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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

Human Rights Watch
Submission to the European Union for the EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
January 2020

 

Human Rights Watch appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing preparations for the forthcoming 9th European Union-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled to be held in Hanoi on February 19, 2020.

 

Summary

The Vietnamese government continues to restrict all basic civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the rights to freely practice beliefs and religion. It prohibits the formation and operation of any organization or group deemed threatening to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Authorities block accesses to websites and request that social media and/or telecommunications companies remove contents deemed to be politically sensitive. Those who criticize the one-party government face police intimidation, harassment, restricted movement, physical assault, detention, and arrest and imprisonment. Police detain political activists for months without access to legal counsel and subject them to abusive interrogations. Party-controlled courts sentence bloggers and activists on bogus national security charges.

Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record has led many in the European parliament to voice concerns. Regrettably, the government's crackdown has continued, with the adoption of a problematic cybersecurity law last January and new waves of arrests of perceived critics.

Human Rights Watch recommends that during the dialogue, the EU focuses on five priority areas regarding the dire human rights situation in Vietnam: 1) political prisoners and detainees; 2) repression of freedom of speech, association, assembly and movement; 3) repression of freedom of information; 4) repression of the right to freely practice religion; and 5) police brutality.

 

1. Political Prisoners and Detainees

Vietnam frequently uses vaguely worded and loosely interpreted provisions in its penal code and other laws to imprison political and religious activists. These include “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 109), “undermining the unity policy” (article 116), “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (article 117), and “disrupting security” (article 118). Vietnam also uses other articles in the penal code to target rights campaigners, including “abusing the rights to democracy and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations, individuals” (article 331), and “disrupting public order” (article 318).

During 2019, the government convicted and imprisoned at least 30 rights bloggers and activists under various abusive laws, including Nguyen Ngoc Anh (6 years), Nguyen Nang Tinh (11 years), and Pham Van Diep (9 years).

Vietnam’s Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that the procurator of the People’s Supreme Procuracy can decide to hold a suspect for violation of national security in detention until investigation is concluded (article 173, clause 5), and can restrict the detainee’s access to legal counsel until after investigation is concluded (article 74). In practice, this means that those who are suspected of violating national security can be and are held in police custody without access to a lawyer as long as the authorities see fit. For example, Pham Chi Dung, an independent journalist, has been detained awaiting trial since his arrest in November 2019 and charged with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” most likely in connection to his outreach to the European Parliament. His detention sparked outrage in the European Parliament, and his case was raised by president Sassoli, but the Vietnamese ambassador to the EU defended the arrest and compared Vietnam’s limitations to freedom of expression to those in place in Europe. In December, police denied defense requests from lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng to represent Pham Chi Dung, on the basis that defense lawyers can only participate in the procedure once investigation is concluded.

The EU should publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Immediately release all political prisoners and detainees, including those imprisoned or detained for exercising their basic civil and political rights.
  • Amend or repeal penal code articles 109, 116, 117, 118 and 331 in conformity with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • Amend or repeal article 74 and article 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code and allow all people detained for any alleged violations, including national security crimes, to have immediate access to legal counsel upon being arrested.

As an immediate confidence-building measure, allow access to prisoners and detainees by families, legal counsel, and outside observers from the EU as well as international humanitarian and human rights groups.

The EU should also call for the immediate release of political prisoners or detainees who have health problems so that they can receive proper medical treatment. In October 2019, Doan Dinh Nam, 68, passed away in prison due to illness. He was arrested in 2012 for being involved in a religious group unauthorized by the government, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Some of the most urgent cases for immediate release are:

  • Pro-democracy campaigner Ho Duc Hoa, 46, who was convicted in January 2013 by the People’s Court of Hanoi for subversion under article 79 of the 1999 penal code and sentenced to 13 years in prison. As a founding member of the Vinh Human Development Fund, Ho Duc Hoa and his colleagues helped raise funds to provide scholarships to high-achieving, yet poor, high-school and university students, to enable them to continue their studies. He regularly participated in volunteer activities in local neighborhoods in Vinh on projects for the poor and persons with disabilities. Police arrested Ho Duc Hoa in July 2011 for participating in Viet Tan, a banned overseas-based political party. In December 2019, during a family visit, Ho Duc Hoa told his brother that his health deteriorated and prison doctors suspected that he might have liver cancer.
  • Pro-democracy campaigner Nguyen Trung Ton, 48, who was convicted in April 2018 by the People’s Court of Ha Noi for subversion under article 79 of the 1999 penal code and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was accused of being a member of Brotherhood for Democracy, a group founded by prominent activist Nguyen Van Dai to advocate for basic civil and political rights. Nguyen Trung Ton suffers a serious knee injury, the result of being abducted and seriously beaten by government-sanctioned thugs in February 2017.
  • Land rights activist and former political prisoner Nguyen Van Tuc, 54, who was convicted in April 2018 by the People’s Court of Thai Binh province for subversion under article 79 of the 1999 penal code and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was accused of being a member of Brotherhood for Democracy, a group founded by prominent activist Nguyen Van Dai to advocate for basic civil and political rights. Nguyen Van Tuc previously served a four-year prison sentence between 2008-2012 for being critical of the government. He reportedly suffers poor health, with ailments including heart disease and keratitis, an inflammation of the eye.

Other activists who are reportedly suffering deteriorating health problems in prison including Nguyen Trung Truc, Truong Minh Duc, and Hoang Duc Binh. Their precarious health conditions add to the urgency for the EU to call on Vietnam to immediately release these unjustly jailed prisoners.

 

2. Repression of Freedom of Speech, Association, Assembly, and Movement

Vietnam continues to prohibit the establishment or operation of independent labor unions, human rights organizations, and political parties. Independent union organizers face harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.

In June 2019, Vietnam ratified International Labor Convention (ILO) 98 on collective bargaining and the right to organize. In November, the National Assembly passed a revised labor code, which will be effective in January 2021. However, the language of the new law is vague. It does not refer to independent labor unions but only to non-state labor organizations as “organizations of laborers at enterprises” (to chuc cua nguoi lao dong tai doanh nghiep). Article 172 provides that a labor organization can only be “legally established and operate” if it “is granted a registration by an authorized state office.” In practice, this provision would mean that unions can only be considered lawful if their creation is approved by the government.

Article 173 also contains problematic language providing that union leaders cannot be persons previously convicted for “crimes against national security,” among other laws stipulated in Vietnam’s Penal Code. This is problematic in the Vietnamese context because the relevant penal code provisions mentioned are those typically used against human rights defenders, political dissidents, and labour and land rights activists. In practice, this provision would disqualify from union leadership a larger number of important human rights and labour rights defenders, and severely weaken workers’ capacity to organize. Independent labor activists such as Hoang Duc Binh and Truong Minh Duc are serving long prison sentences.

Communist Party-controlled courts have severely punished people who were accused of being affiliated with political groups or parties that the Communist Party of Vietnam views as threatening its monopoly on power. In November 2019, Chau Van Kham, an Australian citizen, and his fellow members Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, were sentenced to 12, 11 and 10 years in prison respectively, for participated in the outlawed overseas political party Viet Tan.

Authorities require approval for public gatherings and systematically refuse permission for meetings, marches, or public assemblies they deem to be politically unacceptable. In June 2019, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted and sentenced Truong Huu Loc to eight years in prison for participating in and distributing food at a mass protest in June 2018.

Activists and bloggers face frequent physical assaults by officials or thugs who appear to work in coordination with authorities and enjoy impunity. In July 2019, a group of rights activists was attacked in Nghe An province while traveling to a local prison to show support for political prisoners there on hunger strike protesting mistreatment. As the activists approached the prison, a large group of plainclothes men attacked them with sticks and helmets, broke their phones, and robbed them. Many were injured, including prominent blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh and his wife, human rights activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh.

Police routinely place activists under house arrest or briefly detain them to prevent them from participating in meetings and protests or attending the trials of fellow activists.

