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

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

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

© 2017 Reuters

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

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

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

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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

September 16, 2019

António Guterres
Secretary-General
United Nations
New York, NY

Re: China’s Human Rights Violations in Xinjiang

Dear Secretary-General,

We, a coalition of five human rights organizations, write to express our deep concern about the arbitrary detention of an estimated more than a million Turkic Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. We appeal to you to add the weight of your office to the growing number of voices speaking out publicly, including the 25 countries that issued a joint statement on Xinjiang at the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 10. By publicly and unequivocally condemning the Chinese government’s abusive policies and calling for the immediate closure of its “political education” camps, you would make an important contribution in addressing one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time and your tenure as Secretary-General.

On International Human Rights Day in 2018, you stated that human rights “apply to everyone – no matter our race, belief, location or other distinction of any kind. Human rights are universal and eternal.” We ask you to make clear to the people of China – including the Muslims of Xinjiang – that those words apply to them too.  

We would also caution against any action that might lend credence to Beijing’s narrative that the unlawful detention of over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims is a necessary measure to counter terrorism. We were particularly concerned by your spokesman’s response to questions from journalists about the plight of Uyghurs after your latest trip to Beijing in April, when he said that “human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and in the prevention of violent extremism.” While unobjectionable as an abstract proposition, such a statement in the context of Xinjiang gives undue credit to Beijing’s dubious justification, while obscuring the core issue – the systematic persecution of an entire ethnic and religious minority on a scale not seen in China for decades.

Furthermore, we note how the Chinese government exploited Under Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov’s recent visit to Xinjiang, using the visit in its public messaging to further bolster its false counterterrorism narrative. That visit took place just as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was reportedly asking Beijing to agree to terms for a meaningful – not stage-managed – visit. The government’s actions surrounding Under Secretary-General Voronkov’s visit illustrate the need for all parts of the United Nations system to properly incorporate human rights concerns into their activities and decisions about how to engage with states. It also heightens the need for you to urge the Chinese authorities to grant High Commissioner Bachelet and her experts prompt and unimpeded access to the camps. We also ask that you publicly support the creation of a much-needed UN fact-finding mission to assess the scale and nature of abuses in Xinjiang.

We recognize that your preferred approach with the Chinese government on Xinjiang has been to conduct quiet diplomacy. But to date the Chinese government has been compelled to answer for its actions only after intense public pressure generated by concerned governments, human rights organizations, and the media. So far, Beijing has mounted a defense mainly through carefully stage-managed visits to selected camps in which diplomats and journalists met with detainees who had clearly been prepared to confess that they had been “infected with extremist thought.” A recent announcement by senior local officials that all detainees “have returned to society” is similarly misleading and has no basis in fact. Most recently, Beijing put together a coalition that includes some of the most abusive governments in the world, many of which are themselves under investigation by UN bodies for their abysmal human rights records, to heap praise on China’s policies toward the Uyghurs.

Not only have you so far refrained from publicly criticizing China’s conduct in Xinjiang, you praised without any qualification Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which Xinjiang is a centerpiece, despite the human rights concerns it has raised. The public silence over the mass detention in Xinjiang in the context of such glowing commentary sends a distressing message of abandonment to the millions of Turkic Muslims who live in constant fear for themselves and their families. We would encourage you to meet with representatives of the Uyghur community at your earliest opportunity to hear first-hand of their plight.

We are aware that the Chinese authorities place pressure on governments to keep silent about Xinjiang and China’s other human rights issues. Your office undoubtedly faces similar pressure. But you hardly need reminding that the right to liberty, and specifically freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, is an absolutely key human right, which China is legally bound to respect and protect. Violations of the right on this scale and severity require steadfastness and perseverance to bring them to an end. By actively contributing to the growing chorus of global criticism you could help end this large-scale repression of a marginalized community, which may prove to be one of the defining issues of your tenure as Secretary-General.

Respectfully,

Kumi Naidoo
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Saman Zia-Zarifi
Secretary General
International Commission of Jurists

Dimitris Christopoulos
President
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Dolkun Isa
President
World Uyghur Congress

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should join the growing number of those speaking out publicly against China’s mass detention of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, and World Uyghur Congress, said in a letter to the secretary-general released on September 17, 2019.

By publicly and unequivocally condemning the Chinese government’s abusive policies and calling for the immediate closing of its “political education” camps in Xinjiang, Guterres would make an important contribution in addressing one of the most pressing human rights issues during his tenure leading the United Nations.

“Secretary-General Guterres should use the weight and authority of his office to unambiguously call on China’s leadership to shut down Xinjiang’s abusive detention centers,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The countless victims of China’s latest wave of repression depend on his leadership in standing up to Beijing and demanding an end to the persecution.” 

In July, 25 countries issued a joint statement on Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council that raised serious concerns about the arbitrary detention and intense surveillance that the predominantly Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang has been subjected to in recent years. The Chinese government responded with endorsements from some of the most abusive governments in the world in a statement praising China’s Xinjiang policies.

The secretary-general’s preferred approach to the Chinese government on Xinjiang has been to conduct private diplomacy, the groups said.  However, the Chinese government has answered for its actions only after intense public pressure generated by concerned governments, human rights organizations, and the media.

The groups asked Guterres to urge Chinese authorities to grant the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, and UN experts prompt and unimpeded access to the camps. They also urged him to publicly support creation of a fact-finding mission or similar mechanism to assess the scale and nature of abuses in Xinjiang and to keep the UN Human Rights Council regularly informed.

Chinese authorities exert pressure on governments and public figures to keep silent about Xinjiang and other human rights issues in China. However, the secretary-general has a responsibility as the leader of the UN to do all he can to promote the human rights of everyone in Xinjiang, including through strong public diplomacy. 

