes citing Covid-19 as the reason, then circled their boats to create waves to swamp or capsize them. In some cases, they directed people on the boats to go to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, and migrants told of being pushed back and forth between the two coast guards. Witnesses said that both Greek and Turkish Cypriot coast guard forces brandished weapons and threatened them but that only the Greek Cypriot coast guard tried to capsize or swamp their boats.

Migrants on a wooden boat carrying 52 people said that a Greek Cypriot coast guard boat with the number 21 written on its side approached them about three miles off the coast of Larnaca at 6 a.m. on September 3. Three armed soldiers on board pointed their weapons and shouted at the migrants to turn back. At 7:15 a.m., the metal coast guard boat rammed their wooden boat, injuring several people and poking a hole in the starboard side of their boat, making it unseaworthy. Two people who were on the boat said they thought the ramming was intentional. “From looking at the way the pilot’s head was turned, seeing his face, and hearing the shouting, I think he hit us on purpose,” a 34-year-old Lebanese man said.

The people on the boat spent the next four hours bailing out sea water and calling for help before being towed ashore. The witnesses said that an injured woman and a pregnant woman were taken to a hospital, as well as several children, including one who hit his head when the boats crashed. The witnesses said they did not see the pregnant woman again.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot coast guards pushed another boat carrying 52 people back and forth for four days before it was finally able to land at the UN peacekeeping force (UNFICYP) buffer zone in the Kapparis area that divides Greek and Turkish-controlled Cyprus. At one point, the Greek authorities identified a woman and several children in need of urgent medical care. They took the woman, one of her three children, a 1-year old, and two other children, both under age 2, ashore. The authorities separated the two children from their parents on the boat and separated the woman from her husband and her other two chidren. The woman said:

The children were vomiting and fainting. I was sunburned, my body shaking because it was during my period and I had lost a lot of blood and I was in a very bad condition. They took me and my baby and two other babies on their coast guard boat where they gave us food and a doctor to treat us. They took the two other children from their mothers who were still on the boat. The other mothers went crazy when they separated them from their children. For the next two days in the hospital I kept asking about my husband and children and no one would tell me anything. The whole time in the hospital I couldn’t understand their language and they had no translator. Finally, we were reunited at the Pournara camp.

Abandonment of an Inoperative Inflatable Boat

International maritime law imposes a clear duty on all vessels at sea to rescue people in distress, whether in territorial or international waters. A survivor interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that a Cypriot coast guard or naval vessel encountered an inflatable Zodiac-type boat carrying five men that was in distress on September 4 and then abandoned it to drift without fuel. Their boat left Lebanon the night of September 3 and ran out of fuel after about 12 or 13 hours, at which point the men tied themselves to a fishing trap buoy and waited for help.

The survivor, a 33-year-old Syrian refugee originally from Idlib, said a grey military boat found them. It had “Limassol” written on the side, flew a Cypriot flag, and had a mounted gun. The sailors brought him on board their vessel because of his poor physical condition, as he was overcome with what he described as severe seasickness. He was running a high fever and said that a nurse aboard the Cyprus military vessel examined him but just had him rest on the floor of their boat for about an hour and half with his feet elevated. Then without any other treatment or assistance, they put him back on the inflatable boat with the four other men:

They took off the towline, but we had no fuel. We told them we had no fuel and could not go back or go anywhere without fuel. We showed them our empty fuel containers. They only gave us two bottles of water, about three liters, and left us. They stayed about a kilometer away, watching us, then, at sunset, about 45 minutes later, they just left.

Their boat was left adrift without food, and soon without water. They spent six days in total at sea:

We were just pushed by waves. The sun was very hot. After two days, we started drinking sea water. We thought we would die. I gave up. I only thought of my children in Syria. Then, on Wednesday [September 9] a Lebanese fishing boat saw us and reported us to Lebanese naval forces and we were finally rescued.

Brutal Mistreatment on Return Trip to Lebanon

Multiple witnesses from two passenger boats taking people back to Lebanon said they saw marine police put one man on each of the boats in handcuffs and beat them. Human Rights Watch also interviewed the two men. Mustafa, 32, a UNHCR-registered Syrian refugee from Raqqa who is blind in one eye and has shrapnel in his legs from an explosion that occurred when he was in Syria, said that a group of Cypriot marine police officers handcuffed, beat, and gave him electric shocks in the presence of his wife and four children – ages 1, 4, 6, and 8 – on a boat carrying about 80 people back to Lebanon on September 8:

When they put us on the boat to Lebanon I said I would rather die than go back. I shouted at them but didn’t touch any of them. About 15 police wearing black shirts and camouflage pants jumped me. They put handcuffs on me and then three of them started beating me with sticks and electric shocks. My lips turned blue from the shocks.

Other witnesses on the boat corroborated his account, including a 36-year-old Lebanese man who was on the boat with his wife and three children:

There was a Syrian who did not want to go back. They beat him up in front of his kids, and my kids, too. They handcuffed him, I saw them electric shocking him and beating him with sticks. They handcuffed him to a stanchion and kept him in handcuffs all the way back.

