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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev takes the oath during his inauguration ceremony in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

© 2019 Vladislav Vodnev / Sputnik via AP

(Geneva) – Governments should use an upcoming review of Kazakhstan’s rights record at the United Nations (UN) to hold the country’s new president to his pledges to respect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 7, 2019, Kazakhstan will undergo its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, elected Kazakhstan’s president in June, is no stranger to the UN. He headed the UN’s office in Geneva before becoming the hand-picked successor of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ruled the country for 30 years before his resignation in March.

“President Tokaev knows the UN like few others do, and yet since becoming president, he has failed to bring Kazakhstan closer to UN human rights norms,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries at the UN review should press Tokaev to deliver on much-needed reforms and to respect dissent and public debate.”

Just over eight months after Tokaev was named interim president in March, the transition he promised on several occasions has yet to materialize. In the days surrounding the presidential elections in June, in which Tokaev sailed to victory in a vote observers said was flawed by ballot-stuffing, approximately 4,000 people were detained for protesting the vote.

Once in office, Tokaev promised change. He said his government would reform Kazakhstan’s restrictive protest law by the end of the year, and encouraged local authorities in the meantime to allow protests to take place. In his annual address to the nation in September, he pledged to strengthen the defense of human rights and to carry out “deep reforms of judicial and law enforcement systems.”

However, protesters in Kazakhstan are still often met by large deployments of riot police and mass arrests. While the authorities have allowed some rallies to take place without intervention, in September dozens were arrested for protesting growing Chinese investment in Kazakhstan, and more than 100 people were detained at a rally held by a banned opposition movement.

Several prominent activists remain unjustly behind bars, including Max Bokaev, sentenced to five years in prison for calls for peaceful protests against proposed land code amendments in 2016, and Erlan Baltabay, a trade union activist condemned on charges that appeared politically motivated of misappropriating union funds. Others, like Serikzhan Bilash, whose activism drew attention to the crackdown in China’s Xinjiang region and who pleaded guilty in August to spurious criminal charges of incitement, have since been released, but only on condition that they restrict their public activity.

Organizations that work on controversial issues or are critical of the government are denied official registration, and risk serious penalties by operating without it. And the government continues to restrict independent trade union activity and to persecute trade union activists.

UN members participating in Kazakhstan’s UPR debate should urge Tokaev’s administration to:

  • Respect freedom of assembly by allowing protests to take place without unjustified detentions or arrests, and reform the restrictive protest law;
  • Free those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for activism, particularly Bokaev and Baltabay;
  • Amend criminal code art. 174 on “inciting social, national, clan, racial, class, or religious discord” and art. 274, which broadly prohibits “disseminating knowingly false information,” so as to prevent arbitrary prosecutions that violate human rights norms;
  • End restrictions on independent labor union activity and the persecution of trade union activists.

“Kazakhstan continues to be a place where the government harasses, detains, and imprisons those who voice dissenting opinions,” Williamson said. “The UN’s top human rights body should put President Tokaev to the test and press him to translate long-overdue promises into tangible reform.”

For more details about certain cases and issues mentioned above, please see below.

Max Bokaev

Max Bokaev was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2016 after participating in peaceful protests against proposed land code amendments. He was sentenced together with another activist, Talgat Ayan, though Ayan was released on parole in April 2018. Bokaev remains unjustly imprisoned, even after the government signed a five-year moratorium on the unpopular land reform.

Labor Rights

After widespread strikes in 2011 and 2012, Kazakhstan adopted a new Trade Union Law in 2014 that virtually eliminated the possibility of independent union organizing. The law creates a burdensome registration requirement that resulted in some unions being denied registration. The law also mandates that unions affiliate with higher-tier unions. In June, the International Labour Organization (ILO) sanctioned Kazakhstan for failing to amend the law and other restrictions on trade union activity. The government said amendments to trade union legislation were submitted to parliament in July. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), the country’s largest independent union, was ordered to close in 2017.

Erlan Baltabay and Other Trade Union Activists

Several trade union activists have been imprisoned and upon release, banned from union activities. In September 2018, authorities in Shmykent opened a spurious criminal case against Erlan Baltabay, a trade union activist who spoke critically about harassment at the International Labor Conference in June 2018. In July 2019, a court sentenced him to prison for seven years on charges of misappropriating union funds. While Baltabay was released from prison due to a presidential pardon in August on the condition that he pay an undisclosed fine, in October he was sentenced to prison for another five months as a penalty for not paying that fine. Three activists, Nurbek Kushakbaev, Amin Eleusinov, and Larisa Kharkova, remained banned from leading trade unions.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Village officials swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party in Kashgar, Xinjiang. 

© State WeChat account (新疆访惠聚)
Nearly two dozen countries confronted China at the United Nations this week, voicing outrage over its persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and demanding the government comply with international obligations on the freedom of religion.
For years there has been growing international concern about China’s brutal treatment of 13 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang as part of its “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism.” There are credible estimates of at least one million Turkic Muslims being indefinitely detained in “political education” camps. China’s harsh repression also involves widespread surveillance and the destruction of Turkic Muslim cultural and religious heritage across Xinjiang.

British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce delivered the joint statement on Xinjiang at the General Assembly’s Third Committee on Tuesday on behalf of 23 countries.