“The scale of China’s abuses against Turkic Muslims cries out for the secretary-general’s principled leadership despite pressure from China,” Roth said. “He should reject China’s bullying and speak out firmly on behalf of human rights.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Anti-riot police clash with Guinean opposition supporters in Conakry on March 22, 2018.

© 2018 CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images

Guinean President Alpha Condé is visiting the United States this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly, and to reportedly drum up investment from American investors.

Condé will be keen to promote Guinea’s improved economic prospects, driven by growth in the mining sector and soon, he hopes, by electricity from a series of hydropower projects.

But a key question is whether current political uncertainty about Condé’s future will lead to further rights abuses. Limited by Guinea’s 2010 constitution from running for a third term, Condé supporters – including the ruling party – have asked him to amend the constitution and run again. On September 5, he instructed his ministers to undertake “consultations” on a new constitution.

If the government does pursue a new constitution, Guinea is likely to see a new round of opposition demonstrations, which have often led to violent clashes between security forces and protesters. During protests in 2018, security forces shot and killed at least 12 people, while demonstrators killed 2 law enforcement officers.

As political tensions mount, there are signs the government is willing to violate human rights to suppress dissent. The government has effectively banned all street protests. Security forces have tear gassed those who defy the ban and arrested dozens of demonstrators opposed to a new constitution.

The government has done little to ensure security forces committing abuses against protesters are held to account. It has failed to bring to trial soldiers implicated in the 2009 stadium massacre, in which more than 150 peaceful protesters were killed. If the government wants to demonstrate a real commitment to fighting impunity, it should set a trial date for the massacre and establish a special taskforce of judges to investigate more recent abuses occurring during demonstrations.

When meeting with President Condé this month, world leaders and policymakers should underscore that respect for the freedom of the government’s opponents is paramount. They should urge him to end any blanket ban on demonstrations and only prohibit protests when strictly necessary to preserve public order.

Only President Condé knows his plans for his political future. But all Guineans, regardless of their political persuasion, have the right to express their opinion at such a critical moment for Guinea’s democracy. And they have a right to justice when security forces are responsible for unlawful deaths.

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

This year, Human Rights Watch spoke with some of the hundreds of refugees who continue to flee Burundi each month. Many continue to leave because of the violence: the appearance of a neighbor’s body on the street bearing signs of beatings or machete wounds, the disappearance of a loved one, or repeated threats by the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure. But more and more refugees have said that the so-called “voluntary” financial contributions they were forced to make to the ruling CNDD-FDD and to fund the 2020 elections pushed them to leave. One refugee interviewed in July said:

I left Burundi because I wasn’t a member of the ruling party. The Imbonerakure asked me to pay because I wasn’t a member. They asked all the time until I started operating at a loss.  When I tried to cross over to Tanzania, I was accused of being a rebel and of supporting the opposition.

Many men and women interviewed this year told us that refusing to join the ruling party, give money to it, attend its rallies or build its offices leads to threats, beatings, arrests, or death. We have documented how the Imbonerakure set up illegal roadblocks where they beat up and extorted people who had not paid for the elections, prevented people from accessing markets, and forcibly collected in-kind contribution from an already severely impoverished population.

Yet last month, Tanzania and Burundi agreed to repatriate all Burundian refugees from Tanzania, whether they wanted to return or not, arguing that Burundi is peaceful. According to the Commission, the current illusion of calm is based on terror. Human Rights Watch agrees with this assessment.

The continued abuses and the COI’s stark warning about the risk of further atrocities less than a year ahead of the country’s next elections highlights the importance of the full renewal of the COI at this session to continue its critical work. The mandate is all the more important given that the OHCHR was forced to leave Burundi in February.

Commissioners, could you further address the risks Burundians who have recently returned from aborad face? Do you think the international community has the mechanisms in place and ability to independently monitor the situation of repatriated Burundians once they have returned?

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A truck drives in front of security and riot police guards, outside Cairo's Tora prison, where the trial of ousted Egyptian Islamist President Mohamed Mursi took place, in Cairo, Egypt June 17, 2019. Since his forcible removal by the army, human rights have sharply deteriorated.

© 2019 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should use the upcoming review of Egypt’s human rights records to address unprecedented levels of repression, 17 organizations including Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the council’s member countries

The organizations made a series of recommendations concerning the death penalty, torture, violence against women and girls, detention of activists and rights defenders, and a crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly, among other human rights violations.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process which involves the review of the human rights records of all UN member states on rotating basis every four years. Egypt’s upcoming UPR will be held on November 13.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with armed group in Tripoli, Libya September 22, 2018. 

© 2018 Hani Amara/Reuters

The scars ran deep. His back was a maze of thick welts, thinner scars and parts that resembled small craters. His wrists and ankles were raw from where he’d been shackled and suspended from a ceiling for hours, and his limbs appeared limp and stretched. His eyes were expressionless. The torture destroyed me as a person, Ali[1] said.  

Ali, 24, told me he had been tortured within an inch of his life in Benghazi. He was stopped at a checkpoint by an armed group affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) who accused his brother of fighting against the LNA in Benghazi. No matter that his brother was 1,000 kilometers away in Tripoli. Ali said he barely made it out alive after three days of almost non-stop torture. 

Sadly, his story is not unique. During the past eight years, as Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, I have interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations, or their relatives, and have visited dozens of prisons, migrant detention centers and informal detention facilities. 

The list of serious abuses is long and goes well beyond torture and arbitrary detention, including those arising from the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, the more recent conflicts in 2014 and the current conflict in Tripoli.

I have investigated the plight of thousands forcibly displaced from their homes in Tawergha by armed groups from Misrata, the vast majority of whom cannot return home; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by groups linked with the LNA; and  sieges by the LNA that left civilians without access to food, water or medical care.

