(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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Iraq has one of the highest numbers of missing people in the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons, which has been working in partnership with the Iraqi government to help recover and identify the missing, estimates that the number could range from 250,000 to one million. Since 2016, Human Rights Watch has been documenting continued enforced disappearances by Iraqi security forces. As far as the organization is aware, authorities in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region have done little to punish officers implicated in disappearances.

Enforced Disappearances from 2014 to 2017

In 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report that documented 78 cases of men and boys forcibly disappeared in Iraq between April 2014 and October 2017. The majority of these 78 people were detained in 2014, with the most recent in October 2017. In three more cases, men who were detained and disappeared in 2014 and 2015 later were released. They said they had been detained for periods ranging from 34 to 130 days by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, formally under the control of the prime minister) or the National Security Service in unofficial detention sites. All said they had been beaten throughout their time in detention.

Military and security forces apprehended 34 of the 78 men and boys at checkpoints as part of anti-Islamic State (also known as ISIS) terrorism screening procedures and another 37 at their homes. All the disappearances at checkpoints but one targeted people who are from or lived in areas that were under ISIS control. In most cases of people arrested at home, security forces gave the families no reason for the arrests, although most of the families suspect the reasons were related to the detainees’ Sunni Arab identity. In at least six of these cases, the circumstances or what arresting officers said indicated that they were at least potentially related to the fight against ISIS.

Of the 78 families interviewed, 38 requested information regarding their missing relatives from Iraqi authorities but received none. Other families had not sought information, fearing inquiries would seriously jeopardize their relatives’ safety. None of the families had a clear idea of which authority they should contact to find out their relatives’ whereabouts.

In three cases, family members alleged that the arresting officers used excessive force, in one case leading to a death of another relative.

In June 2018 Human Rights Watch sent questions and a list of the disappeared and the approximate dates and locations where they were last seen to Mr. Haidar Ukaili, the human rights adviser to the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council in Baghdad and Dr. Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s coordinator for international advocacy. On September 18, 2018 the Kurdistan Regional Government responded with information about the number of individuals its forces detained for ISIS affiliation and its arrest procedures. It did not respond to any of Human Rights Watch’s specific queries, including the whereabouts of individuals included in the report. Baghdad authorities provided no response. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the families whose relatives were featured in the report have yet to receive any information on their whereabouts.

The 2016 Fallujah Offensive

The most infamous mass disappearance since 2003 occurred during the June-July 2016 military operations by Iraqi security forces against the Islamic State in the city of Fallujah in Anbar governorate. At the time, Human Rights Watch reported on credible allegations that during the two weeks of fighting, government forces carried out summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances and mutilation of corpses.

On June 5, 2016 security forces released over 600 men they had detained in the Hayy al-Shuhada area in Saqlawiya during the operation, most from the Mahamda clan. The men who were released told an Anbar governorate official who later spoke with Human Rights Watch that they saw PMF fighters take away at least another 600 Mahamda men.

A local sheikh from Karma, a town northeast of Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch in late May 2016 that within the first few days of the military operation, Iraqi security forces forced civilians living there to leave. During the exodus, at least 70 young men disappeared, he said, and the families had no information as to their whereabouts. The sheikh said that on June 1, 2016 Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jiburi had come to the area to speak to local elders and the military. A member of Anbar governorate council, who also provided information about the launch of the prime minister’s investigation, confirmed the number of missing men to Human Rights Watch and said that the government had opened investigations to determine where they are.

On June 4, 2016, in response to allegations of abuse, then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi launched an investigation into abuses in Fallujah and issued orders to arrest those responsible for “transgressions” against civilians. On June 7, al-Abadi announced the “detention and transfer of those accused of committing violations to the judiciary to receive their punishment according to the law.” Human Rights Watch directed questions about the composition of the investigative committee, its authority, and relation to the judiciary to five Iraqi government institutions in addition to the human rights section of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. A member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee told Human Rights Watch that the committee had started its own investigation and was liaising with the investigation by the prime minister’s office, which remained secret. The other officials contacted did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Human Rights Watch spoke to a member of the prime minister’s investigative committee in early 2017, who said that because of the sensitivity of their findings, they would not be issuing any.

In December 2019, Iraqi authorities announced the discovery of over 500 bodies in a mass grave just outside Fallujah. Families speculated these were the remains of the disappeared Mahamda men. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, authorities have yet to carry out any exhumations of the site, or confirm to families of the disappeared that this is the location of the bodies of their relatives.

The Disappearance of ISIS Suspects

In March 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that Iraq’s Interior Ministry was holding at least 1,269 detainees, including boys as young as 13, without charge in horrendous conditions at three makeshift prisons and with limited access to medical care. Two of the makeshift prisons were in the town of Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, and the third at a local police station in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul.

Justice Minister Haidar al-Zamili who met with Human Rights Watch on February 2, 2017, said that that the Qayyarah detainees had not been allowed to communicate with their families and that detainees held on terrorism charges had no right under the counterterrorism law (Law no. 13/2005) to communicate with their families during the investigation period. Since 2016, hundreds of families across towns and displacement camps in Iraq have told Human Rights Watch that their relatives were detained on charges of ISIS affiliation, after which they were unable to obtain any information about their whereabouts.

In February 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that groups within the Iraqi military were screening and detaining men fleeing Mosul at an unidentified detention center where they were cut off from contact with the outside world. On January 10, 2017 a soldier working at a screening site about two kilometers south of eastern Mosul that was under the army’s control told Human Rights Watch that he had been stationed there for several weeks and that every night PMF fighters from the area would come to the screening site and take away groups of men, whether they were or were not on authorities’ lists of those “wanted” for ISIS affiliation. A PMF fighter based at the site confirmed to Human Rights Watch in January that his forces were detaining men on a nightly basis, because they were sure these men were ISIS-affiliated. Human Rights Watch has been unable to locate the any men or families of men detained at the site.