The countries said they shared concerns raised by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding “credible reports of mass detention; efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices; mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs; and other human rights violations and abuses.” They called on China to comply with its national and international obligations to respect human rights, including freedom of religion, and allow UN human rights monitors access to detention centers.  

The statement was backed by Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

Predictably, a group of more than 50 countries supporting China sought to “commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” The rebuttal, delivered by Belarus, was joined by notablerights abusers that included Russia and Egypt.

The statement Pierce delivered builds on a similar one presented to the president of the UN Human Rights Council in July and reflects increasing concern about the situation in Xinjiang and an unwillingness to be intimidated by China’s threats of reprisal.

Governments should maintain the momentum by repeatedly raising Xinjiang at various UN venues.  They could organize an informal UN Security Council meeting as well as events like the US and others held last month on the sidelines of the General Assembly. 

Tuesday’s bold statement contrasts sharply with the reluctance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to publicly criticize Beijing over rights abuses. All top UN officials and national delegations should join the growing chorus demanding an end to the persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. 

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

It would be easy to give up on the United Nations Human Rights Council, as the Trump administration has done. Based in Geneva, the council is supposed to be a beacon for the world, a place where victims of human rights violations can look for abusive governments to be held to account. And yet, periodically, news breaks that a country with a particularly atrocious human rights record gained a seat on the UN body.

That happened earlier in October when Venezuela narrowly defeated Costa Rica for a seat on the council. This result would rightly horrify any casual observer. Venezuela is arguably facing the most dramatic human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Americas. Nicolás Maduro’s government is responsible for a vicious crackdown on dissent, with torture and murder being used to silence opponents and critics. A largely self-inflicted humanitarian emergency has sent more than 4.5 million Venezuelans fleeing over the borders.

In a just world, Costa Rica, a country with a solid track record on human rights compliance, would have easily defeated Venezuela. But in the hallways of the UN General Assembly, where 193 governments, most of whom are not rights-respecting democracies, are used to playing politics and securing votes through backroom deals, Venezuela, which presides over the Non-Aligned Movement, still holds some sway.

Despite Costa Rica’s 14-day lightning campaign for a council seat, Venezuela obtained 105 votes, the least of any of the new council members but just barely enough to secure a seat for three years. When the results were announced, timid applause broke out in a corner of the General Assembly — an obscene display of enthusiasm for anyone who believes in human rights and a slap in the face for the Maduro government’s victims.

It was not supposed to be like this. The UN Human Rights Council was created 13 years ago to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. Standards were required of new members. The improved Human Rights Council has done pretty well, deploying commissions of inquiry to Syria, Myanmar, North Korea, South Sudan and Yemen, and forcing the world to open its eyes to some of the worst human rights crises.

Just last month, the council voted to open an investigation into killings and disappearances in Venezuela. Venezuela’s election will not change that.

In part because of the body’s effectiveness, countries with dubious rights records have sought seats on the council, often benefitting from an unwillingness of regional blocs to encourage/permit competition for available seats. Among its current members are China, which has detained over a million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in reeducation camps; Saudi Arabia, which carries out arbitrary detentions at home and commits war crimes in Yemen; Cuba, which represses and punishes dissent and criticism; and the Philippines, whose president has led a murderous “war on drugs.”

The presence of serial rights abusers on the council was cited by the Trump administration to justify its decision to withdraw its membership last year. In truth, the U.S. had done little to prevent problematic allies, such as Saudi Arabia, from being elected to the council.

But regardless of political agendas, critics are right to point out that the election of serious rights abusers undermines the council’s credibility. Countries such as Venezuela, China or Saudi Arabia want a seat at the table mostly to prevent criticism of their own records, or that of their allies.

Does it mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater? Has the Human Rights Council undermined its ability to promote human rights around the world? Far from it. In a world beset by human rights violations, with authoritarian populist movements on the rise and armed conflicts raging around the world, the Human Rights Council is one of the few remaining places where independent investigations can be mandated and where victims of rights abuses can be heard. And unlike the UN Security Council in New York, where Russia or the U.S. can block resolutions on Syria or Israel, no one has a veto.

It would be naïve, and even counterproductive, to insist that all Human Rights Council members should have glittering human rights records. A club of well-meaning democracies speaking only to one another would have little impact on the rest of the world. Countries that face serious human rights challenges but are willing to cooperate with UN treaty bodies and rights experts belong in Geneva.

Unlike most UN bodies, the Human Rights Council has recommended membership criteria, including to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Those responsible for widespread or systematic abuses and those that repeatedly refuse to cooperate with UN mechanisms and seek access only to block scrutiny and criticism should not have council membership. UN General Assembly members committed to human rights need to cooperate to block the worst offenders, to ensure one of the few institutions able to advance global rights can maintain, and even extend, its credibility. The world cannot afford otherwise.

Philippe Bolopion is deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch.

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

Video: UN Should Compensate Kosovo Lead Poisoning Victims

The United Nations’ failure to compensate victims of widespread lead poisoning at UN-run camps in Kosovo has left affected families struggling to care for sick relatives who were exposed to the contamination.

Yesterday was supposed to be a celebration at the United Nations.

October 24 is United Nations Day, marking the day the UN Charter officially came into effect in 1945. The Charter includes the commitment to protect human rights.

But on the UN’s birthday, the world body received sharp criticism regarding its own human rights record.