In September 2019, security agents prevented lawyer Dang Dinh Manh from leaving his house to attend a meeting with a German delegation in Ho Chi Minh City. In January 2020, activists including Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Huynh Ngoc Chenh and Nguyen Thuy Hanh reported that security agents prevented them from leaving their house during the Dong Tam land clash.

Police have also prevented rights campaigners from traveling abroad, sometimes citing vague national security reasons. In March, police barred political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife, Bui Kim Phuong, from leaving Vietnam for Singapore. In June, pro-environment activist Cao Vinh Thinh was prohibited from leaving Vietnam for Thailand. In November, the police prohibited Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc from traveling to Tokyo. In December, officials refused to issue a passport to former political prisoner Le Cong Dinh.

In recent years there have also been increasing numbers of cases in which the government has confiscated land for various economic projects, without adequate compensation. The term “dan oan,” which literally translates as “wronged people,” has in recent years emerged as a common idiom in Vietnamese usage to describe people who have been forced off their land by authorities, indicating how widespread these problems have become. Disputes between Vietnamese citizens and authorities attempting to remove them from their homes and land may grow worse in coming years. Recently, on January 9, a violent incident occurred in Dong Tam, a commune in My Duc district in Hanoi, involving police and land rights activists involved in protests against local land confiscations in the area. Several deaths were reported.

The EU should publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Immediately recognize independent labor unions and take steps to ensure that they can operate without government interference.
  • Ratify and duly implement International Labour Organization Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize).
  • Amend or repeal penal code provisions including articles 109, 117 and 118 that stand in the way for the full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in ILO Convention No. 87 and in the ICCPR;
  • Ensure that truly independent civil society activists and scholars can be part of the Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) foreseen by the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and ensure that they can exercise their role freely and without fear of violence, arrest or intimidation;
  • Immediately end government-sponsored vigilantism.
  • Immediately end restriction of movement of rights bloggers and activists within, to and from Vietnam.
  • Bring legislation regulating public gatherings and demonstrations including Decree 38/2005 into conformity with the rights of free assembly and association in articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR.
  • Address rural grievances about land rights and local corruption without resorting to excessive use of force or other human rights violations by strengthening the legal system and the independence of the judiciary, and making legal services available to the rural poor.
  • Permit individuals the right to associate freely and peacefully with others of similar views regardless of whether those views run counter to the political or ideological views approved by the Communist Party of Vietnam and the government.
  • Launch an impartial and transparent investigation of the January 9 Dong Tam clash and hold accountable those who used violence. 
  • Permit immediate and unfettered access to Dong Tam area to local and international journalists, diplomats, UN agency officials and other impartial observers to assess what happened and monitor the government’s investigation of this incident.

 

3. Repression of Freedom of Information

The Vietnamese government continues to prohibit independent or privately owned media outlets to operate. It exerts strict control over radio and TV stations and printed publications. Criminal penalties apply to those who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, reveal state secrets or promote “reactionary” ideas. The authorities block access to politically sensitive websites and frequently attempt to shut down blogs, or require internet service providers to remove content or social media accounts arbitrarily deemed politically unacceptable.

Vietnam’s problematic cybersecurity law went into effect in January 2019. The overly broad and vague law gives authorities wide discretion to censor free expression and requires service providers to take down content that authorities consider offensive within 24 hours of receiving the request. At least 25 people were convicted and sentenced to prison for expressing critical opinions on the internet in application of penal code provisions highlighted above.

The EU should publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Bring media laws into compliance with article 19 of the ICCPR;
  • Allow the publication of uncensored, independent, privately-run newspapers and magazines;
  • Remove filtering, surveillance, and other restrictions on internet usage and release people imprisoned or detained for peaceful dissemination of their views over the internet.
  • Revise the Law on Cyber Security and bring it into compliance with international human rights standards, including the ICCPR.
  • Ensure all decrees related to the Law on Cyber Security comply with international human rights standards, including the ICCPR.

 

4. Repression of the Right to Freely Practice Religion

The government restricts religious practice through legislation, registration requirements, harassment, and surveillance. Religious groups are required to gain approval from and register with the government as well as operate under government-controlled management boards. While authorities allow many government-affiliated churches and pagodas to hold worship services, they ban religious activities they arbitrarily deem contrary to the “national interest,” “public order,” or “national unity.” The government labels Dega Protestant, Ha Mon Catholic, Falun Gong and a few other religious groups as ta dao (evil religion).

The police monitor and sometimes violently crack down on religious groups operating outside government-controlled institutions. Unrecognized independent religious groups face constant surveillance, harassment, and intimidation, and their followers are subject to public criticism, forced renunciation of faith, detention, interrogation, torture, and imprisonment.

In March 2019, security agents prevented independent Hoa Hao Buddhist followers to gather in Cho Moi, Long An province to commemorate the anniversary of the death of founder Huynh Phu So, and they also blocked commemoration of the founding day of the sect in June 2019. In April 2019, police in Dien Bien province reported that they had successfully convinced “163 households including 1,006 people to have renounced an evil religion called ‘Gie Sua.’”

In May 2019, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom published its report in which Vietnam is listed as a “Country of Particular Concern.”

In January 2020, Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc reported that police intimidated local priests and pressured them not to allow him to conduct Mass in Dong Nai in August 2019, in Binh Duong in November 2019, and in Ho Chi Minh City in January 2020.

Montagnards in the Central Highlands are subjected to constant surveillance and other forms of intimidation, public criticism, arbitrary arrest, and mistreatment in security force custody. In detention, the authorities question them about their religious and political activities and any efforts to flee Vietnam. In March 2019, a court in Gia Lai province put Ksor Ruk on trial for following an unrecognized Dega Protestant sect and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Ksor Ruk served a six-year prison sentence between 2005-2011 for the same violation. In August, Rah Lan Hip was convicted by the same court to seven years in prison, also for being involved with Dega Protestantism.

The EU should publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Allow all independent religious organizations to freely conduct religious activities and govern themselves. Churches and denominations that do not choose to join one of the officially authorized religious organizations with government-sanctioned boards should be allowed to operate independently.
  • End harassment, forced denunciation of faith, arrests, prosecutions, imprisonment, and ill-treatment of people because they are followers of disfavored religions, and release anyone currently being held for peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of religion, belief, expression, assembly and association.
  • Cease all measures to prevent Montagnards and other Vietnamese citizens from leaving the country and do not punish those who return.
  • Ensure all domestic legislation addressing religious affairs is brought into conformity with international human rights law, including the ICCPR to which Vietnam and EU are parties. Amend provisions in domestic law that impinge on freedom of religion and belief, expression, association, or peaceful assembly in violation of the ICCPR.
  • Permit outside observers, including United Nations agencies, nongovernmental organizations concerned with human rights, and foreign diplomats, unhindered and unaccompanied access to the Central Highlands, including specifically to communes and villages from which Montagnards have recently departed to seek asylum abroad. Ensure there is no retribution or retaliation whatsoever against anyone who speaks to or otherwise communicates with such outside observers.
     

5. Police Brutality

Police throughout Vietnam have been abusing people in their custody, in some cases leading to death. In many of these cases, those killed were being held for minor infractions. A number of survivors said police beat them to extract confessions, sometimes for crimes they maintained they did not commit.

In March 2019, Nguyen Van Tuan, 42, was arrested for allegedly involving in a gambling case. Less than a week later, he died from a serious brain injury while in police custody in Nghe An province. There were also bruises on his right arm. A police officer said that the victim “himself hit his head and body against the wall.” The result of investigation of his death, if any, has not been published.

In November 2019, Dang Thanh Tung, 26, died in police custody in Ha Nam province. He was arrested in September for alleged involvement in pimping for underage prostitution. The police claimed that Dang Thanh Tung died from illness, but his wife Nguyen Thi Lan told a reporter that there were many bruises on his body. She wrote that she saw bruises on his chest, back, arms, thighs and behind. His mouth was swollen and bloody. She also reported that the police tried to prevent her from taking photos of bruises on his body.