Detained Children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Human Rights Watch in November 2018 interviewed 20 boys, ages 14 to 17, charged or convicted of ISIS affiliation, at the Women and Children’s Reformatory in Erbil, and three boys who had recently been released. The reformatory, a locked detention center encircled by high walls and concertina wire, is one of three facilities holding children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. At the time of the visit, reformatory staff reported that 63 children were being held there for alleged terrorism-related offenses, including 43 who had been convicted. Human Rights Watch also interviewed staff, relatives of some of the children, and two 18-year-olds who had also been arrested and detained.

All of the boys said they were not allowed to communicate with their families while in custody of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s security forces, Asayish. Once at the reformatory, children were allowed family visits before trial, but most said they were denied phone calls until after sentencing. For some detainees, the inability to make phone calls meant that their families had no idea where they were. One boy said he had been detained for nearly two years without contact with his family. Reformatory staff said that the Asayish determines whether detainees can receive visits or phone calls.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Dr. Dindar Zebari, the regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, requesting comment on the new findings. Zebari responded on December 18, 2018 that families were notified if a child is detained, and that child detainees could call their families with officers of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s security forces, the Asayish, present.

Disappearances of Detainees in Kirkuk

In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported on more than 350 detainees held by the Kurdistan Regional Government in the city of Kirkuk who were feared to have been forcibly disappeared. Those missing were mainly Sunni Arabs, displaced to Kirkuk or residents of the city, detained by the Asayish on suspicion of ISIS affiliation after the regional forces took control of Kirkuk in June 2014. Local officials told Human Rights Watch that the prisoners were no longer in the official and unofficial detention facilities in and around Kirkuk when Iraqi federal forces regained control of the area on October 16, 2017.

On November 7, 2017 dozens of people demonstrated in Kirkuk, demanding information on their relatives allegedly detained by Asayish forces, which triggered a statement from then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to investigate the disappearances. On November 8, following the demonstration, Azad Jabari, the former head of the security committee of Kirkuk’s provincial council, reportedly denied that Asayish forces had carried out any disappearances. He blamed the disappearances on US forces previously present in Kirkuk, saying most of the files of the missing dated from 2003 to 2011 and were not more recent.

However, Kirkuk’s acting governor, Rakkan Said, and a Kirkuk police chief told Human Rights Watch that several days after the protest, Asayish forces handed over to Iraqi federal forces in Kirkuk 105 detainees first held in Kirkuk and later transferred to facilities in Sulaimaniya. Governor Said said that the Iraqi prime minister’s office also sent a delegation to Kirkuk to further investigate. Human Rights Watch was unable to reach delegation members about their findings.

On December 12, 2017 a member of the Kirkuk branch of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch that families had submitted complaints to the commission against Kurdistan Regional Government authorities about the disappearance of at least 350 other men whom the Asayish had allegedly detained in and around Kirkuk.

On November 12 and December 17, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people who said they had witnessed identifiable Asayish forces detain 27 of their relatives, all Sunni Arab men, between August 2015 and October 2017 in Kirkuk or south of the city. The witnesses said that they had not been able to communicate with their detained relatives since their arrest, had received no official information about their status and whereabouts, and were concerned about their whereabouts since the Iraqi officials could not locate them.

In all 27 cases discussed with Human Rights Watch, relatives said they had asked local Asayish or police forces about their relatives but never received an official acknowledgement of their detention or information about where they were being held or why. In some cases, family members said they were able to obtain information from informal channels indicating that their relatives were being held by the Asayish in other parts of the Kurdistan Region. 

The relatives of four of the disappeared told Human Rights Watch in December, 2017 that over the last month, newly released detainees contacted them to say they had been held in the same cells as their relatives in al-Salam military base for Kurdistan Regional Government Peshmerga military forces in Sulaimaniya, where Asayish forces run a number of informal detention facilities.

Disappearances linked to the October 2019-March 2020 Protests

Protests erupted in Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq on October 1, 2019, with security forces detaining protesters off the streets. At least seven people, including a boy of 16, were reported missing as of October 7 from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or vicinity, where they were participating in ongoing protests. Four were still missing as of December 2. The families said they visited police stations and government offices seeking information without success, and the government took no tangible measures to locate their relatives. It is unclear whether government security or armed groups carried out the arrests.

In nine other cases, families, friends, and lawyers of people kidnapped or detained at or after they participated in protests in Baghdad, Karbala and Nasriya, told Human Rights Watch that their relatives had been detained at the protests and were missing, but that they were too frightened or worried about the consequences for the detained person to provide details.

Human Rights Watch reported on the abduction of Saba Farhan Hameed, 36, on November 2, as she was on her way home from providing food, water, and first aid kits to protesters in Tahrir Square. Hameed’s family said she was blindfolded throughout her abduction and released on November 13, but could not provide other details. Human Rights Watch had also documented the abduction of Maytham al-Helo, a Baghdad resident, on October 7, during the first wave of protests. He was released on October 24 and was also unable to provide any details about his abduction.

The brother of Omar Kadim Kadi’a said on November 26 that Kadi’a had been living in Tahrir Square since a second wave of protests started on October 25. Kadi’a came home on November 20 to take a shower, the brother said, but then left, and his family has not been able to reach him since. His brother said that on November 25 his phone was turned back on, because it suddenly showed that their messages to him had been read, but they called many times and got no answer. He said that Kadi’a’s older brother filed a missing person complaint at a local Baghdad police station but that the police showed little interest and, as far as he knew, did not investigate. After Kadi’a was released on November 28, he told Human Rights Watch that Federal Police had arrested him at a checkpoint en route to the protests on November 20 and brought him before a judge on November 21, who told him he was not being charged with anything.

A man in Baghdad said on October 22 that he had last spoken, by phone on October 3 at 5 p.m., to his brother Abbas Yaseen Kadim, who was at the Tahrir Square protest that day. When the brother tried to call Kadim at 8 p.m., the phone was turned off. The brother went to four police stations seeking information but found out nothing, and police did not offer any assistance in locating him. Kadim was still missing as of December 2019.