The UN special rapporteur on hazardous substances and waste, Baskut Tuncak, reprimanded the UN for failing victims of widespread lead poisoning in Kosovo after the 1998-1999 war. Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian minorities were forced to live in UN-run camps contaminated by lead from a nearby industrial mine for more than a decade. Hundreds got sick. Many still suffer health consequences today.

In his presentation to the General Assembly, Tuncak warned: “[t]he integrity of the U.N. system is undermined by its failure to provide relief and remedy to these Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian families.”

In a new report on the human rights obligation to prevent exposure to toxic substances, Tuncak noted a 2016 independent UN investigation into human rights claims against the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) that found violations against the displaced communities and recommended the UN pay individual compensation.

Lead can impair the body’s neurological, biological, and cognitive functions. Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible, and high levels of lead exposure can cause permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities. The victims have been waiting for justice and support for more than a decade.

This is not the first time the UN has been criticized for its failure to provide a remedy. In June, Tuncak wrote to six UN bodies, urging them to prioritize the victims in Kosovo and advocate for greater visibility of the issue. Only the World Health Organization responded, saying it considers the voluntary trust fund that UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres created more than two years ago the best way to help the affected communities. To date, only one country has contributed to the trust fund and it falls short of offering individual compensation.

After marking the UN’s anniversary, UN member states, the UN secretary-general, and heads of other UN bodies should heed the call of their own experts to ensure that victims of lead poisoning in Kosovo finally get justice.

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

At the recent June session of the Human Rights Council, 25 states sent a joint letter to the President of the Human Rights Council and to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing deep concern at widespread rights violations against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. An alternative letter was also submitted in which China’s approach in Xinjiang was endorsed by states that included North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar – themselves long responsible for gross rights violations.

An alternative letter was also submitted in which China’s approach in Xinjiang was endorsed by gross violators including North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar. China’s narrative hinges upon a gross stereotyping of Uyghurs and other Muslims as “terrorists needing re-education”. We are encouraged that half of the OIC states declined to endorse this offensive narrative.

Council action is all the more urgent in view of emerging reports of China’s forced separation of Muslim children from their parents, placed in ostensible education institutions equipped with barbed wire and surveillance cameras more akin to detention centers than schools, and required to sing and dance to Chinese propagandistic songs.

One Uyghur man has been unable to contact his son, now 4, and daughter, 3, since authorities detained his wife in August 2016. In January, he spotted his son in a video posted online that showed him in a school answering questions in Chinese. “I miss my children, my wife,” he told Human Rights Watch. “I want them back very much. I fear if I ever meet my children again in my lifetime, they wouldn’t know who I am, and they would’ve been assimilated as Chinese and think that I’m their enemy.”

We urge delegations, particularly from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to speak out against mass violations directed at Muslims in Xinjiang, and to support the High Commissioner’s call for unfettered access to conduct an independent assessment so that the Human Rights Council can be kept informed of the situation.

The joint statement on systemic rights violations in Saudi Arabia delivered by 36 states at the Council’s March session was followed in June by the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions on the brutal and brazen murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We share the Special Rapporteur’s analysis that “the operation against Mr. Khashoggi has to be understood in relation to [an] organized and coordinated crack-down [against activists and journalists], one that included repeated unlawful acts of torture and physical harm”.

This is the session to follow up on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. Saudi women still face myriad human rights violations. The Saudi government is continuing the trials of Saudi women activists facing charges tied to their peaceful human rights advocacy, and has not taken steps to provide meaningful accountability for the Khashoggi murder.

The charade should no longer go on that the Saudi authorities can announce reforms on the one hand and on the other imprison those who fought for them. We urge states at this session of the Council to maintain scrutiny of Saudi Arabia through a joint statement or resolution with a view to putting in place a monitoring mechanism into the rights situation in the country.

Mr. President, meaningful attention by the Council to the rights crackdown in Egypt is long overdue. Draconian restrictions on civil society, misuse of counterterrorism laws, and use of torture continue unabated. At this session alone, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances noted the “very high number” of allegations of disappearances concerning Egypt, the Working Group on arbitrary detention similarly documented numerous arbitrary detentions, and Egypt features prominently in both the communications report of Special Procedures and the Secretary General’s report on reprisals.

What these countries - China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - have in common is that they are all HRC members whose grave and continuing violations demand increased attention by this Council.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Demonstrators march outside the US Capitol during the Poor People's Campaign rally in Washington, DC, June 23, 2018. 

© 2018 AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

(New York) – Governments should heed the call of the United Nations’ leading expert on poverty to fully integrate human rights protections into their efforts to digitize and automate welfare benefits and services, seven human rights groups said today.

In a report released this week, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warns that the rapid digitization and automation of welfare systems is hurting the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. Although governments have pledged to use these technologies to create more equitable and inclusive welfare programs, Alston found that the technologies have been used in ways that “surveil, target, harass, and punish beneficiaries.”  

“The UN expert’s findings show that automating welfare services poses unique and unprecedented threats to welfare rights and privacy,” said Amos Toh, senior artificial intelligence and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Using technology to administer welfare has risks and is not a panacea for rights-based reforms that safeguard the dignity and autonomy of society’s most vulnerable people.”

The human rights groups are Access Now, AlgorithmWatch, Amnesty International, Child Poverty Action Group, Human Rights Watch, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and Privacy International.