Several witnesses also corroborated Bassem’s account of his beating. One witness, a 46-year-old Syrian man, said:

After the woman and her husband jumped off the boat, Bassem started screaming at them to stop the boat, but the authorities kept on going and jumped on him. In the presence of children, they put him in handcuffs and two policemen kept hitting him. They beat him with sticks on his wrists, back, and legs for 15 minutes. We screamed at them to stop. Then he had a seizure. There was a Red Cross doctor and they took the handcuffs off to give him medical treatment. Everyone saw this while it was happening, including the Red Cross doctor. The commander on the boat was giving instructions. I don’t know what they were saying and can’t identify their names because I don’t speak their language, but they did have the word POLICE written on their shirts. I think they were doing this to scare the rest of us into not resisting them. The boat behind us that picked up the husband and wife who jumped overboard was a Cyprus marine police boat, it had the Cyprus flag and the number 21 written on its side.

Pournara Camp Conditions

Cypriot authorities took people who managed to land as well as some of the people they interdicted at sea to the Pournara camp, a sprawling, open-air camp divided into four sections. Multiple witnesses said that families with children, including female-headed households, women traveling alone, and unaccompanied children were commingled with single, adult men. They said water is scarce, food insufficient, and sanitation conditions poor, with insects and uncollected trash everywhere. All of those interviewed had stayed in tents that had no flooring and no electricity, though they said there were prefabricated containers in other parts of the camp.

UNHCR informed Human Rights Watch that the Pournara reception center is overcrowded, with about 600 people – 300 in four quarantine areas and 300 in the central camp. People said their section had two portable toilets for about 100 people. They said the toilets were filthy and lacked water and showed Human Rights Watch photos, confirming that they were extremely dirty. There were four showers per 100-person section and neither the toilets nor the showers were separated by gender, accessible for people with disabilities, or provided sufficient privacy or security.

A 27-year-old Lebanese woman with three children said that when any member of her family had to use the toilet, the others would escort them and stand watch to guard their privacy. Izat, a 34-year-old Lebanese father of three children, one of whom has a physical disability, spent five days at the Pournara camp in early September:

When I first got to the camp, a woman gave us a bag with shampoo, soap, and tissues. I told her that my child had a disability and needed assistance. She got angry and turned away. I wanted to ease my child’s pain in his legs, but no one answered me. The camp was awful. There was a lot of garbage everywhere. There were two dirty toilets with no water for the toilet and not enough water for drinking or for hygiene. They just dumped food in and left us to fend for ourselves to distribute it. If we wanted anything, we had to shout.

Chamseddine, a 36-year-old Lebanese man from Tripoli who traveled by boat with his three children, said that new arrivals were tested for the virus that causes Covid-19 and told they were being put into quarantine, but they were not told the results of the tests. He said that no protective measures were taken in the camp to enhance hygiene or to prevent the spread of the disease. Instead, he said, the authorities used the coronavirus to manipulate and deceive them:

The authorities told us they would give us another coronavirus test and move us to a hotel or a camp with better conditions. They came at 7 a.m. on September 7, called our names, and told us to come for testing. They told us to leave our possessions behind in the tent because we would be coming right back to pick them up after the test. They put us on a bus that had curtains over the windows so we couldn’t see out. When we discovered they had taken us to the port and were going to put us on a boat, we protested, but they locked us in the bus for a half an hour with no air conditioning, and people were getting ill and panicking. First, they took the children, and then the rest of us.

The Right to Seek Asylum, to Due Process, Denied

None of the people interviewed was allowed to lodge an asylum claim with Cypriot authorities though many made it clear that they wanted to, including by jumping off the ship taking them back to Lebanon. People interviewed said they saw someone they believed was a UN official at the Pournara camp interviewing two unaccompanied children and a stateless person, but none of those interviewed was able to meet with UNHCR or a lawyer. UNHCR confirmed that on September 15 its officials spoke to nine people who had been admitted to the Pournara camp from one boat; they confirmed that some of those returned had repeatedly asked for asylum.

A 24-year-old Lebanese man from Tripoli said that his efforts to lodge an asylum claim upon landing were completely rebuffed and that he was returned without being given any opportunity to challenge his removal:

As soon as we got inside the border, the authorities took our phones, and kept them for three days. We asked for asylum and said we did not want to go back to Lebanon. We were not allowed to see a lawyer or anyone from UNHCR. The authorities told us to sign a paper in a language we couldn’t understand that they told us was for asylum, but they tricked us. They put us on a bus saying we were going for a second coronavirus test, but instead they put us on a boat and sent us back to Lebanon.