Another man said that a relative, Saif Muhsin Abdul Hameed, had come to Baghdad on October 25 for the protests and was sleeping in a tent with friends at Tahrir Square. He said he spoke to Abdul Hameed at around noon on October 28. Abdul Hameed told him he was on Jumhuriya Bridge, the front line of the protests, but after that, Abdul Hameed's phone was turned off. The man said he went to police stations and government offices but was not able to get any information, and police said they did not have enough information to follow up on the case. Abdul Hameed was still missing as of December 2019.

A relative of Mari Mohammed Harj, a woman from Baghdad, said on November 13 that on October 29, Harj posted a video of herself on Facebook criticizing the prime minister and expressing support for the protesters. The video went viral, her relative said, at which point Facebook users the family did not know started posting accusations that Harj had ties to Saudi Arabia and making death threats against her. The relative said she last spoke to Harj, who was at Tahrir Square, at 5 p.m. on November 8, but that when she called at 9 p.m. Harj’s phone was turned off. She said Harj’s father and uncle went to two police stations in Baghdad but got no information. They asked the police to seek cell phone tower data to help figure out where she was and file a missing person report, but did not think the police had investigated. Harj was released on November 12 but would not share details of her abduction with Human Rights Watch.

The sister of Mustafa Munthir Ali, who was in Tahrir Square every day starting on October 1 helping as an ad hoc medic, said he stopped answering her calls at 3 a.m. on November 15. She said she went to Tahrir Square later that morning and could not find Ali at police stations or on any prisoner lists she checked. She said she did not know how to file a missing person claim and the police would not help. Ali managed to call his family on November 17, said his father, who was able to visit him on November 20 in detention in Muthana, an old military base in Baghdad that now houses detention facilities run by various government security apparatuses.

Ali told his father that at midnight on November 14, a man in civilian clothes dragged him from the protest to a group of officers who arrested him, took him to the Baghdad Operations Command office, and beat him. Ali said that on November 16, officers brought him before a judge, who told him that he was not being charged but that the judge could not order his release until “the government resigns or the protests end.” The father said Ali confirmed that other protesters were being held at Muthana. Human Rights Watch was not able to directly verify his account.

A cousin of Sinan Adil Ibrahim said on November 25 that he spoke on November 21 to Ibrahim, who was at the Tahrir Square protest. He called Ibrahim again at 2 a.m. on November 22 to find that his phone was turned off. The family was afraid to describe steps they have taken to secure his release.

Hassan Ahmed Hatim, 16, went to the Tahrir Square protest on November 28, and his family has not been able to reach or find him since, his father said. His father went to three police stations but got no information and none offered to file a missing persons claim or any other help. Hatim was still missing as of December 2019.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Andy Wong

The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations agency charged with guiding the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, has become a battleground for two sparring superpowers. On April 14, 2020, President Trump announced that he would halt U.S. funding for the organization pending a review into what he called the WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

Within a week, China’s government offered $30 million as part of what it described as an effort to “[defend] the ideals and principle of multilateralism.” Earlier in April, China had secured a spot on a panel that advises the United Nations Human Rights Council on personnel appointments. (The Trump Administration pulled the U.S. out of the Council in 2018.) Nearly a third of the 15 specialized U.N. agencies are now led by Chinese appointees.

China has long sought to exert greater influence on global norms and rules across a whole range of issues, from trade, intellectual property, and Internet governance to environmental and labor standards and the definition of human rights, among others. Sometimes China’s officials work within established multilateral organizations and at other times they have created their own alternative China-led entities.

How is the Trump administration’s contempt for, and retreat from, multilateral bodies affecting China’s position and weight within them—or indeed its overall strategy for relations with these organizations? Do China’s leaders aspire to supplant the U.S. in steering these organizations? Or do they merely hope to make them more accommodating of the Chinese leadership’s interests and goals? If China does hold more sway in multilateral organizations, what does that portend for global governance more broadly? The ChinaFile Editors


In the abstract, it is good for the Chinese and other governments to participate in the United Nations human rights system. And it would be truly extraordinary if Beijing were to invest its considerable resources and clout in using that system for positive change.

Imagine, for example, if the Chinese government ratified and observed the optional protocols to the human rights treaties that allowed people from China to bring individual complaints against the government to U.N. bodies. Imagine Beijing encouraging independent nongovernmental organizations from China to participate in U.N. reviews of the government’s human rights record, as many democracies around the world do.

Or, in perhaps the ultimate test of a government’s commitment to this multilateral organization, allowing U.N. experts and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights access to Xinjiang to investigate the alleged arbitrary detention of one million Turkic Muslims and other serious human rights violations.

Unfortunately, the Chinese authorities have demonstrated their agenda for these human rights bodies: to neutralize their ability to challenge China, to foster praise for Beijing, and to use them as a platform for rewriting key international norms.

The recent controversy around whether Chinese authorities reported the outbreak of COVID-19 promptly to another U.N. body, the World Health Organization (WHO), or whether the WHO was sufficiently aggressive in pushing China to share information, is just the latest example of Beijing’s departing from recognized protocols. In 2017, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing China’s concerted efforts to undermine a variety of U.N. human rights mechanisms, ranging from limiting access to U.N. forums for independent civil society groups—including groups doing no work on China—to Chinese diplomats threatening U.N. human rights experts.

These problems have only worsened in recent years as China has become more aggressive in international affairs and strengthened its diplomatic presence across the U.N. human rights system. It sent a letter to U.N. diplomats threatening consequences if they attended an event on rights abuses in Xinjiang, and has blocked members of the World Uyghur Congress from U.N. events.

Its latest priorities include advancing a resolution on what it calls “mutually beneficial cooperation” at the U.N. Human Rights Council. This is actually an effort to erode the Council’s mandate by elevating “cooperation” over holding countries accountable when they commit gross rights violations. Recently, the U.N. announced a partnership agreement with Tencent—a Chinese company that owns social media app WeChat, which is known to censor posts inside and outside China—only to suspend the partnership after governments and rights advocates protested. And on May 1, Chinese authorities rejected WHO participation in investigating the origins of the pandemic.