In the first global UN survey of digital welfare systems, Alston found that governments increasingly rely on automated decision-making and other data-driven technologies to verify the identity of welfare beneficiaries, assess their eligibility for various services, calculate benefit amounts, and detect welfare fraud. But the use of these technologies can create serious harm to human rights, the groups said.

The automation of key welfare functions without sufficient transparency, due process, and accountability raises the specter of mass violations of welfare rights. In the United Kingdom, errors in the Real Time Information System, which calculates benefits payments based on earnings information reported to the tax authority, have caused potentially catastrophic delays and reductions in benefit payments for impoverished families. Design flaws in automated fraud detection systems in Australia and the United States have also triggered debt notices to scores of beneficiaries, wrongfully accusing them of welfare fraud.

“Automated decision-making should be made more transparent, as highlighted by the rapporteur, in three important ways,” said Matthias Spielkamp, executive director of AlgorithmWatch. “Citizens need to be able to understand what policies are implemented using algorithms and automation. The administration has to keep a register of all complex automation processes it uses that directly affect citizens. Also, there needs to be transparency of responsibility, so that people know who to contact to challenge a decision.”

The development of digital identity systems to screen welfare beneficiaries also increases the risk of unnecessary and disproportionate surveillance, and attendant risks to people’s security. In India, Human Rights Watch has found that the government’s mandatory biometric identification project, Aadhaar, imposes invasive data collection requirements as a condition for getting allotments of subsidized food grains and other essential public services.

In Kenya, Amnesty International has raised concern about the lack of adequate privacy protections and independent oversight in the national biometric identification system, Huduma Namba. Registration with the system is a condition of accessing welfare benefits and other government services.

“Before forcing entire populations into using digital identity programs, governments must first ask themselves, ‘Why ID?’, and prove these systems are necessary and will actually provide the intended benefits,” said Peter Micek, general counsel at Access Now. “With ill-conceived digital identity programs, authorities force communities to give up fundamental rights such as privacy in exchange for their rights to food, shelter, and well-being.”

Alston found that government agencies around the world undertake a wide range of “crucial decisions to go digital” without meaningful transparency or even a legal basis for doing so, denying “opportunities for legislative debate and for public inputs into shaping the relevant systems.”

“Independent oversight findings of illegality are being completely ignored,” said Elizabeth Farries, information rights program manager of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. “In Ireland, the government refuses to halt its compulsory rollout of the biometric Public Services Card for a wide range of services, despite being ordered to stop by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.” 

The groups also endorsed the UN expert’s recommendation that governments should establish laws ensuring that the private sector incorporates transparency, accountability, and other human rights safeguards in the development and sale of technologies to facilitate the delivery of welfare services and benefits.

"Whilst governments have been the ones increasingly pushing for digital welfare policies, we must also consider the other stakeholders driving this agenda,” said Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, director of strategy at Privacy International. “As pointed out by the special rapporteur, the private sector plays a role, but we maintain that we must also address the role of investment structures, such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, and leading funders. All those in the ecosystem must be held to account to protect people and to ensure they can live with dignity and autonomy, free from undue surveillance and exploitation. ”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A view of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, October 1, 2018. 

© AP Photo/Richard Drew
(New York) – Several candidates vying for seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council have problematic rights records, and UN member states should not vote for Venezuela. Venezuela’s abusive government clearly falls short of minimum standards for membership.

On October 17, 2019, the UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members to the 47-nation council for a three-year term beginning in January 2020. The Latin American and Caribbean regional group at the UN had initially put forward only two candidates for two council seats – Venezuela and Brazil, virtually assuring both of victory. But on October 3, Costa Rica, which has a solid human rights record, announced it would compete for a seat. That means the 193 assembly members can deny a seat to Venezuela’s abusive government.

“Now that UN member states have a choice, there is no possible excuse to vote for Venezuela,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolás Maduro’s government. It’s a slap in the face to the millions who have fled the country, many facing dire humanitarian conditions, and the countless victims who never made it out.”

Fifty-four international and Venezuelan organizations, including Human Rights Watch, declared Venezuela unfit for council membership on October 10. In September, the council passed a resolution establishing an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. Venezuela rejected that resolution.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, urges states voting for members to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” This applies to their efforts to promote and protect human rights at home and abroad. Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”

Venezuela does not meet those minimum standards, Human Rights Watch said. More than 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country to escape the humanitarian emergency, and the political, economic, and human rights crisis.

Two of the five UN geographical regions have no competition for council seats, meaning that their candidates’ victory is largely a foregone conclusion in the secret ballot. Four African countries are running for four seats: Benin, Libya, Mauritania, and Sudan. The Netherlands and Germany are seeking the two available Western group seats.

The Eastern Europe and Asia groups allowed for competition, with Armenia, Moldova, and Poland vying for two seats, and Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Marshall Islands, and South Korea competing for four spots.

All regions should ensure that they offer competitive slates, enabling UN members to deny seats to the most abusive governments. In 2016, Russia lost its Human Rights Council re-election bid by two votes following outrage over the bombardment of civilians in Aleppo, Syria. A lack of competition undermines membership standards.