In November 2019, a high court in Ho Chi Minh City heard for the third time the appeal of former police officers Huynh Ngoc Tong and Pham Thanh Binh. The two were accused of using corporal punishment and causing the death of Nguyen Tuan Thanh in police custody in November 2012. In May 2016, the People’s Court of Dong Thap province convicted and sentenced Huynh Ngoc Tong 18 months and Pham Thanh Binh 11 months and 11 days in prison. According to the newspaper Dan Tri, both defendants claimed that they were themselves subject to corporal punishment and forced to admit guilt. The court decided to nullify the verdict and order a new investigation.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed to approve a roadmap that requires all interrogation be videoed or taped nation-wide, starting on January 1, 2020. However, in December 2019, Ministry of Public Security announced a postponement of the roadmap, citing the lack of recording equipment and training for police investigators. It is unclear when it will become effective.

The EU should publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Investigate all allegations of torture or other mistreatment in detention, and ensure that police officers implicated, are disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate, regardless of rank.
  • Clearly and unequivocally signal through public statements, internal directives, and specific measures by senior government officials and the highest-ranking police officials that the use of torture, beatings, or any other form of mistreatment in police custody is unacceptable and will be punished.
  • Establish an independent police complaints commission to accept complaints from the public and to provide oversight over the “internal affairs” or “professional responsibility” unit of the police. The commission should be a statutory body with the legal authority to bring prosecutions or impose discipline if the police internal affairs or professional responsibility unit such as the People’s Public Security Inspectorate fails to do so in cases in which credible allegations have been validated.
  • Immediately require police to videotape all interrogations to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment. Do not allow confessions made in custody into evidence at trial unless they and all interrogations are videotaped and submitted as well.
  • Amend the Criminal Procedure Code to facilitate the presence of lawyers or legal counsel immediately after arrest or detention so that:
  • Lawyers or legal counsel may meet their clients in private, without the presence of police and without being recorded or videotaped, and for as long as necessary.
  • Lawyers or legal counsel must be present at all interrogation sessions between police and detainees, and can advise detainees they have a right not to respond to police questioning at any point.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A general view shows the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, on February 28, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

(Geneva, February 13, 2020) – The release of the database of businesses contributing to illegal Israeli settlements is a major breakthrough in holding businesses accountable for their role in rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released the database on February 12, 2020.

Settlements are at the root of serious, systematic violations of Palestinian rights, undermining their livelihoods and economy. Transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population to an occupied territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and, under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is a war crime. Business activities contribute to entrenching settlements, and the rights abuses and two-tiered Israeli discriminatory system that stem from them.

“The long awaited release of the UN settlement business database should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes,” said Bruno Stagno, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “The database release marks critical progress in the global effort to ensure that businesses end their complicity in rights abuses and respect international law.”

The much-anticipated UN report lists 112 business, 94 domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other countries. Among the companies listed are Airbnb and Booking.com, which contribute to rights abuses by facilitating housing rentals on land confiscated from occupied Palestinians, who themselves are barred from staying there. The list also includes several Israeli banks that finance settlement construction. Human Rights Watch has issued reports documenting the business activities in the settlements in both cases.

Before publishing the report, the UN rights office communicated with the companies involved, answered questions, and provided them with information. The report indicates that several companies contacted by the UN responded by ceasing their settlement activities. The report will bring a degree of transparency to business activities and help build pressure on companies to stop contributing to rights abuse and to comply with their human rights responsibilities.

In publishing the database, the UN high commissioner fulfilled a mandate entrusted to her by the UN Human Rights Council in a resolution adopted in 2016 without opposition. The database, as well as a list of businesses facilitating rights abuses against the Rohingya published by a UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in August 2019, set important precedents in the global effort to ensure that businesses respect their responsibilities, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The UN High Commissioner’s Office noted that businesses that cease their settlement-related activity can seek removal from the database and recommended that the Human Rights Council should provide for updating the database annually.

“The publication of the database underscores the international community’s firm rejection of Israeli and US efforts to legitimize Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and to whitewash the resulting human rights abuses,” Stagno said. “When the UN’s Human Rights Council meets later this month, it should act to ensure that the database remains a living resource that dissuades companies from contributing to unlawful land grabs and harsh discrimination against Palestinians.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 77th pre-session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its review of the Republic of Yemen’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

  1. Protection of Education and Equal Access to Education During Armed Conflict (Article 10)

The armed conflict in Yemen has had a grave impact on the accessibility of education for girls. UNICEF states that 2 million children are currently out of school; half a million of these children are estimated to have dropped out since 2015, and another 3.7 million are at risk of dropping out as the humanitarian crisis escalates.[1] Girls are especially vulnerable to dropping out of school for financial and safety reasons, which increases the likelihood of early marriage, abuse, and exploitation. As a result of the recruitment practices of armed groups nationwide, children, especially girls, are displaced in large numbers and vulnerable to sexual violence.

Primary education is compulsory under Yemeni Law from age 6 to 14.[2] However, guaranteeing this has become increasingly difficult during armed conflict. It is estimated that one in five schools can no longer be used as a “direct result” of the armed conflict in Yemen.[3] Many public servants, including teachers, have reportedly gone over two years without regular salary payments, disrupting the school programs and schedules for millions of children.[4] The lack of a steady source of income has made it difficult for families to afford sending their children to school, as well as provide the transportation, supplies, and other materials their children need to receive a full education. If families can only afford to send some children to school, there is a higher chance that boys will be prioritized over girls for safety and cultural reasons.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents of parties to the conflict using schools for military purposes, as well as attacks on schoolchildren and education infrastructure, including attacks on or near school buildings and school buses:

In January 2016, Houthi militia turned a school for blind students in Sanaa into a target by basing themselves in the facility’s compound.[5] A Saudi-coalition bomb struck the compound on January 5, 2016, and although it did not explode, the school was damaged and four civilians were injured. At the time of the attack, at least 10 children all under the age of 12 were sleeping in the building when the bomb struck.

On December 23, 2016, a Saudi-coalition cluster munition attack struck an area near a girls’ school and a boys’ school in Saada city in northern Yemen, killing two civilians and wounding six, including a child. Students were told not to return to school the day after the attack, as the schools had to be checked for any explosive remnants, including unexploded submunitions.[6]

On January 10, 2017, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike near a school in northern Yemen killed two students, including an 11-year-old girl.[7] Two girls, ages 8 and 12, were wounded in this airstrike. The school provided primary education for about 900 children. Students were either on their way to school, or getting ready to head there, when the airstrike occurred.

A Houthi-controlled warehouse that stored volatile material near the residential Sawan neighborhood in Sanaa caught fire and detonated on April 7, 2019, killing at least 15 children, 10 of whom were girls, and injuring more than 100 children and adults during class time.[8] The blast destroyed and damaged two schools, where 10 girls and a boy died. The cause of the explosion remains unknown, but the Houthis’ decision to store volatile material near homes and schools, despite the foreseeable risk, contributed to the death and injury of dozens of schoolchildren and adults.

The military use of schools by the parties to the conflict has also disproportionately impacted girls’ access to education. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack reported in 2019 that local militias and gangs were known to cut off access to school for girls in particular and even threaten school administration members with bombings if girls were allowed to continue to attend.[9]

In October 2017, Yemen became the 70th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to protect students, teachers, and schools during conflict, including by implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict. By endorsing the declaration, Yemen committed itself to a number of measures aimed at strengthening the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, and schools, including by: collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities, providing assistance to victims of attacks, investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators when appropriate, developing and promoting “conflict sensitive” approaches to education, and seeking to continue education during armed conflict.

A report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented in September 2019 that some Yemeni forces have begun to withdraw military personnel from some schools, in line with the commitments of the Safe Schools Declaration.[10] However, the report found that at least 20 schools were still in use by Yemeni armed forces, Houthis, and United Arab Emirates and Sudanese-backed forces. A Safe Schools Committee within the Ministry of Education was also established in February 2019.[11]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Are protections for schools and universities from military use included in any policies, rules, or trainings for Yemen’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time?
  • What steps are being taken to address and remedy the disproportionate harm to girls’ access to education as a result of hostilities and military use of schools?
  • How many students are deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, provided access to education elsewhere?