A 24-year-old Syrian woman with two children spoke to Human Rights Watch from the Pournara camp, where she had been for nine days:

After we landed, they took my husband, Ahmad Fahel, and three others away in an unmarked car and put us into a bus. I have not heard from my husband since then or been given any information about him. Nothing. He was not a leader of our group, [and] did not pilot the boat. My children are sick and need him. They tested us for coronavirus but didn’t give us any results. They took our passports and IDs but have not interviewed us. We have not seen UNHCR, no Red Cross, no lawyers, no humanitarians. Nobody has explained anything. Nobody has said anything about what will happen to us.

International and European Standards

Article 4 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides that, “collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.” The European Court of Human Rights ruled in Hirsi v. Italy that it is a violation of that prohibition to summarily expel multiple migrants traveling irregularly by boat who are interdicted at sea, and in Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece made the same ruling regarding those who had landed.

Several returnees have brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights, raising among other things, the lack of due process prior to being returned. The Cyprus Mail reported that KISA, the local nongovernmental group that is supporting the applicants, said: “The Cypriot authorities did not make any individual assessment of the applicants… as to their needs and the reasons why they were on the shores of the Republic. They also did not provide the slightest access to the international protection procedure and did not take into account any of the legal requirements of refugee law, which are not affected by the fact of ‘illegal entry.’”

In Sharifi and Others the European Court of Human Rights held that collective expulsion of migrants who are prevented from requesting asylum is a violation of their right to a remedy as well as the the right to be protected from inhuman and degrading treatment.

Collective expulsions amounting to refoulement are prohibited under article 3 of the ECHR and article 3 of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The principle of nonrefoulement in article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Cyprus is a state party, prohibits the return of refugees “in any manner whatsoever.” UNHCR, along with a wide body of other legal sources, has made it clear that the principle of nonrefoulement applies wherever a state exercises control or jurisdiction, without geographical limitation.

The prohibition on forced return also applies to asylum seekers who have not been formally recognized as refugees. UNHCR’s Executive Committee affirmed in Conclusion 79 in 1996 that the principle of nonrefoulement prohibits the expulsion and return of refugees “whether or not they have formally been granted refugee status.” A UNHCR advisory opinion says: “The principle of nonrefoulement is of particular relevance to asylum-seekers. As such persons may be refugees, it is an established principle of international refugee law that they should not be returned or expelled pending a final determination of their status.”

In an interview published in Kathimerini Cyprus, UNHCR said:

UNHCR supports the efforts by Cypriot authorities to return those who are not found to be in need of international protection, but only after a formal and individual assessment of their asylum claim if they seek asylum…. The practice of pushbacks of boats is contrary to international law, and those wishing to seek asylum must be admitted to the territory at least on a temporary basis to examine their asylum claims. This is provided for in international law, otherwise the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement would be meaningless. UNHCR does not have information on the reasons that prompted those on board the recent boat arrivals to travel to Cyprus and does not know whether they were migrants or asylum seekers. An individual assessment is always necessary, and it cannot be done at high seas.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2020, 4:01 am

(London) – The United Kingdom government’s rigid insistence on automating Universal Credit threatens the rights of people most at risk of poverty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. A comprehensive redesign of how the government calculates the social security benefit is urgently needed to restore people’s rights to a decent standard of living, particularly as they face severe income loss and other economic shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 68-page report, “Automated Hardship: How the Tech-Driven Overhaul of the UK’s Benefits System Worsens Poverty,” details how a poorly designed algorithm is causing people to go hungry, fall into debt, and experience psychological distress. Human Rights Watch also found that the government is failing to address the socioeconomic inequalities that prevent people from being able to apply for and manage their benefit online.

“The government has put a flawed algorithm in charge of deciding how much money to give people to pay rent and feed their families,” said Amos Toh, senior artificial intelligence and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s bid to automate the benefits system – no matter the human cost – is pushing people to the brink of poverty.”

September 29, 2020 Automated Hardship

Between March and July 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 people, including 14 claiming Universal Credit, and over a dozen social security and government technology experts, anti-poverty campaigners, and food bank staff and volunteers. Human Rights Watch also analyzed case studies provided by benefits advisers and volunteers in London and North East England, and reviewed official data and statistics as well as court filings. 

In 2013, the government began rolling out Universal Credit, a major revamp of the country’s social security system, ostensibly to simplify access to benefits, cut administrative costs, and “improve financial work incentives.” Universal Credit, which combines six social security benefits into one monthly lump sum, requires most people to apply for and manage the benefit online.

Human Rights Watch has found that the means-testing algorithm at the heart of Universal Credit is flawed. The algorithm is supposed to adjust how much people are entitled to each month based on changes in their earnings. But the data the government uses to measure these changes only reflects the wages people receive within a calendar month, and ignores how frequently people are paid. If people receive multiple paychecks in one month – common among people in irregular or low-paid jobs – this can cause the algorithm to overestimate earnings and drastically shrink their payment.

September 29, 2020 Interview: Don’t Fear the Machines, Fear the People Running Them

What Happens When You Take The ‘Human’ Out Of Human Rights?