The third Latin American/Caribbean candidate is Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, has embraced rhetoric hostile to human rights norms. His government has effectively given a green light to criminal networks destroying the Amazon rainforest and attacking forest defenders. Chronic human rights problems plague Brazil, including police violence. But while Venezuela has routinely sought to frustrate the council’s ability to address abuses, Brazil has supported numerous council resolutions tackling a range of violations around the world.

Poland has systematically eroded the independence and effective functioning of its judiciary. In recent years, judges and prosecutors have been subject to arbitrary disciplinary proceedings for speaking out on judicial reforms, an interference with judicial independence.

In Indonesia, there has been a rise in religious intolerance that has led to discrimination against religious minorities, women, and LGBT people. The Indonesian government tolerated the use of hundreds of discriminatory regulations, including the blasphemy law, to prosecute minorities. In Iraq, the government has yet to ensure that all forces, including Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects, that may have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, are held to account for specific crimes. Iraqi security forces continue to commit abuses, killing over 100 protesters in early October after resorting to excessive and lethal force at demonstrations.

Sudan has a long history of human rights abuses and impunity for grave crimes. If it joins the Human Rights Council, the new transitional government should set an example on human rights promotion by taking concrete steps toward accountability and reforms. This should include carrying out credible investigations into attacks on protesters since December 18 and surrendering ousted President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.

In Mauritania, authorities have used laws on criminal defamation, spreading “false information,” and blasphemy to prosecute and jail human rights activists, bloggers, and political dissidents.

The council was created in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights, whose credibility had been shattered because it included countries with records of serious human rights violations.

“UN member states shouldn’t reward abusive governments with seats on important bodies like the Human Rights Council,” said Charbonneau. “No government is perfect, but Venezuela would clearly join the council with a view to protecting itself and its allies from legitimate criticism. When member states mark their ballots, they should make defeating Venezuela a priority.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The corrupt and oppressive government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has detained and tortured political opponents, shot demonstrators, and left the country so economically devastated that more than 4 million people—some 10 percent of the population—have fled the country to escape the humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations Human Rights Council has been putting pressure on Venezuela over its abuses. Now, to subvert that effort, Venezuela is trying to get elected to the council.

When governments convene at the United Nations to condemn the human rights abuses of their peers, it stings. The power of that opprobrium can be seen in the number of highly abusive governments that clamor to join UN human rights bodies in an effort to avoid being targeted.

The creation of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council 13 years ago was an attempt to change this dynamic. Membership was supposed to be limited to governments that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” To give that requirement teeth, the 193-member UN General Assembly was tasked with voting on candidates for three-year terms, providing an opportunity to weed out the worst.


Video: Venezuelan Military Officers and Families Detained, Tortured

Venezuelan intelligence and security forces have detained and tortured military personnel suspected of plotting against the government.

The early years were promising, with a series of abusive governments, including Russia and Iran, either losing contested votes or withdrawing when their prospects looked poor. But then governments started to game the system. Seats on the council are allocated according to five regional groups, and many of the groups started to propose only the same number of candidates as open seats. These closed slates, which deprive the General Assembly of a meaningful choice, have increasingly become the norm, with the result that today the council includes the governments of such countries as China, Eritrea, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. These abusive members do not constitute a majority on the council, but they make it harder to get things done.

Today the council includes the governments of such countries as China, Eritrea, and Rwanda. These abusive members do not constitute a majority on the council, but they make it harder to get things done.

This year, when Venezuela put forward its candidacy, it looked as if it would face no competition. Venezuela’s repression under Maduro has been so severe that a number of governments in the Americas, known as the Lima Group, have taken unprecedented steps to generate pressure for change. For the first time ever in Latin America, members of this group led resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council to condemn the repression and create an independent fact-finding mission, and they appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity.

Yet in deference to the trend toward closed slates, Latin American governments put forward only one other government—Brazil—as a candidate this year for the two open positions available for them, virtually guaranteeing Venezuela’s election. Part of the reason seems to have been that the Brazilian government, an influential member of the Lima Group, was willing to countenance the travesty of an uncontested Venezuelan candidacy to avoid the need to compete for a council seat itself and thus to defend its controversial president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Costa Rica has now changed this dynamic. As the October 17 vote approached, responding to appeals about how embarrassing it would be for Latin American governments to accept Venezuela as a council member, Costa Rica announced its last-minute candidacy on October 3. Suddenly, the General Assembly will have a choice.

As an established democracy with a strong human rights record, Costa Rica is a far more suitable candidate than Venezuela, but it faces an uphill battle. Venezuela has a huge head start rounding up votes, and the world’s repressive governments are all too willing to have one of their own blocking global efforts to enforce human rights.

Already these governments are offering rationalizations. One is that it is important to engage with Venezuela. While few would oppose negotiations to restore democratic institutions and basic rights, many other venues are available and would be far more appropriate than granting Venezuela a seat on the Human Rights Council.

Others note that, following a devastating report on repression in Venezuela by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet—the chief UN human rights officer who operates parallel to the council—the government agreed to her office having a limited presence in Caracas. But even if that happens, that gesture hardly brings Venezuela to “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Indeed, few governments are less qualified to defend human rights.

The stakes are high. The council in recent years has proved itself to be a powerful and effective voice on many of the world’s most pressing human rights crises, from Syria to Myanmar, from Yemen to Burundi. But its voice is weakened when the likes of Venezuela are allowed to join. They invariably oppose efforts to uphold human rights, and their presence makes a mockery of the principles that the council is meant to defend. That some other abusive governments already sit on the council is no reason to make matters worse by adding Venezuela.