China’s influence at the U.N. and other multilateral institutions will most likely continue to grow. The challenge is whether sufficient numbers of rights-respecting governments will hold the world’s second-biggest economy and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council accountable for serious human rights violations and strengthen key international institutions. The risks have never been clearer. Governments need to stand up to Beijing, speak out, and resist those efforts to distort the international framework.

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

Medical workers oversee the disinfection of streets to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Qamishli, Syria, March 24, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad

To help prevent a catastrophic outbreak of Covid-19 in Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) should stand firm in urging the United Nations Security Council to ensure medical and other humanitarian aid can be delivered to Syria over an Iraq border crossing.

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch published new research showing that limits on aid deliveries from Damascus and Iraq are restricting medical supplies and personnel needed to help protect the two million people in northeastern Syria from Covid-19. An uncontrolled outbreak in this conflict-ravaged area, which has already seen at least one coronavirus death, would be disastrous.

The WHO also urged the 15-nation Security Council to reauthorize the al-Yarubiyah crossing between Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria and Iraq. According to Reuters, the WHO sent the council a private memo last week asking it to reauthorize al-Yarubiyah “as a matter of urgency” due to the Covid-19 risk. Al-Yarubiyah is one of four crossings the council authorized in 2014 to enable cross-border aid delivery into northern and southern Syria. In January 2020, under threat of a Russian veto, the council de-authorized al-Yarubiyah, which remains in the hands of Kurdish authorities, and one other crossing.

But on April 28, the WHO sent council members an updated memo in which the clear call for reauthorizing al-Yarubiyah was inexplicably absent. According to several council diplomats, the new diluted messaging undermines efforts in the council to reauthorize al-Yarubiyah. The WHO offered no response when asked whether it had been pressured to change its recommendation.

Russia has argued that al-Yarubiyah is no longer necessary as areas serviced by it are now under Syrian government control and could be supplied from Damascus. But the original WHO memo, seen by Human Rights Watch, made clear that aid organized from Damascus “will not be sufficient to support an effective response to COVID-19.” This sentiment was echoed on April 29 by the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. Our own research has shown how aid agencies face significant obstacles transporting materials and personnel from Damascus to areas of northeast Syria outside of government control.

Given the dangers posed by Covid-19, the council should immediately reauthorize al-Yarubiyah. This would allow the WHO to scale-up support to the region, including by resuming supplies and funding to international aid groups based in northeastern Syria.

The WHO should stand by its original principled ask and not succumb to pressure. This is about saving lives, not avoiding criticism.

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

Children attending class on the first day of school, which was damaged by an airstrike during fighting between Saudi-led coaltion-backed government force and Houthi forces, Taizz, Yemen, September 3, 2019.

© 2019 Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded in an April 8 report that Syria’s air force had carried out three chemical weapons attacks against its own people, including children, on the orders of senior military commanders. The European Union demanded that the Syrian officials responsible “be held accountable” and said it is considering “restrictive measures” against them.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, was far more equivocal. Later that day, his spokesperson said that the secretary-general “took note” of the report and condemned the use of chemical weapons, but declined to say if he condemned the Syrian perpetrators.

It’s not the first time Guterres has been reluctant to identify perpetrators. On April 6, he published a summary of an investigation into seven attacks on civilian facilities in Syria – where the joint Russian-Syrian military coalition has repeatedly attacked schools and killed children – that failed to mention Russia’s involvement in a single incident.

The summary found it “highly probable that the Government of Syria and/or its allies” bombed a school in Qalaat al-Madiq in April 2019 but lacked enough evidence “to reach a conclusive finding.” Yet last December, the New York Times used flight logs, witness statements, and cockpit recordings to pin the attack on a Russian warplane.

Last June, Guterres rightly identified the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as responsible for the majority of child casualties and unlawful attacks on schools and hospitals in the armed conflict in Yemen. But, inexplicably, the secretary-general’s annual “list of shame” for grave violations against children included the coalition on a sub-list of violators supposedly improving.

The UN secretariat isn’t the only UN body seemingly reluctant to name names of abusers. Also on April 8, the Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict published a statement that rightly condemned Yemen’s Houthis for abuses but declined to mention Saudi Arabia or the UAE at all. Instead, the working group called on the coalition to investigate its own violations, whatever those might be – none were cited. Past investigations by the coalition have been a whitewash.

It’s a mistake to tiptoe around the truth about war crimes against children. By refusing to name perpetrators, important international bodies undermine chances to protect the vulnerable, advance justice for atrocious crimes, and prevent their recurrence.

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

The world is being tested by the Covid-19 pandemic, described by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War."

It is a health and human rights crisis on a global scale that has swept across borders, leaving no country untouched, and impacting the lives of millions, many of whom are among the most vulnerable.

When the Human Rights Council session was suspended, I – like many of us – initially thought we’d be working from home for a couple of weeks, and then we’d be back to business as usual. It took some time to realize that when restrictions ease, we may find that the world we return to is not the one we left behind. The human rights consequences, including those that flow from inadequate or unequal access to health care, entrenched inequalities, and the impact of devastated economies, will be felt for years to come.

But the kind of world we return to depends on the decisions we take right now.

Human Rights Watch is pleased to present a human rights policy checklist to assist governments in developing effective, rights-respecting responses to the Covid-19 crisis. This checklist sets out more than 40 questions to guide rights responses across a broad range of areas, including access to affordable health care; to water and sanitation; adequate housing, food and education; while ensuring the safety of those in detention; ensuring access to information; maintaining freedom of expression; closing the digital divide; ensuring emergency powers meet international standards, and addressing the needs of groups most at risk, including people living in poverty, ethnic and religious minorities, women, people with disabilities, older people, LGBT people, migrants, refugees, and children.  