This design flaw drove a 31-year-old father of three into dire financial straits. “It’s a big hole I am in at the minute,” he said. His October 2019 benefit was reduced by nearly £600, and he had to borrow money from his parents and rely on food donations. “I’ve worked all my life and I am resorting to using the food bank today because of benefits that I am receiving. It’s not really a benefit is it, if I’m having to use this service?”

Multiple ways to fix the flawed algorithm have been proposed, including moving to shorter periods of income assessment, or using averaged earnings over longer periods to smooth out fluctuations in people’s payments. But the government has not acted.

In June, after a protracted legal fight, a UK appeal court ordered the government to rectify the effect the flawed algorithm has on people who receive a regular monthly salary. The Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for social security, accepted the ruling but is still figuring out how to carry it out. In any case, the ruling does not address the plight of people who are paid weekly, fortnightly, or every four weeks.

People are also being forced to wait five weeks for their first Universal Credit payment. While they wait, they are borrowing money to cope and skimping on their basic needs. Under the previous system, people generally received their first payment within two weeks.

The “predominantly digital” benefit is also causing hardship among people who lack digital skills or cannot afford reliable internet access. Some people told Human Rights Watch that they struggled to fill out long web forms about their personal and financial circumstances, satisfy cumbersome identity verification requirements, and complete online job-seeking tasks.

Click to expand Image A sign offering information about universal credit on April 04, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. © 2020 Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The government has increased funding to some charities to help guide people through the online application, but demand for support outstrips supply, and a decade of austerity-motivated cuts to local authority budgets has depleted digital services at libraries and community centers.

The economic recession triggered by Covid-19, the UK’s biggest since the Second World War, underscores the importance of a social security system that helps people stay afloat. The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that a record 3.4 million people applied for Universal Credit between March and June, when the pandemic first hit. Although the government made temporary adjustments to ease access to the benefit, it has allowed some of these to lapse even as the crisis continues. 

While the government evaluates proposals to fix the algorithm, it should implement urgently needed measures such as one-off grants to help people during their five-week wait, Human Rights Watch said.

The automation of Universal Credit is part of a global trend to overhaul aging welfare systems with data-driven technologies. But the former United Nations’ leading expert on poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, fears that governments are automating their key welfare functions without sufficient transparency, due process, and accountability. Human Rights Watch has previously examined how the automation of welfare programs is harming people’s rights in Australia, India, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States.

People should be able to understand how automated benefits systems are making decisions about them, provide input, and challenge the algorithm when it harms their rights. But many governments are reluctant to bring these systems under meaningful human control because they perceive these safeguards as cumbersome and expensive.

The UK government’s international human rights obligations require it to secure everyone’s rights to social security and a decent standard of living. However, the UK has failed to put these rights into domestic law and to give those whose rights are violated an effective remedy.

“Making sure the benefits system protects people’s rights is ultimately a job for humans, not an algorithm,” Toh said. “Benefits are designed to help people, not kick them when they’re down. A human-centered approach to benefits automation will ensure the UK government is helping the people who need it most.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2020, 4:01 am
Click to expand Image Armed security forces watch during the Irreecha cultural festival in Bishoftu, Ethiopia on October 2, 2016.  © 2016 Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Getty Images

Each year, massive crowds gather in the town of Bishoftu in Ethiopia’s Oromia region for the Oromo harvest festival of Irreecha. It’s one of the year’s most important cultural and religious events for millions of ethnic Oromos.

But this year’s festival, on October 3 and 4, occurs against the backdrop of escalating tensions and unrest in Oromia. On June 29, the assassination of popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa triggered violence, leaving hundreds killed, some by security forces, others by civilian perpetrators, and massive property destruction and displacement.

In response, the government detained thousands, including prominent politicians it accuses of involvement in the violence. The security force presence in many towns in Oromia has increased, and recent protests have been met with a heavy-handed response.

Irreecha has already been a political flashpoint. In 2016, following a year of anti-government protests, security forces shot tear gas and discharged firearms as crowds gathered for the festival, sparking a stampede that left possibly hundreds dead.

Since March, the Ethiopian government has limited mass gatherings to slow the spread of Covid-19. With infection rates in Ethiopia remaining high, the authorities have recently further limited participation in large assemblies, most recently with the Orthodox Christian festival of Meskel, and now for this year’s Irreecha. An Oromia regional official has warned against manipulating the festival for political purposes. Federal security officials have also stated they will not tolerate any violence.

But many Oromos view the government’s attempts to limit participation in Irreecha with fear and suspicion. One 27-year-old man from West Arsi zone, Oromia, recently said: “The officials are selecting who will go, who will not, but they are not discussing with communities. You remember 2016? I fear that this year’s Irreecha festival will also face similar incidents.”