In the ongoing Tripoli conflict, there is wanton destruction of private property and indiscriminate attacks against civilians by all parties. 

Many more violations are the direct result of systemic failures of consecutive post-Gaddafi governments and their supporters during periods of peace. We visited people held in long-term arbitrary detention without judicial review, primarily because post-2011 governments failed to establish a functioning justice system. In Misrata, we interviewed torture victims in detention facilities run by the Justice Ministry, still bloodied after their ordeal. In Benghazi, we documented scores of politically motivated assassinations, including of activists and journalists, mostly by unidentified perpetrators where no one was held to account. In Tripoli, we met relatives and friends of victims of kidnapping and enforced disappearances by armed groups linked with the Government of National Accord (GNA). 

In western Libya, we uncovered widespread abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by smugglers and the GNA-linked coast guards and prison authorities. Some were held in slave-like conditions. 

Multiple armed conflicts and political rifts since 2011 have had a devastating effect on civilians. In the absence of central authority, armed groups have committed human rights crimes with impunity. Most notable are “Dignity” (Karama) the May 2014 military campaign by LNA commander General Khalifa Hiftar to take control of the eastern region to “root out terrorism,” and the ensuing war in Tripoli between competing factions, from which emerged three, then two, authorities, claiming legitimacy. 

The situation has worsened since Hiftar’s April 4 war  on Tripoli. The LNA, an armed group controlling eastern Libya and parts of the south and allied with the Interim Government, is trying to wrest control of western Libya from the competing, internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Over 100 civilians have been killed, thousands more displaced, and civilian infrastructure has been damaged. 

Despite the magnitude of the human rights crimes in Libya, attempts to hold wrongdoers to account, in domestic and international courts, and through sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, have failed to break the cycle of impunity. 

Few cases have been heard by civil and military courts in Libya. The post-Gaddafi interim government, strongly supported by the UN and western governments, did not prioritize a functioning justice system. So thousands of people in east and west of the country remained in long-term abusive arbitrary detention without a hearing. Domestic courts, affected by political divisions and armed conflict, are barely functional, with procedures hampered by grave due process violations, including forced confessions, ill treatment, and lack of access to lawyers. In some areas, including the south, the criminal justice system has collapsed. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors are also prime targets of militias.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Libya yet the prosecutor has issued only one arrest warrant since 2011: against Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for extrajudicial executions. 

The UN sanctions have been underused: only eight people have been listed for individual targeted sanctions since the 2011 revolution, including two militia commanders and six people involved in trafficking. Attempts to list abusive warlords and officials have failed because powerful backers within the Security Council have blocked such designations. The UN Human Rights Council shut down its Commission of Inquiry on Libya in  2012 leaving inadequate public reporting on crimes committed by all sides in Libya.

Nor has Libya seen justice for crimes committed under Gaddafi’s rule. Although media reports that a Tripoli criminal court is investigating the June 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which 1,200 prisoners were killed, no one has yet been held responsible. Many who opposed Gaddafi remain missing, including prominent opposition members Jaballa Hamed Matar and Izzat al-Megaryef, who were arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo in 1990 and sent to Abu Salim. Lebanese Shia cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared in Libya in 1978; his fate remains unknown. 

It will take strong political will to expose those behind the most serious violations and bring justice. The narrative that peace in Libya will come only through political and economic settlements and holding abusive warlords and officials to account is counterproductive, is ill conceived. Real peace depends on first seeing justice done. Libya urgently needs a robust investigative mechanism to establish responsibility for violations and to document and preserve evidence of these crimes – for example, an independent UN International Commission of Inquiry.  

Peace and justice depend on each other. Ali was tired but he wanted me to document every detail that he could remember of his ordeal, and to see every scar. It mattered a lot that he could tell his story and know that someone would preserve it. Then maybe one day, those who tormented him would be arrested and sent to jail. 

[1] HRW interview with Ali (name changed), October 2017, Tripoli, Libya.

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

We welcome the UN high commissioner’s strong report, which includes key information on the major human rights problems in Nicaragua. This includes not only impunity for last year’s crackdown on the streets, but also ongoing human rights violations.

The crackdown by Nicaragua’s National Police and armed pro-government groups against protestors that began in April 2018 led to more than 300 deaths and 2,000 people injured. Hundreds were detained. Detainees were subject to serious abuses, in some cases amounting to torture, and denied due process. Impunity for egregious abuses committed in Nicaragua remains the norm.

Nicaragua’s human rights problems did not end when massive protests dissipated in mid-2018. The high commissioner’s report, covering the period August 2018 to July 2019, shows that human rights violations continue. It documents cases of pro-government groups attacking protesters in March 2019, the use of excessive force at time by the National Police against those attempting to demonstrate, and actions that undermine freedom of expression and association. The report notes that, beginning in September 2018, the government has banned public demonstrations by any group critical of the government. The government has stripped nine non-governmental organizations of their legal registration, shut down media outlets, prosecuted journalists under the anti-terrorism law, and expelled international monitors from the country. The Ortega government has harassed and threatened the media, human rights defenders and other members of civil society.

In February, the government and the opposition resumed stalled negotiations. From mid-March to mid-June, the Ortega administration had released nearly 400 people detained in the context of the protests. The majority, however, were released under restrictive measures. It is unclear how many more remain in prison, given the opacity surrounding arrests of protesters. In mid-June, a broad amnesty law for crimes committed in the context of anti-government protests came into force. In spite of carve outs in the law for certain crimes, given the lack of judicial independence in the country, there is a serious risk that the law will be used to shield from prosecution officers responsible for serious abuses in the country.

The Ortega government backed out of negotiations in July and has shown no signs of future participation.