Because these issues cannot be addressed in the abstract, the checklist illustrates the policy questions by reference to both good practices and areas of concern, recognizing that these can be neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. For example:

  • In Liberia, Kenya, and Indonesia, handwashing stations have been installed in urban areas, while Spain and Argentina have guaranteed that water will not be cut off, and Kosovo has deferred utility payments.
  • In a number of jurisdictions, from Afghanistan to Sudan, Pakistan to Poland, some detainees have been released to decongest jails.
  • France is offering 20,000 nights of free accommodation to victims of violence while in Italy, local authorities have been authorized to requisition hotels to accommodate people fleeing violence in the home.
  • To remove barriers to care, a government official in Pakistan publicly committed to help transgender people.
  • In the Maldives, the government established a Covid-19 clinic for migrant workers that does not require showing work permits.
  • In Australia, millions of dollars are being committed to create a dedicated “coronavirus wellbeing support line.”

At the same time, however:

  • While some jurisdictions have ensured that states of emergency are time-limited and subject to oversight, Hungary has adopted – and Cambodia is close to adopting – a state of emergency law that gives the government unlimited powers for an indefinite duration.
  • While some states have prioritized access to information, government officials in countries including Brazil, Burundi, China, Mexico, Myanmar, the US, and Zimbabwe have exhibited disturbing denialism about Covid-19, depriving their populations accurate information on the pandemic;
  • In countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, and Venezuela, people have been arrested and detained for expressing their opinion about Covid-19 on social media.
  • Israel’s 13-year-long closure of Gaza means that restrictions on the import of medical supplies, and denial of transit permits for many requiring vital medical treatment outside of Gaza, is impeding the crisis response.
  • Covid-19 linked discrimination and hate crimes have targeted Asians in the Middle East, Europe, and the US, and in numerous countries public officials have engaged in ageist rhetoric suggesting the lives of older persons have lesser value


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies have been at the forefront in addressing numerous areas of human rights concern in the context of the pandemic, and we welcome the leadership of the High Commissioner and Council President in using innovative tools to enable today’s briefing to take place. We encourage these to be a regular feature during the current crisis and beyond, perhaps also in the future expanding to involve other stakeholders, such as relevant Special Procedures, treaty body chairs and UN agencies.

The Human Rights Council also needs to play a more formal role, as soon as it is feasible to do so, through an urgent debate or special session, just as it held a special session on the world food crisis in 2008, the global financial crisis in 2009, and adopted a Presidential statement on the Ebola epidemic in 2014. In the current context, an appropriate outcome would be a process for monitoring and reporting on the human rights dimensions of the Covid-19 pandemic and state responses, including encouragement of good practices and identification of areas of concern.

There is a saying that a crisis introduces you to yourself – particularly apt in this time of lockdown. But physical distancing need not come at the expense of international solidarity. Now more than ever, there is a need to reject national factionalism and xenophobia, and work together towards a fairer, more just, and more rights-respecting world.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Consideration of Uzbekistan, 128th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in Geneva. March 3, 2020.

© 2020 Human Rights Watch

(Berlin) – A United Nations Human Rights Committee review of Uzbekistan expressed concerns about persistent torture in detention, political prisoners, and limits on basic freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today.

It was the committee’s first review of Uzbekistan’s human rights record since president Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016. The committee’s conclusions reflect the fact that many pledged rights reforms have yet to materialize. Uzbekistan should quickly address the concerns raised by the committee.

“The UN Committee review shows that Uzbekistan remains largely authoritarian with a very poor human rights record,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the fanfare around president Mirziyoyev’s announced reform plans and progress in some areas, the committee’s conclusions show that the government has much to do on human rights.”

On April 2, the committee published its concluding observations on Uzbekistan’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The committee noted progress in fighting corruption, preventing violence against women, judiciary reform, and the elimination of child and forced labor in the cotton sector. But it expressed concerns about “torture and ill-treatment of people deprived of liberty, as well as restrictions on the freedom of conscience and religious belief, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.”

Human Rights Watch shared its findings in a submission to the committee in advance of its review.

The committee raised critical concerns about Uzbekistan’s record on preventing torture, urging Uzbekistan to amend the definition of torture in its criminal code. It expressed concern that the statute of limitations continues to apply to the crime of torture and that the government continues to grant amnesty to people convicted of torture or ill-treatment.

The committee also flagged “continued reports of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence and rape, by prison officials and law enforcement personnel against persons deprived of liberty, including individuals detained on what appear to be politically motivated charges,” despite a 2017 presidential decree banning the use of torture-tainted evidence in court. The committee urged Uzbekistan to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, prohibit “forced confessions, ensure the inadmissibility of torture-tainted evidence,” and “provide effective remedies to persons who were wrongly convicted.”

The committee also expressed concern over the continued criminalization of proselytism and of religious activities by unregistered religious organizations.

The committee also expressed concern that “defamation, insult of the president, insult, and dissemination of false information continue to be criminalized.” It criticized legislation on Mass Communication, Information Technologies and the Use of the Internet for restricting freedom of expression, including on online media platforms, which can be blocked or restricted “on vaguely defined criteria.”

It was also concerned about ongoing imprisonment of independent journalists, human rights defenders, and bloggers on extremism charges and politically motivated charges for peacefully excising their voices. The committee urged the government to protect these groups and to ensure that the cases of “harassment, persecution or undue interference in the exercise of their professional activities or of their right to freedom of opinion and expression … are thoroughly and independently investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned and that victims are provided with effective remedies.”

The committee criticized restrictions on freedom of assembly such as “the requirement to obtain de facto prior authorization for holding mass events, despite the law only requiring prior notification, and restricting their holding to specifically designated sites.” It said that the Uzbek government should investigate and bring responsible officials to justice for “arrests, detention and sanctioning of activists for organizing and/or participating in peaceful protests.”

The committee noted with “concern the small number of independent self-initiated NGOs registered,” “the high number of rejections for registration, and that no applications were submitted for the registration of new political parties between 2015 and 2018.” It said that the government should consult with civil society representatives and experts to prepare the new code on nongovernmental noncommercial organizations.