Amid a pandemic, reasonable restrictions on public gatherings may be justified. But with tensions already high, expressions of dissent and resistance to government directives may be expected. The government should show it has learned lessons from its recent responses to demonstrations and the events of 2016 by ensuring security forces exercise restraint and allowing gatherers to celebrate safely.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 29, 2020, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image A man wears a protective face mask as he drives a mobility scooter in central Leeds on the morning of March 21, 2020. © 2016 OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom government’s recently published data revealing that people with disabilities account for 59 percent of all Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales between March and July 2020 should shock us all.

But this devastating data is just one piece of the bleak experience of people with disabilities in the UK during the pandemic. A recent national government survey on the impacts of Covid-19 found that 22.5 percent of people with disabilities reported that their health is affected, almost twice the number of non-disabled people, while nearly 60 percent reported impacts to their well-being compared to 43 percent of non-disabled people, including worries about mental health deterioration and fears about the future.

A September Equality and Human Rights Commission briefing to the UK parliament cited numerous concerns for people with disabilities linked to emergency Covid-19 legislation introduced in March that weakened safeguards for people with disabilities. These include reduced access to health and social care services, the real risk of harm to people inside closed institutions combined with decreased public scrutiny of those institutions; and significant reductions in provision for care in the home.

In a June UK parliament hearing on Covid-19 and disabilities, advocate Fazilet Hadi, from Disability Rights UK, described feeling undervalued and forgotten during the pandemic: “For some of us, it showed how far away we are from being equal members of society,” she said. “Despite good intentions and maybe goodwill, the value of our lives is not completely embedded in society.”

Parliament should make the experience of people with disabilities a key focus of its six-month review of the coronavirus emergency law, due on September 30. Parliamentary health and social care and human rights committees should make the experiences of people with disabilities form a key part of their ongoing inquiries. And the UK government should ensure that people with disabilities are not left exposed during a “second wave” of Covid-19 or future public health crises.

The UK must show its commitment to the rights of people with disabilities by swiftly addressing the most glaring concerns. For some, it is truly a matter of life and death.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 3:38 pm
Click to expand Image General Augusto Pinochet, who from 1973 to 1990 led a military government in Chile responsible for extensive human rights abuses, in 1975. © AP Photo

(Washington, DC) – The Chilean Senate should reject a legislative proposal that would criminalize the denial of the heinous abuses committed during the country’s military dictatorship, Human Rights Watch said today. 

On September 22, 2020, the Chilean House of Representatives passed a bill that would punish people who “justify,” “approve” of, or “deny” the human rights violations committed during the country’s dictatorship between 1973 and 1990 with up to three years in prison. The bill still needs to be approved by the senate.

“Objectionable and offensive speech should be countered with speech, not criminal punishment,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The ‘anti-denial’ bill contravenes international human rights standards and will probably do little to stop offensive speech.” 

The bill applies to statements regarding rights violations documented in reports by official bodies charged with revealing the atrocity crimes committed during the country’s dictatorship. The bill would apply to such statements only if they “disturb the public order” or “illegitimately obstruct or limit” others’ exercise of their rights. 

Under international law, freedom of expression may only be limited under very specific circumstances. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), both ratified by Chile, state that laws may only limit the right to free speech to the extent necessary and proportionate to ensure respect for the rights or reputations of others, or “the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.” The restrictions in the Chilean bill are neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals of protecting the rights of others or public order. 

Chile has a legitimate interest in preserving an accurate public understanding of the horrific abuses committed during the country’s dictatorship, and ensuring respect for their victims, but the criminalization of speech is not an acceptable way to pursue those aims, Human Rights Watch said. 

The Inter-American Legal Framework Regarding the Right to Freedom of Expression says that the tolerance, pluralism, and openness necessary in any democratic society require that “freedom of expression must be guaranteed not only with regard to the dissemination of ideas and information that are received favorably or considered inoffensive or indifferent but also in cases of speech that is offensive, shocking, unsettling, unpleasant or disturbing to the State or to any segment of the population.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the expert body that interprets and evaluates state compliance with the ICCPR, has held that “laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts are incompatible with the obligations that the Covenant imposes on States parties.”

“Punishing offensive speech is not an effective way to counter offensive ideas, and may even be counterproductive,” Vivanco said. “Laws that criminalize speech risk turning their targets into victims and drawing even more attention to their ideas.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 1:54 pm
Click to expand Image Police officers secure the road leading to the House of Representatives ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), July 27, 2020 in Metro Manila, Philippines. © 2020 AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Last week, the Philippine government released new statistics on the country’s “war on drugs,” showing that police killed 46 people during anti-drug operations in August. Human Rights Watch had reported a more than 50 percent increase in “drug war” deaths during the Covid-19 lockdown, from April through July. The new data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s monitoring system, #RealNumbersPH, shows that the situation is getting worse. 

Based on #RealNumbersPH statistics, during the four-month lockdown, the average monthly “drug war” deaths totaled 39, a 50 percent increase from the four months before the lockdown, from December 2019 to March 2020, when the average monthly death rate was 26. August’s total of 46 reported killings is more than a 76 percent increase from the four-month average.