Costa Rica has taken a brave step by risking a global battle for votes so late in the day. All governments that care about human rights should seize the opportunity it has provided by supporting it and voting against Venezuela’s inappropriate candidacy.

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

(New York) – Venezuela’s brutal crackdown on dissent, and its failure to tackle a humanitarian emergency that is largely of its own making, gives rise to serious concerns about its fitness as a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of 54 international and Venezuelan organizations said today.

On October 17, 2019, the UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council for a three-year term beginning in January 2020. Until October 3, the Latin American and Caribbean regional group at the UN had put forward only two candidates for two council seats – Venezuela and Brazil, virtually assuring them both of victory. But on October 3, Costa Rica announced that it would compete for one of the two seats. Now members of the 193-nation General Assembly have an opportunity to deny a seat to Venezuela’s abusive government.

“The idea that Venezuela could get a seat on the world’s top human rights body has set off alarm bells,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council members are supposed to respect rights at home and cooperate with UN bodies, but Venezuela does neither. Electing Venezuela would undermine the integrity of the Human Rights Council.”

In July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a damning report on Venezuela. That report echoed the alarming findings of Venezuelan and international human rights organizations about numerous serious human rights violations by the government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions, and violations of the rights to food and health. These abuses have caused more than four million Venezuelans to flee the country.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, urges UN member states voting for prospective members to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” This applies to candidates’ efforts to promote and protect human rights in their own countries and abroad. Members of the Human Rights Council are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.”

“Venezuela has a long record of attempting to frustrate efforts by the Human Rights Council to tackle serious human rights violations,” the groups said in their statement.

In light of Costa Rica’s last-minute decision to join the election in an attempt to defeat Venezuela, Human Rights Watch has urged UN member countries not to vote for Venezuela.

In September, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. Venezuela has already rejected that resolution.

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the Human Rights Commission, whose credibility had been shattered in large part because of the participation of countries with records of serious, unaddressed human rights violations. In the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the Human Rights Council and fulfilling the vision of its creators, the coalition urges delegates to the UN General Assembly to apply the membership criteria from its own resolution when casting their secret ballots on October 17. Venezuela clearly falls far short of those standards, they said.

“Seats on important UN bodies like the Human Rights Council shouldn’t be the subject of horse trading,” said Charbonneau. “Other candidates have worrying rights records, but Venezuela is in an abusive league of its own and shouldn’t get to use a Human Rights Council seat to deflect attention from its abysmal rights record.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Venezuela’s brutal crackdown on dissent, and its failure to tackle a humanitarian crisis that is largely of its own making, give rise to serious concerns about its fitness as a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council. Members of the UN’s premier human rights body are expected to maintain the highest standards of human rights and to cooperate with the council. We, a coalition of 54 international and Venezuelan organizations, strongly believe that Venezuela falls short on both counts. 

Earlier this year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a damning report on Venezuela. That report echoed the alarming findings of Venezuelan and international human rights organizations about numerous grave human rights violations by the government, including arbitrary arrest, torture, extrajudicial executions, and violations of the rights to food and health. These abuses have caused more than four million Venezuelans to flee across the borders.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, urges UN member states voting for prospective Council members to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” This applies to candidates’ efforts to promote and protect human rights in their own countries and abroad. Members of the Human Rights Council are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.”

Venezuela has a long record of attempting to frustrate efforts by the Human Rights Council to tackle serious human rights violations.

Last month, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. Venezuela has already rejected that resolution.

Seats on important UN bodies like the Human Rights Council should not be the subject of bargaining, trading, or pre-arranged agreements. Countries should support the candidates with the strongest human rights records. Were Venezuela to serve on the council while at the same time exacerbating the country’s human rights and humanitarian crisis, the Council’s mission and credibility would be undermined.

The Human Rights Council was created 13 years ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, whose credibility had been shattered in large part because of the participation of states with records of gross human rights violations. In the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the Human Rights Council and fulfilling the vision of its creators, we urge delegates to the UN General Assembly to apply the membership criteria of its own resolution when casting their secret ballots on October 17. Venezuela clearly falls far short of those standards.