2. Child Marriage (Article 16)

Current trends suggest that child marriage is on the rise in Yemen. According to the UNFPA, the average age for girls to get married is about 15 years old.[12] More precise estimates are difficult to ascertain in this context.

Economic instability and poverty in Yemen are among the prevailing reasons for children to enter marriages. Girls who enter marriages at a young age face greater risks in pregnancy, including difficulties during childbirth that can result in death. Child marriage also often ends a girl’s education and can expose her to domestic violence.

Yemen currently has no minimum age for marriage. Attempts have been made in Parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18; for example, one of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (2013-2014) was a draft of a new constitution that included a ban on child marriage.[13] In April 2014, the then-minister of social affairs and labor and the minister of legal affairs presented a draft Child Rights Law to the then-Cabinet establishing 18 as Yemen’s minimum marriage age for adoption and then review at Parliament.[14] However, the status of Parliament is currently “expired” as its six-year term has ended and power remains split between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Houthis.[15]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to resume Parliamentary discussion on setting a minimum age for marriage?
  • What mechanisms are there in place to ensure accurate registration of births, deaths, marriages, and divorce?
  • How is the government working to change the cultural acceptance of child marriage and promote education for girls and women?
  • Do girls currently in marriages have access to legal redress and child protection services?
  • Are there retention strategies in place to ensure that girls who enroll in school are able to remain in school?
  • Are there monitoring systems in place to identify girls most vulnerable to child marriage?

3.     Violence Against Women and Girls (Articles 1, 2, 3, and 12)

Violence against women has increased about 63 percent since the conflict escalated in 2015.[16] Prior to the conflict, women faced discriminatory laws that increased the vulnerability of females to violence, but during the current conflict, warring parties’ actions have led to the displacement of women and girls in large numbers, and exacerbated discrimination and violence against them.[17]

Gender-Based Violence

Yemen has no law designed specifically to protect women from gender-based violence, only the general protection provided in the Penal Code that criminalizes infliction of physical harm. Provisions in the Personal Status Law create conditions that can facilitate marital rape and domestic violence. Article 40 of the Personal Status Law, for example, as revised in 1998, requires a woman to be obedient to her husband. Article 40 does not permit a woman to leave the matrimonial home without her husband’s permission except in very narrow circumstances. The provision requires that women allow their husbands to have sexual relations whenever the husbands require.[18] Marital rape is not criminalized.

Likewise, provisions in the Penal Code also increase the vulnerability of women to violence. Article 232 of the Penal Code allows for reduced and lenient sentences for men convicted of so-called “honor killing.” It provides that a man who murders or injures his wife, mother, daughter, or sister or her partner after finding them in the act of committing adultery should receive a maximum prison sentence of one year or a fine.[19] In addition, where a family member has killed a female relative in the name of “honor,” he can be pardoned by his family.

Other legal provisions that criminalize zina (sexual intercourse outside of marriage) and “immoral acts” have a discriminatory impact on women.[20] For example, under “immoral acts,” a woman can be prosecuted for the offense of khilwa if found in the company of a man who is not her relative. Such provisions undermine women’s rights, including to equal protection under the law.[21] Criminalizing consensual sex between adults also increases women’s vulnerability to rape and other sexual abuse as women are likely to be deterred from reporting such crimes, fearing their own prosecution for zina or “immoral acts.”

Female Genital Mutilation 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in some governates of Yemen, where the figures can be as high as 84 percent of women and girls who are cut. By 2013, research demonstrated that 19 percent of all women and girls nationwide had undergone some form of FGM. Ninety-nine percent of women who are victims of FGM are mutilated within the first year of birth, with 93 percent mutilated within the first month.[22]

Because of the fragile healthcare system prior to the conflict and the collapse of the healthcare system amidst the fighting, particularly emergency care, in many rural areas of Yemen, FGM can lead to death or long-term health consequences. The Yemeni government keeps no official data on deaths associated with FGM, so the number of Yemeni girls who have lost their lives due to the practice remains unknown.[23]

A law banning FGM was debated during Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference in 2014. Conference members concluded that those who carry out FGM should be subject to criminal prosecution. In response to this and other National Dialogue recommendations, in April 2014 a Child Rights bill that criminalizes FGM and stipulates prison sentences and fines for offenders was submitted for ministerial review. However, the bill was pending before the cabinet when the hostilities escalated and there was a change in the government.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to make all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, a criminal offense?
  • What steps are being taken to repeal or amend laws that facilitate violence against women, including those related to “honor killings” and zina (sexual intercourse outside marriage)?
  • Are there mechanisms in place by which victims can report violence to government officials and receive a response?
  • What legislative steps are being taken to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) for children and non-consenting adult women?
  • How does the government define FGM?
  1. Abuse Against Migrant and Yemeni Women and Girls in Detention (Articles 1,2 and 12)

Yemeni government officials have tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in the southern port city of Aden.

Past videos and photos of the detention facility show hundreds of men and boys in a crowded concrete hangar, with women and girls sitting on a stone floor. Former detainees reported that the facility was overcrowded, with dire sanitation conditions and little access to medical care. The provision of food was inconsistent, and guards would occasionally withhold food. Former detainees said guards sexually assaulted women and girls regularly.

One woman, from Harar, Ethiopia was arrested by Yemeni soldiers with a few dozen other Ethiopian men and women. When they arrived in Buraika, she was separated from her husband. The male guards made the women take off their abayas and headscarves and checked their bodies and hair. They took them to a room with about 100 other women. Guards would beat them regularly, she said, when the women would wail or yell. The guards did not provide much food, and the supply was not consistent. Every night, the guards would take one or two women with them, she said. Most women were eventually forced to go with the guards. If a woman refused to sleep with the guards, they would retaliate by withholding food for two days, she said. She knew five girls – a 12-year-old, two 15-year-olds, and two 17-year-olds – who were held in the facility with her and who had been raped.[24]

Dozens of Yemeni women were also being held without charges in secret Houthi prisons, where they are often subjected to torture and mistreatment. Their families are not aware of their whereabouts.[25]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to ensure migrant detainees are held in conditions that meet international standards?
  • Are specific protections for women and girls held in migrant detention centers included in the trainings, rules, policies, and manuals for detention center staff? 
  • What mechanisms are there in place to identify children in detention?
  • Under what conditions are children held in detention?
  • How do authorities and detention center staff ensure children have access to appropriate food and medical care and can communicate with their families?
  • What supervision mechanisms are there in place to monitor the conduct of detention center staff members?
  • Are there channels by which detainees may report instances of abuse or mistreatment and receive response?
  1. Women’s political participation (Article 3)

Women could always be found at the forefront of political and academic activist spaces in Yemen, although the context of turmoil and violence since 2015 has significantly impeded their access to formal political and peacebuilding channels.[26] For example, women’s participation in politics in the National Dialogue Conference during the transitional period in 2013 resulted in many achievements for women’s rights, albeit frozen now. The draft constitution received significant input from female politicians, which was reflected in the draft constitutional provisions banning child marriage and a 30 percent quota for women in governing bodies and institutions.

The conflict has stalled further progress or discussion on the new constitution, and women have been marginalized from further participation. During peace talks in 2015, women were excluded from participating.[27] Only one female delegate was present at the negotiation table at the Yemen peace talks in Stockholm in December 2018.[28] A handful of women from three different groups were also present at the 2019 talks, but their presence did not translate into a formal seat at the negotiation table.[29]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure active political participation of women in political and legislative bodies?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure inclusive representation of women in peace talks at the international level?  
 

[1] UNICEF, “As School Year Starts in Yemen, 2 Million Children Are out of School and Another 3.7 Million Are at Risk of Dropping Out,” September 25, 2019.

[2] “Yemen Education and Literacy,” November 27, 2016, http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/ye?theme=education-and-literacy.