Other issues the committee addressed include:

  • Discrimination, harassment, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The committee urged the government to decriminalize consensual sexual relations between men.
  • Violence against women. Acknowledging some measures to help prevent violence, it also said it remains concerned “that domestic violence and marital rape are not explicitly criminalized.” It also flagged “the limited protection afforded to victims of domestic violence” and the “insufficient psychological, social, legal and rehabilitative services provided to them and their families.”
  • The very broad and vague definitions of “extremism,” “extremist activity,” or “extremist materials” in the Counter-Extremism Act. It expressed concern at “the use of such legislation to unduly restrict freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, and association.”
  • Prisoners detained on politically motivated grounds. While noting that some had been released, the committee expressed concern that many remain in prison and that authorities use Article 221 of the criminal code on Violation of Prison Rules to extend prison sentences.
  • The alleged lack of independence of the judiciary and of the Justice Ministry’s Chamber of Lawyers, which all Uzbek defense and civil lawyers are obligated to join and required to get recertification every three years in order to practice law.

The committee also expressed concern over the lack of justice for the May 13, 2005 killing of hundreds of unarmed people who participated in a largely peaceful protest in the eastern city of Andijan. Despite government assertions that the episode does “not require any international investigation and that this matter is considered closed,” the committee reiterated its concerns “about the lack of a full, independent and effective investigation into the mass killings and injuries by military and security services” and its call for accountability.

The Uzbekistan government should promise to carry out the committee’s recommendations, Human Rights Watch said. Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the European Union and its member states, should make it clear that future ties will depend on concrete improvements in the country’s human rights records, such as those the committee recommended. “The UN body’s first review since the end of the repressive era of former president Islam Karimov gives hope that it is not business as usual in Uzbekistan,” Williamson said. “But it shows that Uzbekistan’s reforms will remain unfinished until those wrongfully jailed are released, arbitrary provisions are removed from the Criminal Code, and those responsible for past crimes are held to account.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

United Nations Mission in Darfur peacekeepers stand guard in Shagra village, North Darfur, October 18, 2012. 

© 2012 Reuters

(New York) – The proposal by the United Nations and the African Union to limit the UN’s protection role in Sudan threatens the safety and security of civilians in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today. In a new report that the Security Council is expected to discuss on March 17, 2020, the UN secretary-general and the AU commission chairperson proposed excluding “physical protection” of civilians from the mandate for a follow-on political and peacebuilding mission in Sudan.

When authorizing a new countrywide mission for Sudan, the Security Council should include armed police units that could protect civilians, quick reaction peacekeepers to respond to threats as they arise, and mobile human rights monitoring teams based in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.

“Darfur is not like the rest of Sudan,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should recognize that Darfur requires a far more gradual withdrawal and keep a UN security presence on the ground to actively protect civilians. Past and ongoing violence there means civilians can’t trust Sudanese security forces alone and still look to peacekeepers for protection.”

The current UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, UNAMID, is due to withdraw from Sudan by October 2020, following years of downsizing under pressure from Sudan’s previous government and Western governments eager to reduce costs. The mission will close its last 14 bases and withdraw all its remaining 4,040 military personnel and 2,500 police by October 31.

After the ouster of Omar al-Bashir as president in April 2019, Sudan’s new government asked the UN to delay UNAMID’s withdrawal. In early 2020, the government sent two letters to the Security Council asking it to authorize a new “follow-on” political and peacebuilding mission to cover all of Sudan. While those letters suggested that the new mission should be authorized under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, they also asked for the mission to “support the repatriation and reintegration of internally displaced people and refugees,” “protection of civilians,” and “human rights monitoring and capacity building of national institutions.”

Nonetheless, the proposal set out in the secretary-general’s report does not include any uniformed personnel to protect civilians in Darfur, where risks remain acute. The report only suggests some individual police advisers to train and support the Sudanese authorities, stating “civilian protection is a Sudanese responsibility, while a post-UNAMID mechanism may provide advisory and capacity building support to the authorities who would need to fulfill it.” The report suggests that these advisers should work with “Sudanese police forces, community policing volunteers, the Women’s Protection Networks, and other partners.”

An earlier version of the secretary-general’s report better reflected threats to civilians, credible UN sources told Human Rights Watch. The allegedly deleted passages explicitly recognized that hotspots in Darfur would still benefit from the continued presence of “formed police units” – armed police forces that are authorized to respond to imminent threats to civilians – and “quick reaction forces” – a light protection force made up of peacekeepers. Experts proposed these elements as the most appropriate way to provide protection in hotspots even within a wider mission to support the political transition.

Across Darfur, where large-scale government-led attacks began in 2003, threats to civilians persist. Government and rebel forces have continued fighting in the Jebel Marra area, where UNAMID focused its protection activities since 2018. The Sudan Panel of Experts reported that displaced people in that area have repeatedly been forced to flee their homes to seek safety and protection from clashes, noting that those “multiple displacements” heightened risks of sexual assault and violence.

Peacekeepers from UNAMID’s temporary operating base in Golo, set up in 2018, have provided shelters for people displaced from the fighting and in the wider Jebel Mara area. Since November 2019, they have undertaken thousands of patrols to escort humanitarian agencies and provide greater security, including to camps for displaced people, water collection points, farming areas, and migration routes.

While the secretary-general’s report acknowledges that “new displacement continues to occur in the Golo area,” it makes no recommendations to effectively respond to those needs after UNAMID leaves.

Inter-communal violence, often exacerbated by the involvement of government forces, has killed dozens of people in recent months. On March 8, armed ethnic Arab nomads attacked and burned most of an ethnic Zaghawa village in the Hijir Tonjur area, forcing thousands to flee, witnesses said. Many injured people were unable to get adequate medical treatment, and according to UNAMID at least a dozen people were killed.