  1. ACAT 
  2. ACATGermany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
  3. Acceso a la Justicia
  4. Acción Solidaria
  5. Adivasi-Koordination
  6. Alfa Ciudadana
  7. Article 19
  8. Asociace pro podporu demokracie a lidských práv (DEMAS)
  9. Asociación Civil Fuerza, Unión, Justicia, Solidaridad y Paz (FUNPAZ)
  10. Asociación Civil Mujeres en Línea
  11. Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos APRODEH
  12. Caleidoscopio Humano
  13. Casa de la Mujer Juana Ramírez La Avanzadora
  14. La Cátedra de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado
  15. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
  16. Centro de Justicia en Paz (Cepaz) 
  17. Centro para la Defensores y la Justicia (CDJ) 
  18. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  19. Civilis Derechos Humanos
  20. Comisión Nacional de DDHH de la Federación de Colegios de Abogados de Venezuela-Mérida
  21. Comisión Nacional de DDHH de la Federación de colegios de Abogados de Venezuela del estado Táchira
  22. Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia (Codhez)
  23. Control Ciudadano para la Seguridad, la Defensa y la Fuerza Armada Nacional
  24. Convite AC
  25. Defensores Activos del Foro Penal
  26. Defensor de Derechos Humanos - CADEF
  27. Espacio Público 
  28. EXCUBITUS Derechos Humanos en Educación
  29. Federación Nacional de Sociedad de Padres y Representantes (FENASOPADRES)
  30. Foro Ciudadano
  31. Foro Hatillano
  32. Foro Penal
  33. Fundación Agua Clara
  34. Fundación para la Prevención de la Violencia Doméstica hacia la Mujer (FUNDAMUJER)
  35. Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect
  36. Gobiérnatec
  37. Human Rights House Foundation
  38. Human Rights Watch
  39. Human Rights Without Frontiers
  40. Instituto Interamericano de Responsabilidad Social y Derechos Humanos (IIRESODH) 
  41. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  42. International Humanist and Ethical Union
  43. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
  44. International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
  45. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  46. Jacob Blaustein Institute
  47. Justicia y Paz O.P. Venezuela
  48. Mujeres con Derechos
  49. Nürnberger Menschenrechtszentrum (NMRZ)
  50. Observatorio Global de Comunicación y Democracia
  51. Observatorio Venezolano de los DDHH de las Mujeres
  52. Proiuris
  53. Promoción Educación y Defensa en DDHH - PROMEDEHUM Venezuela
  54. PROVEA
  55. Sociedad Hominis Iura (SOHI)
  56. Sinergia - Red Venezolana de Organizaciones de Sociedad Civil
  57. Un Mundo Sin Mordaza
  58. Una Ventana a la Libertad
  59. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) 
  60. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


1.5 Million Kids Locked Up Each Year Around the World

Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last. Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.

(New York) – A new global study on children deprived of their liberty should prompt United Nations member countries to take steps to dramatically decrease the number of children detained and confined, a group of 170 nongovernmental organizations said today.

Manfred Nowak, a UN independent expert, will present the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty to the UN General Assembly in New York on October 8, 2019. He found that approximately 1.5 million children are deprived of their liberty each year.

“Children are often detained illegally, unnecessarily, and at great cost to their health and future,” said Alex Kamarotos, director of Defence for Children International and co-chair of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. “The Global Study should prompt every country to adopt new policies and practices to dramatically decrease the number of children who are locked up.”

The study examined the situation of children – anyone under age 18 – detained in the administration of justice, in immigration detention, in orphanages and other institutions, living in prison with their caregivers, and detained in the context of armed conflict and national security. The Global Study’s estimate of at least 1.5 million children deprived of liberty is most likely a substantial undercount, due to uneven data collection and reporting.

Some of the Study’s key findings:

  • At least 410,000 children are held every year in jails and prisons, where violence is “endemic.” Many are charged with “status offenses” that are not criminal offenses for adults, including truancy, disobedience, and underage drinking;
  • Although UN experts have concluded that detention of children for migration-related reasons can never be in the best interests of a child, at least 330,000 children in 77 countries are held in immigration detention each year;
  • While between 430,000 and 680,000 children have been placed by judicial authorities in institutions that meet the legal definition of deprivation of liberty, the total number of children in institutions is estimated at 3.5 to 5.5 million;
  • Children with disabilities are significantly overrepresented in detention in the context of administration of justice and institutions; and
  • The number of children detained in the context of armed conflict and national security has increased sharply, driven by aggressive counterterrorism measures that include detention and prosecution of children for online activity, including posts to Facebook and Twitter.

The Study found that deprivation of liberty aggravates existing health conditions in children and can cause new ones to emerge, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress. Psychiatric disorders for children in detention can increase tenfold during detention, and detention is correlated with early death among children once released.

“Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last,” said Jo Becker, child rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the NGO Panel. “Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.”

Nowak found some areas of progress, including a reduction in some countries in the number of children in institutional care or detained in the criminal justice system. At least 21 governments said that they do not detain children for migration-related purposes. Some countries have adopted formal protocols to avoid detaining children in the context of armed conflict. The nongovernmental groups urged all countries to examine and adapt the good practices documented in the study.

Nowak recommended that states “most rigorously” apply the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that deprivation of liberty shall be applied only as a measure of last resort in exceptional cases. He urged countries to “make all efforts to significantly reduce the number of children held in places of detention and prevent deprivation of liberty before it occurs, including addressing the root causes and pathways leading to deprivation of liberty in a systemic and holistic manner.”

The study was initiated by a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2014. Its findings are based on 12 regional and thematic consultations, questionnaires requesting data from every UN member state, comprehensive reviews of literature on the subject, and additional research by expert groups. In addition, the Study consulted 274 children and young adults – 204 male and 70 female – between the ages of 10 to 24, and their views and perspectives inform the findings.

The NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was established in 2013 and includes 170 local, national, and international nongovernmental organizations worldwide. The Panel participated in the study and coordinates efforts by nongovernmental groups to carry through on its findings

The members of the NGO Panel urged governments to carry out the Global Study’s recommendations. These include collecting reliable and systematic data on children deprived of liberty, and creating national action plans aimed at an overall reduction in the number of children in detention and/or the elimination of detention for children. The NGO Panel members also urged the General Assembly to formally designate a UN entity to lead follow-up efforts.