Following the high commissioner’s first report, the Ortega administration failed to hold perpetrators accountable for abuses and instead promoted senior officials who bear responsibility for killings and torture of demonstrators. In response to the high commissioner’s second report, the government has even defended the armed pro-government thugs that participated in repressing protests.

Strong and sustained international pressure condemning human rights violations is key to ending impunity and ensuring justice for the people of Nicaragua. We urge Human Rights Council members to take the opportunity of this report’s findings to actively press the Ortega government to allow international human rights monitors back into the country. Council members should make clear to the Nicaraguan authorities that international pressure pushing for accountability for the Nicaraguan people will not dissipate—and if victims do not find it at home, they will find it abroad.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We welcome the continued spotlight from the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council Group of Eminent Experts on the armed conflict in Yemen and thank them for their compelling report. The Experts have documented in detail the terrible toll the conflict has taken on the country’s civilians. We have just heard horrifying accounts of laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses committed with complete impunity by various parties to the conflict. 

Human Rights Watch research corroborates the severity and scope of these abuses. Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments.

Fighting in Yemen has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems. Furthermore, the Experts have expressed deep concern that parties to the conflict may have also used starvation as a method of warfare.

The Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes, killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni government officials in Aden have been responsible for the beating, raping, and torturing of detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

Despite mounting evidence of violations of international law by the warring parties, efforts toward justice have been woefully inadequate. The coalition’s investigations into alleged war crimes in Yemen have lacked credibility and failed to provide redress to victims. Human Rights Watch has also not identified concrete measures the Houthis have taken to investigate their alleged abuses or held anyone to account.

The current state of impunity reinforces the need for the Human Rights Council to ensure that abuses against Yemeni civilians get continued and robust international scrutiny and that steps are taken to lay the foundation for concrete accountability. To this end, the Council should renew and strengthen the Experts’ mandate, and provide them increased resources to preserve evidence, identify perpetrators, and analyze command structures. The Experts should also be invited to publicly report to the Council on a regular basis.

It is imperative that this important work continue. By shining a light on violations by all parties, the Council can help deter further abuses and send a message that perpetrators will face justice. Victims deserve to know that the international community stands with them

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should act to prevent future UN failures in the face of atrocities, a coalition of 16 organizations said in a joint letter to the secretary-general that was released today.  

The May 2019 report of an independent investigation by a Guatemalan diplomat, Gert Rosenthal, raised serious concerns about the UN’s handling of the human rights crisis in Myanmar. The secretary-general should promptly carry out reforms to prevent what the report called the recurrence of the “systematic” failures and “obvious dysfunctional performance” and to ensure individual accountability for those failures.

“The UN leadership promised it would never again turn a blind eye to atrocities after ignoring massive civilian deaths in Sri Lanka a decade ago, but it happened again,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN leadership needs to avoid another catastrophe, including by holding officials who failed to act during Myanmar’s ethnic cleaning campaign accountable.”

The secretary-general’s decision to commission an investigation, and to release and accept all the recommendations in the Rosenthal report, was a valuable first step, the groups said. However, the UN made similar commitments after the 2012 internal review panel report on UN action in Sri Lanka, written by Charles Petrie. The Rosenthal report shows that the failure to fully carry out the Petrie report recommendations set the stage for the UN’s subsequent failings in Myanmar.

The Rosenthal report describes the UN’s failure to stop, mitigate, or even draw attention to violence by Myanmar security forces against ethnic Rohingya. The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found that the security forces’ actions amounted to crimes against humanity and warranted an investigation of the crime of genocide.

The groups said that the limited scope of the Rosenthal inquiry – undertaken by one individual without field visits – meant that it did not satisfy the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a “comprehensive” investigation in Myanmar. The inquiry’s scope was also not reconcilable with the extraordinary magnitude of the crisis and the urgency of gathering “lessons learned” to improve future UN responses to human rights emergencies.

Secretary-General Guterres should recommit to and revitalize the human rights reforms initiated by his predecessor in response to the Petrie report, the groups said. Those reforms, known as Human Rights up Front, were aimed at ensuring that human rights become a priority for all UN officials – from junior to senior – and in UN operations at headquarters and field missions around the world. The current UN administration has overseen a comprehensive dismantling of those reforms.

“It’s sad to see another ‘lessons-learned’ report after all the promises of ‘never again’ that followed the Petrie report,” Charbonneau said. “The UN leadership has taken an important step to learn from its failures in Myanmar, and the secretary-general should now make good on those promises.”

The following groups signed the letter to Secretary-General Guterres:

ALTSEAN-Burma
Amnesty International
Article 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Human Rights Network
Fortify Rights
Global Justice Center
Human Rights Watch
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI)
Justice for All/Burma Task Force
Progressive Voice

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content

Dear Secretary-General,

We, the undersigned coalition of 16 international organizations, write to you regarding the recent report by Gert Rosenthal, “A Brief and Independent Inquiry into the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018.”[1] As you are aware, 19 international nongovernmental organizations wrote to you on March 25, 2019, expressing support for an independent investigation into the handling of the Myanmar crisis by the UN and its agencies, with a view to drawing lessons and ensuring accountability.[2]

The Rosenthal report describes the UN’s failure to stop, mitigate, or even draw attention to violence that the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found amounted to crimes under international law including crimes against humanity, and warrants an investigation of the crime of genocide against Rohingya.[3] We note that the mandated scope of Mr. Rosenthal’s inquiry was extremely limited, was undertaken by one individual, did not include field visits, and excluded individual accountability.[4] These limitations do not satisfy the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a “comprehensive” investigation,[5] and are not reconcilable with the extraordinary magnitude of the crisis and the urgency of gathering “lessons learned” to improve the UN’s response in Myanmar and in similar high-risk situations going forward.