In Al Geneina, West Darfur, fighting between Arab and Masalit communities flared up in December 2019, six months after UNAMID forces had withdrawn from their base there. Armed Arab groups, including members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, attacked an internally camp for displaced people and killed dozens of people, including children, raped women, and girls, destroyed schools, and burned homes, causing tens of thousands to flee. As of March 2020, displaced people were still sheltering in schools in Al Geneina. Residents of West Darfur told Human Rights Watch they believe a peacekeeping presence there could have prevented the violence.

The proposal notes that these “clashes in West Darfur have highlighted concerns about remaining security challenges in the areas from which UNAMID has withdrawn. The Sudanese security elements are either implicated in these violent incidents or lack capacities to respond.”

The Rapid Support Force commander, Hemedti, has become deputy head of the ruling sovereign council in Sudan, which could embolden his forces to attack civilians, Human Rights Watch said. Members of Hemedti’s force have been implicated in the June 3, 2019 massacre in Khartoum and in numerous brutal attacks on civilians in Darfur over the past five years, including a series of mass rapes in the town of Golo in Jebel Mara in 2015. Those responsible have not faced justice for the crimes.

Civilians living in camps for displaced people scattered across the region or on the peripheries of existing UNAMID sites, such as in Sortony, are especially vulnerable to attacks by armed groups in the absence of the deterrent presence of international forces, Human Rights Watch said.

In November 2019, a thousand displaced people in Sortony demonstrated to express their fears about any planned return to their places of origin. The Sudan Panel of Experts reported that in “many incidents, internally displaced people claiming legitimate ownership of their lands and trying to return to them were harassed, threatened, chased away and assaulted, and sometimes killed. Women and girls were sexually assaulted and raped.”

In the Kalma camp in South Darfur, UNAMID police have been the only forces able to patrol the area. In April 2019, they stood between rival armed factions within the camp and helped calm simmering tensions that previously resulted in the killing of 16 people and injuries to 17 others.

In its latest communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council called for “extreme caution on the withdrawal of UNAMID, to sustain the gains made and to avoid relapse and security vacuum.”

“There’s no need for the UN Security Council to accept the limited options being presented,” Roth said. “The Security Council should instead establish a follow-on mission that supports the nationwide transition to rights-respecting civilian rule and peacebuilding, but that also recognizes the need to continue to protect civilians in Darfur.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Madam President.

Human Rights Watch welcomes the adoption of the outcome of the UPR on Iraq, which contained important recommendations to address human rights concerns. We take note of Iraq’s stated commitment to implement these recommendations by developing a national human rights plan in consultation with national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.

However, we remain deeply concerned by the situation on the ground, including numerous incidents of security forces using excessive force against protesters since October 2019, leading to hundreds dead and thousands wounded, due process violations in the courts, and minimal accountability for victims of ISIS abuse.

Iraq accepted recommendations to take necessary measures to end excessive use of force against protesters and investigate incidents of deaths and injuries. However, since October, Iraq has taken limited steps to hold security forces accountable and has not prosecuted more senior officials in command control of those killing protesters. It has also failed to prevent forces from continuing to use excessive force against protesters.

Despite recommendations made during the last two UPR cycles to enact a law that would criminalize the international crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Iraq has failed to do so. Instead, with the notable exception of one recent trial, judges within the Baghdad and Kurdistan Region’s courts have prosecuted ISIS suspects under overly broad terrorism charges, in trials replete with due process violations and excluding victim participation. Human Rights Watch also regrets that Iraq did not support recommendations made by states during the UPR that Iraq ratify and align national legislation with the Rome Statute.

Despite Iraq’s support of recommendations during the last two UPR cycles to combat impunity for acts of torture and extrajudicial killings and exclude as evidence at trial confessions obtained through torture, Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports that security forces are routinely using torture to extract confessions. Judges regularly ignore statements from defendants that their confession was extracted through torture and continue to rely on the confessions as evidence.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.

The strong recommendations received during this UPR cycle for Egypt, including on upholding its domestic legislative and constitutional human rights guarantees, particularly in the context of counterterrorism, investigating excessive use of force by security forces during demonstrations, and criminalizing all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, reflects  growing concerns across the board about the worsening human rights situation in the country.

As in its previous UPR cycles, Egypt has rejected key recommendations on critically important human rights issues, including establishing a moratorium on the application of the death penalty with a view to abolishing it and ending brutal crackdowns on peaceful dissent and restrictions on freedom of assembly.  

Similarly worrying is Egypt’s rejection of recommendations geared towards investigating serious abuses such as extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances perpetrated by security forces in the name of their abusive “war on terror.”

We are deeply concerned that the responses provided by the Egyptian government during this session fail to match the reality on the ground, where Egyptians are facing the worst human rights crisis in decades. The Egyptian government’s response, both in this session, in this Council, and in general, has at best depicted violations as isolated to a few incidents, and at worse amounted to a near-absolute denial that such a crisis is currently unfolding. This denial means that perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity that has only encouraged them to go on with their grave abuses.

We remind the Council and the Egyptian delegation that Egypt has supported many recommendations in the previous cycles, but the Egyptian government in recent years has utterly failed to respect its own promises to commit to protect basic human rights. We see overwhelming reports by the media and human rights organizations, including by the UN special procedures, that violations are only worsening and that Egypt is not taking any effective measures to stop the ongoing crisis especially the mass arbitrary arrests of thousands, the near-daily enforced disappearances and horrific torture as well as the nationwide crackdown on civil society and NGOs and the prosecutions of leading activists who work to uncover such abuses.

Egypt has repeatedly failed to address these alarming human rights concerns, including through its UPRs. Human Rights Watch calls upon States at the Human Rights Council to urgently step in and press for the release of thousands of jailed peaceful activists and individuals, and for an end to violations, including rampant torture and unlawful killings, and demand accountability.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Madam President

We are particularly dismayed that Iran rejected a majority of the recommendations with regards to ratification of the core human rights treaties, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention against Torture.

Iranian officials first discussed ratifying CEDAW more than 22 years ago, yet Iranian women continue to suffer from many different forms of discrimination in law and practice with respect to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and occupying certain professions, including the highest elected office in the country.