[3] UNICEF, “As School Year Starts in Yemen, 2 Million Children Are out of School and Another 3.7 Million Are at Risk of Dropping Out,” September 25, 2019.

[4] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2020: Yemen, January 2020, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/yemen.

[5]  “Yemen: Houthis Endangered School for Blind, Coalition Airstrike Shows Added Risks For People with Disabilities,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 13, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/13/yemen-houthis-endangered-school-blind.

[6] “Yemen: Saudi-led coalition Airstrike Near School, 2 Students, Administrator Killed; 3 Children Wounded” Human Rights Watch news release, February 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/16/yemen-saudi-led-coalition-airstrike-....

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Yemen: Warehouse Blast Kills Schoolchildren, Houthis Stored Volatile Material in Residential Area” Human Rights Watch news release, May 9, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/09/yemen-warehouse-blast-kills-schoolch....

[9] “Safeguard Yemen’s Future: Protect Education from Attack.” Briefing Paper, Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. February 2019. http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/safegua....

[10] OHCHR, “Situation of Human Rights in Yemen, including violations and abuses since September 2014; Report of the detailed findings of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen,” September 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/GEE-Yemen/A_HRC_42_CR....

[11] “Safe Schools Declaration News #5,” Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, December 18, 2019, https://mailchi.mp/protectingeducation/ssdnewsletter5.

[12] UNFPA Yemen, “Child Marriage on the Rise,” October 4, 2016, https://yemen.unfpa.org/en/news/child-marriage-rise;  “Child Marriage is Stalling Sustainable Development,” World Economic Forum, October 18, 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/10/sustainable-development-goals-hin...

[13] Anne K. Bang, “Unfulfilled Hopes. The Quest for a Minimum Marriage Age in Yemen, 2009-2014,” CMI Report, 2016. https://www.cmi.no/publications/5817-unfulfilled-hopes-minimum-marriage-...

[14] “Yemen: End Child Marriage, Enact Law Establishing Minimum Age; Punish Violators” Human Rights Watch news release, April 27, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/27/yemen-end-child-marriage.

[15] Al-Haj, Ahmed, “Yemen President Returns Home for a Rare Parliament Session,” Associated Press, April 12, 2019, https://apnews.com/f4b6604060f047478561089ee4a8990b.

[16] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2020: Yemen, January 2020, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/yemen.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Law No 40. of 1998 regarding Personal Status (hereafter Personal Status Law) (in Arabic) at http://www.yemen-nic.info/db/laws_ye/detail.php?ID=11351 (accessed January 28, 2020).

[19] Law No. 12 of 1994 regarding crimes and punishments (hereafter Penal Code), as amended by law no.16 of 1995 and Law No. 24 of 2006, article 232 (in Arabic) at http://www.yemen-nic.info/db/laws_ye/detail.php?ID=11424 (accessed January 28, 2020).

[20] Article 12 lists zina as one of the crimes that would fall within the classification of hudood (hadd singular) crimes that are crimes as prescribed under Sharia. Article 263 provides that where zina is committed by an unmarried man or woman they are to be punished by a maximum of 100 lashes and a court may also on the basis of ta’zir (discretion) sentence them to a maximum of one year in prison; if the person was married when committing zina, it is punishable by stoning to death.

[21] Chapter 3 of the Penal Code refers to “scandalous” acts in breach of modesty, which is defined under article 273 as “a scandalous act in breach of modesty are all acts contrary to public decency or modesty, nudity, revealing intentionally their genitals or indicating a breach of modesty and contrary to etiquette.” For instance, article 275 states in cases of scandalous acts with a female that they could be imprisoned up to one year or a fine if the act was committed without the female’s consent but if she consented then the two of them could be sentenced to a maximum of six months or a fine not exceeding 1,000 riyals (US$5).

[22] “Yemen: National Health and Demographic Survey 2013,” Ministry of Public Health & Population

& Central Statistical Organization, Republic of Yemen (July 2015), https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR296/FR296.pdf.  

[23] “Killing My Daughter Haunts Me: Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen,” unpublished Human Rights Watch research, 2014.

[24] “Yemen: Detained African Migrants Tortured, Raped: Grant Access to Asylum Procedures; Hold Abusers Accountable,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 17, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/17/yemen-detained-african-migrants-tort....

[25] “Yemeni Group: Houthi Rebels Hold, Torture Female Detainees.” AP News, Maggie Michael. January 17, 2019, https://apnews.com/0b4af81e4c1a4e5abce813d5eacdd975.

[26] Afrah Nasser, “Yemen’s Women Confront War’s Marginalization.” MERIP, no. 189 (Winter 2018). https://merip.org/2019/03/yemens-women-confront-wars-marginalization/.

[27] Ibid

[28] Afrah Nasser, “Yemen: Women, War & Political Marginalization,” Atlantic Council  (blog), January 25, 2019. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/yemen-women-war-politic....

[29] Ibid.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People walk past destruction from government airstrikes in the town of Ariha, in Idlib province, Syria, January 15, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed

In late December, United Nations member countries defeated an attempt by Russia to block funding for investigations into grave abuses in Syria, approving US$17.81 million for a team of investigators responsible for gathering evidence of serious crimes for future prosecutions and ensuring they have the resources necessary to do the work.

The UN General Assembly created the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) in 2016 in response to a stalemate at the UN Security Council, where Russia had used its veto  six times since 2011 to block action on the Syrian conflict. Since 2016, Russia has used its veto eight more times to the same effect. But Moscow was unable to prevent the IIIM’s creation in the General Assembly or block its inclusion in the UN budget.

Since its establishment, one key hurdle to the team’s work had been raising the necessary funds to carry out its mandate. Until now, it had relied on voluntary contributions from individual countries, including to recruit professional staff and to set up vital security systems. The reliance on voluntary contributions put its crucial work at risk, making it difficult for the team to plan and organize its work. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sought to change that by adding it to his proposed regular budget as mandated by the General Assembly.

For months, Russia has apparently been working to undermine the team, and diplomats were bracing for a battle at the General Assembly’s budget committee over the resourcing issue. Russia and Syria tried to sabotage the funding effort by arguing that the IIIM is illegal. They proposed amendments that would have scrubbed the mechanism from the UN’s budget, supported by a cadre of states including China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Myanmar (who was itself challenging funding for the IIIM’s sister mechanism on Myanmar).

But each attempt was successfully voted down under the leadership of the European Union, United States, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Qatar, Turkey, and others. While Russia and Syria made clear that they disassociated themselves from all references to the IIIM in the final budget, their campaign was defeated.

Weakening accountability mechanisms through UN budgetary means is an overlooked but potentially effective tactic, one to which both China and Russia appear committed. That this was averted here is something to celebrate. There will undoubtedly be obstacles ahead and the path to justice is frustratingly long, but this is an important step to ensuring abuses are well-documented and perpetrators are identified in efforts to bring justice to victims in Syria.

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

ABC's editorial director Craig McMurtrie speaks to the media as Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster in Sydney on June 5, 2019. 

© Peter Parks / AFP
(Sydney) – Australia’s sweeping national security laws and police actions against journalists and whistleblowers are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.

Refugee rights, indigenous rights, and aged care are, among other issues, raising concerns. Australia has demonstrated some progress in its performance at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

“Australia’s national security laws shouldn’t be used to intimidate the media or those holding the government to account,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems intent on sending a message to officials not to share information with journalists.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 

In 2019, police raided the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a News Corp journalist over reports about war crimes in Afghanistan and surveillance in Australia respectively. Closed court proceedings continued against a whistleblower, “Witness K,” and his lawyer for secrecy breaches regarding exposures of alleged wrongdoing by the Australian government concerning trade negotiations with Timor-Leste.

About 600 refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Australia’s offshore processing system remain in legal limbo there after six years. In 2019, the government transferred about 170 refugees to Australia under a medical evacuation (medevac) law that enabled refugees and asylum seekers in ill-health who cannot get appropriate care in Papua New Guinea or Nauru to come to Australia. But in December, the government repealed the law, baselessly claiming it was necessary for border security.