Nevertheless, we recognize your leadership in commissioning this report, releasing it publicly, and accepting all of its recommendations. This is a valuable first step. We stand ready to work with your office, as appropriate, to implement the recommendations, and to support other necessary changes and reforms.

However, we also note that the UN made similar commitments after the publication of the 2012 “Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka,” written by Charles Petrie.[6] It is clear from the Rosenthal report that the failure to fully implement the recommendations in the Petrie report set the stage for the UN’s subsequent failings in Myanmar.

It is for this reason that we encourage you to take bold action, beyond the recommendations outlined in the Rosenthal report. These actions should include:

  • promptly implementing reforms to prevent the recurrence of the “systematic” failures and “obvious dysfunctional performance” outlined in the report, and ensuring accountability for those failures as required;
  • re-energizing the Human Rights up Front initiative prompted by the Petrie report;
  • returning to your office a senior staff member dedicated to ensuring Human Rights up Front is fully implemented throughout the UN system;
  • taking practical steps to hold accountable those UN officials responsible for failures before, during, and since the 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign;
  • supporting the Resident Coordinator to ensure they have authority to implement a comprehensive Human Rights up Front strategy that takes into account the views of national and international NGOs, community-based organizations, and the human rights community, and is reflected and implemented at country level;
  • using your leadership to take concrete steps to improve coordination at all levels of the UN on the situation in Myanmar; and
  • committing to publishing annual updates on progress in adopting the recommendations of the Petrie and Rosenthal reports until they are fully implemented.

To promote greater transparency and accountability, we urge you to submit the report to the Security Council and encourage its member states to invite Mr. Rosenthal to brief the Council, the UN General Assembly, and nongovernmental organizations on this matter. We also urge you to brief the UN Human Rights Council on the report’s findings and recommendations at its 43rd session, as requested by the Council in resolution 40/29.[7]

We note that while Mr. Rosenthal’s review covers 2010 to 2018, many of the issues raised regarding the failings of “quiet diplomacy” are ongoing. A number of actors were also responsible for failing to take steps that may have prevented or limited atrocities, including individual UN member states and, above all, the Security Council, which has abdicated its collective responsibility to act under the UN Charter, despite your September 2, 2017 letter to the Security Council President urging concrete action.[8]

It is vital that your office act once again and quickly. Specifically, we call on you to set a clear, unifying strategy for the UN Country Team in Myanmar that places human rights concerns at the center of its strategy.

With elections scheduled in Myanmar in 2020, there is a real and serious risk of more violence against the Rohingya, other Muslim communities, and other vulnerable groups; heightened repression against critics of the military and government; and increased violations of international humanitarian law in the country’s internal armed conflicts with ethnic armed groups. Against this backdrop, it is crucial that under your direction UN bodies operate with a consistent and principled voice that prioritizes human rights.

We would be happy to discuss these issues and next steps with you and your team. As Mr. Rosenthal states, UN reforms “will be on trial” in Myanmar going forward.

We hope that you can make past failures in Myanmar a turning point in the UN’s history—the moment when the lessons were finally learned.

Yours sincerely,

ALTSEAN-Burma
Amnesty International
Article 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Human Rights Network
Fortify Rights
Global Justice Center
Human Rights Watch
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI)
Justice for All/Burma Task Force
Progressive Voice
 


[1] Gert Rosenthal, “A Brief and Independent Inquiry into the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018,” May 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/sites/www.un.org.sg/files/atoms/files/Myanmar%20Re....

[2] Joint Letter to the UN Secretary-General, March 25, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/25/joint-letter-un-secretary-general.

[3] Human Rights Council, Report of the detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, A/HRC/39/CRP.2, September 17, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/FFM-Myanmar/A_HRC_39_....

[4] Rosenthal report, p. 3.

[5] Human Rights Council, Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/39/2, October 3, 2018, para. 32.

[6] Charles Petrie, “Report of the Secretary-General's Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka,” November 2012, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/737299.

[7] Human Rights Council, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/40/29, April 11, 2019, para. 29.

[8] Security Council, Letter from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2017/753, September 2, 2017, https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2017/753.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge you to ensure the Council takes action to address serious human rights violations and abuses that have been and continue to be committed in Sudan, and to support systemic reforms in the country. As detailed below, the Council should formulate a holistic response to the situation in the country, including by ensuring an investigation of violations committed since December 2018, renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, and strengthening monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

On 17 August, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), opposition umbrella groups, as well as the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took power upon the ouster of former president Omar al-Bashir, signed an agreement on transitional governance arrangements for the next three years, followed by elections. However, the human rights situation in Sudan continues to be of grave concern, including with violence against protesters and ongoing lack of accountability for violations and abuses since December, and poses major risks to long-term stability in the country, as well as in the East African, Horn of Africa and Middle East regions.

Yet, since peaceful protests calling for civilian rule started, in December 2018, the Council has missed several opportunities to contribute to the formulation of a meaningful international response to the Sudanese crisis. It remained silent ahead of its 40th session (February-March 2019); after the 3 June 2019 massacre; and during its 41st session (June-July 2019), failing to convene a special session, or an urgent debate, or even to adopt a resolution on the country’s extraordinary human rights situation.

Silence is no longer an option. The transitional agreement is no guarantee of improved respect for human rights. As the UN’s top human rights body, the Council should fulfill its responsibilities towards the Sudanese people and contribute to ensuring that human rights compliance and systemic reforms are central parts of a sustainable political solution to the crisis and that peaceful transitional arrangements are respected, in line with its mandate to promote and protect human rights.

As the Council’s 42nd session approaches, Member and Observer States should actively work towards the adoption of a resolution using the range of tools available to address Sudan’s short-, mid-, and long-term human rights challenges. The Council should act in accordance with its mandate to address human rights violations, and be guided by the overarching need to protect the rights and freedoms of the Sudanese people.