Iran not only rejected recommendations for ratifying the Convention against Torture, but the government also rejected several recommendations regarding the investigation of specific cases of alleged torture and criminalization of torture in national legislation, even though torture in detention remains one of the most serious concerns of the independent monitors.

On February 18, the BBC’s Persian service published a detailed account of the psychological torture and threat of physical torture during the interrogation of Niloufar Bayani, a former UN Environment Program consultant and one of eight members of an Iranian environmental NGO who have been detained on bogus espionage charges for over two years. Bayani had shared an account of the inhumane treatment she experienced in detention when she appeared before a judge in February 2018. The judge’s response was to bar her from attending her own trial instead of investigating these allegations. Bayani’s case is only one of several cases of torture reported over the past year.

We also regret that Iran rejected several of the recommendations to protect the right to freedom of assembly.  Iranian authorities in November carried out a brutal crackdown against protesters. Human rights groups estimate that 300 people, including bystanders, were killed during the protests, and video footage shows security forces using excessive and unlawful force to repress the protests. After four months, authorities have not announced the total number of deaths and have not provided families of victims with any answers as to what happened to their loved ones.

Iran has a serious accountability problem. Failure by authorities to investigate serious human rights violations has significantly damaged public trust, which further diminishes the government’s ability to manage a crisis such as the current coronavirus outbreak. The international community should stand ready to support Iran’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, including by providing access to medical devices and testing kits hindered by comprehensive economic sanctions, but they also should make clear to Iran that their failure to uphold human rights obligations harms all Iranians.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Delegates sit at the opening of the 41th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 24, 2019.

© 2019 Magali Girardin/Keystone via AP
(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should address the worsening human rights crisis in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China as a matter of priority, Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said today. If it ignores UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ “call to action on human rights,” announced at the opening of its current session, the council risks failing its mandate to hold all, even the most powerful, UN member countries to account for grave abuses. Although the current Human Rights Council session will be suspended from March 13, 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions, states should act to ensure collective attention to the ongoing rights crisis in Xinjiang when the session resumes.
On February 27, 2020, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michele Bachelet, reiterated her call for a UN advance team to have “unfettered access,” which is the norm for such visits, to prepare a visit to China so that she could “analyse in depth” the country’s human rights situation. China offered an invitation but no independent access. The council has not yet taken any formal action to address rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“China has responded to the UN rights office’s call for unfettered access to Xinjiang by doubling down on its denials and false narratives and pressuring states not to critique the human rights nightmare being imposed on the region’s Muslims,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “States at the Human Rights Council need to speak out collectively and insist on a full independent investigation.”
In a joint letter in July 2019 and a statement at the UN Third Committee in October, governments raised clear concerns about the Xinjiang situation. Since then, new evidence has emerged of draconian government policies violating fundamental human rights. Leaks of official documents, including the November 2019 “China Cables” and the February 2020 “Karakax List,” show official intent to arbitrarily detain and “re-educate” Turkic Muslims.
Most recently, human rights groups, research organizations, and the media have documented forced labor in Xinjiang that Chinese and foreign firms have not been able to monitor. Activists raising the alarm about the situation in China have also started to draw more attention to China’s harassment of Uyghur diaspora communities abroad, including in the United States and European Union countries and in UN forums.
In November, 12 UN human rights experts published an extensive critique of China’s misuse of terrorism legislation, highlighting multiple serious human rights violations. At the current Human Rights Council session, the UN expert on counterterrorism expressed concerns about the misuse of deradicalization initiatives to violate rights, including legislation that enables the widespread use of arbitrary detention and “re-education.”
In light of recent developments, the Human Rights Council and UN member countries should publicly and collectively call for objective, independent, expert information on the situation in Xinjiang. Concerned governments should further press China to cease all policies that target the Turkic Muslim community, including separating families, destroying cultural heritage, and abusing technology to track, surveil, censor, and intimidate Turkic Muslims in China and abroad.
“Any visit by the high commissioner must include unfettered access, guarantees against reprisals, full support from subject-matter experts like the special procedures, and a report back to the Council,” said Sarah M. Brooks, advocate at ISHR. “The council has been inundated with Chinese government propaganda about Xinjiang, but it’s essential it receives first-hand information from Bachelet, survivors, their communities and families, experts, and human rights defenders.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, Egyptians continue to face some of the worst human rights abuses in decades. The government’s zero-tolerance policy to peaceful dissent means that civil society organizations are under continuous attack, media is tightly controlled, and peaceful assembly is equated with terrorism and vandalism. In September and October alone, authorities arrested or prosecuted over 4,000 people rounded up in protests or based on abusive, random mobile phone checks in the streets. The campaign against rights activists escalated to include enforced disappearances, torture and physical assault. The Council should take long-overdue collective action to address the human rights crisis in Egypt.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has filed a petition in the Indian Supreme Court after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government adopted the Citizenship Amendment Act, which for the first time in India makes religion the basis for granting citizenship. The act, coupled with a planned a nationwide citizenship verification process to identify “illegal migrants,” has led to fears that many Indian Muslims will be stripped of their citizenship rights. Hundreds of thousands of Indians have protested peacefully. However, over 80 people have been killed, many of them Muslims targeted by Hindu mobs. The police is accused of failing in their duties and of bias against Muslims and other anti-government protesters. Authorities have cracked down on peaceful critics of the government, but did not intervene against BJP members and supporters who incite violence. Kashmiris continue to face restrictions on internet access while several political leaders remain arbitrarily detained.

Saudi Arabia undertook important women’s rights reforms in 2019, but authorities have maintained a sweeping repression campaign against Saudi dissidents and human rights activists. The most recent arrests of a group of writers and activists occurred in November, and five prominent women’s rights advocates remain in detention while facing unfair trials on charges tied to their peaceful advocacy. High-level Saudi officials have faced no meaningful scrutiny or accountability for their suspected roles in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi or allegations of torture by recent detainees.

We call on the Council to urgently take action to address these serious human rights situations.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am