“Repealing the medevac law was a cruel political maneuver that makes it more difficult for refugees and asylum seekers with serious illnesses – victims of offshore processing operations – to get the care they need,” Pearson said.

Indigenous Australians remain significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and people with disabilities are particularly at risk of neglect and abuse. In February, in Perth’s Hakea prison, prisoners beat to death an Aboriginal man with a mental health condition. At least two Aboriginal men with mental health conditions committed suicide in Western Australia prisons in 2019.

A royal commission into abuse and neglect of people with disabilities began hearings. Another royal commission found Australia’s aged care system to be “a shocking tale of neglect,” and recommended immediate action on the rampant practice of chemical restraint: using drugs to control people’s behavior in aged care facilities. A government regulation that went into force in July purported to minimize the use of physical and chemical restraints, but may in fact simply normalize the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

At the UN Human Rights Council, Australia took the lead on a joint statement bringing attention to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia and ensuring the council renewed the mandate of the UN expert on human rights in Eritrea.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Haitian woman was selling charcoal on the empty edges of her small town when a white, uniformed United Nations peacekeeper offered her a lift in his marked vehicle. He raped her shortly after she got in. “I could not fight back,” said Marie Badeau (a pseudonym) when I interviewed her in 2016, more than four years after the rape. “I felt outside of my body like I did not have all my senses.”

After we talked, she introduced me to her daughter conceived from the rape. The four-year-old had notably paler skin and hair than Badeau. “I just tell people it’s none of their business … when they look at her funny,” she said.

Though Badeau loves her daughter unconditionally, the young mother’s depression deepened whenever the girl complained of hunger.

An academic paper published in December by the journal International Peacekeeping suggests that Badeau is one of many poor Haitian women struggling with the long-term emotional and financial consequences of raising a child born from a peacekeeper father. The women were poor to begin with and find themselves even worse off now. Of the 2,500 community members interviewed by the researchers about living in towns with peacekeepers, 10 percent raised – without prompting – the issue of children fathered by the soldiers. The notoriety of the many nicknames for these children suggest both their prevalence and stigmatization, the researchers said.

For years, the Associated Press and other media outlets have published credible reports of sexual abuse and exploitation by the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, which concluded its operations in 2017. The details are shocking.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse” is a broad term that includes crimes like rape but also violations of the UN’s ban on any sexual relationships that include “abuse of position of vulnerability,” which essentially covers the local population everywhere UN peacekeepers deploy. Poverty, conflict and chaos all make women and girls profoundly vulnerable to abuse by UN soldiers. Stigma, along with steep barriers to obtaining contraception and safe abortions (in Haiti abortion is completely prohibited), make even consensual relationships more dangerous.

Haiti is just one of many countries where peacekeepers have raped women and girls, or sexually exploited them in exchange for food or support. My colleagues have also reported on rape by African Union forces in Somalia, French and UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic and UN troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the UN can investigate allegations of sexual abuse and rape, peacekeeper accountability is up to the country that sends the troops. As a result, prosecutions have been rare even after media coverage and outrage.

In recent years, the UN has stepped up its efforts to tackle the issue and push on the troop contributing countries. In 2015, the UN began publishing the nationalities of soldiers alleged to have sexually exploited and abused women and girls. It also established a trust fund and programs for psychological care, job training and other services for victims, including children fathered by peacekeepers. In 2017, the UN established a global “Victim Rights Advocate” and embedded victim advocates within peacekeeping missions. Annual reports and logged case updates are publicly available.

Badeau told me she was too ashamed to report her situation and didn’t know how she could. She had not sought out post-rape care for similar reasons. The UN’s new resources for survivors may explain the increase in reports, including older cases. Affordable or free legal assistance has improved in some places but remains patchy.

The need to better provide rape and sexual abuse survivors with long-term psychological assistance is well-established. Less clear is what the children born of rape or relationships with peacekeepers will need over the years to come. More research is needed. Children of peacekeeper fathers should have the opportunity to obtain their biological parent’s nationality, a rare occurrence but one that has happened at least once, in Uruguay.  

UN efforts have led to some improvements by troop and police contributing countries such as more training and troop vetting ahead of deployment. Some countries have tried new approaches. South Africa holds courts-martial in the same locale as the victim, to improve access to witnesses and evidence, and ensure that justice is seen to be done.

But countries need to do more. The UN has requested they appoint paternity focal points in the forces who can collect DNA and help mothers negotiate the legal system of the contributing country. Most don’t. Some countries’ legal systems need to be updated to better hold soldiers accountable for their behavior when deployed. For example, some governments still do not accept paternity claims. And more women police and soldiers should be included in peacekeeping forces.    

In the meantime, it’s crucial that the UN, the media and civil society groups continue to exert pressure on countries that contribute peacekeepers to respond to abuse allegations more seriously and more transparently. Otherwise, prosecutions of crimes will remain the exception.

For decades, desperate civilians have sought UN peacekeepers to alleviate some of the worst horrors of our times. Survivors of violence, displacement and poverty shouldn’t have to fear that those charged with protecting them will contribute to their suffering.

Skye Wheeler is a senior researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.

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

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat listens during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on September 11, 2017. 

© 2017 Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
Thank you, Mr. President,

We thank the High Commissioner for her oral update, which is both timely and sobering, and confirms that the human rights situation in Venezuela remains dire and that grave violations are ongoing.

It is unfortunate that the delegation of Venezuela began its response today by rejecting a Human Rights Council resolution, and dismissing all critique of the human rights situation in the country, suggesting it is politically-motivated, reflective of double standards, and based on lies and false statements. 

For the situation in any country to improve, the first step is for the state concerned to acknowledge its human rights challenges and commit to addressing them. What we did not hear in Venezuela’s statement today was any acceptance of government responsibility for extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture or violation of the rights to health, food or education. The Ambassador’s statement that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela” is disconnected from reality.

We are concerned at the lack of any progress towards country visits by a representative range of UN Special Procedures.

While any engagement with OHCHR is to be welcomed, it is not an end in itself. The success of engagement can only be measured by results, and in particular what concrete steps Venezuela has taken to implement the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report, end violations, advance human rights, and hold those responsible to account.

Engagement and accountability are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Accountability is an essential element of any efforts to resolving the rights crisis in the country.

We welcome the recent appointment of members of the Fact-finding Mission. Venezuela chose to run for HRC membership, and was elected by a narrow margin. Council membership carries obligations – the most basic of which is to cooperate with Council mechanisms. If Venezuela refuses to cooperate with the Fact-finding Mission, it is in contempt of its responsibilities as a member, and should face consequences.

We look forward to further updates and reporting by the High Commissioner, including on progress towards creating a full-fledged country office, Venezuela’s degree of cooperation with the Fact-finding Mission and UN Special Procedures, and implementation in full of the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report, including meaningful accountability.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch welcomes the new report of the UN Human Rights Office on the situation in Ukraine. We urge the Ukrainian authorities to embrace its recommendations as a matter of priority.

We are concerned that the government continues to require people living in non-government controlled areas to register as internally displaced and regularly travel to government controlled areas to access social benefits. This creates unnecessary hardship for many older people in accessing pensions, while those unable to regularly cross could not access their pensions at all. Lack of basic facilities at some crossing points remains a problem. Over a dozen people, mostly elderly, died from health complications in 2019 while trying to cross the line of contact.

We join the condemnation by the UN Monitoring Mission of unlawful conscription by Russian authorities in occupied Crimea, and the sanctioning of those who refuse to comply. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power may not compel residents of the occupied territory to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. It also explicitly prohibits any “pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment.” Russia should immediately cease these practices and release Crimeans who have been forced to serve in the Russian forces.