Major human rights developments in Sudan since December 2018 are detailed  in the annex to this letter.

With the above considerations and the human rights situation in Sudan in mind, at its 42nd session, the Council should:

  1. Establish an independent investigation, in the form of a fact-finding mission or similar, into all human rights violations and abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, committed in the context of peaceful protests since December 2018.

The investigation should:

  • Be independent, impartial, transparent, thorough, and effective. It should address patterns of violations and the chain of command of all relevant State organs; examine the role of all such organs, including the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Rapid Support Forces (RSF), National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and associated elements; and seek to identify those most responsible for the violations, irrespective of their rank or social standing;
  • Rely on a standard of proof that enables the identification of individual perpetrators and future criminal prosecutions, and recommend ways of holding perpetrators accountable;
  • Address the gaps in the national investigation by covering all violations and abuses committed in relation to peaceful protests since December 2018, including after the 3 June 2019 massacre;
  • Address patterns of violations, including the legal, institutional, and policy framework that enable violations associated with State responses to peaceful protests and citizens’ exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms; and
  • Cover violations and abuses committed in Khartoum and the rest of the country, including conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

The Council should request the investigative mechanism to share its report and recommendations with the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and all relevant organs of the UN.

  1. Renew and strengthen the mandate of the independent expert (IE) and ensure robust monitoring and public reporting mandate for the OHCHR throughout 2020 and beyond by:
  • Renew and strengthen the mandate of the Independent Expert until a fully mandated OHCHR country office is declared operational by the OHCHR and the government of the Sudan;
  • Continue to extend technical assistance and capacity-building to Sudan, including in the form of training on human rights compliance for security and law enforcement bodies and technical advice on bringing legislation, policies, and practices in line with international standards and Sudan’s obligations, including by amending or repealing laws and regulations and reforming State organs;
  • As technical cooperation relies on, and goes hand in hand with, a thorough and ongoing assessment of the human rights situation, issues, and challenges, the Council needs to ensure that the OHCHR enjoys a robust monitoring and reporting capacity. Such reporting should include recommendations for systemic (including legislative, institutional, and policy) reforms needed to improve Sudan’s human rights situation and to bring about transformational change for the benefit of the Sudanese people, including women and girls, marginalised and at-risk groups;
  • Ensure public discussion of the human rights situation in Sudan and systemic reforms needed to improve it through an Enhanced Interactive Dialogues once a year, bringing together the Independent Expert, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Government of Sudan, relevant UN actors, and civil society representatives, in addition to the regular Interactive Dialogues at the Council’s September sessions;
  • The Council should further make clear that UN and independent actors must have access to all places and persons of interest throughout the country, including the conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and that the Sudanese Government has an obligation to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society, human rights defenders, the media and other independent actors can operate free from hindrance, insecurity, and reprisals.

The Council should encourage, as a matter of urgency, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Sudan and OHCHR, regarding the opening and operationalization of a fully mandated OHCHR country office to monitor the full range of human rights including the domestic investigation into abuses against protesters on June 3, as envisioned in the constitutional charter.

Yet again, we urge you to take immediate and long-overdue action to ensure the Council provides a credible response to the human rights situation in Sudan, and stand ready to provide your Delegation with any further information.

 

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  1. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  4. CSW
  5. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  6. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  7. Human Rights Watch
  8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  9. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  10. MagkaSama Project
  11. MENA Rights Group
  12. Physicians for Human Rights
  13. REDRESS
  14. Strategic Initiative for women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)
  15. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative (SHRI)
  16. Sudanese Human Rights Monitor

 

Annex: Human rights developments in Sudan since December 2018

In December 2018, a threefold increase in the price of bread triggered peaceful mass protests against economic hardship, inequality and poverty, which quickly expanded to include grievances over lack of good governance, authoritarian rule, and human rights violations in Sudan. Tens of thousands of Sudanese started peacefully protesting on a daily basis, organised sit-ins, most notably in the capital Khartoum, and demanded long-term political change. The protests came to be referred to as the “Sudanese Uprising” or “Sudanese Revolution.”

The authorities responded by using excessive and lethal force, indiscriminately firing live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters, killing dozens of civilians. In a joint letter published in January 2019, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) called on the Council to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Sudan. The signatories wrote: “These attacks are not taking place in a vacuum: they follow decades of violations committed during systematic and widespread attacks on civilians – amounting to crimes against humanity – both in the context of popular protest and multiple conflicts waged against populations in Sudan’s designated peripheries.” At its 40th regular session, however, the Council remained silent on the situation.

On 5 March 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Sudan. The resolution expressed concern over “the use of excessive and disproportionate force to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths and injuries of several protesters,” alarm over “reports that security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas into hospital premises, where protesters were taking shelter,” and concern over “allegations relating to the arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment of persons suspected of participating in or supporting the protests.” The ACHPR made a series of recommendations to the Government and called on it to authorise the Commission to undertake a fact-finding mission to the country.

In the night of 10-11 April 2019, the protest movement and power shifts within the political, military and security apparatus led to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled Sudan for almost 30 years and is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on several counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide for crimes committed in Darfur. The military installed a Transitional Military Council (TMC) and peaceful protests continued. Protesters and their representatives, including the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) and other civilian and professional associations, demanded a quick transition to civilian rule through a civilian-led transition process.

On 14 May 2019, in another resolution on Sudan, the ACHPR reaffirmed its statements and recommendations as well as the State’s obligations pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It called on Sudan’s transitional authorities to “protect the right of citizens to participate freely in the government of their country through freely chosen representatives,” “respect and uphold the fundamental human rights and freedoms of citizens, particularly the right to assembly, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, liberty and security, as well as due process of law, during and after the transition to a Civilian-led Transitional Authority,” “refrain from the use of excessive force against protesters […],” “conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations into the alleged human rights violations and hold perpetrators, including state security agents accountable,” and “ensure that victims of the violations and their families obtain full and adequate redress.” The standoff between peaceful protesters and the State’s military and security apparatus continued.