“Drug war” operations are typically carried out in urban areas in major cities, targeting impoverished communities that are facing the dual increased risk from the anti-drug campaign and the pandemic. During the lockdown, these communities have been hemmed in by police and local governments, with residents largely confined to their homes. They become sitting ducks for anti-drug raids by the police and their agents. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in June, put the number of “drug war” fatalities at more than 8,000 since the campaign was started by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2016. Domestic human rights groups and the governmental Commission on Human Rights believe the actual toll is triple that number. #RealNumbersPH, which only includes police killings and not those by gunmen linked to the police, puts the total killed at 5,856.

These numbers are horrifying however you add them up. That even more are occurring under cheerleading President Duterte, as Filipinos endure lockdowns, checkpoints, and quarantines in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 is further reason for the Human Rights Council to step in and investigate the country’s human rights violations. As long as the “drug war” remains official policy, the killings will continue and impunity will remain rife.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 12:34 pm
Click to expand Image Relatives of 12 Hong Kong activists apprehended at sea by Chinese authorities call for their family members to be returned to the territory, saying their legal rights were being violated, at a press conference in Hong Kong, September 12, 2020. ©2020 AP Photo/Kin Cheung

(New York) –The Chinese authorities should allow 12 detained Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, including one child, access to family members and their own lawyers and physicians, Human Rights Watch said today. The group has been held incommunicado in Shenzhen’s Yantian Detention Center since August 23, 2020.

Detention center authorities said the 12 detainees are suspected of “unlawfully crossing the border,” which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison. But a Chinese government spokesperson said the 12 are “separatists,” a crime that can carry the death penalty in “egregious cases.”

“The Chinese authorities should respect their own laws and allow the 12 Hong Kong detainees access to their relatives and lawyers,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government seems determined to treat Hong Kong protesters in custody as badly as it has long treated mainland activists.”

On August 23, the Chinese coast guard intercepted a boat sailing from Hong Kong to Taiwan and detained all 12 people aboard. The group, ages 17 to 33, includes Andy Li, an activist who had been arrested in Hong Kong on August 10 for “colluding with foreign elements” under Hong Kong’s new draconian National Security Law. The others were protesters accused of arson, rioting, assaulting the police, and other crimes under Hong Kong law, and were either wanted by the Hong Kong police or had been barred from leaving the city under bail conditions. None have been formally charged. Human Rights Watch does not have information regarding the merits of the underlying criminal cases.

Chinese authorities have threatened mainland lawyers hired by the protesters’ families to represent the 12 with “serious consequences for their career,” stating that the case is “very sensitive” as it involves the National Security Law. Five of the lawyers have dropped the case as a result of the threats, and those who went to the detention center have been denied access to their clients. The detention authorities – and Hong Kong Secretary of Security John Lee – claimed that the 12 had already accepted government-appointed lawyers. Their families, however, said they rejected those lawyers.

Under China’s Criminal Procedure Law, suspects have the right to appoint lawyers of their choice as soon as they are under any of compulsory police measures, and to meet with those lawyers. Legal representation is compulsory for those accused of crimes that might lead to life in prison or the death penalty, or for suspects under age 18. In practice, especially in politically sensitive cases, detention center authorities and police often deny suspects access to lawyers, and subject them to months of enforced disappearance during which they may face torture and other ill-treatment.

Under Chinese law, police can detain citizens for up to 37 days before the procuratorate approves their arrest or release. Since police formally detained the group on August 25, the authorities will have to announce by October 1 whether each of the 12 will be formally arrested or released. The police can also subject people to up to six months of secret detention known as “residential surveillance in a designated location.”

Hong Kong authorities, while vowing to “actively follow up” on the case, also said that it would be “difficult” to seek their extradition to Hong Kong, and that the mainland authorities have jurisdiction over the 12 detainees. Hong Kong officials also said that mainland authorities had conveyed to them that the 12 “are in good health,” but have made no effort to seek access to the detainees. Among the group, three require medication to manage chronic conditions including asthma and depression; the families said they fear the detained have no access to medical care.

One detainee, Kok Tsz-Lun, 18, a Hong Kong University student, is a dual Hong Kong-Portugal national. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations permits Portuguese consular officers to visit Kok in detention and arrange legal representation for him. The Portuguese consulate should immediately seek to meet with Kok if it has not done so already, Human Rights Watch said.

Among the group, Wong Lam-Fok, is 17. Under international human rights law, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child under the age of 18 may be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. Every detained child has the right to maintain contact with his or her family through visits and correspondence. Moreover, any detained child has the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the detention before a court or other independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

The Hong Kong government should seek access to the 12 detainees and provide robust assistance to ensure that their rights are respected by mainland authorities.