Independent media remain under pressure in Ukraine. This year, again, dozens of journalists were attacked, injured, threatened, or prosecuted on dubious charges. In June, investigative journalist Vadym Komarov died from severe head injuries he sustained in a May attack. The organizers of the attack against activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died in November 2018 from the wounds sustained from an acid attack, are yet to be identified. Groups advocating hate and discrimination continue to put ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and rights activists at risk. While law enforcement made demonstrable efforts to protect women’s rights rallies in March and the Equality March in June, on other occasions they failed to protect vulnerable groups. The authorities should bring those responsible for such attacks to justice.

President Zelensky’s pledge to curb corruption and end the conflict with Russia should go hand in hand with a commitment to address key human rights concerns. The recommendations included in HCHRO report should be a roadmap for his administration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children pan for gold along the Bosigon River in Malaya, Camarines Norte. 
 

© 2015 Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

In 2020, you should be watching for a growing trend of national legislatures requiring companies to live up to their responsibilities to workers, communities, and the environment.

Millions of adults and children around the world suffer abuses as workers who obtain raw materials, toil on farms, and make products for the global market. They are at the bottom of global supply chains, for everything from everyday goods like vegetables and seafood to luxury items like jewelry and designer clothing that end up on store shelves worldwide.

“Ruth,” age 13, is one of them. We met her processing gold by mixing toxic mercury with her bare hands into ground-up gold ore near a mine, during our research in the Philippines. She told us that she had  been working since she was 9, after dropping out of school, though she often doesn’t get paid by the man who gave her bags of gold ore to process.

It’s dangerous being on the lowest rung of this global ladder. In 2013, over 1,100 workers died and 2,000 were injured when the Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Since then, some progress has been made in making factories safer in Bangladesh, but there have not yet been sustainable reforms there or in other countries. To keep up with the demands of consumers, women experience a range of labor abuses in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

In January 2019, the Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil collapsed, killing at least 250 people—mostly workers—and unleashed a wave of toxic sludge. The dam had collected waste from a mine extracting iron ore, which is used globally in construction, engineering, automotive, and other industries.

In December 2019, more than 40 people, mostly workers, died in a factory fire in India’s capital, Delhi. Workers were asleep inside the factory, which makes school bags, when the fire erupted.

The era in which voluntary initiatives were the only way to encourage companies to respect human rights is starting to give way to the recognition that new, legally enforceable laws are needed. Although the debates vary by country, the overall trend is promising for the workers and communities that are part of multinational corporate supply chains.

Increasingly, lawmakers are acknowledging that companies need to take human rights—including freedom from unsafe working conditions, forced labor, and wage theft—into account, and are writing laws that require them to do so.

Multinational corporations, some of the wealthiest and most powerful entities in the world— 69 of the richest 100 entities in the world are corporations, not countries—have often escaped accountability when their operations have hurt workers, the surrounding communities, or the environment.

And governments aligned with powerful companies have frequently failed to regulate corporate activity, or have not enforced and even eliminated existing protections for workers, consumers, and the environment.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide voluntary guidelines for companies on their human rights responsibilities, but they aren’t enforceable. Industry-driven voluntary standards and certification schemes, which have grown rapidly in recent years, can be useful, but are not sufficient: many companies will only act when they are required to do so by law.

These standards also don’t cover key human rights and environmental issues in companies’ supply chains, and the systems for monitoring compliance with the standards haven’t always been able to catch and rectify problems.

Both the Rana Plaza factory and the Brumadinho dam had been inspected by auditors hired by the companies just months before disaster struck.

In recent years, France, the Netherlands, Australia, and the UK have passed laws on corporate human rights abuses. But some of the existing laws don’t have any teeth. Australia and the UK, for example, merely require companies to be transparent about their supply chains and report any actions they may have taken to address issues like forced or child labor, but do not actually require them to prevent or remedy these issues. Furthermore, neither country has penalties  for companies that don’t comply with the law.

France’s 2017 law is the broadest and most rigorous regulation currently in effect, requiring companies to identify and prevent both human rights and environmental impacts in their supply chains, including the companies they control directly and those with which they work.

Companies in France published the first “vigilance plans” under this law in 2018. Failure to comply can result in lawsuits, and the first legal action under the duty of vigilance law was filed in October 2019.

Laws like the one in France, with requirements for company action, consequences when they fail to follow through, and a way for workers to hold companies accountable, open the door for greater protections for workers around the world.

The year 2020 promises more progress for more people. Parliaments in Germany, Switzerland, DenmarkCanadaNorwayFinland, and Austria are considering laws that would change the way that companies deal with human rights in their global operations, going beyond transparency and reporting to requirements to identify human rights risks in corporate supply chains and to take steps to prevent them.

In a related development, the International Labour Organization is considering whether a new binding global convention on “decent work in global supply chains” is needed, and will hold a meeting with government, trade union, and employer representatives in 2020 to explore this question.

By adopting robust supply chain regulation, countries will create a new international expectation for responsible behavior for businesses, and more rigorous human rights safeguards for millions of workers, like Ruth, who struggle to survive in their mines, factories, and fields.

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

A Uighur woman picking up school children rides past a picture showing China's President Xi Jinping joining hands with a group of Uighur elders at the Unity New Village in Hotan, in western China's Xinjiang region, September 20, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Andy Wong, File
As we approach the last days of the decade, it’s important to reflect on the fight for human rights, the setbacks and successes over the past year in Australia and around the world.

Our list isn’t ranked, and far from exhaustive – we acknowledge it doesn’t include many human rights struggles worthy of greater attention. But, in flagging some of the issues needing urgent attention, we hope to gather support for the broader movement that strives to achieve justice and secure dignity for more people.

China holding one million Muslims in ‘political education camps’

China is arbitrarily detaining an estimated one million Muslims in Xinjiang, in what the authorities call “political education camps.” Millions more are subjected to intrusive mass surveillance.

Leaked internal Chinese Communist Party documents described in chilling detail just how the Chinese authorities keep the Uighurs locked up.

The size of your beard, where you travel and whether you use the back door of the house are all potentially indicators of “terrorism” that can send you to the camps with no legal process at all.

The leaked documents are consistent with previous reporting on Xinjiang, but reveal the campaign originated from President Xi Jinping himself. They dispel the Chinese government’s claims these camps are merely “vocational training centers.”

More than two dozen countries joined two United Nations statements in Geneva and New York urging China to end this arbitrary detention of Muslims.

In response, China organised several dozen countries, including notorious rights abusers such as Russia, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to join statements commending China for its counter-terrorism efforts.

Faced with the growing body of evidence of large-scale human rights violations backed by China’s leadership, the question is whether the rest of the world will hold the Chinese government to account in 2020.

Some women in Saudi Arabia can travel freely

Following unprecedented global attention on Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system, which restricts women’s rights to travel (among other things), Saudi authorities undertook reform.

At last, Saudi women over 21 years old have the right to travel abroad freely and obtain passports without permission from their male guardian. But this is a shallow victory for Saudi women, who still face myriad rights abuses at home.

Activists remain locked up for peaceful acts of free expression, some alleging they have been tortured.

The Saudi government also hasn’t taken meaningful steps to provide accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or for their alleged war crimes in Yemen.

Australia’s performance on the UN Human Rights Council

After initially taking a low-key approach to its membership in the UN Human Rights Council, Australia stepped up in its second year. This was to ensure the council renewed the mandate of the special rapporteur on Eritrea, where human rights continue to deteriorate.

In September, Australia led a joint statement bringing attention to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia, and the government joined two UN statements on Xinjiang.

In 2020, the final year of Australia’s membership term, the government should keep up the pressure on Saudi Arabia and China by pressing for independent international inquiries into longstanding abuses.

Aged care: a shocking tale of neglect

“A shocking tale of neglect” was the headline of the Royal Commission’s interim report into the Australian aged care system.

Tabled in the federal parliament in October, the report revealed more than 270,000 cases of substandard care in Australian nursing homes in the past five years. It argued for a major overhaul to transform the way Australia supports people as they grow older.

One of the issues the commission heard testimony on was the routine use of drugs to control the behaviour of older people with dementia, without a medical purpose.

This practice is known as chemical restraint, and the drugs have devastating effects. They increase the risks of falls or strokes, and can render previously energetic people lethargic and, in some cases, unable to speak.