On 3 June 2019, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – or “Janjaweed,” a paramilitary force under the authority of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” who also serves as deputy head of the TMC, attacked peaceful demonstrators at a sit-in in Khartoum. More than one hundred civilians have been reported killed, and hundreds more injured. Protesters were also beaten and arbitrarily detained, subjected to rape, including gang rape, and other forms of intimidation and humiliation.

The attacks occurred in the very early morning, with soldiers opening fire on protesters then chasing them into buildings. Forces attacked or prevented care at at least three hospitals with reports of doctors being assaulted. Attacking forces burned down the sit-in tents and looted goods. Reports also indicate that RSF carried out similar attacks on peaceful protesters in Darfur and other parts of the country.

The crimes and human rights violations committed during the crackdown on June 3 shocked the capital, and recall violations committed by government forces and the RSF in other parts of the country over the last decades, including in conflict areas of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur.

After the attack, talks between the TMC and FFC, facilitated by H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister (as the Chairperson of IGAD), faltered. On 6 June 2019, the AU suspended with immediate effect the participation of Sudan in all AU activities until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority.

In a letter to the HRC, a group of NGOs wrote: “These horrific acts clearly demonstrate [the TMC’s] lack of commitment to a peaceful transition to a civilian government and their determination to consolidate control by the harshest elements in the security services. It highlights the risk of further political polarization and of mass violent confrontation if urgent action is not taken in support of a peaceful transition to civilian rule.” The signatories urged the Council to convene a special session and to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner to set up a fact-finding mission.

In another letter addressed to the UN Security Council (UNSC), NGOs highlighted that the RSF, riot police, and national security officials that attacked the protest site “blocked the exit so that protesters could not easily leave and used live ammunition. Gunmen reportedly threw bodies into the Nile, weighing them down with bricks. According to the Central Committee of Doctors, 40 bodies were retrieved from the waters. Attackers also reportedly raped protesters. At least three hospitals were attacked, with reports of doctors assaulted. Since then, targeted harassment of medical personnel has led to the closing of eight hospitals, according to the Central Committee of Doctors.

We note the call by a group of NGOs on the UNSC to support regional efforts by, among other things, condemning the violence, supporting the establishment of an independent investigation, demanding a rapid transfer of power to civilian authorities and a transition period led by civilian authorities, freezing plans to draw down the forces of the joint UN-AU Mission in Sudan (UNAMID), demanding the demobilisation of the RSF under international supervision, and expanding the imposition of targeted sanctions in Sudan, now only focused on Darfur, to individuals most responsible for violence against peaceful protesters and other peaceful opposition. Meanwhile, the RSF committed further human rights violations in Darfur. New satellite evidence and testimonies confirm that government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces and associated militias, have damaged or destroyed at least 45 villages in Jebel Marra between July 2018 and February 2019.

However, ahead of, and at, its 41st session, the HRC failed to take any action on Sudan. It did not convene a special session or an urgent debate, and failed to adopt any resolution on the situation.

Crimes and human rights violations by forces under the command of the TMC continued, and on 30 June 2019, as the Council’s 41st session was ongoing, RSF forces attacked protesters in Omdurman, killing at least ten people. On 29 July 2019, security forces broke up a student protests in the city of El-Obeid, shooting dead at least six protesters, including three minors. Killings of civilians have also con­ti­nued to be reported in other areas of the country.

On 5 July 2019, a power-sharing deal was agreed between the TMC and representatives of the civilian protest move­ment, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The deal envisioned a 39-month tran­sition period led by a Sovereign Council (SC) with a rotating (TMC/FFC) presidency, followed by elections. The agreement also called for an investigation into the 3 June mas­sacre and other instances of violence, as well as a (seemingly unrealistic) six-month time frame to try and reach a peace agreement with all armed rebel groups throughout the country, including Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan.

On 4 August, the parties signed a constitutional charter that provides for transitional bodies, sets out mandated tasks and time periods. On 17 August, the parties signed the power-sharing agreement incorporating both the political and constitutional agreements. On 21 August, the new SC members, chaired by the army general and former TMC chair, Abdel Fattah Burhan, were sworn in along with the prime minister. A new cabinet was scheduled to be appointed on 1 September 2019, and a 300-member legislative council is to be appointed within 3 months.

The agreement contains many ambitious goals for reforming institutions and protecting rights, but no benchmarks for progress. A critical gap in the agreement is the absence of any mechanism to ensure its implementation and consequences for breaching it. The agreement is also sorely lacking in broad accountability for human rights violations. The agreement calls for a new “independent national committee” to investigate the 3 June 2019 massacre with possible African support – but it is unclear if and how those responsible (including commanders who are on the SC) will be held accountable, and if they will be investigations into crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations perpetrated outside of the 3 June event, including before December 2018.

Many ques­tions therefore remain. They include, inter alia, the legal enforceability of the constitu­tional de­cla­ra­tion and consequences for breaching it; details regarding the State’s decentralisation; decision-making in the SC (and de facto veto powers by either of the parties as well as ways of overcoming these vetoes); the status of the RSF and their rela­tion­ship to the Sudanese Armed For­ces (SAF); details of the pro­cess of dismantling the means of control of the former regime; and how to establish and guarantee the maintenance of an independent judiciary.

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Dear Excellency,

The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to request your support for a resolution ensuring strengthened scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”).