“People in Hong Kong and abroad are watching how the Chinese government deals with these Hong Kong cases,” Wang said. “The Chinese government needs to show the world it can uphold its own laws and international obligations.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image In Guinea’s capital, Conakry, family members cry after identifying the body of a relative killed on September 28, 2009, when security forces fired on opposition supporters as they marched to and later held a rally in the September 28 Stadium. The body of their relative was one of 57 dead displayed at the Grand Fayçal Mosque on October 2, 2009. © 2009 Reuters

(Conakry) – Victims and their family members are demanding justice for the killings of more than 150 demonstrators, rapes, and other crimes committed by the Guinean security forces on September 28, 2009 in a stadium in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, 6 human rights groups said today. The groups are the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), Equal Rights for All (MDT), the Guinean Human Rights Organization (OGDH), the International Federation for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

The Guinean authorities should immediately act to ensure that the long-delayed trial of the crimes can start as soon as possible, the organizations said. Guinea’s international and regional partners should press for the trial to take place without further delay. The Guinean government and the European Union, France, and United States have previously pledged support for the trial.

“The trial was at last scheduled to open in June, but nothing has moved ahead,” said Asmaou Diallo, president of AVIPA. “The Covid-19 pandemic may have created new challenges, but the government should ensure that the trial’s opening gets back on track, for the sake of the victims.”

The domestic investigation, which began in February 2010 and concluded in late 2017, progressed slowly amid political, financial, and logistical obstacles. But in a country in which impunity largely prevails when security forces are implicated in crimes, the completion of a credible investigation sent a strong signal and raised hopes for the opening of a trial that could bring justice to the victims.

Some survivors have died while progress in the case languished. The surviving victims continue to demand justice. “Since that day we cry and then we dry our tears and hope that we will have justice,” said one victim in a video that the groups issued last year on the need for the trial to begin.

More than 13 suspects were charged – 11 of them sent for trial, including current and former high-level officials. Suspects include Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the National Council of Democracy and Development junta, which ruled Guinea in September 2009, who is living in exile in Burkina Faso, and his vice president, Mamadouba Toto Camara. Some of the suspects continue to occupy influential positions, including Moussa Tiegboro Camara, who is in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime.

Abubakar “Toumba” Diakité, Dadis Camara’s aide de camp, has also been charged, and was extradited from Senegal to Guinea in March 2017 after evading justice for more than five years.

Four other people who have been charged are in detention at the central prison of Conakry, respectively since 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015. Their provisional detention is illegal given that it exceeds the maximum limit under Guinea law, which is 18 to 24 months in criminal matters.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Guinea in October 2009. The ICC, designed as a court of last resort for the most serious crimes, steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute such cases.

Concerns over an evident lack of will to organize this trial in Guinea are increasing, the organizations said. The current government’s own involvement in numerous human rights violations could hinder its willingness to bring to trial individuals accused of crimes that took place before it came to power.

In recent months, the Guinean authorities have harassed, intimidated, and arbitrarily arrested opposition members and human rights defenders in an atmosphere of insecurity linked to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This follows a violent crackdown on opposition members and supporters by security forces in the lead up to and during the controversial March 22 constitutional referendum and legislative elections.

In this context, the six organizations are concerned that the current authorities could further delay the stadium trial. The authorities need to take steps to protect witnesses, victims, and lawyers involved in the 2009 case, the organizations said. An attempted break-in at the AVIPA office during the March 22 elections illustrates the security risks for participants in this trial.

The victims and their beneficiaries also are living in deplorably precarious conditions and need to receive adequate, efficient, and swift assistance from the Guinean authorities, the organizations said.

In April 2018, the then-justice minister, Cheick Sako, set up a steering committee to organize the trial. It set Conakry’s Court of Appeal as the location.

In January 2020, Justice Minister Mohammed Lamine Fofana announced to the United Nations his government’s “unequivocal” support for opening the trial. Despite his announcement that the proceedings would begin in June, following completion of construction on the courtroom facility, the trial has not moved forward.

In June, Mory Doumbouya was appointed justice minister. He said that he supports the trial, but that the judiciary is responsible for organizing it.

The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC should urge the Guinean authorities to organize the trial as soon as possible to give surviving victims an opportunity to participate in a trial that would be a key step in the fight against impunity in Guinea. Eleven years provide ample time to prepare a trial of this scale, the organizations said.

“The September 28, 2009 trial requires political support at the highest level to go ahead,” said Abdoul Gadiry Diallo, president of OGDH. “Our hopes lie with President Condé and Minister Doumbouya to herald in its commencement as soon as possible. Appropriate measures to ensure the participation of Dadis Camara and the safety of victims and witnesses will be crucial.”


Shortly before noon on September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of people who had gathered peacefully at the 28 September stadium in Conakry for a march against Dadis Camara’s intention to run for president. The security forces also individually or gang raped more than 100 women and sexually assaulted some of them with objects such as batons or bayonets, during or soon after the events. The security forces killed more than 150 people and wounded hundreds of others.