Human Rights Watch report detailed the practice in 35 aged care facilities in Australia, and its impact on residents and their families.

It called for the government to prohibit chemical restraint and ensure adequate staffing with appropriate training to support people with dementia.

Water rights under threat in Australia

Australians saw the haunting image of dead and dying fish in Australia’s most important river system, the Murray Darling.

Scientists concluded exceptional climatic conditions influence this “serious ecological shock” in a river system that now has very little water to serve the needs of people, agriculture and a fragile environment.

The right to clean drinking water, recognised under international human rights law, is already under threat for people in some rural and remote communities across New South Wales and Queensland. And it will become more relevant as droughts exacerbated by climate change continue to bite Australian cities and towns.

In the Northern Territory community of Laramba, 250 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, the level of uranium in the drinking water is more than double the level recommended in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. It prompted legal action against the territory’s government.

What’s more, for the first time since records were kept, on November 11 no rain was recorded on continental Australia.

Youth-led climate justice movements

One of this year’s most refreshing developments was the youth-led action on climate change. It brought together environment and human rights concerns, inspiring an estimated 300,000 Australians to join a global strike in September.

For some, it was a way to demonstrate outrage at the federal government’s weak position and lack of action to address climate change.

For others, the enormous fires in the precious Amazon forest, fuelled by violence and impunity, was compelling.

And, of course, many were moved to strike because the brave and passionate voices of Greta Thunberg and other children who are demanding action for the sake of future generations.

We hear them loud and clear – and call on Australia’s leaders to listen and act.

Louise Chappell is director of the Australian Human Rights Institute and Professor of Law at UNSW. Elaine Pearson is the Australia director of Human Rights Watch.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The UN Security Council holds a meeting on November 20, 2019, at United Nations headquarters in New York.

© 2019 AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

For the second year in a row, the United States has prevented the United Nations Security Council from scrutinizing North Korea’s abysmal human rights record, sending a clear message to Pyongyang and other abusive governments that the US is prepared to look away regarding rights violations. 

The special Security Council meeting was set to convene today, to coincide with Human Rights Day. Earlier this month it appeared the Council had the minimum number of member votes – nine, including the US – for the meeting to happen. But on December 6, US Ambassador Kelly Craft told reporters her delegation had not yet decided whether to go ahead with the meeting

According to Foreign Policy, the about-face was an attempt by President Trump to preserve efforts to persuade Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons ahead of next year’s US presidential election.

The move signals the Trump administration doesn’t consider North Korea’s human rights violations to be a big deal.

The Council plans to hold a different meeting on North Korea later this week, focused on the country’s weapons proliferation activities. While some delegations may raise Pyongyang’s rights record in their speeches, that is no substitute for a meeting devoted to human rights.

North Korea has always hated the annual Security Council meetings focused on its widespread use of arbitrary detention, starvation, torture, summary executions, sexual violence and other crimes against the North Korean people. Last year, North Korea’s UN envoy called the meetings, held annually between 2014 and 2017, an attempt to “stoke confrontation.”

That message was apparently received, as the Council abandoned the annual meeting last year. That inaction sent a message to North Korea’s leadership that human rights had become a second-tier issue.

In 2014, a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea said in a report that Pyongyang’s abuses were so severe the Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The UN Human Rights Council mandated a UN office to collect evidence of abuses for possible use in future prosecutions. 

Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials will undoubtedly be elated they can duck US criticism of their human rights record once again this year. In the meantime, the rest of the Security Council should find a way to resume the North Korea human rights meetings even without the Trump administration’s support.

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

Screenshot from a video showing a photo of a prisoner working at Uzbekistan's Jaslyk prison.

© 2019 VOA

(Berlin) – Uzbekistan should carry out the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s recommendations to end the “widespread, routine torture and ill-treatment” in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The committee’s review of Uzbekistan under the Convention against Torture highlighted that the steps Tashkent has taken to curb the use of torture have been insufficient. Urgent further measures should include full implementation of a ban on the use of torture-tainted evidence in court, opening criminal trials to the public, and rehabilitating former political prisoners tortured while in jail.

“The UN committee findings are a wake-up call to the realities of human rights in Uzbekistan today,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The reforms led by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev are important, but this report shows that key pillars of the country’s abusive, authoritarian system are still in place.”

Human Rights Watch has over many years documented the use of torture in detention in Uzbekistan, including beatings with rubber truncheons and water-filled bottles, electric shock, hanging by wrists and ankles, rape and sexual humiliation, asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, threats of physical harm to relatives, and denial of food or water. It has also documented cases since President Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016.

The committee, which held hearings with the Uzbek government and Uzbek regional and international nongovernmental groups in November in preparation for its December 6 report, said that “complaints of torture received by the prosecutor’s office increased tenfold from 2017 to 2018.” It said it was concerned however that “the number of cases in which officials were prosecuted for torture did not increase at a commensurate rate.” No specific data was provided.

The committee said it was aware of reports of an unspecified number of deaths in prison as a result of torture.

The committee said it “remains deeply concerned at reports that torture and ill-treatment continue to be routinely committed by, at the instigation of and with the consent of the State party’s law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, principally for the purpose of extracting confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.”

The committee welcomed important legal steps by President Mirziyoyev and his government to “reduce incentives to perpetuate torture and [that] make it mandatory for procuratorial authorities and courts to verify reports of torture.” These included banning the use of torture-tainted evidence in court. It expressed concern, however, over continued reports that judges and prosecutors “tend to disregard and decline to investigate” allegations that confessions were obtained through torture. Prosecutors and judges should in future ask all defendants in criminal cases “whether they were tortured,” the committee said.

The committee said that Uzbek authorities should collect data on its steps to reduce incentives to use torture and make the data public. It also expressed concern that confessions had been used in a number of criminal trials in which defendants alleged torture and that trials of people accused of committing torture were held behind closed doors. Criminal trials should be “open to the public” the committee said.

The release from prison of “a substantial number of human rights defenders and journalists since September 2016” was welcomed by the committee. However, it criticized Uzbek authorities’ rulings that all of the claims of torture and arbitrary detention by these former political prisoners were “unsubstantiated.” The committee said Uzbekistan should take steps to “exonerate” those convicted in unfair trials or on the basis of torture-tainted evidence; provide them with “redress, including compensation and rehabilitation”; and should “consider creating an independent commission to investigate these matters.”

It criticized the government’s rejection of an application by a group of former political prisoners to establish a nongovernmental group focused on rehabilitation.

The committee addressed other key issues, stating that:

  • It was concerned about allegations of torture against Kadyr Yusupov, a retired Uzbek diplomat in jail on treason charges.
  • It welcomed the closure in August of Jaslyk prison, but said it should be permanently closed, not turned into a pretrial detention facility. Authorities should conduct an “independent inquiry into allegations of torture and ill-treatment” at Jaslyk and ensure that victims “obtain redress” and that the public is given access to the prison archives.
  • It was concerned at the “continued weakness and inefficiency of the judiciary” and the “lack of independence” from the Justice Ministry of Uzbekistan’s lawyers’ association.
  • It was concerned that human rights defenders had been involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals “to prevent them from conducting their work.” Cases cited include that of Nafosat Ollashukurova, hospitalized in this way since September. It was concerned over reports of forced labor in the cotton fields, including that “an estimated 170,000 adults were forced to work” in the 2018 cotton harvest.
  • It was concerned over reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are tortured in prison and persecuted by police, including through “entrapment schemes.”

The committee said the Uzbek government had given “assurances” that “an invitation to visit is being extended to the UN special rapporteur on torture,” who has not been allowed to visit the country since 2002.

Uzbekistan’s international partners should raise the report’s findings with the government and should stress that closer relations with Uzbekistan will be tied to concrete progress on these issues, Human Rights Watch said.

“As Uzbekistan is aware, the use of torture is completely banned under international human rights law,” Williamson said. “Uzbekistan needs to prioritize urgent action against torture in order to stop this terrible practice once and for all.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am