The full study can be found online here:

The independent expert’s presentation of the study to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on October 8 will be livestreamed here:

A panel discussion including the UN independent expert and other experts will take place at 6:15 PM (EDT) on October 8 at the UNICEF House in New York.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The undersigned organisations express their serious concern and disappointment that the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights did not transmit to the Human Rights Council, at its 42nd session, the database of all businesses engaged in listed activities related to Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise (the Database) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), as mandated in Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 (2016).[1] The Human Rights Council called for transmission of the data at its 34th session in March 2017.

The repeated, open-ended, and unexplained delays have no precedent in the handling of previous mandates by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In March 2019, the High Commissioner wrote to the President of the Human Rights Council, pledging to fulfil the mandate “in coming months.” Her decision not to do so at the Council’s September session means that the Council will have no practical opportunity to consider the report before its next session in March 2020 – a full year after the High Commissioner made her commitment.

The OHCHR’s failure so far to fulfil the mandate, explicitly stipulating the transmission of the data gathered, is of deep concern, particularly in light of consistent reports of political interference by some states in the implementation of this resolution.[2] In July 2019, during the 41st Human Rights  Council session, some 90 states, in two joint statements, emphasized the crucial importance that the High Commissioner and her Office maintain their independence and are able to execute their mandates impartially and without interference.[3] Meanwhile, civil society organisations from around the world have repeatedly called on the High Commissioner to fulfil the mandate of resolution 31/36 (2016) and release the Database, noting that it “is not only important for the protection of the rights of the Palestinian people, but also constitutes an important development in international efforts to ensure respect for international law by State and non-State actors” and “an important tool to strengthen the implementation of international law and standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in situations of conflict and occupation.”[4]

The High Commissioner has not provided any substantive reasons or explanations consistent with the independence of her Office for the extended delay in the fulfilment of the mandate entrusted to her. The OHCHR has had ample time to make all necessary preparations for the release of the Database, including contacting companies.[5] In order to protect and uphold the human rights of Palestinians and the integrity of OHCHR, it is imperative that the High Commissioner immediately publish and transmit the Database to the Council, including the names of all companies listed, and commit to the annual update of its contents. Otherwise, the High Commissioner should state publicly her principled grounds, consistent with the independence of her Office, for not carrying out the specific mandate entrusted to her.

Since the establishment of the Database mandate in 2016, Israel has escalated its construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and in September approved ex-post facto the outpost settlement of Mevo’ot Yericho near Jericho in the Jordan Valley,[6] just days after Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley if elected.[7] Business activity in or with settlements contributes in many ways to the growth and development of these settlements and to serious human rights abuses.[8] OHCHR’s repeated delays in releasing the Database and transmitting the data promote impunity and enable further entrenchment and expansion of illegal settlements. Transmission of the data would provide a degree of transparency over these activities and serve as a tool to assist states and businesses to uphold their obligations and responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law.



Amnesty International

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)


European Middle East Project (EuMEP)

Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)

Human Rights Watch


[1] UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/RES/31/36 at para 96

[2] There have been several media reports highlighting political interference exerted against the publication of the Database. See for example: Josef Federman, Josh Lederman and Jamey Keaten, ‘Israel races to head off UN settlement ‘blacklist’’ (AP, 26 November 2017), available at: https://www.apnews.com/9f910e5a7b264c38aad504a6147d9898; Nick Cumming-Bruce, ‘Clash Over Israeli Settlements Has a New Front: A Delayed U.N. Report’ (The New York Times, 5 March 2019), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/05/world/middleeast/israel-united-nations-boycottcompanies.html 

[3] Al-Haq, ‘More than 100 Organisations Call for the Release of the UN Database of Businesses Engaged in Activities with Israeli Settlements’ (29 August 2019) http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/14950.html

[4] Al-Haq, ‘100 Palestinian, Regional and International Organisations Call on High Commissioner for Human Rights to Publish the UN Database on Business Enterprises with Activities Related to Israeli Settlements in the OPT’ (30 November 2018) http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/6130.html

[5] See, for example,  letter from High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, to the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc, on 7 August 2018, available at: https://extranet.ohchr.org/sites/hrc/PresidencyBureau/BureauRegionalGroupsCorrespondence/Corresp2014DL/180807LetterfromHCdatabase.pdf

[6] See for example: United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases ‘Special Coordinator Reports Largest Expansion of West Bank Settlements in 2 Years, as He Briefs Security Council on Middle East Peace Process’ (20 June 2019) https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13853.doc.htm

[7] David M. Halbfinger, ‘Netanyahu Vows to Start Annexing West Bank, in Bid to Rally the Right’ (New York Times, 6 April 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/world/middleeast/netanyahu-annex-west-bank.html?module=inline; BBC, ‘Israel PM Netanyahu vows to annex occupied Jordan Valley’ (10 September 2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49655226

[8] "The violations of human rights associated with the settlements are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life, owing to settlement development and infrastructure, Palestinians suffer from restrictions on freedom of religion, movement and education; their rights to land and water; access to livelihood and their right to an adequate standard of living; their rights to family life; and many other fundamental rights." Human Rights Council, Database of all business enterprises involved in the activities detailed in paragraph 96 of the report of the independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (26 January 2018) A/HRC/37/39; The 2013 report of the UN commissioned International Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people, found that “business enterprises have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.” Human Rights Council, Report of the independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (7 February 2013) A/HRC/22/63

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am