The security forces then organized a cover-up operation, sealing off all the entrances to the stadium and morgues and removing the bodies to bury them in mass graves, many of which have yet to be identified.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 7:00 am
Click to expand Image Demonstrators run from teargas fired by police at a protest against alleged corruption, including the theft of supplies for the fight against the coronavirus, Nairobi, Kenya, August 21, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated already staggering levels of economic inequality in many countries around the world. Now there is a real risk that trillions of dollars meant to support those hardest hit by the crisis may be captured by the wealthy, increasing inequality as countries are saddled with public debt for money lost to corruption.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lent US$ 89 billion to over 80 countries since March. The Fund has sought to ensure that its emergency assistance helps push back on the rising tide of inequality, with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva giving countries a road-map: invest in health and education, widen safety nets, and ensure access to food; address budget shortfalls through progressive taxation; and cut corruption and wasteful spending.

But there is little in the loan agreements to make governments heed that advice; some even include terms that could actually go against it.

Six months into the pandemic, massive amounts have already been lost due to corruption or malfeasance: Transparency International analyzed media reports about Covid-19 corruption cases and found 19 that included reliable estimates of the public funds involved, spanning 17 countries. In these 19 cases, the total amounted to US$1.1 billion.

Unsurprisingly, an increase in corruption is linked to decreased spending on health and education and increased inequality.

In exchange for emergency assistance from the IMF, most governments have committed to abide by basic transparency and good governance measures, such as publishing contracts and conducting independent audits. But given the scale of the losses already incurred, it is worth reflecting on the extent to which the IMF strategy is working. These lessons learned will be crucial for safeguarding public funds and reducing inequality during a long and uncertain period of economic recovery.

Here are three key steps that the IMF can take to ensure that funding reaches those most in need and does not contribute to inequality.

Ensure consistency in preventing corruption and misuse of IMF and other emergency assistance

In many of the loans approved early in the pandemic, governance considerations fell through the cracks – even when the IMF’s own staff had identified corruption risks in the country’s recent past. Since then, growing numbers of loan agreements have included anti-corruption commitments. Overall, the IMF’s response to Covid-19 has shown that it is feasible to include specific governance and anti-corruption safeguards in emergency loan agreements.

The IMF should extend these measures to all countries. One way to do this is by amending its 2011 Policy on Liquidity and Emergency Assistance to make these governance safeguards mandatory and apply them equally to all recipients. This would not only help prevent the misuse of IMF funds, but would also address the lack of consistency in anti-corruption measures in emergency financing that the IMF itself has recognized.

Revising the 2011 policy would also provide a basis for more consistency as the IMF begins to move from emergency loans to other types of funding. The only factor that should determine the level and nature of attention to anti-corruption efforts is the extent of the corruption problem in a given country, not the type of assistance given, nor any other considerations.

 Support implementation of anti-corruption measures with dedicated funding

The IMF deserves credit for the progress it has made in its efforts to tackle corruption, including a sharp increase in candid reporting on the problem and more governance reforms in its programs. But it should also recognize that if it allows governments to pay lip service to reform, it risks undermining the credibility of future commitments.

Emergency funding poses a particular challenge because the money is given to the government up front and in full. Even though many governments promised to publish contracts, conduct independent audits, and take other measures to improve transparency, they have yet to do any such thing now that they have the money. Others may fulfill these commitments only partially or in ways that are not credible.

Some government agencies may lack the capacity to implement the measures effectively. That doesn’t mean the IMF should ignore those commitments. Rather, it should support better governance. With US$1 trillion in lending capacity and so many lives at stake, it is more important than ever for the IMF to ensure that corruption does not cost additional lives.

Dedicated funding for anti-corruption measures as part of IMF assistance would help make sure that sorely needed support reaches those most in need. The IMF should ensure that Covid-19 funding includes a specific budget line for anti-corruption, transparency, and accountability measures.

The IMF should verify and make public an assessment of how each government carries out its anti-corruption commitments. Inadequate implementation should be taken into account in negotiations for future programs. The Fund should also develop guidelines for verifying implementation to ensure consistency and accountability for all future programs.

Empower civil society

An essential antidote to corruption is a public that can hold its government accountable. Protecting and enhancing the public’s ability to do that should be at the center of the IMF’s strategy to make sure its lending does not exacerbate inequality.  

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been a growing recognition of the role civil society organizations can play in supporting accountability. In a positive step, the IMF is increasingly engaging with independent civil society and improving efforts to publicly communicate about IMF programs and policies. But many governments continue to target good governance advocates or enact laws that restrict civil society groups. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, civil society organizations in many countries faced multiple challenges to their watchdog function. In recent months, the coronavirus has provided an excuse to further restrict  civil society and to attack its members.

Civil society organizations can play a key role in monitoring and tracking the use of Covid-19 funds, but they need to be acknowledged as playing a vital role in a broader system. The IMF should be doing all it can to promote the conditions that enable civil society groups to do their jobs.

The IMF should not let its recent improvements make it complacent about corruption. There is still much work to do until it can be sure that the billions it is lending are used to address the economic consequences of the pandemic in ways that help reduce inequality, not make it worse.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: September 28, 2020, 4:01 am