National elections in July 2018 were conducted after the Supreme Court, which lacks independence, dissolved the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Many believe that this allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen to secure all 125 seats in the National Assembly and effectively establish one-party rule. Since the election, respect for human rights in Cambodia has further declined. Key opposition figures remain either in detention – such as CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is under de facto house arrest – or in self-imposed exile out of fear of being arrested. The CNRP is considered illegal and 111 senior CNRP politicians remain banned from engaging in politics. Many others have continued to flee the country to avoid arbitrary arrest and persecution.

Government authorities have increasingly harassed opposition party members still in the country, with more than 147 former CNRP members summoned to court or police stations. Local authorities have continued to arrest opposition members and activists on spurious charges. The number of prisoners facing politically motivated charges in the country has remained steady since the election. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets, and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It is expected that a resolution will be presented at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for another two years. We strongly urge your delegation to ensure that the resolution reflects the gravity of the situation in the country and requests additional monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mandated OHCHR monitoring of the situation and reporting to the Council, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, would enable a comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia, identification of concrete actions that the government needs to take to comply with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, and would allow the Council further opportunities to address the situation.

Since the last Council resolution was adopted in September 2017, the situation of human rights in Cambodia, including for the political opposition, human rights defenders, and the media, has drastically worsened. Developments since the 2018 election include:

 

Crackdown on Political Opposition

On March 12, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. The charges were based on baseless allegations of conspiring to commit treason and incitement to commit felony. In September 2018, authorities transferred CNRP head Kem Sokha after more than a year of pre-trial detention in a remote prison to his Phnom Penh residence under highly restrictive “judicial supervision” that amounts to house arrest. Cambodian law has no provision for house arrest and there is no evidence that Sokha has committed any internationally recognizable offense.

During 2019, at least 147 arbitrary summonses were issued by the courts and police against CNRP members or supporters. Summonses seen by human rights groups lack legal specifics, containing only vague references to allegations that the person summoned may have violated the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the CNRP in November 2017.

 

Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters

In November 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that criminal charges would be dropped against all trade union leaders related to the government’s January 2014 crackdown on trade unions and garment workers in which security forces killed five people. However, the following month, a court convicted six union leaders – Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun, and Mam Nhim – on baseless charges and fined them. An appeals court overturned the convictions in May 2019, but in July 2019 the court announced its verdict in absentia convicting Kong Atith, newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of intentional acts of violence in relation to a 2016 protest between drivers and the Capitol Bus Company. The court imposed a three-year suspended sentence, which will create legal implications under Article 20 of the Law on Trade Unions, which sets out among others that a leader of a worker union cannot have a felony or misdemeanor conviction.

In December 2018, Thai authorities forcibly returned Cambodian dissident Rath Rott Mony to Cambodia. Cambodian authorities then prosecuted him for his role in a Russia Times documentary “My Mother Sold Me,” which describes the failure of Cambodian police to protect girls sold into sex work. He was convicted of “incitement to discriminate” and in July 2019 sentenced to two years in prison.  

In March 2018, the government enacted a lese majeste (insulting the king) clause into the Penal Code, and within a year four people had been jailed under the law and three convicted. All the lese majeste cases involved people expressing critical opinions on Facebook or sharing other people’s Facebook posts. The government has used the new law, along with a judiciary that lacks independence, as a political tool to silence independent and critical voices in the country.

In July 2019, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. The authorities charged both with incitement to commit a felony, a provision commonly used to silence activists and human rights defenders. Authorities arrested seven people in total for commemorating the anniversary; monitored, disrupted, or canceled commemorations around the country; and blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party on their way to Takeo province – Kem Ley’s home province.

 

Attacks on Journalists and Control of the Media

Prior to the July 2018 election, the Cambodian government significantly curtailed media freedom, online and offline. In 2017, authorities ordered the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies that aired independent news programs by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. RFA closed its offices in September 2017, citing government harassment as the reason for its closure. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air.

Since 2017, two major independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, were subjected to dubious multi-million-dollar tax bills, leading the Phnom Penh Post to be sold to a businessman with ties to Hun Sen and The Cambodia Daily to close.

Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. In May 2018, the government adopted a decree on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet and the Law on Telecommunications, which allow for arbitrary interference and surveillance of online media and unfettered government censorship. Just two days before the July 2018 elections, authorities blocked the websites of independent media outlets – including RFA and VOA – which human rights groups considered an immediate enforcement of the new decree. 

Since then, Cambodian authorities have proceeded with the politically motivated prosecution of two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. They were arrested in November 2017 on fabricated espionage charges connected to allegations that the two men continued to report for RFA after RFA’s forced closure of its Cambodia office. They were held in pre-trial detention until August 2018. Their trial began in July 2019 and a verdict on the espionage charges is expected late August. They face up to 16 years in prison.

***

The Cambodian government’s actions before and since the July 2018 election demonstrate a comprehensive campaign by the ruling CPP government to use violence, intimidation and courts that lack judicial independence to silence or eliminate the political opposition, independent media, and civil society groups critical of the government.

We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the human rights situation and the risks it poses to Cambodia’s fulfillment of its commitments to respect human rights and rule of law as set out in the Paris Peace Accords 1991. It is crucial that concerned states explicitly condemn the Cambodian government’s attacks on human rights norms and take steps to address them.

For these reasons, we call on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and outline actions the government should take to comply with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner should report to the Council at its 45th session followed by an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with participation of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures, and members of local and international civil society.

We further recommend that your government, during the Council’s September session, speaks out clearly and jointly with other governments against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

We remain at your disposal for any further information.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  4. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  6. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  7. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) 
  8. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
  9. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  10. Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
  11. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  12. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  13. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  14. Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
  15. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  16. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  17. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
  18. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  19. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
  20. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
  21. Fortify Rights
  22. Human Rights Now
  23. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  24. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  25. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  26. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  27. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  28. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  29. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF)
  30. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am